Friday, July 24, 2009

The Vile Village

The Vile Village
© 2001 Lemony Snicket
256 pages

"It takes a village to raise a child", the saying goes -- and the vile village of VFD takes that saying seriously when they join a government program that allows whole villages to adopt orphans. Although the children will find nothing in the village that is pleasant or kindly, in an ironic twist this is an instance of the Baudelaires accidentally creating their own misfortune. They are given the opportunity to choose a village to be adopted by, and choose VFD based on the fact that its name is the same as the mystery organization that links their parents' demise and Count Olaf together. Given that the last time they chose something called "VFD" for that reason the Quagmire orphans were meanly spirited away by the ever mean-spirited Count Olaf, you'd think they'd be a little more careful -- but they were not, and so spend the better part of a day trudging toward the village through scorching sun and dust storms because the village doesn't allow mechanical devices anywhere near it -- one of their many hundreds of arbitrary rules with cruel punishments.

The children are dismayed to learn that the town cares little for their welfare, and that they intend to use the children as a source of free labor doing the town's chores. Complicating matters is the fact that the town is covered with crows -- literally covered with the black birds standing around looking menacing. The children are made to live with Hector, the town janitor who lives just outside the city limits. He's a kind-hearted man, but like all kind-hearted people in this series he's cursed with a character flaw that limits his ability to help the orphans: like Jerome Squalor from The Ersatz Elevator, Hector is easily cowed: Jerome was most definitely hen-pecked, and Hector is easily intimidated by the Council of Elders, a council of elderly folks who wear hats shaped like crows. "VFD", by the way, stands for "Village of Fowl Devotees".

It should come as no surprise that Count Olaf eventually shows up and eventually tries to steal the children, but in the meantime the Baudelaires are faced with a mystery: they keep finding messages from the kidnapped Quagmire triplets under a tree in Hector's front yard. Eventually they do find a solution, but not before Count Olaf manages to have them run out of town by a mob intent to burn them at the stake. So it goes.

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