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The Grim GrottoReview - The Grim Grotto
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eleventh
by Lemony Snicket
HarperCollins, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Oct 6th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 41)

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.

 

Links:

2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian 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:

Hardcover:

Audiobook read by Tim Curry:

Series of Unfortunate Events


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