The next two installations featuring the exploits of the Baudelaire children reveal more questions about V.F.D. than they answer. But they do answer quite a good amount of the right questions indeed.
Book the Tenth: The Slippery Slope
When we last left beloved Baudelaires, Lemony had us hanging by a thread, and Count Olaf had Klaus and Violet careening down a mountain.
If there was any time for Violet’s innovation, this was it. It’s somewhat odd that for such unfortunate people, the ingredients needed to save their lives always came in the nick of time. Violet and Klaus hurriedly put together a drag chute to slow them down, made from nothing but materials in the caravan. They are saved, but their ride decides to descend the Mortmain Mountains in the quickest way possible, and they are left without a ride, but with their lives.
While Klaus and Violet strategize down below, things are looking just as bleak for Sunny as she zooms to the top of the mountain as Olaf’s prisoner. Esme’s child rearing skill is at a staunch zero (she only adopted the Baudelaires to be “in”, as you may recall) and instead of caring for Sunny as their one point of access to the Baudelaire fortune, they treat her as a slave instead. She’s made to clean and cook for the troupe, and although Sunny has had some incredible moments herself, it makes me wonder how Olaf’s troupe lasted so long with their incompetence. I don’t know if Mr. Snicket has read Les Miserables, but this all seems very familiar. I know Olaf is in charge of a “theater troupe”, but chill.
Violet and Klaus continue to pursue Sunny, and have no choice but to follow the Stricken Stream uphill, in an attempt to also find the V.F.D. Headquarters. Klaus and Violet notice 2 things while on their journey: that the stream seems to be covered in ash and choking the salmon in the stream, and the vicious snow gnats are hot on their trail, almost stinging them into submission. If not for the cave inhabited by the Snow Scouts (and the most ridiculous, alphabetized motto ever) they would have never found their way to Sunny.
During their stay with the Snow Scouts, they came across Carmelita Spats once again, as the troupe leader Bruce is her uncle. But even more interesting and much less unpleasant is a boy in a sweater, using a Very Familiar Deportment of speaking. Klaus and Violet caught on almost immediately and began to speak to the stranger in code, prolonging their stay with the Snow Scouts into the night.
After everyone’s gone to sleep, the masked stranger wakes up the Baudelaires and leads them to a large ladder, known as the Vertical Flame Diversion. The scout claims that this leads them to the V.F.D. Headquarters. I’m not gonna lie, even though Klaus and Violet had nothing to lose- besides any chance of saving Sunny- I would not have followed this guy. The only thing they can trust him on is that he’s well read, which usually denotes noble intentions. Um…I guess?
Alas, the mysterious scout is indeed telling the truth, and after discovering the headquarters with the Baudelaires, he reveals himself to be one of three very familiar faces.
Quigley Quagmire, the third of the triplets. He’s indeed alive and well, and on the search for another set of answers himselves, such as the fate of his siblings. His backstory is just as tragic, saved by his family in a different manner but still left alone in the world. He was tracking his siblings up to this point, and had the same idea as the Baudelaires to meet in one safe spot- the V.F.D. headquarters.
Except, the spot isn’t so safe anymore. Upon opening the Vernacularly Fastened Device, the Baudelaires and Quigley open the door to reveal nothing but ash. Their ideas, as much of their lives, have gone up in smoke. It’s all due to two figures that end up meeting with Olaf on the top of the Mortmain Mountains, a man with a beard but no hair, and a woman with hair but no beard. Neither of them are well known, but they are undoubtedly feared, enough so that they petrify Esme and Count Olaf.
This brings us to Sunny’s exploits on the mountain, which mostly consists of the inhumane grunt work I was mentioning before. It seems to be Count Olaf’s thing. Still, Sunny finds a way to make the best of the conditions, having many of the troupe members compliment her on her cooking. Additionally, the two new evil visitors bring back something that looks like cigarettes, but are really Verdant Flammable Devices. They’re perfect for signaling other V.F.D. members of their whereabouts. Although Sunny doesn’t necessarily know what they are, she figured it out anyway and used them as a signal while simultaneously making lox for the troupe. (But seriously, how is this little girl smarter than me?)
In fact, the Incredible Sunny Moment ™ for this novel was…pretty much the whole novel. From diversions to sabotage, some impressive cooking and even better acting skills, Sunny killed it from start to finish, and definitely established that even in the eyes of her siblings, she can’t be seen as “just a baby” anymore. But let’s get back to her siblings, as they have seen her signal at this point.
Violet and Klaus strategize for a way to move toward the smoke, in an attempt to find Sunny. Eventually, the decision is made that Klaus stays to research anything he can find about V.F.D (which has now been translated as the Volunteer Fire Department). Meanwhile, Violet and Quigley will trek up the mountain to find whoever was making that signal.
And I have to say that this is my favorite part of the book. Not only is Violet’s handiwork to climb up a waterfall showcased in a brilliant way, but so is her private life…or lack of one. If you don’t read this passage you’re missing out, mostly because it fueled one of the most open-ended pieces of fanfic material I have to date, in such a small moment.
When they finally make it, Violet does indeed find Sunny, and offers to take her back then and there. However, Sunny refuses, confident that she can find out more information about the contents of the Snicket file that the two mysterious associates brought, and the sugar bowl that Olaf is looking for. And she does- she overhears where the last safe place is, and that the meeting is about a week from that day. It’s really odd to think of because I would’ve certainly lost track of the days by now. But I digress. Begrudgingly, Violet goes back down the waterfall without Sunny, but not without a plan.
Fast forward to the Baudelaires setting a trap for Esme, who went down the mountain for more “cigarettes”. But after a change of heart they stop Esme, and ask her to let them speak with Olaf in order to bargain for Sunny. When they get up to the top using Violet’s device once more, the Baudelaires from this point on are heavily winging it. They lie to Olaf that they know where the Sugar Bowl is, which causes him to begin bartering. But they are interrupted by…
The Snow Scouts, lead by Carmelita herself. The children came in time to see Olaf’s new “recruitment plan” which involves eagles, a net, and some unsuspecting scouts. Even after taking off their masks to inform the scouts of the danger, they are whisked away by the trained V.F.D. eagles- all except for Carmelita. Esme is just so inspired by Carmelita’s obnoxiousness that she asks Olaf to keep her, like some kind of puppy. Carmelita agrees at the notion that she’ll be showered with presents, although Olaf isn’t too ready to be a father.
As for the Baudelaires, they realize that they are too late for the Snow Scouts, but not too late to make an escape. They quickly grab the toboggan that they came up with, and although Olaf orders the two white faced women to grab them, they refuse. They refuse so much in fact, that they leave the troupe entirely. Apparently they have beef with Olaf, too. The Baudelaires use the opportunity to leave, sliding down the waterfall way too fast to control.
When they reach the bottom, the frozen waterfall melts and floods the children. The power of the waterfall separates the Baudelaires and Quigley Quagmire, despite them both trying to hang on. Essentialy, my OTP is ripped apart and it all sucks. But Quigley does try to tell them to meet him somewhere. Perhaps the last safe place?
Book the Eleventh: The Grim Grotto
The Stricken Stream whisks the children away from Count Olaf’s troupe, and they are left heading towards the middle of the sea. However, after some drifting, a periscope appears before them, and the occupants that belong to it.
The Baudelaires are then whisked aboard The Queequeg, a submarine run by Captain Widdershins and his step-daughter, Fiona. They are the only two left in their family, as Fiona’s mother was killed in a manatee incident, and her brother Fernald left them long ago. Again we are acquainted with some accomplices from the acclaimed noble side of the schism, and the Baudelaires are taken on as crew members. With a love for Herman Melville and the motto “He (or she) who hesitates is lost”, Captain Widdershins comes across as one of Snicket’s more eccentric subjects. I don’t remember quite how many there were while I read, but the word “Aye” was pretty much his main word of expression, so take that as you will.
While Violet silently mourns Quigley’s loss, Klaus finds a similar companionship in Fiona, although she is a few years older. Fiona’s designated specialty is mycology, the study of fungi. I swear, if everyone below 20 in these books joined together, they’d be a well oiled machine of weird hobbies. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a definite use for this later on…kinda. Nevertheless, admiration blooms between the two while they study the tidal charts in search of the primary mission: the sugar bowl.
Violet’s skills are put to good use in trying to fix the telegram device onboard the ship, and Sunny’s newfound cooking skills are getting flexed with an old friend- Phil from the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, now dubbed Cookie for some reason.
And as expected, the ocean holds its own collection of secrets as well. Somehow, not even the depths could stop Count Olaf from appearing once again. He appears once more in an octopus-shaped submarine, and more than likely was going after the Queequeg, but he is driven off by a mysterious ship which appears only as a question mark on the radar screen. But even to Mr. Snicket, it’s not quite known whether that was a ship at all. Widdershins described it as an evil that even he did not know of. Although, is it an evil, if it drove off Olaf?
The hubbub over that particular question is eclipsed when Klaus reveals that he has figured out the location of the sugar bowl. The map and his knowledge of the water cycle leads him to GG, or the Gorgonian Grotto. While this is a fantastic breakthrough, the celebration is cut short when they learn that the Grotto is filled with a grim inhabitant- the Medusoid Mycelium.
Fiona uses her fungal research to explain that the Mycelium is a deadly spore that will kill within an hour of exposure, essentially growing within whomever breathes it in until they are unable to breathe. Despite this, the children devise a plan to brave the Mycelium and enter the cave. All goes well, as the Mycelium has phases of activation that the children wade through. But the mission itself is a separate type of failure. The sugar bowl is still nowhere to be found. While the children are inside the ruins of yet another V.F.D. base, Anwhistle Aquatics, they do try to find any vital information…including some that was not meant to be shared. But none of these finds compare to what could be in the sugar bowl, and so the children depart.
Once the children return to the Queequeg, they are greeted by…nobody. No one at all. For all intents and purposes, Captain Widdershins and Cookie have abandoned ship…or worse. The trouble is compounded, as everyone discovers that one of the spores of the Mycelium has infected Sunny, and was growing for quite some time in her helmet-enclosure.
Everyone is devastated by doubly terrible news, but Fiona becomes the most erratic, proclaiming herself as captain and (figuratively) severing herself from the Baudelaires out of grief. But she does not retain that title for long, as Captain- I mean Count- Olaf captures them.
It seems that with the adoption of a “daughter” and the new recruits in the form of kidnapped children, Olaf has become ever more maniacal…but a bit better in comparison to his compatriots. It’s odd, because Olaf used to be the most nefarious character in the series, but Esme and Carmelita probably overshadow him in annoyances ten-fold. As the Baudelaires are abducted onto the Carmelita (which is the name of the ship), they are battling trying to find an antidote for Sunny, being put into the brig, and some newfound family issues, which actually don’t belong to the Baudelaires.
It turns out that Fernald is actually the hook-handed man’s real name, meaning that he is Fiona’s brother. Awkward, but now not as deadly. Fiona now knows the truth, and after a brief torture session turned tearful talk, Fernald agrees to join the Baudelaires and Fiona, abandoning Olaf’s troupe. They form an escape plan to sneak out of the Carmelita, but are stopped by Esme and Carmelita for interrupting the latter’s recital. The Baudelaires continue on, obscured from sight long enough to escape back to The Queequeg, and find a way to save Sunny.
And herein lies Sunny’s incredible moment. While Klaus researched the poetry involved with the Mycelium and discovered that the “root of horse” would heal her, Sunny is the one who actually figures it out. In a letter from Kit Snicket, she wrote that the factory on Lousy Lane would hold the antidote the Mycelium. The children remember that the entirety of Lousy Lane smelled like horseradish, which indeed is the key to killing the fungus. But there was no horseradish onboard. And herein lies the Incredible Sunny Moment, as she only has time to weakly mention the wasabi that was brought onboard.
Sunny I just…I can only suspend my disbelief for so long. I love this book but I outwardly laughed at the fact that only Sunny could’ve known the answer to something that would’ve otherwise killed her. But of course, it did work and she fought the fungus until it disappeared. As they were trying to find a way to escape, the Baudelaires witnessed something strange: the communications device began to work again, and they received a coded message in the form of poetry. Violet believes the letter is from Quigley, and the Baudelaires get to work on decoding the messages. I kind of wish I was there to help them, because I knew the answers to both. But in the middle of their research, they are caught once again by Olaf. While he and his remaining troupe raid the Queequeg, Fiona has made a solid decision to join Olaf’s troupe in order to be with Fernald, and reveals the remaining Medusoid Mycelium to him. Despite her betrayal (especially to Klaus), she still lets the Baudelaires make their escape, and it is finally decoded that they must meet Quigley on Briny Beach.
In what seems to be the epitome of a circular plot, the children find themselves where they first learned the terrible news of their parents. And once again, they find Mr. Poe coming near them. It might just be me, but if anyone reads their conversation, it seems like Mr. Poe really never gave a flying shit about these children. In the beginning they didn’t seem to have a choice but to follow him. Now, according to the coded message, they do. There was a taxi waiting for them, as uncovered in the second coded poem. And the Baudelaires leave behind Mr. Poe and enter it, without a fear of the unknown. There, they meet another crucial character: Kit Snicket. Perhaps they are on the right track this time.
Now, I found The Grim Grotto to be one of the more emotionally compelling books, especially with the frequent usage of the importance of family as a literary feature..and you know, Sunny almost dying and Klaus being betrayed. Then the story became even more exciting with the introduction of Kit Snicket- the 2nd out of the 3 Snicket siblings. More than likely she will lead us to the last safe place, and the last accounts of the Baudelaire’s fates.
The last article probably won’t be out for a while, since Luke Cage is about to take over, so it should give you all some time to catch up 😉
Any and all theories are accepted in the meantime.
Images Courtesy of HarperCollins