There are a lot of movies that I feel compelled to see the day they come out, but for some reason that doesn’t really transfer over to books. There are really only a few that I feel a vital need to possess and read the instant they come out. The Harry Potter books are one, because they’re one of the very few things in life that I don’t want spoilers for, but if it wasn’t for everyone talking about them I could probably wait. In fact, with this last one I had to, and I survived just fine. The other is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I really have no fear of them being spoiled because the stories are so winding that I don’t know that you could “spoil” them, I just have to have them right away because I absolutely adore them and can’t wait for more. I’m lucky in that I read most of the series all in one big chunk, and didn’t have to wait years between volumes, but volume 12, The Penultimate Peril, came out yesterday, and I’ve been going crazy for it since I finished volume 11 ages ago. I went out and got it and read it yesterday, and now I can’t wait for volume 13, the final book in the series.
Have I mentioned that I adore these books? I do. I compared them, in an earlier review, to sour candy– delightfully unpleasant and addicting, and I stand by that description. As the books have gone on, however, there’s a deeper theme at work than just good kids in an unfortunate situation. The children are learning through all their trials that the people who are out to do good in the world are those appreciate and value literature, art, music, and science; that reading makes you a better thinker, a better human being. Their adventures always seem to take them to libraries, where they find answers to help them through their troubles. The bad guys are those who blindly (and hilariously) follow fads, who think books are trash, who have no references of any kind in their heads, and who blindly follow rather than thinking for themselves.
Snicket has been clear in interviews and things that one of his purposes in the books was to show that good things don’t happen to you just because you’re good. Bad things happen to good people, and it’s how you choose to handle that that determines who you really are. But he’s also developing something further- that the line between good and bad isn’t always clear. Noble people don’t always do the right thing, and you can’t always rely on people, no matter how noble they may be. The children are forced to confront that conflict within themselves in this book- if you do something horrible, even if it’s an accident, does that make you a horrible person? At what point does the end no longer justify the means?
As with the other books in the series, volume 12 has some great creations, including The Hotel Denoument that’s organized by the Dewey decimal system, and designed with all the lettering on the outside backwards so that it’s reflection in the lake out front is right way round. Many characters from previous installments appear in this volume, but there’s a reason for it, and the ending is so suprising that I can not wait for the next volume. I know it will be a long wait, but I can’t wait to see how he concludes everything and ties it all together; and I can’t wait to finally find out what’s in the sugar bowl!
There’s a beautiful moment in all the madness of the book that I have to share here, for those of you batty enough not to be reading these books. I’m hopefully not violating some copyright, if I am, I’m super sorry. In any rate- this next part is copyright Lemony Snicket.
“I’m not sure we are noble,” Klaus said quietly, flipping the pages of his commonplace book. “We caused those accidents at the lumbermill. We’re responsible for the destruction of the hospital. We helped start the fire that destroyed Madame Lulu’s archival library We-”
“Enough,” Dewey interrupted gently, putting a hand on Klaus’ shoulder. “You’re noble enough, Baudelaires. That’s all we can ask for in this world.”
The middle Baudelaire hung his head, so he was leaning against the sub-sub-librarian and his sisters huddled against him, and all four volunteers stood for a moment in the dark. Tears fell from the eyes of the orphans- all four of them- and, as with many tears shed at night, they could not have said exactly why they were crying, although I know why I am crying as I type this, and it is not because of the onions that someone is slicing in the next room or because of the wretched curry he is planning on making with them. I am crying because Dewey Denouement was wrong. He was not wrong when he said the Baudelaires were noble enough, although I suppose many people might argue about such a thing, if they were sitting around a room together without a deck of cards or something good to read. Dewey was wrong when he said that being noble enough is all we can ask for in this world, because we can ask for much more than that. We can ask for a second helping of pound cake, even though someone has made it quite clear that we will not get any. We can ask for a new watercolor set, even though it will be pointed out that we never used the old one, and that all of the paints dried into a crumbly mess. We can ask for Japanese fighting fish, to keep us company in our bedroom, and we can ask for a special camera that will allow us to take photographs even in the dark, for obvious reasons, and we can ask for an extra sugar cube in our coffees in the morning and an extra pillow in our beds at night. We can ask for justice, and we can ask for a handkerchief, and we can ask for cupcakes, and we can ask for all the soldiers in the world to lay down their weapons and join us in a rousing chorus of “Cry Me A River”, if that happens to be your favorite song. But we can also ask for something we are much more likely to get, and that is to find a person or two, somewhere in our travels, who will tell us that we are noble enough, whether it is true or not. We can ask for someone who will say “You are noble enough,” and remind us of our good qualities when we have forgotten them, or cast them into doubt.
That’s why I love these books, and why I’ll be reading them to my kids, just as soon as I have some and they’re old enough to understand them on even the basest level. And why I’ll be going quietly mad until the next one comes out.
Current total: 81
Just finished: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
Next Up: who can say?