In the second part of our miniseries on A Series of Unfortunate Events, Skylar and Lokesh reference references and the effects of the on-screen adaptation on the series.
Skylar: Hey school, journsplit is back with another episode; I’m Skylar, and this is the second part of the ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ miniseries, where we will be covering Books 4 to 8. If you haven’t heard our previous episodes yet, do remember to check the rest of them out on our website!
Lokesh: Yup, this is Lokesh, and as always, let’s get on with the introduction. Warning, spoilers ahead! From here on out, the plot of the books starts to pick up as the Baudelaire children get into more uniquely unfamiliar situations, uncovering new secrets in their uncertain futures. Let’s start with book 4, ‘The Miserable Mill’. This time, the orphans are sent to live in Lucky Smells Lumbermill where their new guardian, Sir, overworks them under the condition of promised protection from Count Olaf in return.
Skylar: Right! I still remember Count Olaf’s particularly devious plans to secure the kids especially. While working at the lumbermill, Klaus is tripped by the head foreman in charge and breaks his glasses, forcing him to be sent to visit the local optometrist to replace them. After the visit, Klaus begins acting strangely, being more distant towards his siblings as well as causing an accident that seriously injures a fellow coworker. Unfortunately, this is also when Violet and Sunny discover Count Olaf, claiming to be a receptionist for the optometrist, who would be willing to adopt a few orphan children should they be fired from the lumbermill after being the cause of several unprofitable accidents. Thus, their troubles begin yet again.
Lokesh: Up till this point, the Baudelaire children appear to be in a tight spot, but you can be rest assured that they are well capable of defending themselves. In the climax of the book, Violet and Sunny arrive at the lumbermill in the early morning to discover Klaus in a trance while being commanded by the Foreman to operate a buzz saw close to Sir’s tied up partner, Charles. Operating on a theory that Klaus has been hypnotised by the optometrist, Georgina Orwell, Violet attempts to snap him out of it, with knowledge read up on hypnotism, as Sunny fends Orwell and her sword off with her teeth. In the end, Orwell ends up dead while Count Olaf and the Foreman, who turns out to be one of his men in disguise, flee the scene of the crime. Sir decides to relinquish the Baudelaire orphans, and they are now left without a guardian like before.
Skylar: Speaking of which, I’m willing to bet that the name Georgina Orwell is meant to be a reference.
Lokesh: Yeah. Well, you would be right as it’s distinctly referring to famous novelist and journalist, George Orwell! This is likely meant to cheekily allude to the fact that she has hypnotised all the workers into accepting an authoritarian work environment with low pay, in a situation like his most well known novel, ‘1984’. This is not the only reference though as the final illustration of the book shows a sign shaped like a pair of eyes looking through eyeglasses, being very reminiscent of the billboard of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby.
Skylar: Oh wow, all these references to other books and authors really adds to the playful tone of writing throughout this series! It also makes me really want to get the books to dig through all the references we could’ve potentially missed! Anyway, we should probably move on to the next book before I get too carried away on a tangent.
Lokesh: And that would be the fifth installation of the series, ‘The Austere Academy’.
Skylar: I got it! To start off, the Baudelaire children are shipped off to stay at Prufrock Preparatory School. There, they meet their new guardian, Vice Principal Nero, who turns out to have a little too much self importance while he looks down on the orphans, likely for not being as privileged as him. He forces them to live in the dilapidated ‘Orphan Shack’ instead of the better dormitories and Sunny is made into the vice principal’s assistant, turning out to do all his work for him while he attempts to play his violin horrendously, under the excuse that she is simply too young to be enrolled in Prufrock Prep. All this to say, imagine having escaped a life of child labour and exploitation plus poor living conditions just to end up in a similar situation all over again.
Lokesh: It isn’t too far-fetched to imagine though. This is pretty much a quick introduction towards Vice Principal Nero and his incompetency over managing the school, and even more a criticism of the lack of care from authority figures such as schools and its effects on the children under them. And like with any recurring misfortunes in the Baudelaire children’s lives, Count Olaf returns in the form of their new physical education teacher, Coach Genghis. This time, the Baudelaire children keep this knowledge to themselves, preferring to not tip off the enemy over not being believed by the gullible adults. However, Coach Genghis takes this opportunity to exhaust them with excessive running practice, causing them to be too tired to achieve satisfactory grades at school and threatened to be expelled.
Skylar: What stressful stakes! Thankfully, the Baudelaire children have new friends to depend on, namely two of the Quagmire triplets whose parents have also passed away from a house fire. They quickly become friends over their shared experiences of being orphaned and equal dislike of the spoilt school bully, Carmelita Spats. The Quagmires agree to disguise themselves as the Baudelaire children for their running practice one night to allow them time to study. This plan backfires however, as Coach Genghis persuades Vice Principal Nero to expel them for cheating instead.
Lokesh: Not wanting Count Olaf to gain the upper hand, the children work together to remove his disguise and expose his true identity once again, but like always, he escapes, kidnapping the Quagmires with him. All that’s left in the end is for Mr Poe to send the grieving orphans to their next legal guardian. Not that it’s related or anything, but in all of the books prior to this story, the Baudelaires have had to undergo some wacky journey with each new guardian. This time however, they are merely left in a relatively normal if not slightly exaggerated boarding school. What’s the reason for this change then?
Skylar: Well, I might call it the ‘going to school’ arc that appears in many young adult books. This is the downtime in which we get to experience how the Baudelaire children get to form relationships with their peers while receiving a chance to learn about the overarching V.F.D. plot that they must resolve if they want to truly get rid of Count Olaf for good. I believe that this adds more weight to the plot as much as it gives the Baudelaire children greater character development (at least Violet and Klaus; Sunny is way too young) to be responsible for taking back charge of their lives.
Lokesh: Wow that’s a clever observation! Also Vice Principal Nero is such a weird character! And yes his name is also an allusion to the Nero, a Roman Emperor whose reign is often associated with tyranny and greed. Emperor Nero allegedly “fiddled while Rome burned”. Nero was also famous for forcing many of his subjects to sit through extended theatrical pieces created and performed by himself, which is reflected in Vice Principal Nero’s horrible violin recitals. Not to mention, but why does Nero remind me of Nemo?
Skylar: I don’t think it has anything to do with Nemo. But actually that brings me back to a very interesting observation! Mrs. Bass and Mr. Remora share their names with types of fish, as did the former gym teacher Ms. Tench. Is it perhaps because a group of fish is referred to as a school? (ba doom tsh)
Lokesh: Perhaps it’s to show that these characters are slippery and vile people and cannot be believed or relied on despite them being in charge of the students in the school. Also it’s definitely yet another reference to the next book, Ersatz Elevator, with all the ocean symbolism. So many cross-references!
Skylar: Anyways… On to the next book! Now we’re at the sixth book, The Ersatz Elevator. Mr Poe this time has sent the Baudelaires to a penthouse in a high apartment building on 667 Dark Avenue to be taken care of by Jerome Squalor, a good friend of the Baudelaires’ mom, and his wife, Esmé Gigi Genevieve Squalor, the city’s sixth most important financial adviser (as she endlessly brags to be). Jerome truly cares for the children but Esme purely adopted them because orphans were “in” and that’s trendy.
Lokesh: As the story progresses, we are introduced to Count Olaf again who is now the auctioneer, Gunther, for an upcoming “in” auction that the Baudelaires’ guardians will be attending. Familiar with Count Olaf and his tricks by now, the Baudelaires search the whole apartment building for his likely hiding spot, just to discover an empty elevator shaft where the Quagmires are being held hostage. Unfortunately, they are taken away again before the Baudelaires could break them out, and they are in turn pushed into the elevator shaft by Esmé who turns out to be in cahoots with the enemy. They only just manage to escape to make it to the auction where they deduce that the Quagmires are being put up for sale to be smuggled off.
Skylar: One might think that this is where the Quagmires are rescued, but instead, they disappear in a classic bait and switch red herring (literally). Even if Count Olaf’s identity has been revealed, he still makes a swift getaway along with Esmé this time. The Baudelaires are left to chase after Count Olaf in a twist of irony now while their current guardian Jerome Squalor is too cowardly to accompany them any further.
Lokesh: Although the Quagmires still remain in captivity, I would like to point out that from this point onwards, Esmé will be returning as a recurring secondary villain. She’s a rather interesting character don’t you think? I think what makes her so intimidating as a villain is her obsessive behaviour, be it towards maintaining a wonderful fashionable wardrobe, her endless devotion towards being with Count Olaf and a life of crime, or her single track search for the sugar bowl (whatever that may be).
Skylar: Next on the list is the seventh book, ‘The Vile Village’. Looking to finally track down and free the Quagmires, the Baudelaires arrive at a village with the acronyms of V.F.D. (oooh~ mysterious I know), but instead find themselves in a village of batty fowl devotees. There, they must follow many strict, arbitrary rules dictated by a Council of Elders, and their most important task is to complete their chores as ordered.
Lokesh: Just then, in a surprising turn of events, Count Olaf is arrested off screen and thrown into the village’s jail. As it turns out though, the man arrested only appears to be Count Olaf based on a few shared traits although he is a completely different man, Jacques Snicket, and the village plans to burn him at the stake. Before the children can prove his innocence at the trial though, he is found murdered in his jail cell and the children are accused of the crime based on false evidence. This time Count Olaf has come masquerading as Detective Dupin, and Esmé as Officer Luciana, to pin the blame.
Skylar: Luckily, the Baudelaires escape their jail cell with their lives and manage to find the secret hiding spot of the Quagmires based on coded poems sent out from a few crows. They all attempt to escape on the hot-air mobile home that one of the kinder villagers, Hector has built to leave the villagers, but they are thwarted by Esmé shooting the rope ladder with a harpoon gun, forcing the Baudelaires to have to be left behind while the rest leave. Count Olaf’s identity is revealed again, but this helps no one now as the villagers still would rather burn both him and the Baudelaires at the stake, thus forcing them to escape now as fugitives of the law. All they have left is a scattered notebook with clues towards the V.F.D. left behind by the Quagmires.
Lokesh: And have you found more references yet?
Skylar: Yup. One of the townspeople’s names, Mr Lesko is a nod towards author Matthew Lesko. The villains’ aliases are also references in themselves with “Detective Dupin” referring to Edgar Allen Poe’s character C. Auguste Dupin and “Officer Luciana” towards the novel Catch-22 written by Joseph Heller. Furthermore, the Nevermore Tree is a reference to another work of Edgar Allen Poe from his poem “The Raven”, a poet Ogden Nash is mentioned in the story, and Hector quotes from Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.
Lokesh: Great. I suppose now is the time that we have to address the biggest elephant in the room, and that’s how the on screen adaptation has affected the story up to this point.
Skylar: Huh? How so?
Lokesh: The author of the series himself has famously been quoted as saying that he regrets not clueing the audience in on bigger plot threads such as the V.F.D. in the earlier stories. As such, the adaptation was likely made with the added effort of correcting this. We can see the impact of this change particularly in this part of the story as it helps to flesh out the particular character of Jacques Snicket. Despite being a member of the V.F.D. and supposed brother of the (in universe) author, he only shows up in one book to be quickly killed off unceremoniously. In the series however, we get to see him in action and root for him to save the Baudelaires so when his death arrives, it leaves a greater impact and causes more despair at the loss of a valuable ally.
Skylar: Indeed. I would also like to mention that this change completely changes how you view the death in the ninth book when Ol-
Lokesh: And that’s enough for now. Let’s lay off the spoilers until the next episode alright?
Skylar: Oh. Sure. Last for now is book eight, ‘The Hostile Hospital’. Now on the run, the Baudelaires take refuge in a hospital while searching the records for the Snicket Files in hopes of finding a clue on one of their parents surviving. They trick the librarian Hal into allowing them access, but are ultimately stopped and chased by Esmé. In the chase, Violet gets caught, and is nearly forced to undergo craniotomy where her head is cut off, but is nearly saved in time by Sunny and Klaus disguised as health professionals. In the end, they escape through stowing away in the boot of Count Olaf’s car as they leave a burning hospital.
Lokesh: And that’s about it. We look forward to completing our first miniseries next time with our final episode covering books 9 to 13. Until then, make sure to keep up with all other episodes and stay tuned.