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The Miserable MillReview - The Miserable Mill
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth
by Lemony Snicket
HarperTrophy, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 24th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 4)

The Baudelaire orphans now find themselves exploited by an unscrupulous relative who runs a wood mill. The workers are paid in vouchers for discounts for mostly useless items, and since they are not given any cash, they cannot use those vouchers anyway. For lunch, they are given pieces of gum, and they have to survive on the stews they are given for dinner. The children and the other workers are exhausted by the relentless schedule of backbreaking work. Worst of all, there are clear signs that the evil Count Olaf is plotting to get their fortune, but there is no sign of their scheming relative … until he crops up in an improbable disguise.

Although the plot involving hypnotism and industrial accidents is interesting enough, it is the moral lessons about character that are most interesting to me. There is the well-meaning Charles, who is a joint owner of the Mill with "Sir" their relative with an unpronounceable name. Charles could, if he chose, stand up to Sir and insist that the workers be treated fairly, and he could do far more to help the orphans. But Charles is scared of Sir, and lacks the necessary courage. Then there is Phil, one of their fellow workers who is an inveterate optimist, who insists on seeing the bright side of everything, even though this requires being utterly unrealistic about his circumstances, the dangers facing the children, and it turns out, the dangers facing him. Both Charles and Phil, despite their good qualities, are useless fools.

It is Violet who has to show the most courage in this story, because Klaus gets hypnotized and becomes the hapless tool of evildoers. Things are even worse for the orphans in this book than they were in the previous ones, because they are not able to work together to solve their problems. The heavy responsibility of saving the day falls on poor Violet.

Lemony Snicket again reads the unabridged audiobook, and I'm glad to report that he does a better job than he did in The Wide Window, now articulating a greater range of voices, with more character. This unhappy story will certainly satisfy those who have enjoyed earlier books in the series. The format of the series is, perhaps, a little narrow, since it is always Count Olaf who is after the orphan's fortune. But new themes are introduced through the series; in this book, we see the exploitation of children in factories, which adds a Dickensian flavor of moral outrage to the story. The narrator, Lemony Snicket, is gradually revealing more information about himself, and his work of documenting the story of the Baudelaire children, which leads him to his own adventures. One of the features of the series is the unfolding of these writerly devices, and this makes up for the fact that there is rather little character development of the children themselves.

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© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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