Lemony Snicket,
A Series of Unfortunate Events,
#7: The Vile Village

(Harper Collins, 2001)

The Vile Village is the seventh book in Lemony Snicket's wonderfully dark tale of the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. A Series of Unfortunate Events, the umbrella title for this ongoing saga, began appropriately enough with The Bad Beginning in 1999. It was in the opening chapter of The Bad Beginning that the Baudelaires were informed of the untimely deaths of their parents and were packed off to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf, whose interest in the tragic trio was limited to his lust for the fortune they would one day inherit. Each subsequent book has covered the orphans' trials at the hands of a new guardian as they're besieged by the relentless Count Olaf and his cronies. Olaf is a master of disguise but his single unbroken eyebrow, his shiny, shiny eyes and the tattoo of an eye on his ankle make him all too obvious to the siblings.

The Vile Village sees Violet, Klaus and Sunny deposited into the hands of an entire community. The Village of Fowl Devotees, also known as V.F.D., believes "it takes a village to raise a child" and they've decided to adopt the Baudelaires and try their collective hands at parenting. Lemony Snicket opens this book with the type of warning he presents at the start of each adventure: "If you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight." And once again he delivers on this promise. The children are forced to perform endless menial chores for the citizens of V.F.D. They are thrown in jail for violating village rule #201 -- and may well end up burned at the stake. What deliciously dreadful fun, so much in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl!

Snicket does a number of clever things in his books, which make them stand out as ideal choices for kids. He introduces vocabulary that challenges the reader. The word "aphorism," for instance, is very much a part of this story, cropping up perhaps two dozen times after it is first introduced and explained. Yet this blatant educational component to the story comes off as both appropriate and entertaining because it fits so naturally with the character of 12-year-old Klaus, an insatiable reader whose store of diverse knowledge is an invaluable tool for the children. In fact, each of the Baudelaires brings an essential skill to the series of predicaments they encounter. Violet, the eldest at 14, is tremendously interested in machinery and can turn the oddest items into clever inventions. Sunny, still an infant, brings her four sharp teeth, without which the Baudelaires would more than once have been doomed.

As is often the case in this sort of darkly comic adventure, the children prove to be much wiser than the adults into whose care they fall. They find clever solutions to their predicaments when the adults prove powerless to protect their charges. And the generous helping of the absurd that Snicket always stirs into his adventures keeps the plots both unpredictable and funny.

This series is a gem. Read it from its bad beginning through the Baudelaires' difficult days at The Miserable Mill and The Austere Academy. And be sure to visit The Vile Village as well. These orphans may be, "magnets for misfortune," the greater misfortune would be missing out on the misery.

[ by Gregg Thurlbeck ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

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