This morning’s gym book was a Series of Unfortunate Events 08: the Hostile Hospital (Young Adult 255 pages) by Lemony Snicket.
“Dear Reader, Before you throw this awful book to the ground and run as far away from it as possible, you should probably know why. This book is the only one which describes every last detail of the Baudelaire children’s miserable stay at Heimlich Hospital, which makes it one of the most dreadful books in the world. There are many pleasant things to read about, but this book contains none of them. Within its pages are such burdensome details as a suspicious shopkeeper, unnecessary surgery, an intercom system, anesthesia, heart-shaped balloons, and some very startling news about a fire. Clearly you do not want to read about such things. I have sworn to research this story, and to write it down as best I can, so I should know that this book is something best left on the ground, where you undoubtedly found it. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket.”
One of the interesting things this book addressed was treatment for people who are not exactly healthy. As the Baudelaire orphans wander around the hospital with the Volunteers Fighting Disease, there are several points when it’s made obvious that walking around singing happy songs and giving people balloons is not a very good substitute for actually healing sick people. The V.F.D. believe that “a cheerful attitude is a more effective way of fighting illness than painkillers or a glass of water” which is an interesting look at how some people in the real world actually live their lives. I’m not saying that a cheerful attitude isn’t extremely helpful, because it is, but it has to be combined with real, genuine help. The V.F.D. could have been doing actually constructive things to help the patients in the hospital while still handing out balloons and singing. While the group sang, one member could go and get a glass of water for the patient who requested it. In that way, they would be cheered both by being less dehydrated and also by having a happy song and a heart-shaped balloon. (And, to be honest, the main reason this topic is such an issue with me is because I see a lot of people putting on a happy mask or praying for someone when they could do something tangible like bring a glass of water instead of just trying to get credit for helping when they didn’t actually do anything productive).
This book also brought up a lot of interesting discussions I’ve had about a very interesting topic. On page 241, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny makes a series of comments about how they’re getting as good at tricking people, disguises, anagrams, and lying to people as Count Olaf. Violet says, “Maybe we’re becoming villains after all.” to which Klaus replies, “We’re good people. We had to do tricky things in order to save our lives.” The counter-argument to this, of course, is that most people will do just about anything to save their own lives.
I wrote about heroes and villains a long, long time ago and some of the discussions I’ve had with a variety of people since then have also been interesting in the terms of really looking at what makes someone a villain. One of the things I didn’t really discuss in that post is the motivation for action. I think that defining a person as a hero or a villain would come down to why someone behaves the way they do.
So what makes a villain?
In the post I mentioned earlier, I spoke a lot about sacrifice. I think that goes hand-in-hand with the motivation for the villain. A villain is most likely to be motivated by personal gain, influence, power, or greed. Potentially a combination of all of these. Count Olaf in this series is clearly after the Baudelaires for his own sense of individual greed – he wants their inherited fortune. Even Esme, who was the sixth most successful banker in the city, was after the Baudelaires to increase her own wealth. Since those are selfish goals, Count Olaf and Esme are both clearly villains.
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny all feel badly about tricking the mob so they can escape the hospital. They feel badly about running away from the Last Chance General Store shopkeeper. They feel badly for lying to the Volunteers Fighting Disease. And they definitely feel badly for tricking Hal and what happened to the Records Room. At this point in the series, the Baudelaire orphans have had zero luck with getting anyone to actually listen to them or take the appropriate action against Olaf and his accomplices. Mr. Poe is a self-absorbed banker who, in my opinion, is using the Baudelaire orphans in order to make himself and his bank more prosperous. He continues to get raises and promotions at his bank and it’s likely due to the increasing wealth Violet, Klaus, and Sunny continue to amass, as they move from one guardian to another. The law officials believe propaganda instead of investigating for true facts. And Count Olaf and his personnel continue to weasel their way into a variety of places where their role is very influential and people listen to them for no apparent reason. I think the Baudelaire orphans trick people in this book so that they can retain their freedom and stay alive and they do not genuinely wish to hurt anyone, while Count Olaf and Esme are both cruel, as are all the members of the performance troupe, and none of them care about what happens to people who get in their way. In fact, they enjoy causing pain and harm to people.
Being a villain is about motivation and treatment of others. I think that you can be motivated by the most noblest of causes and still become a villain in the end. Evil done in the name of good is still evil, just as good done in the name of evil is still good.
The Baudelaire orphans might now be on a very slippery slope. It might become a matter of continuous justification if they continue to have to bite good people on the hand because of misunderstandings and miscommunications. The tone of this novel shifts a little bit towards the end, where the Baudelaire orphans start wondering if they really are the villains everyone else is starting to see them as, which is going to be interesting for character development in the future, I think.
The last thing that I really appreciate about this book is the fact that the Baudelaire children don’t hide. What I mean by that is that they see things are wrong and they take action to fix it instead of hiding from the world or instead of attempting to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that their world is better than it is. They are constantly faced with choices where most people would give up and accept that there’s nothing they can do. But Violet, Klaus, and Sunny always look for something they can do to save themselves, each other, or even the Quagmires. They acknowledge that they are afraid of the situations they’re in, but they still continue to make choices and attempt to solve the issues they are presented with. I don’t see that much in the real world today. Most of what I see in the real world today is all about a disposable life. If your electronic device is not the newest and most popular, you ditch it and buy the newest version, even though your previous worked just fine and it’s extremely environmentally wasteful to continuously throw things away. If you find out your dream job requires years of schooling and experience, you give up because it’s too much work. If someone you care about hurts you, you ditch them. I don’t see that behavior in the Baudelaires and I appreciate their characters all the more for it.
There’s a lot going on in this book and the books get more complicated the deeper into the series I get. I’m enjoying it greatly and overall, I’d probably rate this book as a high three on my rating scale because I really like the writing style, the characters are unique, and the message is mostly a positive one (for all that the book is not a happy story), and this book is starting to get into a lot more deeply philosophical issues, like what it means to be a villain. I’m glad that I own this book and will continue with the rest of the books in the series.
Works cited: Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Hostile Hospital. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.