Thursday, January 27, 2005

6. The Carnivorous Carnival

by Lemony Snicket

When are we going to find out what V.F.D. stands for? In The Ersatz Elevator it was Very Fine Doilies. In The Vile Village it was the Village of Fowl Devotees. In The Hostile Hospital it was Volunteers Fighting Disease. And in The Carnivorous Carnival, it’s everything from veiled facial disguises to various finery disguises to voice fakery disguises, and, more importantly, it’s some sort of headquarters of a secret group hidden in the mountains. The Baudelaire parents were part of this group. So was our morose narrator and his mysterious brother. Sadly, only we know who, of this group, is still alive.

Thus far, the Series of Unfortunate Events has been mostly devoid of the obvious morals usually found in children’s books. You know – the sharing is good, listen to your parents, do well in school type of morals. In this book, the author treads lightly on that ground, inserting his own brand of life lessons into the narrative. I wouldn’t call the lesson obvious, because what is obvious is that Snicket believes in the intelligence of his readers regardless of their age, but it was heartening to realize the underlying moral throughout these books, as the Baudelaire siblings realize it themselves. When the siblings must disguise themselves in order to fit in with the freaks at the Caligari Carnival, Violet wonders if maybe they’re no better than Count Olaf and his troop. After all, they used disguises to fool people and lied to try to get their hands on the Baudelaire fortune. The lesson? Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between right and wrong. Sometimes they look very similar. And sometimes you have to question whether what you’re doing is any more right than what others are doing.

I think that’s a complex idea, because up until this point we are wholly on the side of the Baudelaires and with this the author forces us to examine the situation in a new light. Not that we, for a second, believe that the siblings’ intentions aren’t on the side of good, but Snicket uses this moment to subtly deliver this lesson to his readers. Of course it’s not all ethics and aphorisms, as the book is full of Snicket’s requisite brand of hilarious humor, complete with an ambidextrous “freak,” a jab at loathsome job interviews, and audience members who are mistaken for freaks themselves. And with this Snicket teaches us one more thing: anyone can be a freak. It’s all a matter of how you choose to use your own special abilities that will determine whether being a freak is a good or a bad thing. I doubt we’ll have to question on which side the Baudelaires end up.

I just have one question: What’s V.F.D.? Tell me now. No? How ‘bout now? You’re killing me! Now? Can I know now?

Stars: Four

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