Incomplete Guide to Lemony Snicket Allusions
Sorry, folks had to revert to an earlier version because of web hosting issues.
The site that launched a thousand English papers
And almost as many pale imitations.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is a great series. Most series books tend to bog down as the author and publisher attempt to milk a cash cow long after it’s been turned into Happy Meals. This has a beginning and an end. In the parlance of In-n-Out Burger, it’s a 13 x 13 Old Fashioned Style — 13 books of 13 chapters (plus a Fourteenth at the very end).
Since Quidditch.com is trying to get you to read and think rather than buy cheesy merchandise or go around pretending to be a wizard named Archie Leach, check out some of these notable allusions in the series, which leaves no dystopia unreferenced.
I have heard the educating masses calling for EVERYTHING. So despite the fact that I prefer to leave puzzles for folks to solve or connections to see themselves, I’ll start the (long, tedious) process of putting ALL the references up here (minus the ones that would get me blocked by under-selective and over-active filters, which should be obvious to anybody about to write me a missive about certain Vladimir Nabokov novels, ancient Greek poetesses, or early Brooke Shields movies with characters named Violet).
The Bad Beginning
Baudelaire: After Charles Baudelaire, French flaneur, author, critic, poet of Les fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), arguably the most influential book of poems in the Nineteenth Century. (Try imagining an influential book of poetry in the twenty-first century.) Reading this stuff will impress your Goth girlfriend or boyfriend. Baudelaire was actually the man who also translated Edgar Allan Poe into French.
Poe: Duh… Edgar Allan Poe, who learned how to scare the heck out of people in five minutes or less, could structure poetry the way Brancusi made sculpture, and developed the modern detective story. The naming of the (later) Vice President for Orphan Affairs at Mulctuary Money Management is wonderfully ironic, given that Poe accomplished so much and Mr. Poe accomplishes so little. Jesse points out that all of the important women in Edgar Allen’s life died of consumption and Mr. Poe is always coughing in a consumptive manner. The names of Mr. Poe’s family members all reflect the names of people in the real Edgar Allen Poe’s life (the correspondences are left to the reader to determine). The Gold Bug has as its subject secret codes. If you’d like to read about Poe and secret writing, this is the place. Annually on Poe’s birthday a mysterious visitor pays homage to the man at his gravesite in Baltimore. If you go on the vigil to see it, please leave him or her alone, and please also check out the Poe Society of Baltimore’s site.
Klaus and Sunny: Ah…. I love social satire. Klaus and Sunny von Bulow were a soap operaesque couple out of Newport, Rhode Island who managed to hold the US in thrall while Klaus went on trial for Sunny’s attempted murder. A wonderful family you’d love to be part of…. The von Bulow Trial gripped the nation for months. Some of this will be lost on French readers for whom Sunny is renamed Prunille and the series becomes “The Disastrous Adventures of the Baudelaire Orphans.” This is also a comment on the nature of translation of pieces of literary quality. One of the strengths of the series is how wonderfully understated it is. “Unfortunate events” is the kind of phrase NASA would use (like “management disconnects” and “vehicle loss”) to minimize the patently horrible. The French translation drops the subtlety and puts “disaster” into sharp relief. May, 2004: on the nature of my comments above on the French translation: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. A professional translator has weighed in and convinced me there is more subtlety to the translation than I had originally perceived (their comments are here). So I want the record to show that I was wrong. Rather than follow in the footsteps of the Bush Administration and bury my mistakes I want to come clean and leave it up as a signpost for others.
Violet: And the OTHER high-profile, celebrity-laden case in US history (not involving a football player) — the Lindbergh Kidnapping, featured Violet Sharpe (Violette for Gallic readers) as a domestic in the household next door. Violet was driven to suicide by the suspicions of being involved. You’ll notice a certain parallelism that Violet and Sunny are both named after innocent victims. Violet is also certainly sharp. Rose-Marie notes an astounding coincidence, Violette Nozière was one of the most notorious of French murderesses, check out this film of her story.
Beatrice: Once upon a time a Tuscan poet named Dante had a crush on a woman he couldn’t have and wrote The Divine Comedy, a journey through the universe he knew, so he could meet up with her in Paradise. But first he needed to go through Inferno, or what we in English call Hell. Baudelaire himself wrote of La Béatrice. Nathaniel Hawthorne did a riff on her in Rappaccini’s Daughter (Thanks to Prongs for pointing this one out to me.). Allison wrote me of a novel Beatrice by H Rider Haggard (one of the first Imperialists to write with something like an understanding of and sympathy to the cultures they were suppressing). Smartypants brings up the Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, an orphan being raised by her uncle (and also adds: I always thought of “the world is quiet here” as a library. that’s one of the few places society all knows to keep silent).
Count Olaf: In Théophile Gautier‘s Avatar (a re-working of Faust), Count Olaf Labinski lives a waking nightmare. Check out this site in French to jog your thoughts on the matter. And then check out this article on the mythology of the face lift (a variation of which figures in this telling). Gautier is associated with the phrase l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake, see his preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin, which has cross-dressing as a major theme). He also wrote the scenario for the classic ballet Giselle, for which all balletomanes should be grateful (though the behavior of a woman saving the guy who wronged her and drove her to death rings a little weird to the twenty-first century ear). Gautier was an admirer of Victor Hugo (see below). Charles Baudelaire dedicated Les Fleurs du mal to him.
The Eye: Why an eye? You probably have a similar single eye symbol in your pocket on the US Dollar bill. Check out this essay on the meaning of the symbol. In the popular imagination it’s usually associated with Freemasonry, a private society which may or may not mirror the one Lemony, Jacques, and Olaf all belonged to in ASOUE. A favorite among conspiracy buffs, Freemasonry has nothing to do with imposing the New World Order. Or is that just what they want you to think??????? Thomas Pynchon (see below) is the master of conspiracy literature. Want a REAL secret society? Check out Skull and Bones. Mike points out Victoria Franklin-Dillon’s (VFD’s) statue Eye to the Earth. Marie channels Tolkien by seeing it as a reference to The Eye, or Sauron, in The Lord of the Rings. The concept of the Eye as all-seeing goes back to the Graecae (not the Fates, thanks to Theresa for the correction) of the Greeks (who shared a single eye) and Argus (who was covered with eyes) as well as having direct thematic consequences to Oedipus. My favorite “eye” scene in Shakespeare happens in King Lear.
The Zeitgeist / Weltanschauung: Though not explicitly mentioned (except in the reference to Fagin), the works of Charles Dickens hang out over Events like a thunderstorm over the great plains. The ever-present will and its legal consequences is redolent of Bleak House, and the plight of orphans smacks of Oliver Twist. How else can you conceptualize a world with horse drawn carriages and computers (excuse me, advanced computers) except as a reflection of the same social forces that drove Dickens? Compare the British 19th century urban experience with the French in Balzac and the Russian in Dostoyevsky. Then there’s just the whole alternative mindset. The way I think of ASOUE is by imagining “What if Nietzsche wrote Pollyanna?” Jorge sees it as a Perils of Pauline variant.
Jorge Luis Borges: Borges takes the raw clay of his world literature antecedents and morphs it into a new form. In The Aleph a poet pines for a lost Beatriz. And of course The Library of Babel recalls both the central role books play in Klaus’s life, the filing system in certain hospitals, and perhaps the search through any human-organized system of recorded words.
A wedding before an audience: Ever seen the movie Chained for Life with real-life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton marrying a cad on stage for a paying audience? The Hiltons were also in Freaks (see below), and were famously named “the other women” in a real divorce case. The Broadway musical Side Show is based on their story. Wait! Where will we have seen conjoined twins before?
Lemony Snicket: Scotty draws a verbal parallel between Jiminy Cricket and Lemony Snicket (keep in mind this only works if you regard the Disney version as the source, in the original Italian of Pinocchio the cricket is Grillo-parlante or The Talking Cricket). The vowels and consonants match up and Jiminy/Lemony does perform the role of conscience really well. Chemists among you will also note the Cr to Sn transformation which reads “Jiminy is Chromium and Lemony is Tin” which given the scientific allusions in the series makes a stronger case than I would otherwise posit. Daniel Handler has discredited this in a radio interview – so it’s here only as a example of how you need to be ready to forgo dilapidated theories when faced with facts.
Jook!: An early Sunny utterance and the first foreshadowing of her culinary bent: Loveless Cynic notes that this means rice gruel in Cantonese, usually a breakfast dish. One way to look at the Series is as a long meal starting at breakfast and ending cordially with something sweet and coconut. You can also look at The Great Gatsby as an inverted Western and The Wizard of Oz as the rampage of a serial killer from Kansas.
The Reptile Room
Horseradish: Lousy Lane smells of horseradish, a bitter root eaten during Passover Seders as a reminder of the bitterness of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Thank you, Esther (whose own name is an allusion to another Biblical story). I hope somebody else has a parallel site devoted to the culinary allusions in Events, which are just as interesting (ever wonder what the translation of Putanesca Sauce is?) as the literary smorgasbord.
The Virginian Wolfsnake: Why should you not let something named after Virginia Woolf (see below) near a typewriter? Thanks to Yvette for pointing this reference out to me.
Stephano: Alessandro from Italy scooped the English speaking world in picking this up as a reference from The Tempest (see below). Stephano is the drunken butler whom Caliban (the deformed semi-human) follows as a father substitute for vengeance on Prospero. RHscarlett draws my attention to Stephano on Days of our Lives (serves me right for not being a soaps fan) who has come back from the dead repeatedly to harass the same people. As further evidence she notes that the name is spelled Stephano in this book and Stefano in The Austere Academy, mimicking the soap opera character’s lexicographic plasticity (though to paraphrase Freud: sometimes a typo is just a typo – you just aren’t sure when). Joseph Stefano did write the screenplay for the Hitchcock film Psycho, which is alluded to in The Ersatz Elevator.
Montgomery Montgomery: The only person I can think of of any note with the name Montgomery is Field Marshall Montgomery of WWII. Danny has prodded me on this with the militaristic Jeep. The basic attitude of the two characters is orthogonal, which would make sense in a Lemony kind of world. “Monty” as the Field Marshall was known to his men was viewed as a strategic genius in the early histories of WWII for routing Rommel. Once the history of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park became public, though, his currency dropped considerably. Kitty notes that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables, about an orphan girl (and also one of the main reasons you see Japanese tourists traipsing through Prince Edward Island). Andrea seesin the double name a parallel to the character Major Major in Joseph Heller’s amazing Catch-22. Sarah (and I think this is the best explanation) from the UK draws attention to Uncle Monty in the film Withnail and I. Lucyjekyll sees a Monty Python connection in that Uncle Monty worked with snakes. As a double-named character he joins Humbert Humbert from some Vladimir Nabokov novel or other and Major Major from Catch-22 in the pantheon of duplicated cognomens.
Ackroid: A Mighty Marvel No-Prize (you need to have read a few comic books from the 1960’s to know what that means and how awesome the praise is) to Oscar who points out that Sunny’s positive response is a reference to Agatha Christie‘s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Bela: Ashley points out that Bela Lugosi was the star of movies whose titles and plots make Zombies in the Snow seem like Gone with the Wind. Lugosi was married to a woman named Beatrice for three days. Given the wealth of musical allusions in the series, it could also refer to Bela Bartok, noted composer.
The Wide Window
The Sword of Damocles: Damocles was your basic brown-nosing suck-up toady who proclaimed Dionysius I, the ruler of Syracuse, the happiest of men. Dionysius decided to make a point by showing him how happy it was to be ruler of a Greek city-state by inviting him to a banquet and seating him beneath a sword suspended by a single thread. Nowadays we’d put everybody on the Jerry Springer show or get Barbara Walters to talk about their “conflicted feelings.” The Oxford Classical Mythology site is a wonderful destination to learn about anything from the Greek or Roman world.
Aunt Josephine: Is a name from another children’s work: Anne of Green Gables. (Thanks to Smartypants)
Josephine Anwistle: Has a name that sounds like Peg Entwistle’s (famous for another forlorn jump from a high place). Thanks to ALT (whose own site deserved a look before it went dark). Peg’s stepson Brian Keith grew up to be the TV father of three orphans on Family Affair. (In answer to Alt’s question: Why don’t I put page numbers? I want the site to be readable, and having no potential for academic respectability I see no reason it should look like it’s properly footnoted.)
Dr. Lorenz: Ludwig Lorenz actually did figure out how light refraction works. Looking for a good scientific biography of someone? Look at Eric Weisstein’s World of Scientific Biography. Looking for a great amusing song about Physics (yes, I am being serious about this being funny)? Check out PhysicsSongs.org! AND for those of your who want to learn something really useful and have a laugh like a hyena at the same time, check out Britney’s Guide to Semiconductor Physics.
Captain’s Sham’s Business Cards: Nancy J. recognized the proof of identity reaction to Captain Sham’s business cards as an allusion to Oscar (“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”) Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest: You have always told me [your name] was Ernest. I have introduced you to everyone as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that your name isn’t Ernest. It’s on your cards. Here is one of them. ‘Mr. Ernest Worthing, B.4, The Albany.’ I’ll keep this as proof that your name is Ernest if you ever attempt to deny it to me, or to Gwendolyn, or to anyone else.
The Miserable Mill
Dr. Georgina Orwell: Oh how I love the works of George Orwell, which include the classic Politics and the English Language, Animal Farm, and 1984, from which we get the adjective Orwellian. You might not like some of what he has to say, but it’s hard to deny that the modifications of history that are part of Winston Smith’s job routine are exactly what goes on everyday at the White House and every other corridor of power.
Dr. Georgina Orwell’s Sign: Reminds us of Dr. Eckelberg, Oculist, whose eyes hang out over the land between West Egg and New York City in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There he represents the inactive gaze of God, a device which Woody Allen also appropriated for Crimes and Misdemeanors. There’s also an interesting twist here with the fact it’s a sign, which is what semiotics (that oh-so-precious darling of academics in need of tenure) calls itself the science of. I’ll let you figure that one out. Thanks go to Stacy for the semiotics link.
The Mill: And was Jerusalem builded here? Among these dark, Satanic Mills? William Blake, The New Jerusalem. As the Industrial Revolution plowed through England, the US and the rest of the world it left many casualties in its wake. The Mill was the most obvious symbol of the changes it wrought and the devastation it left.
Charles and Phil: As the Industrial Revolution originated in England, it is only fair that the names of two of the members of the current British Royal Family should be mirrored in the Mill employees. Many thanks to RHscarlett. Remember, in the USA we fought a Revolution to get rid of royal families. The present one is ample evidence we were right in denying the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. Odd coincidence and shameless plug: a friend of mine is dancing the role of Prince Phillip in Diana The Princess in Manchester, England. He says the audience is great and really hates him (meaning he’s doing a good job). Though in 2007 you needed to give Prince Harry credit for shipping out to Iraq while America’s First Twins avoided anything that even looked like community service (I guess they’re really afraid of ever having to need a VA Hospital).
Hypnotism / Brainwashing: Orwell’s word was full of it, and what was scariest was how willingly people did it to themselves. What’s downright terrifying is when you realize that TV exists almost solely for that purpose. Em wants to point out that The Manchurian Candidate (based on the novel by Richard Condon) is hypnosis-centered.
Bloomsbury: As Loveless Cynic points out, the Bloomsbury Group was Great Britain’s Algonquin Roundtable (only it lasted longer and produced a far wider range of work). Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Vita Sackville-West, JM Keynes (my fave), Roger Fry, Clive Bell were among the members of this social group that morphed into the greatest of all salons (as measured in quality of output) of the Twentieth Century. The group’s personal lives were more tangled than the Gordian Knot, but that didn’t stand in the way of their producing an astonishing range of work: from the avant garde fiction of Woolf to the avant garde economics (if you can imagine such a thing) of Keynes.
The Austere Academy
Prufrock Prep: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot (which he chose to introduce with a quote from Dante’s Inferno). A scream of alienation and modern despair not equaled until Pink Floyd released The Wall. Maybe that’s a little too extreme, but it’s not the sort of thing you’d read to get yourself in a romantic mood. The density of literary allusion in multiple languages within Eliot’s work makes the Events Series appear as threadbare as this site. From the Oxford Companion to American Lit: Eliot’s The Wasteland is 433 lines long, has allusions, quotations, or imitations of at least 35 different writers as well as popular songs, and passages in 6 foreign languages, including Sanskrit. (Hey, what’s this sound like?) Amusing trivia: it’s Eliot’s work that’s the basis for the musical Cats. He’s undoubtedly turning over in his grave.
Vice Principal Nero: Nero was your basic self-obsessed Roman Emperor who by legend fiddled while Rome burned (sort of like the guys at Enron or most dot-com companies). In actuality he was in his villa slacking off. However, contemporary historians do mention that he forced people to listen to his concerts and that women would fake childbirth in order to get out of them.
Isadora Duncan: A woman who revolutionized modern dance (see also Martha Graham). One of the daughters on The Waltons constantly wanted to emulate her, She sadly died (I refuse to misuse the word tragic) when her long scarf wrapped around the wheels of her sports car. Want to read a good history of 20th century dance? Check out No Fixed Points by Nancy Reynolds and Malcolm McCormick (at the library, $50 is way too steep for most of the readers of this site). This is the best concise review I’ve seen of the work. Also, check out Jacob’s Pillow (one of the most historic dance locations in the United States).
Memento mori: This concept appears so much in literature you wonder where to begin. Usually the memento mori images are a bell, a book, a candle, and a skull (i.e., the bell will toll for you, the book will be read / save you, the candle is snuffed, and a skull is what is underneath you). From Bell, Book and Candle (the movie) to John Donne, Elton John, Hamlet, Hemingway, and Nirvana the list goes on and on and on and on.
Coach Genghis: A quick game. Try naming an Asian military leader OTHER than Genghis Khan and you start to see what a huge influence he had on not only China but the West as well. Beth finds this resource on the history of the Mongol Empire.
Remora, Bass, etc.: Why fish names? Amanda notes that the first story in Salinger’s Nine Stories is A Perfect Day for Bananafish (with its subject of youth suicide an obvious memento mori). Another parallel might be to Jane Smiley’s (while I think her Huck Finn analysis is way off base I’ll merely polish and not grind that axe here) hilarious academic satire Moo, which includes a character writing a thesis on fish imagery in Shakespeare.
Merd: A Sunny utterance in frustration. It’s French (merde) — but close to what you’d say in just about any other Romance language as a common word for excreta. Ballet dancers also use this as an expression of good fortune (note to theatre and music buffs: never tell a dancer to “break a leg” – wish them merde).
VFD: I get a LOT of theories on VFD. The entire idea of conspiratorial organizations, of course, is to result in the spin doctoring of endless theories. BUT nobody’s yet put in my favorite contender: Valley oF Death, from The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Tennyson (who along with Kipling is one of the Age of Imperialism’s great celebrators). Making a stupid suicidal cavalry charge sound noble might seem dubious, but it’s that sort of macho bellicose celebrative oratory that put George Bush into the White House for a second term despite the debacles of Iraq and bin Laden. VFD is evocative of the ringing phrase “Valley of Death” that just keeps going through the poem (though this derives originally from the English translation of the 23rd Psalm). The best literary connection is in Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, where the protagonist joins a different volunteer fire department every time he gets drunk. This analysis of volunteer fire departments as nonviolent action bears some reading, especially in light of the allusions in the 12th book. Sadly, Vonnegut has recently died.
The Ersatz Elevator
“the” “author’s” “execution” “has” “been” canceled”: Every now and then someone will wax nostalgic for the days of the czars in Russia (look at the animated movie Anastasia). When this happens, remind them of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Condemned to death with a group of other unpatriotic liberal malcontents (i.e., writers), a last-minute reprieve sent him to Siberia instead. Interesting question: would you rather be imprisoned in the freezing cold of Siberia, or the searing heat of Guantanamo Bay? A tip of the babushka (English usage — because that’s the main language on this site) to Liz for the observation.
Jerome and Esmé Squalor: Check out JD Salinger’s story “For Esmé – With Love and Squalor” (In Nine Stories). The J stands for Jerome in JD’s name BTW. To call JD Salinger a recluse is a little like saying that Euclid dabbled in arithmetic. You’ll notice certain similarities to the title character in Finding Forrester. Doug notes that in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye Holden comes upon a character named Sunny.
667 Dark Avenue: In the Book of Revelations 666 is the number of the Beast who persecutes the believers. Using ancient numerology the number actually corresponds to Emperor Nero’s Latin name (which makes sense given that the early Christians didn’t get along with the Romans any better than Charlie’s Angels got along with the Taliban). So they’re across the street from the Beast.
The 48th or the 84th Floor: A Mighty Marvel No-Prize to Erich from Oregon who caught me in an omission: This is a reference to George Orwell (see above) who wrote 1984 in 1948, transposing the two last digits as a way of saying “this stuff really goes on NOW, folks.”
Eighteen-hundred and forty-nine windows: Paul noticed that 1849 was the year of the California Gold Rush (appropriate for the City’s Sixth most important financial advisor and most senior gold-digger). But consider also that it is a numerical anagram of 1984 which fits in well with the 48/84 Floor. Alert reader Naomi writes to inform us that this is also the year Poe died.
Let them eat cake: Often attributed to Marie Antoinette, this phrase appears in Book VI of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (published beforeMarie Antoinette arrived in Paris), in the same context: Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Rousseau was the first militant low-brow in history, arguing that sometimes a “Noble Savage” is more admirable than the complex conundrum we call civilization. The splashing sounds bring to mind the death of Jean-Paul Marat in a bath (with this famous painting associated with it).
Taking a shower, mother: See Hitchcock, below, and the movie Psycho. If your tastes run towards Jason Krueger in Halloween the Thirteenth Part 25 you’re probably not going to believe how scared you can be while someone is attacked and you never see the weapon strike the victim.
Armani: Yep – Sunny knows her trendy brands. Giorgio Armani (interesting line about Newbury Street on the Boston Duck Tour: On one end of the street is Giorgio Armani and at the other end of the street is his brother Sal: Salvation Armani) is also notable in fashion history for such things as the unstructured blazer. A more interesting (read: IN) choice might be Prada, but they don’t make ties.
Glaucus: A Sunny utterance that as usual contains more meaning in a single word in context than most people’s conversation will contain in an entire day. Daniel points to Father Glaucus in the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons. Father Glaucus meets his end by being tossed down an elevator shaft. The alert reader will also start to think of the name in a Classical Mythology context, and perhaps want to see the original story.
.. into the darkness of the elevator shaft… and two black pages: Why should books be limited to words? Sure, you’ve got your modern graphic novels, your coffee table art books, and your hypertext mark-up language, but suppose someone had the brass to start pulling stuff like this in the Eighteenth Century? Such a man was Laurence Sterne author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, where black pages follow the death of Yorick (pat yourself on the back for recognizing the allusion to Hamlet). In fact, the entire novel is as much a reference to previous thinkers and authors as ASOUE is. Many thanks go out to Maria for pointing this out to me. Check out the 2006 movie! AND WE’RE NOT DONE YET! The Laurence Sterne Trust has commissioned artists and writers (including one named “Snicket”) to do their own takes on the Black Pages to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the novel.
Zisalem: Salem is one of the most famous locations in American literature, notable for the Witch Trials and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Arthur Miller used the event and setting metaphorically in The Crucible to comment on the McCarthy Era. RHscarlett points out that Salem is also the setting of Days of our Lives (see above) and that “zi” is Chinese for “master.” Implication: Master Witch. Re: Zi. In Chinese Confucius’s name is Kong Fu Zi (Literally Master Kong Fu). I’m sure Ezra Pound used the ideogram for this in one of the Cantos, but look to the alert fan to point me to the right place. Katie notes that Zi could be short for Zion, and Mt Zion is the highest part of Jerusalem, and like every other inch of the city loaded with history and religious significance.
The King of Arizona: Believe it or not, there was an incident in the history of the 48th state where a man declared himself the Baron of Arizona. There is also an excellent Samuel Fuller movie based on the incident.
Lot 49: Let me introduce you to Thomas Pynchon (Like Salinger, a recluse) — whose The Crying of Lot 49 comes like a screaming across the sky. It’s his most accessible (and shortest) book — with scenes of comedy and prescience that still knock me out (A rock group named The Paranoids? Controlling the world via the Postal System? A psychiatrist named Dr. Hilarious who does facial therapy?). After that check out his other books: V. and Gravity’s Rainbow, which chronicles World War II via the development of the V-2 rocket — funny, profound, profane, and unforgettable. Can you do the Kenosha Kid? Oh, and if you notice a certain similarity between the book V., which is a search across time and space for a woman identified as V. (who is by turns Venus, Virgin, and Void), and a certain search for VFD, you’ll have picked up on something.
Veblen Hall: Thorstein Veblen, an idiosyncratic economist wrote Theory of the Leisure Class, which argued that the primary purpose of money among the wealthy in late 19th, early 20th century America was “conspicuous consumption.” We now pretty much take this as a given. His ideas were largely popularized later by John Kenneth Galbraith (The Affluent Society, The New Industrial State) whose sole original contribution to the dialogue on economics seems to be the creation of the term “technocrat.”
The Verne Invention Museum: Jules Verne is one of the elder statesmen of Science Fiction, anticipating many of the things that truly did come to pass: space flight, television, fax machines, novel transportation (Thanks go out to Paul). The mother of all science fiction, to be fair, was a 20 year old Romantic married to a Romantic poet: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who wrote Frankenstein while on vacation.
The Akhmatova Bookstore: Simon and Dafna spotted this as a reference to Anna Akhmatova, Russian poet (born: Anna Andreyevana Gorenko. You ever notice how so many writers use pseudonyms?). Poetry readings in Russia once filled arenas. In the US they can fill a bookstore or a barroom. Why is that?
The Vile Village
It takes a village….: Laurie writes that this should be made explicit. As this thread shows it can be surprisingly difficult to pin down aphoristic origins (everybody says the phrase is African but nobody can really point to where it comes from — Africa being such a big place and all and having all those different languages and disparate cultures any one of which might have actually said something that is remotely similar to this that could be documented). Hillary Rodham Clinton’s contribution to sociology (yes, I am being sarcastic) does not even begin to put her in the league of Eleanor Roosevelt in the pantheon of First Ladies (who wrote a regular newspaper column of her own and inspired a nation in the depths of the Depression), but her efforts do keep her out of the nadir of Mary Todd Lincoln and the “why bother having my own existence?” blandness of Laura Bush.
The Ophelia Bank: A reference to the innocent good girl (I might say dream girl) who winds up dead in Hamlet. Everything about Hamlet is problematic, arguable, and down right fascinating. It deserves its place at the top of the Pantheon of English literature (and the short list that gives it world competition is mainly in Greek and Latin). Harold Bloom has a good (read: most thought-provoking and least dogmatic so long as you ignore that he’s trying to convince us that Shakespeare invented the entire human conception of the self, which is an absurd proposition) take on Shakespeare of any critic I recommend (and I also recommend Samuel Johnson). Yes, they’re both Bardolators, but given the backlash against the classics we need some cheerleaders. I’m also lately really liking Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All. Ophelia drowned, and a river has two banks.
Mr. Fagin: The leader of the gang of delinquents Oliver falls in with in Oliver Twist.
The Birds: Alfred Hitchcock takes something in everyday life and turns it into stark terror. Hitchcock is still scarier than any teen slasher flick director because he had two things most modern filmmakers lack: imagination and a brain. Joni of Seneca Falls writes to point out this film is based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier (Whom Hitch had adopted earlier in Rebecca). Recently Birdemic gained my mindshare.
Nevermore Tree: If you’ve gotten to this point in your life and have to ask what “Nevermore” refers to, turn off your computer, turn off your TV, run (do not walk) to your nearest school, and beg to be taught.
Auguste Dupin: The hero of Poe’s The Purloined Letter, arguably the first modern detective (see also The Murders in the Rue Morgue). There would be no Sam Spade or Sherlock Holmes without Auguste Dupin. RHscarlett points to the French poet Jacques Dupin as well.
Deus ex machina: Snicket does a great job of explaining this. Interesting conundrum: if you’ve laid the groundwork in your story for a machine to come out at the end and save everybody, and woven it carefully into your plot, and this does indeed happen, is it truly a deus ex machina? Woody Allen wrote a riff on this idea in a play called God (in Without Feathers) where the deus ex machina didn’t quite work as well as expected.
Jacques: Jacques is a French name. He is the brother of Lemony. He is therefore Brother Jacques or Frère Jacques, as in the nursery rhyme, which fits given how last we see him. Now if you REALLY want to go deep: Baudelaire’s intro To the Reader (Au lecteur) in Les fleurs du mal ends with “– Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!” (translation: “You hypocrite reader! My double! My brother!”) Metaphor within metaphor? Or complete coincidence? Or nothing at all? You decide.This phrase was also alluded to by TS Eliot in The Wasteland. Ben writes to point out Chapter 27 of A Tale of Two Cities in which all the revolutionaries are named “Jacques” and that this is a mirror of the ASOUE secret society penchant.
Blake: Sunny’s being very complimentary to Isadora’s poetry. As Paul indicates, Blake wrote The Tyger, which alone would seal his reputation. But there’s so much more, as well as some of the most arresting images to be produced in England. Lucretia: A Roman woman of high virtue who suffered “outrage” (the polite word for “rape”) at the hands of the son of Tarquinius Superbus. The public outrage at this outrage brought the end of royal rule in Rome and the birth of the Republic. In English literature the story’s been handled by Chaucer in Legend of Good Women, Gower in Confessio Amantis, and Shakespeare in The Rape of Lucrece. (Congrats to Jonathan who spotted this as the Red Herring (look for an anagram of that in the books). It was originally a mistake I made but when I realized it I liked the Lucretia part too much to toss it out. I’m amazed people read this page so closely!)
Scylla: From Homer’s Odyssey Scylla was the monster that stood on one side of the straits Odysseus needed to sail. The whirlpool Charybdis was on the other. Thus if you choice is between Scylla and Charybdis you are on the horns of a dilemma. There are four great re-tellings of Homer: Virgil‘s Aeneid, Dante‘s Divine Comedy, Joyce‘s Ulysses, and Twain‘s Huckleberry Finn (read ’em all if you don’t believe me).
Curiouser and curiouser!: Marja picked up that this quote is from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (chapter 2 to be precise). Alice is one of the best books to read at any stage of your life — it’s got fun for kids and depth for adults. Briny Beach from The Bad Beginning is a reference to The Walrus and the Carpenter from Through the Looking-Glass (thanks to Luis).
The Hostile Hospital
William Congreve: Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, / To soften rocks or bend a knotted oak. (The Mourning Bride, I, i) is probably his best known quote. (though he also did … you must not kiss and tell (The Double Dealer) and … she is the antidote to desire (The Way of the World)). Compare this phrase to Shakespeare’s Music oft hath such a charm / To make bad good, and good provoke to harm in Measure for Measure, IV, i, 16.
This volunteer fights disease: On the guitar in the illustration at the start of Chapter 3, praise goes to Tom for seeing the visual reference to a photograph of Woody Guthrie, holding a guitar labeled This Machine Kills Fascists. Woody Guthrie, America’s troubadour of the Twentieth Century. I once saw an interview with Joan Baez where she opined that his “This Land is Your Land” should be our National Anthem. I think she has a point: it’s an inclusive ballad to the American landscape and by extension its people. You really want to be praising bombs bursting in air and rockets red glare? While Key’s anthem concludes with a message of hope for the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, Woody’s Depression-era testament to the spirit of a tested but triumphant people sounds the kind of note I want never to tire of hearing. Further note: As Laurie points out: There are allusions in the illustrations as well…Miró, Dali, and van Gogh show up in Bad Beginning.... True true and true. But my expertise is not in art history — so if some reader can point me to site to link to that goes through the art allusions I will happily list it here for all. And I still hope someone comes up with a culinary site.
Wet paper towels at the ceiling…: SJ gets points for identifying this portrayal of anxiety as a scene from Daniel Handler‘s The Basic Eight, in which the main character is called to the principal’s office and remembers when she and a third-grade friend were called to the same place because they had been tossing wet paper towels at the girl’s bathroom ceiling to see if they would stick. Needless to say, one of the brassiest things you can do is to allude to yourself.
The Intercom: This is one of the few things that’s been grating on me. I can be silent no longer. I suspect it’s an homage to Orwell’s public communications system in 1984 (there’s Orwell again). It could be an ultra-oblique reference to Eugene O’Neill‘s Strange Interlude, which has been staged with characters frozen while a sound system gives their inner thoughts, but I doubt this (truth of the matter is I wanted to work O’Neill in here somehow). JRM sees the intercom as a reference to M*A*S*H, everybody’s favorite Korean War Army hospital drama, where every announcement would begin “Attention, Attention” and end “That is all.”
Babs: The name of the woman with the intercom voice. RHscarlett comes through again recognizing this as a reference to Barbra “Babs” Streisand whose fear of forgetting lyrics in public has led to her being heard but not seen (except as the ultimate villain in South Park episodes). Adam has this comic book-inspired interpretation: back in the 1980s, Alan Moore wrote a graphic novel called The Killing Joke, in which Barbara “Babs” Gordon (Batgirl) was paralyzed. Shortly after that, she resurfaced as “Oracle,” helping first the Suicide Squad and later the Justice League. During this time, she never appeared to them, merely called them with clues or advice, and was thus always a disembodied voice that spoke to the heroes. Of course you can also see Oracle in action in Batman: Arkham Asylum, an awesome videogame (though of course Bruce knows her identity).
The Patients: These are a true hoot. Emma Bovary is my favorite. Check out Madame Bovary by Flaubert for the reason why. While you’re at it Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf might be a good stop. And I’ll bet without too many more troubles you can figure out why all the other patients bring a smile to the face of those who dare to turn off their TV sets and videogame consoles. The Biblical allusion to Jonah is really welcome — used to be that students would read the Bible, now it’s almost impossible to find a school system that’ll treat it as a piece of literature. You’ve got to pick it up and read it because otherwise you miss so much of the gist of thought in the Western World over the last 2000 years. Since it’s Jonah Mapple it’s a weird recursive allusion because Father Mapple gives a sermon on Jonah in Moby Dick before Ishmael and Queequeg ship out. Mike gets kudos for pointing out that patient Haruki Murakami wrote The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, an acknowledged influence on Lemony. Joe (check out the food section) in the UK points out Mikhail Bulgakov’s mention. Of course there is also Dr. Bernard Rieux of Albert Camus’s La Peste (The Plague), Charley Anderson from John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy, and Cynthia Vane of The Vane Sisters by Nabokov, which is as puzzle-dependent (acrostic) as ASOUE (Her sister Sibyl appears with her and a same-name character appears in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray).
Orlando: Virginia Woolf again. Lou Reed said it best: Looked around and then he was a she…. So Sunny is picking up on quite a lot for someone who you might think has only advanced dental skills (start reading through some of her comments backwards). Men becoming/masquerading as women greatly antedates Jerry Springer — Shakespeare devoted entire comedies to the theme of women masquerading as men (out of necessity, since all his women’s parts were played by young boys and men), Huck Finn did it (poorly) at one point, and I strongly suspect there are some ancient antecedents, but I’ll need to look into those. (Thanks to Lynette for jogging me on this!) Anthony (who has my copious thanks) has looked at the ancient Classics and found two by Aristophanes: The Women at the Thesmophoria (where a man dresses in drag for an infiltration mission) and The Assembly-Women where women dressed as men take over the Athenian Assembly. I’ve been sort of ticked at Aristophanes since his take of on Socrates was one of the factors that drove the man to an early, self-inflicted grave, but the truth of the matter is that his stuff is the first real substantial body of satire in history.
Escape from a burning hospital: Clara sees a parallel in the escape with rubber bands and the escape via fire hose of Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) in John Woo’s Hardboiled. You’ve GOT to love the emergence of Hong Kong’s testosterone-laden martial arts cinema. Hollywood’s adopted the laws-of-physics-ally impossible wire action sequences as it has so many other creative, commercially-viable techniques.
Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography
The world is quiet here: Visit the Swinburne Project and search for that phrase. Proserpine is the Latin name of Persephone (who can best be described as the part-time Queen of the Underworld in Greek mythology). Read the whole poem. I think it might have some relevance. Ave atque Vale was Swinburne’s tribute to Charles Baudelaire.
Julie Blattberg: Is a New York City-based photographer specializing in architectural and musical photography.
Prospero: Shakespeare’s The Tempest is one of the Bard’s great plays, with its tale of a man stranded on a deserted island with his daughter who finally gets to confront the man who put him there. The off-beat part is that it has a happy ending (or what passes for it in Shakespeare, who for some reason always has his glorious female characters marry men who are comparative dorks). The Tempest has been done by everyone (including a 1980’s version with Molly Ringwald as Miranda) and believe-it-or-not is the basis for the 1950’s sci-fi epic, Forbidden Planet. And a forth-coming Katherine Heigl version. Prediction: In future books there will be characters named Ophelia and Cordelia, two Shakespearean women with less than happy fates. (I now see that Mr. Poe did refer to the Ophelia Bank once, making a character name unlikely.) Pester (sic) writes that Shakespeare is also the figurehead on the boat and the subject of a postcard stamp in the same work.
The Kafka Café: Read a story called Metamorphosis, or one of his novels, like The Trial or see the movie with Tony Perkins in the lead role. You’ll come away with an appreciation of Franz Kafka. To say Kafka led a tormented inner life would not begin to cover it. Joe found this amusing artifact in Prague.
A reporter attending his own burial: One of the funniest scenes in Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was Tom and Huck showing up at their own funeral. Tom is funny — but Huck Finn is deep and funny –scandalous at the time for having a white boy dare to befriend, come to sympathize with, and treat as an equal a black escaped slave, it is scandalous today because Twain used what CNN and CourtTV refer to as the N-word(among the problems with political correctness: no court of appeal and no comprehension of language as a dynamic entity). Huck remains one of the books I’d take if I could only have a handful while fighting it out mano a mano on some reality show set in the South Seas.
Scriabin Institute for Musical Accuracy: Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was what we might call…. troubled (which is a polite way of saying somewhere just over the borderline of sane). His Poem of Ecstasy did have an influence on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and there’s a Kirov Ballet CD that compares the two. Thanks go to Loveless Cynic for this.
Professor Charley Patton: Charley Patton is one of the great Blues singers in the Mississippi Delta style of the Southern United States. Jazz and the Blues had a baby, and they named it Rock n Roll. Loveless Cynic, again gets the nod of thanks. Needless to say when Charley Patton was singing nobody ever imagined there’d be professors specializing in Jazz.
Bullfighting costume: Ah… when I think of bullfighting there can only be one name that comes to mind: Ernest Hemingway. From the running of the bulls in Pamplona (prominent in The Sun Also Rises) to the matadors-manqués of The Capital of the World and the personal memoirs of The Dangerous Summer, its sense of history, adventure, romanticism, and macho violence appealed to the elder statesman of the Lost Generation, who had seen worse and less romantic violence in the grim new reality of Twentieth Century mechanized warfare. Of course, if you love opera with a matador you might want to check out Carmen — a French opera about a Spanish Gypsy, which has been done as a number of films (including versions by Carols Saura and Jean-Luc Goddard, neither of whose versions have much bullfighting, but they’re such incredible filmmakers I couldn’t bear to omit links to them). Like most US and Canadian children we first came into contact with bullfighting in cartoons.
The Duchess of Winnipeg: Winnipeg? Canada? You may not be aware of it — but one of the most lovable characters in children’s literature is named after Winnipeg: Winnie-the-Pooh. My usual admonition applies on this case: read the books instead of relying on the Disney version.
Masked balls: Have a long history in literature, and server as a good launching point for a discussion of etiquette and socializing in this essay. There is of course Un Ballo in Maschera by Verdi, and Masque of the Red Death a party penned by Poe, presented by Prince Prospero.
Daedalus Dock: Daedalus was the high tech entrepreneur of the age of mythology. Out of favor in some circles as the creation of dead white European males the Greek and Roman classics are an endless feast of stories and thought-provoking ideas. Perhaps this is why they’re out of favor in an age that would rather have a President who acts like our military is a huge videogame he can pull out to distract himself from his domestic homework. Gabrielle points out that James Joyce’s literary alter ego in Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Stephen Dedalus, appropriate given the proximity of Bloomsday. Like Eliot and Snicket, Joyce built on allusion after allusion (Ulysses being the crowing example).
The Brooks-Gish Award: If all you ever want to see are sequels to vapid action flicks at the MultiCinePlex skip to the next entry. If you’re willing to experience something… different… read on. How about movies so advanced you don’t need THX to be entertained in the absence of a plot? How about stars who seem to radiate something other than merchandising ability? The Silent Film is an art form that holds its own. There are a multitude of incredible talents that we are mostly ignoring today unless you go take a film class. Here we find an award dedicated two/three people: Louise Brooks and Lillian Gish. Lillian’s sister Dorothy didn’t quite achieve the fame of her sister but does deserve mention.
Lena Pukalie: Yes, the film reviewer of Zombies in the Snow is Lena Pukalie (work those anagram muscles and come up with Pauline Kael), whose I Lost Something at the Movies is a reference to one of the better books of film reviewing you’ll read, I Lost it at the Movies. Kael could be abrasive and egotistical, but the fact remains some of her reviews of movies are better than the movies themselves.
The Sebald Code: Probably named after WG “Max” Sebald, German-British essayist, novelist, and scholar, one of the few German authors who grappled with the implications of the Holocaust.
Nancarrow Theater: Paul gets the extra credit point for seeing this as a reference to Conlon Nancarrow, who composed innovative pieces for player piano. Compare his work to the stuff going on at the MIT Media Lab under Tod Machover.
Disguises: Sherlock Holmes was a master of disguise, as well as having disguise figure prominently in many of the stories of the Canon, which you can find out more about if you join the Baker Street Irregulars.
The sailors: Laura gets the credit for banging me over the head that the names of Snicket’s fellow swabs are all children’s book authors. Notably Sailors Dahl, Cleary, Gantos, Eager, Kerr, Whelan, Snyder, Sones, Seibold, Walsh, Selznick, Creech, Danziger, Konigsburg, Lowry, Scieszka, Griffin, Woodson, Bellairs, Kalman, and Peck. (And I know already that if I’ve left anyone out I’ll get a reminder from the reading public — and I thank you in advance for keeping me honest.)
Redburn, Omoo, Typee: Ah… these locations on the Prospero are also the names of “minor” novels by Herman Melville (yes, Moby is a descendent now let’s please move on). Moby Dick — is it the GREAT American Novel (my vote is always for Huck Finn)? Or just something to bore you in English class? Guide for the perplexed: Moby is “about” a whale the same way that the Book of Job is “about” a guy down on his luck – contained within it is so much more about the relationship of mankind to God, humans to each other, and some of the finest prose written in English by an American. Read the first chapter — if you’re not hooked wait until you can read it and you are. The more fitting Events book from Melville is probably The Confidence Man, which is an easier read and perhaps the first work in a line which reaches to PT Barnum, The Sting, the Reagan White House, and American Gods (my current fave) by Neil Gaiman.
Mozart’s Fourteenth Symphony: In scholarly terms it’s known as K 114, and you can find it here. Interesting question: which instrumental part could Beatrice whistle? Mozart wrote this at about the age of 16 (yep — what were YOU writing at 16?). General opinion is that Mozart became a better composer as he got older until he passed away at the unfortunate age of 35.
If you have to ask you can’t afford it: One of the classic quotes from JP Morgan in answer to the question: How much does it cost to run a yacht?
…a notebook with a cover as green as mansions long gone: Ann points to Green Mansions (a very memorable book in her life) by W H Hudson. The title refers not to an oddly-painted suburban estate, but to a romance in the Amazon rainforest.
All the news in fits of print: The motto of The New York Times (All the news that’s fit to print) is often parodied. My favorite is still from the 1970’s British comedy troupe The Goodies: All the news that’s fit to print and quite a lot that isn’t.
The Carnivorous Carnival
The Belly of the Beast: Perhaps one of the few places scarier than the clutches of Count Olaf is an American prison (also, Ba’ath Party buildings, Russian nuclear plants, and any street corner with a mime). Jack Henry Abbott, author of In the Belly of the Beast, about his experiences in just such a wholesome and caring place, got released from prison at the urging of Norman Mailer (whom Woody Allen summed up as “donating his ego to the Harvard Medical School”). Unable to adapt to life outside, within weeks he killed an innocent man in a senseless incident. Want to read some truly great literature out of prison by people who managed to rise above it? Try The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, and Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver. The essay Convalescence in the latter book is the most cogent summary of American race relations you will ever read.
The Caligari Carnival: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), a great film from a variety of perspectives, most of them having to do with the German Expressionism that originated in the UFA Studios and how it influenced Orson Welles among other great directors. To modern video-addled minds the story has lost much of its shock value, and the plot is simply not great literature. It’s the cinematography you want to look at: the visuals rich in jagged triangles and the camera work that puts you in a surreal landscape which is somewhere between a waking nightmare and a sleeping madness. Sidebar: Disney animated films do exactly the same thing: all the evil characters are jagged and angular, and all the good characters are round. It all originates from the visual style of this movement. By the way on the movie front, look up Freaks and Carny (which concerns what Sunny would call Karneez), both of which have special meaning to this volume. Zippy the Pinhead met Freaks here. Carny slang is a rich world unto itself.
Lulu: Diligent reader Paul gets the credit for pointing out Lulu was the name of the character played by Louise Brooks (whom we’ve seen before) in the UFA classic: Pandora’s Box. And of course there is this documentary: Lulu in Berlin. German specialist Jodi gives a fuller appreciation of the playwright of the Lulu stories, Frank Wedekind. These were later made into an opera by Berg,
“Give people what they want.”: I’m going to give the people what they want. Sensation, horror, shock. Send them out in the streets to tell their friends how wonderful it is to be scared to death. Vincent Price‘scharacter Henry Jarrod in the original 1953 House of Wax. Credit for the quote, of course, goes to the screenwriter, Crane Wilbur. Cliff sees a connection to the 10000 Maniacs song Candy Everybody Wants.
Ginawn: One of Sunny’s comments, in this case that a pair of sweatpants is too large for her. This is an anagram of “awning,” an appropriate comment given the circumstances, correctly interpreted by her sibs. In case you haven’t noticed, when you see a weird word in this series you should either check in a dictionary (punctilio being the one most people send me) or a blank sheet of paper to work on anagrams. The arc of Sunny’s language skills bears some examination, and probably reflects the structure of the series as a whole.
Olivia: Sarah gets the credit for pointing out the double connection of Olivia (well, maybe more a meta-connection) in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield is a seduced woman who learns that sometimes you fall in with the wrong guy. The meta-connection is that TS Eliot’s The Wasteland refers to this as well. Sarah thoughtfully provided line 253: “When lovely woman stoops to folly” and Eliot’s note on it. And of course ASOUE refers to Eliot. You know — you really COULD play a variation of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with all of these literary references. If anybody has a game set up send me a URL and I’ll post it – this would be the first creative thing I’ve seen come out of a Literature department since Milman Parry. Side note (heck, they’re ALL side notes): It REALLY makes my day when 14 year-olds like Sarah have visited this site, decided to read TS Eliot, and email me analyses I could not see from most college students.
Hugo and Colette: The French did not give the world Shakespeare, but they do lead in the Nobel Prize in Literature standings. Part of the reason for this is the tradition including Colette and Victor Hugo. Colette managed to live in near constant scandal (which coupled with her writing ability eventually made her a French national treasure). Collette wrote Gigi which (aside from being a Leslie Caron vehicle (thanks to Em for the correction)) is one of Esmé’s middle names. Look at Esmé’s initials. Hugo produced the monumental Les Misérables among other awesome works of social realism (and of course Notre Dame de Paris with the character Quasimodo). You might notice that the dogged determination Olaf shows pursuing the Baudelaires mirrors that of Inspector Javert pursuing Jean Valjean in Les Misérables .
Kevin and ambidexterity: RHscarlett draws attention to Kevin Cooper, on death row in California while maintaining his innocence in a crime where there is evidence that of a police cover-up. Kevin is ambidextrous. There’s also Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma, etc) and his Ambidextrous Pictures.
Silent Spring: The American environmental movement has been through ups and downs (UPs: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt & Gifford Pinchot — DOWNs: the Reagan Administration). Rachel Carson was one of the big up-swings. In the go-go early Sixties when progress came in a fifty gallon drum Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) outlined the damage such “progressive” chemicals as DDT did to the food chain and passed on to humans. If you eat food, drink water, or breathe air you owe her a debt of gratitude.
The Mortmain Mountains: Like memento mori (above) anytime you see the “mort-” root you should figure it is not a good thing. Mortmain refers to property the Church owned that passed down completely out of the control (read: taxation) of the secular state. Needless to say this has upset quite a few secular rulers over the ages (e.g., Edward I). Symbolically it also refers to the often oppressive forces past actions exert on the present. Would this have any relevance to the ASOUE? One of the best riffs on this idea in lit crit circles was by a Samuel Johnson fan named WJ Bate (Burden of the Past and the English Poet), which at one point suggested that perhaps the burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria was not an altogether bad thing since it freed up poets and authors to think in new ways. You’ve got to twist your head a little bit on this but he does kind of have a point. Becca notes that in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet there is a Pastor Mortmain who believes everybody and everything is simply evil. Colleen writes that Mortmain is the family name in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.
Plath Pass: Sylvia Plath. A poet whose life is more argued about than her poetry. A sometime feminist icon, all I can say is read her stuff and make up your own mind. Best short take on Plath is in the film Annie Hall (still Woody Allen’s best – with this wonderful commentary), when Alvy Singer asks what Annie thinks of Sylvia Plath’s work she says it’s “neat.” Alvy’s reaction is priceless. Sylvia Plath “passed” by committing suicide. There is a Gwyneth Paltrow movie about her life.
Richter Range. Ah yes, while it COULD refer to Johann Richter (a German Romantic novelist), it’s more likely a reference to Conrad Richter (hint: NOT the guy at CalTech who came up with the Richter Scale). Sea of Grass, of course, was made into a Hepburn–Tracy film. There is also Sviatoslav Richter, a pianist with an amazing musical range.
Flynn: Errol Flynn, B-Movie star, Robin Hood (though check out here to see the fuller legend), Captain Blood (though check out here to see the original book) and veteran of numerous sword fighting scenes. These were fun movies, though his personal life was nothing very admirable. Kate takes exception to my portraying Flynn as a B-movie actor — and while I agree he made a lot of money (being the Tom Cruise of his day), he and Cruise are in film after film almost invariably playing the same character.
Shakespeare: It’s impossible to not sound hackneyed as I tell you to read everything this man ever wrote. Read Shakespeare. No other writer wields the sheer wallop or can pack more meaning at more levels into a few lines of written or spoken English. King Lear is mammoth and easier to understand after you have kids of your own. Olivia is of course a name from Twelfth Night (a play where a woman masquerades as a man, as did George Eliot, sorta). Start at Shakespeare — go everywhere — the voyage is the reward. Look at the British Library’s on line reproductions of the Folios. Let us also look at similar Shakespearean themes to Snicketean themes: good is not always rewarded, evil is not always punished, and events might be entirely random in the human experience (but this does not mean we cannot see meaning and patterns in them).
Beverly and Elliot: Julie has convinced me that this refers to the David Cronenberg film Dead Ringers, about a pair of twin gynecologists with these names played by Jeremy Irons (who also played Klaus von Bulow, see above). Cronenberg also did the 1986 remake of The Fly, 1981’s exploding head-fest Scanners, Videodrome (1983) and Naked Lunch (1991). He’s not Hitchcock, but he is original. There’s another Jeremy Irons (and wider) connection that Vladimir Nabokov fans keep pointing out.
Edasurc: One of Sunny’s utterances. Work those backward muscles (in an old Ruff and Ready cartoon they visit the planet Muni Mula which is aluminum spelled backwards to North Americans and incomprehensible to other English speakers who spell the metal aluminium). Richard Coeur de Lion led the Third Crusade, as well as a life less ordinary even for Medieval royalty. Thanks to Joe.
The Slippery Slope
Frozen Swans has lapped the field with this reference to the logical fallacy known as the slippery slope.
The Road Less Traveled: Is a reference to The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost who read a poem at JFK’s inaugural — seen any other presidents have major league poets at the White House for their inauguration? (Chelsea (not Clinton) and Rafe both write to inform me that Bill Clinton had Maya Angelou at his 1993 Inauguration.) Frost is short, simple, pleasing, and with a wealth of meaning you can read into it and argue about.
The Springpole: Is based on the Maypole, your basic pagan hold-over into the modern era. Hawthorne had a story called The Maypole of Merrymount. While we never see the Snow Scouts frolic around the Spring Pole, in Hawthorne’s tale the Puritans raid the party and enlist new recruits. If you immediately see a possible symbolic meaning for the Maypole / Springpole, then you might have a future in either literary criticism or psychology.
Brummel: Before Queer Eye for the Straight Guy there was…. Beau Brummel. I’ve been scratching my head and think this is the first man whose name is (literally) synonymous with male fashion (unless archaeologists come up with an ancient Roman named “Toga”). Carson should have a shrine to Brummel in his armoire (because I can’t imagine Carson keeping anything in the closet). Adam points out this is also a situation-appropriate anagram of “mumbler.” Beth from Ontario, Canada notes that TS Eliot mentions Beau Brummel in Bustopher Jones, from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats:
In the whole of St. James’s the smartest of names is
The name of this Brummell of Cats;
And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to
By Bustopher Jones in white spats!
Bears trained as soldiers: You’d think by now any kind of off-hand non-sequitur would be drilled into, extracted, and assayed, but Tim shows me how much remains to be mined. This is a reference to The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, by Dino Buzzati. Handler lists this as one of his favorite children’s stories. Bears, like ASOUE is published by HarperCollins so while there is some commercial cross-pollination it is 1.) naive to think there never is any and 2.) if I may quote Dr. Samuel Johnson (whose name made a brief appearance in Blazing Saddles): No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money (James Boswell’s Life of Johnson whichis an endless source of one-liners to astound your friends and confound your antagonists).
Busheney: Clearly a non-sense word as a visit to the Cheney/Bush White House would have shown. Just remember: all politicians lie, the difference is which lies result in American soldiers dying in pointless wars on foreign soil (Now over 4000 — look here for a running count).
The Corridors of Power: Yep — a real book by CP Snow, part of his cycle Strangers and Brothers. CP Snow is one of those rare individuals who seem to have lived several lives all at once: scientist, critic, writer, public servant. Just for adding this phrase to the English lexicon he should be lionized.
Sir Isaac Newton: Words cannot contain my admiration for Newton: the Einstein before Einstein. If you get through calculus and physics you’ll get through the beginnings of the discoveries Newton made when he started his career over 300 years ago. Stephen Hawking currently holds Newton’s old job as Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University. Sir Isaac also appears in Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World by Neal Stephenson, three of my current high-recommendation reads.
Leo Tolstoy: The 800 pound gorilla of Russian Literature, Tolstoy is like Russia itself, huge, complex, and often misunderstood by the West. Anna Karenina is often produced as a mini-series (it appeals to the inner Edith Wharton / Jane Austen in us all). War and Peace translations usually dwell on the soap opera and less on the ideas Tolstoy was trying to get through.
The Bible: Said it before, I’ll say it again: gotta read it. I personally do not think the King James Version has ever been equaled as an English translation. You don’t have to take it as the word of a supreme deity, but you need to know the stories. This is a good site on the reach of the Bible in English literature as is the University of Maryland’s.
Bonnie and Clyde: Continuing with the Series of American Crime, these two have been referred to as Romeo and Juliet in a getaway car. Does that just romanticize their crimes (as did Warren Beatty‘s film version)? Check out what the FBI (“Three hundred million citizens, each of them a potential perp”) has to say about them.
Arigato: Japanese for thank you. So Sunny’s rapidly becoming multi-lingual. Japanese is an amazing language and Japan was the first country in all of Asia to go through a Western-style industrial revolution and give North America and Europe competition. The second largest economic powerhouse on Earth, learn something about their history (and of the literature check out The Tale of Genji, the poetry of Basho, the work of Miyamoto Musashi, and the films of Kurosawa). I myself am also an anime fan.
Algernon Charles Swinburne: We’ve run into him. The Swinburne Project has the relevant poem. Hilary points out Anne Walder ‘s Swinburne’s Flowers of Evil which details Baudelaire’s influence on Swinburne’s poetry.
… monsters… the abyss…: is one of the most famous quotes of Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the few philosophers who ever mastered the one-liner. Misunderstood and misapplied, the man saw with more clarity and precision than most people are comfortably willing to admit (the same can be said of Machiavelli and Hobbes). This is not touchy-feely feel-good philosophy. The man represents hardcore analysis of the human condition in the same way as anatomists and physiologists: it may be ugly and gross and at times downright disgusting but it’s what we have. He is also, if you take the time to read him, wickedly funny. Want a laugh? Try The Nietzsche Family Circus.
Rosebud: One of the most famous one-word lines in cinema (the others being Plastics!, Mother? and Stella!). From Citizen Kane directed by Orson Welles. You might argue over the Great American Novel, but there is no arguing over the Great American Film. Kane could have been made nowhere else, and I could write endlessly on its genius. Like all great works it both defines and defies its own category: a film with a non-linear screenplay structure as interlocked as a Rubik’s Cube, a film with a film within it that encapsulates the entire history of film-making, a story told visually as no story had ever been told, a personal mass media entity that takes on the alienated mass media and its main mogul… and I have barely scratched the surface. Seeing this film again and again is a cinematic education. The entire movie is a search for what Rosebud, the last word uttered by Charles Foster Kane before his death, means. I will not give it away here.
Godot: From some college bathroom graffiti: Call Godot… Let it ring. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot poses a lot of questions about the absurdity of life, as the main characters wait around for Godot, who never shows up (Suppose they had a play and the title character never appeared?). But it’s precisely his not showing up and what everyone does while waiting that make this so compelling. Theatre history has the first American production in a prison, where everybody apparently related to the (non) action very well. Great one-liner: I’m such a bad actor I auditioned for Godot and they gave me the title role.
Mata Hari: One of the most famous spies in history. Like most famous spies she wound up shot. Spies HATE being famous.
The Greater Good: Jeremy Bentham believed that the goal of society was “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” This became one of the operating tenets of Utilitarianism, the idea of maximizing the total good of society (as opposed to natural rights or guaranteeing individual expression and freedom). Like all wonderfully well-meaning and ill-conceived ideas (From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs, among them) this has been applied to absurd reasoning: should you kill one person for organs to save the lives of three or four? The Star Trek film franchise explores this in four or so of its adventures under the phrase “the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” Contrast this with the philosophy embodied in John Locke’s natural rights philosophy which holds that individual rights (to things like freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness) transcend the cost-benefit analysis inherent in Utilitarianism. If this sounds familiar it’s because Locke greatly influenced the American Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.
The Grim Grotto
Submarines: Perhaps the most famous submarine in literature is the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (this site in Israel has the most extensive online Verne collection I’ve seen). Of course, there’s also Das Boot and Destination Tokyo for film fans and Yellow Submarine for people who don’t want to believe the 60’s are over.
Widdershins: Means moving in a counterclockwise direction, or, in the UK, in an anti-clockwise direction. This is the direction pagans go in some rituals. Side bar: Why do clocks with hands go “clockwise” and not the opposite direction (Assuming you’re not in a Salvador Dali painting)? Because if you happen to have been born in a pre-clockwork society, a sundial’s shadow will progress in that direction. So the sun-clock connection lives on to this day as long as you stay analog.
Queequeg: From Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, see above. Ishmael, a sailor wannabe of no particular skill except that we see the entire story unfold through his eyes, meets Queequeg, a tattooed (in the days when that was meant to be threatening rather than mainstream) South Sea Islander of incredible harpooning skill (in the days when whale oil was a politically correct source of lighting), when both must of necessity share the same bed at Peter Coffin’s Inn on Nantucket. One of the most poignant scenes of the book, given what they both must endure later, and a fitting metaphor for the brotherhood of man. Queequeg’s skill gets him aboard The Pequod, and that he won’t go without Ishmael gets Ishmael aboard (be very careful what you ask for, you might get it). One of the things I later learned (the hard way) was that the Quakers working the crew list used the classic “good cop / bad cop” sales technique on Ishmael. This lives on in car dealerships and Presidential tickets.
sous: In the twisted subculture of professional cooking (chronicled so admirably in Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain), hierarchy is more macho than in the military. A sous chef is above the line chef, but below the celebrity chef (i.e., not quite the plankton of the food chain in the kitchen, more like the cod, definitely not the swordfish — WAY underneath the lobster). Like much of haute cuisine, the word is French in origin. Looking for an adventure at a temple in gastronomy? Go to this blog for a vicarious experience of dining chez Alain Ducasse.
Sontag Shore: After Susan Sontag, critic and author. Imagine an author and critic who stages Waiting for Godot in war-torn Sarajevo and you get an idea of the kinds of chops she had. One of the first women in the Proctor & Gamble Brand Management program once told me the coined phrase for women of distinction in that nascent corporate culture was that they had “brass ovaries” in analogy to their male counterparts’ gonads. Sontag certainly had brass ovaries. She will be missed.
The Gulag Archipelago: Not a fun place to visit and you wouldn’t want to have lived there. After the fall of the Russian Monarchy and the rise of Communism (note: the last Communists around are in Cuba, North Korea, and some academic institutional archives), A kinder, gentler man named Stalin (a pseudonym, the name means “steel” in Russian) established a series of domestic prison labor camps that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn chronicled in The Gulag Archipelago. The New York Times has a great list of his reviews in English. You can check out his works in Russian here.
The Mediocre Barrier Reef: A play on Great Barrier Reef (I put this here because I know if I don’t I’ll get email on it).
Yomhueledet: Hebrew for “birthday.” The Hebrew language has a long and distinguished history, including being one of the few ancient tongues that has had a revival in the modern world. Thanks to Jessica.
Duke Ellington (go to this site for the audio clips): Jazz has a name and the name is Duke (it could also be Satchmo, Ella, or my eternal favorite Billie). Ellington’s work takes jazz from the back streets to the concert hall and what a journey it is. Did you ever hear his version of The Nutcracker? (Charles Darwin and Buddha I leave as exercises for interested readers.) Here is a thorough collection of reviews of Ellington’s music.
Shadows on a cave wall: From Plato’s The Republic (a Latin name for a Greek philosophical work). One of the most powerful arguments of all philosophy: imagine people chained in a cave so all they could see were shadows from the outside (today we would call this television). Then imagine one of these people is unchained and brought outside to see what the larger world was like (today we would call this turning the television off), and then brought back to the cave (today we would call this being a couch potato). Would he be satisfied with his former existence? Would he tell the others? Would the others believe him? Plato’s argument: doing exactly this to people is the role of the philosopher (and look how his teacher Socrates was kindly thanked for this by the citizens of Athens). This has been re-envisioned in any number of ways, including The Matrix (based on the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell) and Horton Hears a Who.
Gorgons in general and Medusa in particular: You know where to find out all about Greek mythology.
P. G. Wodehouse: If you’ve ever heard of Jeeves, it’s because of PG Wodehouse. A darling of PBS, his material is funny (though I tend towards other humorists myself — it’s really hard to overlook his experiences as a prisoner of the Nazis in World War II when he made broadcasts for them claiming prison camp life was “in many ways quite an agreeable experience“). It’s impossible to tell what any of us would do in a similar circumstance, and hindsight has the wondrous quality of occluding our rational analysis. Make up your own mind.
Carl Van Vechten: A music critic, a photographer, an author, he was one of the first intellectuals who looked at the Black community (though he used a word which has long since lost favor) as though it were on an equal setting with the white community on the human dignity and respect scale.
Comyns: After Barbara Comyns, British author and painter.
Cleary: Beverly, ‘natch
Archy and Mehitabel: From the early world of comics, later to be reborn as graphic novels: the adventures of a cockroach and a cat by Don Marquis. And you thought sentient sponges and pecuniary crabs strained the imagination? Comics and comic books have a genuine claim to the kind of rich cultural analysis we put into literature. One of the pre-cursors of ASOUE can be found in The Trouble with Girls by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones: ostensibly a satire on secret agent stories, it’s really a launching pad for a slice and dice cultural kaleidoscope of Jack Kirby-esque flying machines, literary allusions to The Stranger, regional American cooking, among many other things, all done up with a sense of comic book-like fun. The same pair did The Beaver Papers which imagined Leave it to Beaver plots as done by people like William Faulkner.
Phil’s Grating Optimism: Keeps reminding me of Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (subtitled: Optimism), for whom “everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” To drive away this annoying feeling I can only suggest gardening. I could tell you LOTS about how Voltaire was floored by Hamlet but had to translate it into the Alexandrian quatrains he was used to in tragic poetry, but I won’t. Leonard Bernstein wrote an opera based on the story. Speaking of Bernstein — if you go to his Sixth Norton Lecture and listen to what he has to say about Stravinsky, and replace “Stravinsky” with Daniel Handler and replace “Beethoven” with say “Shakespeare” and “Mozart” with “Poe” etc. I think you’ll gain some insight into ASOUE.
Hewenkewwa: Is none other than Helen Keller (look on the Alabama state quarter). Overcoming blindness an deafness she entered and graduated from Radcliffe (back when it was a College and not just an Institute). My favorite of her quotes: Literature is my utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. Which might stand as the motto of ASOUE. Forget The Miracle Worker, the syrupy dramatization of her youth. Look to her real life – that’s where the inspiration is.
A tablet in three languages: Newbia thinks me remiss in not referencing The Rosetta Stone, though as the pictures at the linked site show you you’d be hard pressed to just pick it up. Also, technically, it is not in three languages but in two (Greek and Egyptian), and three scripts (Hieroglyphics and Coptic, which are methods of writing Egyptian) and Greek, of which ’nuff said. One of the great scholarly detective stories of all time deciphering hieroglyphics rates up there with Parry’s understanding of Greek epithets and the Brothers Grimm work on linguistics. Looking to make a name for yourself? There’s plenty of scripts and languages which remain undeciphered. There is also another famous tri-language inscription called The Behistun Rock.
Edgar Guest: The People’s Poet. I consider this stuff almost as syrupy as The Miracle Worker. You want to read poetry, pick up an English Romantic poet, like say….
Robert Browning: My Last Duchess is one of his better known poems, a prime example of the dramatic monologue, where one character talks (though usually to another person, rather than to the audience as in a soliloquy) revealing themselves through accounts of their actions or thoughts. This, needless to say, is the beginning of screenwriting.
Charles Simic: Born at about the time Hitler was deciding to invade his country and before Stalin and Tito were to put the icy grip on it for years, he managed to escape to the West. Recently (August, 2007) appointed Poet Laureate.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree….. what’s any of this mean? A man who used to take laudanum (an opiate) and almost single-handedly started the cult of the drug-addicted poet (which the Beats would take to greater heights and rock musicians to even loftier realms). I used to read this to my daughter for her bedtime story. She’s never forgiven me. But it’s probably one of the greatest poems in English. Check out Cristabel, and almost all of his criticism. His biography runs similar to other Romantics. In case you haven’t figured it out, I gave up on modern poetry after TS Eliot. Don’t let me influence you anymore than a cultural critic should (which is to say: read my stuff to decide if you’re remotely interested and then read their stuff and tell me to shove off or not).
Franz Wright: One of the most modern poets alluded to in the series, and weirdly enough, he lives in the town just next to your humble webmaster.
Daphne Gottleib: A modern slam poet — I love the slam poetry movement — get poetry out of academic ivory towers and put it back into the streets and bars where it belongs. Literary criticism should come next.
Lewis Carroll: Queen Victoria asked for the next book by that wonderful man who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and was surprised to get a text on matrix algebra. Charles Dodgson, mathematician, Oxford don, photographer, basic nerd wrote one of the most endearing children’s stories ever. Then followed it up with Through the Looking-Glass which questioned the nature of reality long before Antonioni did Blow-Up. Think I’m joking? Alice is dreaming of the White King, and the White King is dreaming of Alice. What happens when one of them wakes up? Now, if you’re Plato (see above) you believe that out there there is an idea of Alice of which the real Alice is but a pale instantiation…. but this is really getting too deep in more ways than one.
The upcoming Lemony Snicket movie has this new poster. (Thank you, Liam) We see that the draw is Jim Carey, whose performance I would bet influenced the maniacal laughter of Olaf in his latest incarnation as sub captain.
Stream of Consciousness meets Stream of Commerce (Guess which wins?)
Do NOT, under any circumstances, leave the theatre after the action ends.
If you do you’ll miss the end credits and they by far are the best part of this sorry excuse for a movie.
The credits are an Indonesian puppet show cum Edward Gorey-channeled animation sequence, and its recapitulation of the action was more interesting and enjoyable and its characters were more sympathetic and emotionally gripping than the nearly two hours of ego-inflicted mis-casting I’d been forced to sit through. Bravo to the team that put those together! If the entire movie had been done this way I’d have left happy. I hope they get a chance to re-do the entire film for the inevitable DVD cash cow milking.
The credits also reveal a number of things as to what made the lead-up film so bad — you need to read between the lines for it — right between Jim Carrey’s numerous assistant, personal trainer, and security credits. Carrey — who’s shown the amazing ability to combine the subtlety of Jerry Lewis (note to Gallic readers: we in the United States do not consider this a compliment) with the self-righteousness of George Bush — was clearly put in scene as often as possible in as many of his best make-up jobs as possible to justify the multi-million dollar paycheck he pulled down for putting his screen appeal to arrested adolescent males. In most of his other infantile roles this makes really good sense. People who want to see adolescent behavior to justify their ten bucks at the multiplex are certainly a viable market niche for Carrey’s product. In a role where Carrey isn’t meant to be the focus of the action, the director, screenwriter and producer are left with the choice of either shoe-horning him in or getting him acting lessons and reining in his Zeppelin-sized ego.
Care to guess what they opted for?
No effort is spared to make sure that Carrey gets to strut his low-brow brand of humor. No effort is made to keep the story true to the Baudelaires. Honestly, some of the dialog Violet and Klaus are given sounds like it would have come from The Littlest Elf sequence that misbegottenly begins this flick. Giving Sunny subtitles is just wrong, another indication that the production team thought so little of the collective brainpower of their audience that they needed to put cue cards before the stranded moviegoer — laugh tracks being acceptable only on television.
Emily Browning as Violet does a valiant turn in the face of the clear knowledge that she is not going to be allowed to shine. Liam Aiken holds his own as Klaus. Jude Law must be congratulating himself that he got to be heard and not seen.
John Le Carré once said that watching your novel turned into a movie was like watching your ox being turned into boullion cubes. He was speaking from the perspective of the author — we of the audience now have the chance of seeing a whole herd being slaughtered and rendered.
The Penultimate Peril
…ripples in a pond...: Zen Philosophy and literature. Ahhh the great alternative to Western Hypothetical-deductive thought. If you meet the Buddha on the road — kill him. I really like Buddhism — it’s about peace, tranquility, and depending on the sect material acquisition (Soka Gakki) or warfare (Shao-lin). So like all simple, profound ideas you can read pretty much anything into it. The Beats found it attractive.
…right, temporarily defeated….: The great man who said this was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who, like his spiritual progenitors Gandhi and Thoreau never held an elective office yet whose combination of ideas and actions spread ripples through the pond of American life. Freedom is an easy thing to advocate, but it is a wretchedly hard thing to obtain. King’s achievement with nonviolence is one of the proudest moments of Twentieth Century America. The full quote is:I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
La Forza del Destino: Opera: Murder, Betrayal, Madness, all to your favorite tunes. (roughly remembered from a T-shirt I once saw at Tanglewood). Snicket/Handler is clearly an opera fan (check out Rick). La Forza del Destino by Giuseppe Verdi (English translation: Joe Green) has the exact same twists this book does, just as the book itself promises. Italian opera spends lots of its time putting its characters into heightened emotional states so they can write beautiful music about them. Kate points out Verdi’s Forza del Destino is another VFD mention.
Tea … as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a two-edged sword: As Brian points out this quote is Biblical. For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. (Proverbs 5:3-5 KJV). Wormwood is one of the main ingredients of Absinthe one of the favorite beverages of European artists and writers.
To be daunted by no difficulty...: From William Makepeace Thackeray. Famous mainly for Vanity Fair, which he wrote to get the money to live in the manner to which he had become accustomed as a gentleman, read it to go into the minds of a status-obsessed culture which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to our own.
Lettuce bikinis: Brian points out this is a PETA publicity stunt. (While I agree with eating as many veggies as possible I am an omnivore at heart)
An unsavory Curry: Kay gets the brownie point for figuring this as a reference to Tim Curry who’s done the voice acting for the books on tape/CD version of ASOUE. If he ended his career after Rocky Horror he would still be among the immortals, but he has given us so much more, not all of it unsavory in the least.
The perpetual struggle for room and food: Economics has not been called The Dismal Science for naught. Thomas Robert Malthus, whose Essay on the Principle of Population argues that population growth (growing geometrically) would always outstrip available food resources (growing at an arithmetic rate) unless things like misery, moral restraint, or vice kept the population in check. Like many economic theories this was put to horrific purposes by the Haves against the Have-nots.
The “Library” Hotel: Maria gets praise for showing me New York City’s Library Hotel, where floors are organized by the Dewey Decimal system. I have no doubt Handler has spent time there. There’s a lesson for you — sometimes truth is as strange as fiction.
The Dewey Decimal System: One can do worse than have a library classification system as your magnum opus. Melvil Dewey lived for books and had the radical notion of making them easier to find. While we look at this today and say “Duh” try to put yourself in his place just before publishing exploded into a mega industry. The Library of Congress Classification System is currently supplanting it in many libraries in the USA, and I have no idea what they use in the UK or Europe — though you might ask yourself an interesting question: how do you look up books in a Chinese library? Or as this blog shows: how do modern technology terms translate into Chinese? Chad and his brother have done a list of the Dewey Decimal System references and I really hope they don’t stop with this. They did great work and should find other projects.
Clocks as narrative devices: Nate (check out Nate’s site) pointed me to Mrs. Dalloway, and while I have no fear of Virginia Woolf (see above) I have no great love of her either: As Big Ben sounds periodically in the background (with the subtlety of a blunt farming implement) Clarissa Dalloway streams her consciousness away on a London day on her way to a dinner party she’s throwing. The Three PM chimes occur a little past the midpoint of the book. The Hours is about how this book ripples through three generations of women who need to deal (like Clarissa) with a suicide in their lives.
Frogs: One of the coolest things about The Frogs by Aristophanes is that the frogs actually get lines…. in Greek. What’s a frog SAY in ancient Greek? Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax,/ Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax! For those of you into technical jargon, this is onomatopoeia. It’s interesting to look at how different languages express animal sounds. For those of you into sporting events, the sound became a cheer of the Classics-oriented Yalie. (Though I have also heard it at Harvard Classics basketball games). Of course, the frog also fits into the whole Basho-Zen theme Lemony’s got going. Stephen Sondheim has done a modern musical based on the Aristophanes original.
John Godfrey Saxe: Look at this site on lawyers and poetry, two concepts you really do not ever expect to see together, though insurance executives and poetry sound just as unlikely but produced poets Wallace Stevens, TS Eliot and novelist Franz Kafka.
Bertrand: Aloysius Bertrand was the poetic father to Charles Baudelaire. Bertrand wrote in prose while Baudelaire favored verse, but the latter was very clear about the influence of the former. You can get a good timeline of French literature here.
Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport…: Is a quote from Bion, a Greek poet. And yet another instance of the frog theme.
Galimatias: You might think this was a poet who’d have traded verses with Bion or Basho at a slam, but — in a break from our usual capricious policy of not (read: occasionally) including definitions in this listing — the word means “unintelligible talk” or “nonsense.”
Esperanto: From the unintelligible to the unfathomable. Dr. Zamenhof’s gift to international understanding was an artificially constructed language from Indo-European roots. So given the fact that 100 years later businessmen do not jet around the globe with their cards printed in Esperanto, that no movie, music, or book of Esperanto gets serious attention, I take the moral of this story that languages start in the street not the academy. Klingon and Elvish are just as constructed, but have and were generated by adherents who use them as portals into their own living subculture. Esperanto’s just as much a subculture (excuse me, a carrier between cultures, whatever the heck that means — since anybody who ever tried to translate something from one language to a second and thence to a third will immediately tell you that much is definitely lost in the translation), but Klingon and Elvish “speakers” are having FUN, and I’ve yet to see a fun gathering of Esperantists. Want to see something really neat — John Wilkins tried something even more ambitious 300 years earlier, with his Philosophical Language. There are entire schools of philosophy that say really translating something with complete fidelity is impossible. Wilkins also wrote about sending secret messages.
Henri Bergson: Bergson’s ideas get really complicated really quickly and your humble webmaster does not trust his ability to summarize them in succinct enough a fashion to fit on this page — so check him out yourself.
Scalia: Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court’s voice of literal interpretations of the US Constitution. Of course, purely literal interpretations (in the days when it was called strict constructionism) of the Constitution have resulted in travesties like the Dred Scott Decision. Acknowledged among the most conservative voices on the Court, Scalia occasionally gives the impression he would like to return to a simpler, less confusing time, without Roe v. Wade. Since this view appeals to people who want to interpret ancient Hebrew and Greek texts literally, it appeals to evangelicals who I am happy to say have been made very angry by this comment. My favorite commentary on the literal interpretation of anything — God Hates Shrimp.com.
Burning books: … is a sight I hope none of you ever see in your lifetime. The most disturbing image of Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper bursts into flame) remains firemen who START fires rather than putting them out. This became one of François Truffaut‘s worst films, it’s worth reading and seeing as an examination of what happens when censorship takes hold. The classic defense of free speech in the English language is John Milton‘s Areopagitica, which reads as true today as it did four hundred years ago.
Burning as a conclusion: Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle ends with a fire that destroys Valhalla, returns the sacred gold to the Rhine, and brings a four opera-long, synopsis-defying story to a conclusion. I saw this recently performed by the Kirov in Orange Country and the Seattle Opera in Seattle. A Ring Cycle performance is basically a cross between a Star Trek convention and a Grateful Dead concert for the musical intellectual. I’ve also described it as “adult summer camp but everyone is better dressed and expects valet parking.”
Richard Wright: We begin with King and end with Wright. The first with a statement of the highest aspirations of mankind, the second with a question of what would it take for the dispossessed to tire of their dispossession? Put another way, at what point when you’re pushing people do they go ape on you? Aside from being one of the central issues of the reality TV genre (in microcosm), it’s also the crucial question of how you keep an entire society together (in macrocosm). I don’t know about you but I’ve seen people ready to riot at Starbuck’s because the coffee wasn’t ready. On the other hand you can see people put through the worst treatment and wonder why they don’t just revolt.
The Beatrice Letters (and their contest)
A collection of love letters: Letters of course go way back (the New Testament largely consists of them) but collected love letters as a literary genre originate with Abelard and Heloise (Cole Porter included a marvelous lyric in Just One of Those Things to them: As Abelard said to Heloise / “Don’t forget to drop a line to me, please”). While the authenticity may be in dispute, I can rest easy in hoping that your affair de coeur does not end up like theirs.
Actress as muse: My favorite actress as muse to a protagonist is Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian falls madly for her while she’s a great actress and cruelly spurns her when her real love causes her to lose her gift at portraying fantasy.
My Silence Knot: Is an anagram of Lemony Snicket.
Rhetoric: While the word in modern American English has become a synonym for empty talk (and Plato pilloried it on similar grounds in Gorgias), it is one of the classical pillars of education. In short, the goal is to answer the question: How do you get your point across?
Zilpha Keatley Snyder: A Newbery winner (I have always loathed the the Newbery committee’s adulation of suffering protagonists).
The theremin: If you ever get a chance to see one of these in action — take it. It is truly a surreal experience — like a cross between a science fiction film and a Three Stooges short. I actually got to play the one in the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. You could, too.
Trees falling with no one to hear them: If you believe that all reality comes from the senses, is something not sensed real? Hence, George Berkeley’s famous question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it — has it truly fallen? I wanted to answer this question by picking up a branch of said tree and hitting him over the head with it. But that of course introduces sensations through the entire existence chain.
…as a battlefield loves young men…: Almost universally the best war works are anti-war works: Catch-22, The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, Dulce et Decorum Est, and I could keep going on.
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (which takes it title from The Tempest ) has a lot to say about modern society. Go get it and read it. Maybe the motto of the Nocturnal Phonographic Telegrammatic Corps is correct and nobody can ever truly communicate anything to anybody — but it is arguably the effort to do so which defines humanity.
A Lifeboat: The best works I know of that happen in a lifeboat are Lifeboat: film by Hitchcock story by Steinbeck. Read and see this for your psychology class. More recently this is also done in Life of Pi. The real-life inspiration for Moby Dick was the story of the Essex, a whaler out of Nantucket that saw the lifeboat survivors resort to cannibalism. If Herman Melville had included this episode and a physically-challenged youngster he could have won a Newbery Medal.
Storms and strandings: The archetypal (and I mean this in the Jungian sense) storm scenes in literature belong to The Odyssey.
Friday: Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel DeFoe, simultaneously one of the great adventure tales of all time and one of the first things you can really call a novel in English. Like the Moby / Essex connection the fiction is based on fact. Friday is the native Crusoe encounters on the beach. His role in Crusoe’s life gives us the English expression Sunny later uses “Gal Friday” — which also provides the title for a delightful screwball comedy: His Girl Friday. My favorite re-telling of this is Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Friday by Robert Heinlein probably owes its title to this character.
Ishmael: See above, the narrator of Moby Dick. Note to the lazy: you do not need to read very far into the novel to find out this information. Melville chose the name because of its heavy Biblical connotation of the wanderer (who by the nature of wandering did not have feet of clay), the wellspring of which is left to the reader to discover.
Burning Boat Rituals: In Beau Geste (a really great adventure movie for those who want the allure of the glory days of the French Foreign Legion AND the glory days of the British Empire AND the glory days of American B-movies) Beau (that really is his name) is given a Viking funeral in the middle of the desert.
The inhabitants: You will by this point be very nonplussed to learn that the names of the inhabitants are all laden with the significance you would expect in the finale of the series. To wit:
Alonso, Ferdinand, Miranda Caliban, and Ariel: Are all from The Tempest (see above), which was later reincarnated as Lost. Later on Gonzalo also gets mentioned. Like Crusoe and Moby, The Tempest was inspired by reality. Interesting question: ever wonder why an English playwright has so many characters with Italian names? Later on we see a postcard addressed to Olivia Caliban, though Olivia appears in Twelfth Night, recently re-made as She’s the Man.
Erewhon, Bellamy: From the novel Erewhon, an anagram of “Nowhere,” by Samuel Butler, whose background as a sheep farmer in New Zealand gave him the sort of outsider satiric view of Victorian society. “Nowhere” is also the literal translation of Utopia by Sir Thomas More, the progenitor of perfect society novels in English (though Plato’s Republic attempted to define one centuries before). The tradition continued in 19th Century New England with Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy.
Fletcher, Bligh, Pitcairn, Byam, Nordhoff: Better known as Mr. Christian and Captain Bligh, from Mutiny on the Bounty byCharles Nordhoff and an excellent MGM film. Pitcairn was the island at which the mutineers eventually arrived. I hear they have a thriving stamp industry. Roger Byam is a seventeen year old midshipman offered a job by Captain Bligh himself. Is he in for a surprise.
Messrs. Kurtz and Marlow : A shadowy figure in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness who, like the Brando version/parody of him in Apocalypse Now, establishes his own society via a charismatic sway over the natives. Charlie Marlow journeys into the Belgian Congo (where Tin Tin once visited) to meet up with Kurtz.
Robinson: Could be our old friend Crusoe, or the entire Swiss Family Robinson.
Finn: Huckleberry Finn (please see above), survivor of storms, island life, and raft groundings. I know there are those out there who think Moby Dick is the Great American Novel, but I always vote for Huck Finn.
Brewster and Willa: Two exemplars of American pioneer life. William Brewster a Puritan who literally came over on The Mayflower, and like all Puritans wrestled with how to build their society. Willa Cather moved the literary legacy of pioneer struggle inland to Nebraska.
Omeros and Calypso: Calypso runs an island Odysseus washes up on in The Odyssey by Omeros (Greek version of the name). Calypso’s name means literally “to hide” and Odysseus’s name means “to cause pain.” So boys and girls your choices on your personal odyssey are either to live life and give and get pain, or to hide from it and do nothing.
Peer pressure: If we looked at this in economic terms, it would be the “tyranny of the majority,” a concept explored by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. We could also look at what one of the great economic thinkers, Karl Marx, had to say about opiates and masses (i.e., “religion is the opiate of the masses” – today we usually ascribe this function to television).
Janiceps: Sunny has branched into some medical terminology for her metaphors here. You can find photos of the actual medical condition on the web. I did and chose not to link directly to them.
Dreyfuss (sic): What happened to Alfred Dreyfus was one of the worst cases of innocent people being railroaded in the history of France. It moved Emile Zola to write J’Accuse in the cause of justice. NB: in French Dreyfus is spelled with a single “s” and in The End it is spelled with two.
Boswell: James Boswell, the man who created reality media by following Samuel Johnson around and recording his life. Nowadays Dr. Johnson would need someone named “Paris” or “Nicole” or “Adrienne” in order to make his story saleable enough for the mass media. In olden days his sparkling wit and piercing powers of observation were enough.
Anais: Yes, the works of Anais Nin are indeed representative of works “in the flesh.” I was once fortunate enough to have a girlfriend who admired her work.
Thursday: A Mister Thursday is prominent in The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton, a story about undercover organizations, anarchist conspiracies (think about that phrase), and unclear allegiances.
Gesundheit: I can’t resist this. This is one of the few German words that every North American can pronounce perfectly well. So as happens sometimes on French trains someone sneezing will cause an American present to say “Gesundheit” which will then likely cause everyone around her to suddenly think she is German. I have seen this happen twice.
… carving of a black bird…: This sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of, from The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, probably the greatest American detective story ever, and the ne plus ultra of Hard-boiled fiction. If you can find it in the mid-1980’s there was a brief parody in the National Lampoon of a hardboiled detective story written in the style of Henry James (imagine an urban rap album done by William F. Buckley and you have some notion of the effect).
Electra: If you thought Oedipus was complex, this is the converse: named because Electra was really ticked that her mom Clytemnestra offed her dad Agamemnon after the Trojan War and decided she just had to do something about it.
Gibbon: Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of those massive books that not only portrayed Rome but became the required reading of the British Empire. Pay special attention to the footnotes.
Neiklot: Is Tolkien spelled backwards. And if you do not see a significance to this name and a ring you have been in a cave watching shadows for the last decade.
Kon-Tiki: Thor Heyerdahl had a theory that ancient Incas could sail craft to Polynesia so he built one and did it. He then followed that up with other reed boats. Whether his initial theories on Incan origins were right or not is beside the point — this was just too cool.
McGuffin: A term Alfred Hitchcock (see above) used to denote the object or event that starts a suspense story in motion, but which Hitch would disregard almost immediately.
Snakes offering apples: Please tell me you have already heard of such a story? Details, as Sunny would say (and as Matthew knocks me over the head), are at Gentreefive: Genesis 3:5 (the King James Version presents many problems in accurate translation but its literary quality has added immeasurably to the English language). Of course, there’s also Beezus and Ramona by Cleary which has its own apple-fest, which Rach and Jill both point out I neglected. And you might view a tree with a library at the base as a tree of knowledge, sort of in the light of the knowledge Wotan gained being tied to Yggdrasil.
O mort, vieux capitaine….: Whose poetry should introduce Chapter 14 but that of Charles Baudelaire?
Th-th-th-th That’s all Folks!
Your humble webmaster looks forward to an enjoyable retirement.
OK — so check back in April, 2007. I might have been the victim of premature retirement.
April 26, 2007 — no, I’m still retired. Harper Collins is rendering the bones of the series into glue for as much incremental revenue as they can grab.
I hope this is not a harbinger of endless add-ons. And as long as Daniel Handler (At the Brattle in Cambridge, MA, May 18, 2007) is writing things like Adverbs, I guess I need not worry too much.
The Tragic Treasury
The Gothic Archies are either a boon to the audiophile ASOUE fan or the worst nightmare of a culture critic who thought he was close to done. Please keep in mind the non-exclusive “or” can mean BOTH statements are true.
I like their sound.
Imagine that They Might Be Giants and Black Flag had a love child in a Charles Addams universe and you’ll have an idea what The Gothic Archies sound like. In fact the lead singer reminds me of a kind of Henry Rollins after anger management: restrained, yet still someone you’d keep a wary eye on just in case. There is more musical variation in this one album than in the entire Britney Spears oeuvre and you’ll be thankful for it. While ostensibly a series of songs based on the individual ASOUE books, the album achieves the distinction of being listenable without prior knowledge, and infinitely enjoyable with it. A series of sonic landscapes that range from Vangelis to Guthrie, just get the CD, pop it in your player and sit back to enjoy the existential frisson. You’ll be glad you did.
Where was it?
You know, sometimes you just know it’s there and can’t find it (aside to all of you who have asked for page number citations in this site: yes, in this case it would be darned good and convenient). So alert to the care all of you take and the desire I have to cut down on duplications, I’m adding these as they come in or as I flag in the search.
Nabokov’s Pale Fire: Allyson notes: at some point in A Series of Unfortunate Events, a “rented castle” was mentioned (I believe Mr. Snicket may have been staying in it); however, I am unable to recall when. Anyway, this is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, in which Dr. Charles Kinbote referred to his current home as his “rented castle.”
Nate in Canada notes an earlier allusion to Kazuo Ishiguro (who moved from one ancient island culture with a rich literary tradition to another on the opposite side of the planet), though neither of us have found the reference.
Tales of the Truly Grotesque. Any book with an attitude and a character named Joan of Arkansas deserves attention on this site. Add the fact that the purported author is Prof Odysseus Malodorous (Odysseus being Greek for to cause pain and Malodorous being Latin for smells bad) and it’s a no-brainer. Given the arduous duties webmaster-critic-cultural-interpreter entails (like ignoring irate email and defending the First Amendment) I’ve started training a new generation of webmaster-critic-defenders-of-the-First-Amendment who will start giving their own reviews (or whatever the heck else grabs them) right here. Check back soon.
How to Kill a Mockingbird: The best parody of a book report by someone with no idea of the text and an imagination run amok that I’ve seen. Keep your eyes on the ancient Chinese Ninjas and the pirates. (What’s this have to do with ASOUE? Nothing — I just like it.)
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