Let’s be real, there are only so many things I can say in intro to this blog series, and by now, you ought to know what’s going on. Up next in A Series of Unfortunate Events, we have The Wide Window, the story of three intelligent but miserable orphans who find themselves in the foster care of a completely unfit guardian, who this time around exists in the form of a highly everything-phobic widow. Spoilers to follow…
In The Wide Window, fresh off the murder of Uncle Monty, the Baudelaires find themselves waiting on Damocles Dock (yes, referencing the Swords of Damocles from the legend) to be situated with their next guardian, Aunt Josephine, who lives in a barely-together house protruding off a cliff at the shore of Lake Lachrymose. Not really their aunt, much like Monty was not really their uncle, Josephine Anwhistle is the widow of the late Ike Anwhistle (wait for it… there, you got it), who was tragically consumed by the Lachrymose leeches, a particularly violent species of leech that can smell food in your system for up to an hour after consumption. Poor Ike only waited forty-five minutes before getting into the water, and poor Ike is no more. As a result of his tragic death, Aunt Josephine is now completely terrified of everything, including but not limited to: telephones, ovens, doorknobs, hair in her face, and realtors. Girlfriend loves grammar, though. The titular wide window is a window in her personal library, which is devoted entirely to books on grammar and the English language.
As you can imagine, Josephine is a hoot to be around, and the Baudelaires’ short time with her is nothing but grammar lessons and cold food. As one might suspect, they end up running into Count Olaf, this time in disguise as Captain Julio Sham, a sailor and owner of a sailboat rental shop on the lake. He had time enough to rent out a space, make a sign, and print business cards, so you really have to admire the dude’s dedication to being a douchebag criminal. He even has a peg leg, claiming he lost his leg to the Lachrymose leeches (though he’s really just wearing a fake peg leg to hide his trademark identifying tattoo), thus winning the brief devotion of Aunt Josephine, who is lonely, stupid, or both. (Spoilers: it’s both.) He convinces Aunt Josephine to write a suicide note leaving the Baudelaires to Captain Sham, but Josephine runs away and leaves grammatical clues in the note for the Baudelaires to solve and find her. She’s living in a cave, and expects them to move in with her.
But as they attempt to escape, hoping to take Aunt Josephine to the authorities, prove she’s not dead and therefore her orphan bequeathing isn’t valid, they’re found by Captain Sham. Aunt Josephine is perfectly willing to sacrifice the orphans in exchange for her own freedom, which makes her the worst guardian Baudelaires have yet had (Count Olaf notwithstanding) or will have. Having eaten a banana prior to the orphans’ arrival, poor Josephine falls victim to the vicious Lachrymose leeches, leaving them oh for three. (The fate of Aunt Josephine also gives us a rare bit of foreshadowing to two books in the future, saying that authorities will find Aunt Josephine’s half-consumed life jackets (and nothing else), around the time the Baudelaires are in a boarding school (which ends up being book five, The Austere Academy).)
The Wide Window is where the series really starts to come into its own (The Miserable Mill rather undoes anything the series is beginning to become, but that’s a topic for next month). We start getting a better glimpse into Lemony Snicket as a character, rather than just the narrator. (Some fun tidbits about our narrator: He mentions his friend in Egypt who works as a snake charmer, the time he made business cards saying he was an admiral in the French navy to escape an enemy’s castle, a friend named Gina-Sue who is a socialist, he has seen a woman he loved picked up by a huge eagle and flown to its mountain nest, and a friend named Dr. Lorenz who knows about the scientific principles of the convergence and refraction of light.) And Olaf, as Julio Sham, becomes less out-and-out vicious and more comically vicious, even though he is still up to his usual tricks and villainy. We also start to get the inkling-est of inklings that maybe the fire that destroyed the Baudelaire home and the Baudelaire parents was not actually an accident, when Count Olaf, with his usual greatly inflated sense of pride in himself, cheerfully adds arson to the list of crimes of which Mr. Poe is accusing him. Does this mean that Count Olaf has always been after the Baudelaire fortune? Or is he simply just casually into arson, and it’s coincidence?
And on a writing note, Snicket takes another opportunity to play around with humor and less traditional writing, as it were (much like the page of “ever”s in Reptile Room indicating that a reader should never, ever play around with electricity), by having Sunny and Klaus have swollen tongues for a scene, and communicating much of their dialogue through “bluh”s. But Wide Window also has the distinction of having some of my all-time favorite lines from the series, so we’ll close on these nuggets of wisdom.
If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.
Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances. Stealing is not excusable if, for instance, you are in a museum and you decide that a certain painting would look better in your house, and you simply grab the painting and take it there. But if you were very, very hungry, and you had no way of obtaining money, it might be excusable to grab the painting, take it to your house, and eat it.
And from the last chapter,
[It] would be difficult for me to tell you what the moral of the story is. In some stories, it’s easy. The moral of “The Three Bears,” for instance, is “Never break into someone else’s house.” The moral of “Snow White” is “Never eat apples.” The moral of World War One is “Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand.”
Join me next month for The Miserable Mill, which is about hypnosis, optometrists, and probably a mill or two.