The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events #2)
By: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Published: September 30, 1999
The Rundown: After being removed from Count Olaf’s clutches, the Baudelaire orphans are sent to live with another distant relative: the kindly herpetologist Dr. Montgomery Montgomery. But just when the children think their lives are improving, their nemesis reappears. Can the orphans once again prevail?
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover of this novel depicts a scene in which Sunny is attacked by the Incredibly Deadly Viper while her siblings and uncle watch on in horror. While this appears to be another unfortunate event, if you’ve read the novel, you know that this scene isn’t quite what it seems. As such, it is a fitting illustration, because the danger of false appearances is a major theme of the novel.
The Good Guys: The main characters are 14-year-old Violet and 12-year-old Klaus Baudelaire. Violet likes to invent things, while Klaus likes to read. Together, the two of them represent the two main types of knowledge: reflective (reading other people’s work) and creative (making your own discoveries). The children are polite, intelligent, and resourceful. This is beneficial, because the adults in their lives are not.
And the Bad Guy: The antagonist of the story is once again Count Olaf, who reappears with another dastardly scheme to steal the Baudelaire fortune. He disguises himself and takes a job as Dr. Montgomery’s new lab assistant. Olaf is even more menacing in this novel, constantly threatening the children with a large knife. The children also learn just how far Olaf is willing to go to achieve his goals.
What a Wonderful World: The main set-piece of the novel is Dr. Montgomery’s eponymous Reptile Room. It is a room filled with exotic fictional reptiles, including such creatures as a winged toad and a snake with three mouths. The children spend many happy hours working in the room with Uncle Monty, until the ‘unfortunate event’ of the novel occurs. Outside of Uncle Monty’s estate, the world is bleak and hostile to the children. It turns out that most adults won’t sympathize with you just because you’re an orphan. The real world is brought into the estate in the person of Count Olaf, who is now calling himself “Stephano.”
Friendly Reptiles: It’s a risky proposition to kill off a beloved character. As anyone who loved Ned Stark and Khal Drogo can testify, fans of the work will be devastated. Consequently, one would think that Snicket would be leery of doing this in a novel made for children. However, he not only goes for it, but successfully pulls it off. This story introduces a delightful character who promises to take the children on science-filled adventures all over the globe and then promptly kills him. The main device that makes this work is Snicket directly informing the reader of the character’s imminent demise immediately after introducing him. His death is a disappointment, but it’s a disappointment that the reader is prepared for.
Snotty Curtains: The orphans go up to Count Olaf and, in a fit of anger, tell him Dr. Montgomery’s plans to thwart him. This prompts Olaf to act, resulting in another unfortunate event in the Baudelaire family. If they’d just kept their stupid mouths shut, Uncle Monty would have taken them to Peru, and the rest of the series would be about amazing reptile adventures. If you think about it, every bad thing that happens from here on out is the orphan’s own fault. Whoops.
Does it Represent…
Women: It was a wise decision on the part of Snicket to make Violet the engineer and Klaus the bookworm. Young girls need to see examples of women who are interested in the sciences, particularly engineering. Right now, they are a male-dominated discipline, at least partly due to lack of female representation. In addition to Violet, we have her infant sister Sunny. While Sunny didn’t do much in the last book, in this book she distracts the adult characters while Violet comes up with an invention to save the day. Whether Sunny was acting intentionally is up for debate.
People of Color: Nobody.
LGBT People: In a children’s book from the ‘90’s? Yeah, right.
The Disabled: The Hook-Handed Man is back! He shows up in a thinly veiled disguise, but is overall less threatening than he was in The Bad Beginning. He also demonstrates intelligence, trying to warn Olaf before Olaf messes up his own evil scheme.
Does the Snake Survive? Yes!
Memorable Quote: “It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in the world is limited, and eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know.”
Recommended For: People who like dry humor and watching horrible things happen to helpless children. A man threatens to cut off a baby’s toe with a knife!
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars