Friday, July 24, 2009

The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital
© 2001 Lemony Snicket
255 pages

The Hostile Hospital represents a dramatic break in the series' pattern: rather than Mr. Poe delivering the children to yet another guardian who will either die, denounce the children, or attempt to kill them, the children begin this book on their own -- a consequence of having been run out of the vile Village of Fowl Devotees by a mob intent to burn them at the stake. Count Olaf has managed to fool another dim-witted group of people, but this time his disguises and lies have more long-reaching effects: the Baudelaire orphans are wanted for murder. Because the adults in this book series are so unbelievably credulous, the children -- Violet, Klaus, and Sunny if you need reminding -- are utterly on their own.

The story begins at the Last Chance store. If you've seen the movie, this is where Count Olaf attempts to kill the children by "flattening them with a train". The children fire off a telegram to Mr. Poe to tell him that they really didn't murder a man in VFD and that this is just a big misunderstanding caused by Count Olaf, but they have to leave soon thereafter when the gullible shopkeepers read the daily newspaper and begin to believe that the polite but harrowed-looking orphans are murderers. Fortunately, as they run out the door they find a bus marked "VFD": Volunteers Fighting Disease. This is a group of well-intentioned but otherwise useless clowns who go to hospitals singing songs in an attempt to cheer people up. That may work for Patch Adams, but it doesn't work here.

While the hospital is only half-finished and is filled with adults, the children seek sanctuary in its unfinished rooms. While they wait for the storm that is their manhunt to be over, they seek employment in the hospital's library of records after finding out that it may have information on them: unfortunately, this information has also attracted Count Olaf. Olaf's timing is unfortunate, but that's in keeping with the theme of the books and -- after a series of similarly unfortunate events -- Klaus and Sunny have to rescue Violet from an operating table, as Count Olaf intends to remove her head. The book ends with Olaf putting yet another building to flames.

Clearly, the series is shaping up: at this point the books are driven more by the overall story and less by their specific circumstances. There's clearly a larger story here, and one that involves the narrator in that people in the Snicket family met the same fate as the orphans' parents, as did the narrator's girlfriend Beatrice -- who he mentions often. In addition to the plot, the children are also maturing: they are growing as characters and exhibiting signs of the stress that they've gone through so far and know they will endure a little further. They're finally realizing how they must rely only on themselves, because adults are useless when not evil. The children are also learning to take advantage of this universal gullibility: they lie, disguise themselves, and steal when necessary in the last book and then fret over the choices they are making -- worrying that they are becoming more like Count Olaf.

The series continues to delight. On a final note, by this point I am sure Snicket is using Sunny's "nonsense" speak to convey private jokes to readers with broader vocabularies than the children who probably constitute the bulk of his reading audience.

On a more final note, while searching for music from the movie I found a song about the book series on YouTube. The real version has Snicket himself singing, but this particular video has the song set to clips from the movie.

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