Book Review: a Series of Unfortunate Events 11: the Grim Grotto

Friday morning’s gym book was a Series of Unfortunate Events 11: the Grim Grotto (Young Adult 323 pages) by Lemony Snicket.

“Dear Reader, Unless you are a slug, a sea anemone, or mildew, you probably prefer not to be damp. You might also prefer not to read this book, in which the Baudelaire siblings encounter an unpleasant amount of dampness as they descend into the depths of despair, underwater. In fact, the horrors they encounter are too numerous to list, and you wouldn’t want me even to mention the worst of it, which includes mushrooms, a desperate search for something lost, a mechanical monster, a distressing message from a lost friend, and tap dancing. As a dedicated author who has pledged to keep recording the depressing story of the Baudelaires, I must continue to delve deep into the cavernous depths of the orphans’ lives. You, on the other hand, may delve into some happier book in order to keep your eyes and your spirits from being dampened. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket.”

I’ve found that this series is extremely addictive starting from the last book and now moving into this book. There’s a lot going on and things are moving faster and faster. It’s been really hard for me to wait for my gym days in order to finish a book and the series in general. The books are also getting noticeably longer and taking me about two gym sessions to finish each one. And yet, I just want to keep reading. As soon as I finish one, I want to move right on to the next.

Captain Widdershins is one of the most interesting adult characters who have appeared in this series so far. He recognizes the Baudelaire orphans in the periscope and offers to let them aboard, assuming they know the password and the V.F.D. challenges. When pressed about how he knows so much about the Baudelaires, their individual skills, and the things that have happened to them, he replies on page 32: “How does anyone know anything about anything? … I read it, of course! Aye! I’ve read every Volunteer Factual Dispatch I’ve received! Although lately I haven’t received any! Aye! That’s why I’m glad you happened along!” He is energetic, and as we learn throughout this book, also an avid reader and with an interest in poetry, which you wouldn’t think would be something he would enjoy. This just goes to show you that people are often not who you think they are when you first encounter them. Some people you think are indecisive or travelling quickly in the wrong direction have more information about a situation than you do. I guess the underlying moral of this part of the story is that you shouldn’t judge people based on first impressions.

Captain Widdershins is kind enough to fill the Baudelaires in with a little bit of information about the nature of some of the V.F.D. activities and he talks to them on page 98 about the different interests of the volunteers and the Voluntary Fish Domestication as one of the missions of Anwhistle Aquatics, where he spent four years training salmon to search for forest fires. Fiona’s brother is mentioned as working with Captain Widdershins and it seems like he was one to help and that he might have really enjoyed working with those fish. More about Fiona’s brother later in this review.

Meanwhile, in this same section of the book, Captain Widdershins lets us know that there are three Snicket siblings, Jacques who was killed by Count Olaf in the Vile Village, Kit who helped build the Queequeg submarine, and a third who is unnamed, but an astute reader would guess is Lemony Snicket, the author of these books, and the person who has been following the Baudelaire orphans. This is a very amusing way the author continues to be a part of the story and yet, not really a part of the story. I think it helps with the tone of the series and adds to the mystery surrounding both the author and the bigger picture events hinted at throughout the books.

This book was just filled with passages that I relate to on levels I can’t adequately describe.

Page 120 had a section that really stuck out with me: “A citation for bravery is nothing more than a piece of paper stating that you have been courageous at some time, and such citations have not been known to be very useful when confronted by danger.” I found this to be probably the single most accurate statement in the entire series. If you are ever faced with a situation where you have to do something requiring all of your courage, it’s not usually helpful to think that if you make it through that situation alive that someone might give you a piece of paper for your bravery.

Here’s one that hit me pretty strongly on page 148: “It is often difficult to admit that someone you love is not perfect, or to consider aspects of a person that are less than admirable.” I think that one of the key components of real love is that you see that the other person is not perfect and that they are flawed, just as you are flawed, and there is love regardless. Real love is accepting someone for who they were, for who they are, and for who they will someday become. Real love is acknowledging that no one is perfect, but they are perfect for you. You have to remember the good things and the bad things about the people in your life. You can’t just put them on a pedestal and pretend like mistakes weren’t made on both sides. But it’s being willing to move through those mistakes and become better people who make things fit together again. I have even come to the point of my life where the memories that used to hurt now make me smile and I continue to hope that someday, that friendship will be given another chance.

But now, back to the Grim Grotto 🙂

A lot of my discussions about these books lately have involved conversations about villains. What makes someone a villain versus a hero? I’ve discussed it multiple times since about book eight, the Hostile Hospital. I was very amused when this came up on page 187: “If you are considering a life of villainy – and I certainly hope that you are not – there are a few things that appear to be necessary to every villain’s success. One thing is a villainous disregard for other people, so that a villain may talk to his or her victims impolitely, ignore their pleas for mercy, and even behave violently toward them if the villain is in the mood for that sort of thing. Another thing villains require is a villainous imagination, so that they might spend their free time dreaming up treacherous schemes in order to further their villainous careers. Villains require a small group of villainous cohorts, who can be persuaded to serve the villain in a henchpersonal capacity. And villains need to develop a villainous laugh, so that they may simultaneously celebrate their villainous deeds and frighten whatever nonvillainous people happen to be nearby.” This goes fairly well with some of the discussions I’ve had about what it means to be a villain and I was amused that Lemony Snicket was so kind in the offering up of a description of what a villain should be like and what a villain should have.

This book also goes a little deeper into some of the motivations people might have for working with people who they know are not positive individuals. You might think you don’t have a choice, or you might think that you should stay somewhere you might be uncomfortable due to family pressure.

And just as a random note, I suspected from the very beginning the Mr. Poe was not a very useful person, and to find that he is likely one of those who have been making things even more difficult for the Baudelaire orphans is not a surprise at all.

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). I’m glad that I own this book and will continue with the rest of the books in the series. This is the first book in the series so far that not only ends with the Baudelaires mostly safe, but also making a turn for the better. It was very difficult to not immediately pick up the next book and start it, especially with the new character introduced at the very end.

Works cited: Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Grim Grotto. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2004.

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About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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