Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room

With the TV adaptation just around the corner, I’m rereading one of my favorite book series from when I was a kid—A Series of Unfortunate Events. Today’s post regards book two, The Reptile Room, and it does contain spoilers for that book. As Lemony Snicket would say, if you don’t want plot information given away, “you are free to put this [review] back on the shelf and seek something lighter.”

And Speaking of Spoilers …

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

In this book, the Baudelaire orphans go to live with another distant relative, “Uncle” Monty, who studies snakes. Right as the orphans arrive, Uncle Monty is planning a scientific expedition to Peru, and he wants the orphans to come along. Eventually Count Olaf shows up disguised as Monty’s assistant, and schemes to steal their children’s inheritance once again—a scheme made easier by the death of Uncle Monty.

What’s interesting about this book is that it reveals the death of Uncle Monty as early as page 28—and not in some hint or euphemism, the narrator explicitly states, “It is Uncle Monty, unfortunately, who will be dead.” Mentioning this so far up front is important because it lets the readers know that, even though the main characters are having a good time in their new home, misfortune will strike again.

It also softens the blow of Uncle Monty’s death. The death of the caretaker is more disturbing than anything in the first book, because the children actually see his corpse (compare this to Harry Potter, wherein there’re no corpses until book four, more than halfway through the series.) It’s also more shocking to the reader than anything in The Bad Beginning, because unlike the parents who die in the first book, we actually get a chance to see Dr. Montgomery and get to know him before he dies. So knowing that it’s going to happen ahead of time takes some of the edge off the murder. It’s important to do that because this is only the second book of the series, and the first book where the guardian isn’t Count Olaf—the reader can’t have very clear expectations of how “unfortunate” these books will get, so the death of Uncle Monty establishes the tone, and severity of misfortune, for the entire series.Read More »