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The Grim Grotto bodes well
for the coming climax of the thirteen books in the Series of Unfortunate
Events. It introduces some wonderful new characters, especially Captain Widdershins.
It reintroduces some minor characters from previous books in the series. Of
course, the characters one would expect to appear do so: Count Olaf, Esme
Squalor and the hook-handed man, but they are used sparingly and to good
effect, so the story is not dominated by their evil scheming. But best of all,
it introduces new mysteries and the possible solution of old ones, so that the
final two coming books will not just be a matter of a fight of good over evil
and tying up loose ends.
The plot takes several twists and
turns. The three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, start off
tobogganing down the mountains fleeing from Count Olaf and his nefarious
troupe. They end up in a submarine, the Queequeg, and meet Captain Widdershins
and his stepdaughter Fiona. The Captain has a personal philosophy, "He or
she who hesitates is lost," and often the narrator discusses whether this
is a wise saying. Often, he points out, hesitation is helpful and acting
without stopping can be rash. It can be a sign of a volatile character, and it
turns out that the Captain does not have a reflective nature. He does,
however, talk a great deal; he comes out with streams of loosely associated
phrases that don't seem to mean very much. "Keep your eyes open! Look out
below! Look out above! Look out for spies! Look out for one another! Look
out! Aye! Be very careful! Be very aware! Be very much! Take a break! No
-- keep going! Stay awake! Calm down! Cheer up! Keep climbing! Keep your
shirt on! Aye!" In the audiobook, Tim Curry outdoes himself with his
performance of the Captain.
It turns out that the Captain knows
all about the Baudelaires and VFD. He says it is imperative that they find the
sugar bowl that got lost in The Slippery Slope. Count Olaf is pursuing
the submarine, and so the crew is in great danger and in a great rush. There
is no time to hesitate. The Baudelaires and Fiona get into deep-sea diving
costumes and go in search of the sugar bowl; they end up in an underground cave
under attack by poisonous mushrooms. Fortunately, Fiona is a mycologist, which
means she is able to guide the group about what to do.
As with many of the other books in
the series, The Grim Grotto contains significant moral discussion. One
of the central questions it raises is whether it is possible to draw a clear
distinction between good and bad. The Baudelaires have already grappled with
this question of their own goodness, because they have lied, stolen and
committed arson in their adventures. Now they have to confront the question of
whether it is wrong to join a nefarious group if it is for the sake of family.
Even more touching is when they confront their own memories of their parents
and admit to themselves that sometimes their parents were not perfect, and
sometimes were angry with the children.
Lemony Snicket writes with his
familiar love of language filling the story with references to great literature
and poetry. The book is both often laugh-out-loud funny, especially with Sunny's
short exclamations. The writing is clever and extremely entertaining. It also
addresses some of the most profound questions of life, about trust and hope and
moral fortitude. It's an irresistible combination. Highly recommended.
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
Available through Amazon.com:
Audiobook read by Tim Curry:
Series of Unfortunate Events