I must be very brief in my introduction, as Lemony Snicket is not in this next trio of book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, composed of books 7-9. The Baudelaire case cracks wide open as they travel even farther into the belly of the beast that is V.F.D., while other cases are woefully closed. Let’s begin, shall we?
Trigger Warning: General Violence
Book the Seventh: The Vile Village
The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is wonderfully distorted when the Baudelaire children have successfully warded off any possible guardian that was even eligible to take them in. Mr. Poe is at his wits end-although that’s probably a very short amount to begin with- and suggests to the Baudelaires a program in which a village of their choosing will take care of them, rather than just one person. Although Olaf already has one set of unfortunately rich orphans in his clutches (the Quagmires, for anyone who may have forgotten), the Baudelaires feel an obligation to them to find out as much about V.F.D as possible, and hopefully save their friends. Therefore, they choose a village that holds the same initials as the haunting mystery that enveloped their friends.
Mr. Poe drops them off at the bus station, and that’s the last we see of him. Seriously, he just lets these underaged kids who he’s supposed to be guarding on a bus by themselves, and the bus could have god knows who on them. Guardian of Orphan Affairs my ass.
But the Baudelaires make the long journey to the outskirts of V.F.D., make the long hike to the town hall, and find themselves at the mercy of the Elders, a type of council that governs the village…of fowl devotees. Unfortunately, the Baudelaires followed the wrong lead and found themselves in the wrong V.F.D. once again.
The town itself is devoted to the massive swarm of crows that have obsessively roosted there for decades. Their elders wear ridiculous crow-shaped hats, and have even more ridiculous rules, and the Baudelaires must abide by all of them. Not so oddly enough, the rules seem to discourage most forms of independent learning, and the specific interests of the Baudelaires: biting (more specifically, no recreational mouth usage-Snicket, you sly dog), inventing, and researching. At the end of the council meeting, the children learn that they, as adopted citizens of a village, will be subjected to doing the chores of the entire village. So fair, right? After the meeting, they are under the wing of Hector, the town’s handyman.
Overall, Hector seems overwhelmingly nicer than the guardians of the last 4 books. But he has his secrets too…like a library and inventing studio, which are both against the rules of the V.F.D. He and the Baudelaires get along swimmingly, and they give him a brief history off all of their adventures which lead them there. When they mention the Quagmires- and specifically Isadora’s couplets- Hector reveals that he found one by the Nevermore tree (haha) where the crows roost every night. Indeed, the Baudelaires realize they may be closer to the Quagmires than they thought.
The Baudelaires are freaked, and admittedly I am too. This is the part of the series I forgot the most of, and the excitement is just beginning. Of course, the Baudelaires are anxious due to their friends being nearby and not knowing exactly where. But the mystery will only unravel itself with time. No, seriously. The couplets seem to come once a day, in the same spot under the Nevermore tree. Although the Baudelaires are preoccupied by chores during the daytime, they wonder about their friends at night- until one of the council members lets them know that Count Olaf has been captured.
…Just kidding. It can’t be that easy, right?
While the man captured actually matches Mr. Poe’s original description of Count Olaf (one eyebrow, tattoo on the ankle), we learn that his name is actually Jacque Snicket. And that he knew the Baudelaires’ parents. He recognizes the children right away, and states that they were all volunteers in something before being cut off by the townspeople.
So can he be evil? Was he an associate of Olaf’s?
Unfortunately, we never get to know. He was set to be burnt at the stake the next day (which by the way, is the punishment for breaking ANY rule, I shit you not), but was instead murdered in his cell. I’m sorry, is this The Crucible?
Anyway, who better to investigate “Count Olaf”’s death than…
*sigh* He’s not dead…damn. Olaf finds the Baudelaires yet again, disguised as Detective Dupin. Olaf decided yet again to do something dastardly…like frame them for murder, for instance. Well, he really blames Sunny for Jacques’ murder, and names Violet and Klaus as accomplices. Of course the Baudelaires are innocent, with the alibi of being in Hector’s secret library/inventing studio. Nobody will vouch for them though…not even Hector, who gets notably skittish around the council and big crowds. So they are now the ones set to burn, and sent to the Deluxe Cell in the V.F.D. jail.
And here is where the true genius of the children have to come through, or else they face certain death the next day. These always seem to have urgent time frames, don’t they? I can’t imagine that it’s only been a few months after all these story really seeming to happen within a week or so at most.
Regardless, I am honestly utterly impressed with the solution that the Baudelaires come up with to actually break out of jail. They use their last meal (bread and water) to weaken the foundation of the cell, and use their bench as a battering ram! Honestly, that’s some great reading right there, and now I have experience on breaking out of badly made jail cells.
And here comes the Deus ex Hector in the form of the final Quagmire couplet, causing them to crack the case of their missing friends RIGHT before busting out. Olaf somehow hid them in the fountain located in the middle of the town, and before we know it, the Baudelaires and Quagmires are reunited once again. But not for long, as a literal angry mob is after the alleged Baudelaire murderers. Just as they feel as if they are trapped by the townsfolk, another Deux ex Hector arrives in the form of his illegal mechanical device, a self-sustaining hot air balloon. He extends his ladder down to the Baudelaires, only to have Olaf and “Officer Luciana” try to shoot them down with a harpoon gun. The Quagmires make it, but unfortunately the Baudelaires do not. The only thing that saves them from imminent burning is a crow that was hurt by the shootings, which causes the townsfolk to disperse. Like anyone else, the Baudelaires use this opportunity to escape…but to where, they could not know.
I did not forget about the Incredible Sunny Moment. As the Baudelaires realize that they have to venture out into the unknown, Sunny hits the ground walking, and the viewers get to see her first steps. It’s actually really cute to read, so I suggest you do- but come right back, because we have so much more to cover.
Book the Eighth: The Hostile Hospital
As the Baudelaire children walk…and walk…for who knows how long, they run into their Last Chance…
…a convenience store and gas station on the outskirts of town. They frantically try to send a telegram to Mr. Poe, but they wait hours and receive no response. However, news has spread quite fast- the Baudelaires are now “known” murderers, and “”Count Omar”‘ (which was supposed to be Olaf) was dead, “””killed””” by their hand. At least, according to The Daily Punctilio. The Baudelaires pull a blitz decision and decide to board a bus of V.F.D. volunteers, which leads them to Heimlich Hospital even further outside of town.
And it’s a lovely hospital…well half of it is.
But we cannot get our hopes up, and neither do the children- while the V.F.D. are volunteers, they are not related to Jacques Snicket’s line of work. But the Baudelaires continue to investigate, which leads them to the Library of Records. This particular library, as we will learn, is rather crucial. The library’s administrator, Hal, knows them from somewhere…which he later revealed was the Snicket file. The children immediately make the connection and make it their mission to retrieve that file. But of course, their past catches up to them- Count Olaf’s voice booms from the loudspeaker, disguised as Matthias (who has disposed of Babs, the former Human Resources advisor). He states that the hospital will be enforcing a sweep of their existing members, and the Baudelaires realize that they may be running out of time.
After a few days of working in the Library with Hal, they see their chance. Disguising Violet’s ribbon as a ring of keys, the Baudelaires take advantage of Hal’s poor eyesight and take his ring of keys instead. After retrieving the Snicket file, they find that only the thirteenth page was left behind. A photograph was attached that featured the Snickets (possibly Lemony himself) and the Baudelaire parents. I can kind of imagine that after all that time of not seeing them, it must have felt like the Baudelaires were staring into the Mirror of Erised…or the scene just reminds me of the one in Harry Potter in particular. There is one more, very crucial piece of writing that is discovered, which includes the following:
“Because of the evidence discussed on page 9, experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown.”
While this evidence is groundbreaking, the Baudelaires have very little time to celebrate, as Esme Squalor storms in. The only escape route that the Baudelaires could find was a small chute, and only Sunny and Klaus could fit. Violet stays behind, and gets captured.
The next day, Klaus and Sunny look for Violet. In the interim, they discover that Mattathias and his associates are going to perform a craniectomy on Violet, supposedly the first ever. So yeah, they’re gonna just saw off her head, and make it look like an accident. Klaus and Sunny have to decode which room she is in, using anagrams that hide Violet’s true identity. It is now their turn to don some costumes for the sake of their sister, and as they meet Esme, she is none the wiser and leads them to an unconscious Violet (or, Laura V. Bleedotie).
After some much well-orchestrated stalling and holding villains at knife-point by Klaus, the Baudelaires manage to escape the operating theater by a hair…or really, a Hal. But not before Hal accuses them of setting the Library of Records on fire, and Esme turns up with Olaf’s real henchmen. Now everyone is in hot pursuit of the Baudelaires, now accused arsonists as well as murderers. As the hospital is slowly engulfed in the flames, Violet recovers from her anesthetized stupor and helps invent a way to help the children escape. Meanwhile, I cannot justify leaving my bed to go to my everyday shift at work.
The children manage to escape, but they quickly realize that the only place that isn’t engulfed in smoke and won’t expose their whereabouts are in the belly of the beast..or more specifically, the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. Although the children debate the decision, they ultimately stuff themselves inside before the troupe hurries off. However, I think that the androgynous associate was left behind to burn…RIP.
And now we can only hope that the Baudelaires do not get caught in the figurative flames, as being so close to Olaf could endanger them more than wandering the countryside.
Book the Ninth: The Carnivorous Carnival
After quite a bit of time riding in the back of Count Olaf’s van, the Baudelaires have to do their best to keep it together.
Anyone would have a bit of a struggle I think, when their stalker and serial killer of a former guardian is driving the vehicle that they are trapped in. But finally some solace comes as the car stops at a place called Caligari Carnival.
It turns out that Olaf has had an ace up his sleeve the entire time, and she goes by the name of Madame Lulu. Without fail, Madame Lulu has been telling Olaf the whereabouts of the Baudelaires, sinking their lives further into misery. He also ripped off her accent when he disguised himself as Gunther. The Baudelaires sneak out to hear more of Olaf’s conversation with Lulu, and it seems there may be a faint romantic connection, which may be why she pulls all these psychic favors. Regardless, in a matter of days Count Olaf will be off in search of the Baudelaires again, and with Lulu’s help it might be much sooner than they had hoped.
But the Baudelaires come up with a plan to follow in Olaf’s footsteps, considering they had to travel with him all this way. To avoid getting caught, they must embrace the art of acting…and hopefully in a better way than Olaf does. Although Sunny and Klaus have already done so, Violet hasn’t been able to join in, and so they all end up becoming circus freaks. Violet and Klaus transform into Beverly and Elliot, while Sunny becomes Chabo, the wolf baby. The disguises are convincing enough that Madame Lulu welcomes them with open arms, and open dreams of more ticket sales.
Now I will say that this novel is laden with ableism, mostly because of the usage of “freaks” to describe people. But the extreme it goes to adds to a bit of absurdist humor, not because of the circus workers themselves, but what actually is considered “freakish” in their world. For example, take Kevin and Colette, two of our newly introduced characters and a part of the freak show. They look like “normal” human beings, but Colette is a contortionist-which can be controlled- and Kevin is…ambidextrous. That’s it. How did they not get hired anywhere else? How ableist is this society? Even Hugo, who has a hunchback..hehe..could be hired for multiple positions. But, moving on…
After performing in the freak show, the children are absolutely humiliated. But they do learn a crucial secret from that same morning: one of the Baudelaire parents are still alive, and are up in the Mortmain Mountains. The Baudelaires are thrilled, but the joy and curiosity only lasts so long.
Olaf rewards Madame Lulu for her information that same morning with lions. Mountain lions. While the beasts are impressive, it’s the gimmick that Count Olaf concocts that will bring the people flocking. One freak will be sacrificed to the lions, as a main attraction to the carnival.
…okay dude, that’s overkill. You didn’t even know the Baudelaires were there and you’re still trying to kill them? Brutal.
Again, the children run into a time crunch. With less than a day to find as much information on V.F.D and Madame Lulu as possible, the Baudelaires just say “screw it” and break into Lulu’s tent for the deets. And while they come across some information about V.F.D., they also realize that somebody else besides Count Olaf was stalking them. Lulu even had photos of them, and was funneling all of this information to Olaf. The children also found the fakery that is her fortune telling, from a homemade lightning device. Ultimately they end up breaking her Crystal ball. She tries to storm in and chastise the children, but the Baudelaires stand up to her, and instead Madame Lulu breaks down.
She breaks down so much in fact that she reveals her true identity. Her real name is Olivia, she’s actually blonde, and the only reason that she supplies information to Olaf is because her motto is to “give the people what they want”. Seriously, what is with the people around this town and their detrimentally fragile moral compasses?
The Baudelaires devise an escape plan with Olivia, while other plans are afoot. After that ordeal, a certain financial-advisor-turned-evil -girlfriend goes to visit the carnival workers.
Esme has been a bit jealous of the attention Madame Lulu has been receiving from Olaf, and basically of any other female in his vicinity at all. She approaches the freaks with a plan for tomorrow’s sacrifice. She offered positions to Count Olaf’s troupe if they followed through on one tiny favor: she wants Lulu thrown into the pit. Talk about being possessive.
Everyone’s for the plan…except for 3 specific freaks in disguise, who were planning on running away with Lulu. Esme told them to sleep on it, but it seemed like the Baudelaires had to step on it instead.
The next day, the last of Olaf’s questions would be revealed: “Where are the Baudelaires?” and their time ran out, despite Violet’s determination to finish their escape vehicle. It was a good plan too, until the crowd enveloped them in an anticipated excitement to see someone eaten alive. So glad I don’t live there.
And, like a student that doesn’t want to be called on because they didn’t do their homework, the two-headed Beverly and Elliot get selected to fall into the pit.
Luckily, the Baudelaires just took a very real class in mob psychology, and managed to stall so frequently that a fight ensued right outside of the pit. Unfortunately for some (depending on who you ask), 2 people are brought down to the pit: Madame Lulu and the bald man from Count Olaf’s troupe. That makes 2 henchmen within 2 books, so it looks like he’s in need of some replacements. How lucky for him that Esme found them already- including Beverly, Elliot, and Chabo.
But what’s a carnival without a little arson? In order to cover their tracks, Olaf torches the place and packs everyone up in the car. Well, everyone except for Klaus and Violet. The two Baudelaires set Lulu’s tent on fire themselves, and their moral dilemmas increase. *Christian Bale voice* Looks like they may be living long enough to see themselves become the villain.
Finally, Klaus and Violet hitch themselves to an additional caravan and ride behind Olaf. After some time riding, Olaf reaches out to them- and reveals that he knew who they were all along. I have to say that plot twist got me, probably as much as it did the first time. Trapping Sunny in the front seat, the former carnies cut Violet and Klaus off from the caravan. The Baudelaires are separated once again, and the stakes have literally become much higher, and much more dangerous.
And this is where my stop is, too! Four more books to go, and what a ride it’s been. Any theories? Let me know. I’ll be tearing through the rest really soon, and we’ll hopefully find some more answers to the Volunteer ____ _________. Until next time!
Images Courtesy of HarperCollins