The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events #4)
By: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Published: April 15, 2000
The Rundown: The Baudelaire orphans are once again sent to a new guardian, a chain-smoking entrepreneur known as “Sir.” Sir, not being the paternal type, offers them a deal: work in his lumber mill, and he’ll protect them from Count Olaf. Strangely, Count Olaf is nowhere to be found. Has he finally given up on obtaining the Baudelaire fortune? Or is he merely biding his time?
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: Of the covers so far, this one is the weakest. Most of the cover is taken up by Klaus’s face. In the background, Violet is shouting and waving, trying to get his attention. This tableau hints at one of the conflicts of the novel, so it is apropos. However, Klaus Baudelaire looks almost exactly like Harry Potter. He even has Harry’s cracked glasses. Drawing comparisons between A Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter is probably unwise, because the latter is definitely superior.
The Good Guys: Normally, Violet foils Olaf’s plans using her inventions, while Klaus uncovers important information through research. This novel switches things up: when Klaus is incapacitated, Violet has to do the research herself. It’s a role she’s not comfortable with, and she has difficulty understanding what it is she’s reading, but prevails through sheer ingenuity. Similarly, while Violet is busy fighting Olaf and his henchman, Klaus must think of an invention in seconds. What he comes up with isn’t great, and doesn’t even work the way it’s supposed to. It was nice to see the two Baudelaires being challenged in a this way.
The Bad Guys: Snicket seems to realize that Count Olaf is not a strong enough villain to carry the series, because this novel has two other antagonists: Dr. Orwell and Sir. Dr. Orwell runs an optometry practice next to Lucky Smells Lumbermill. The building’s architecture just so happens to resemble the eye tattooed on Olaf’s ankle. Coincidence? I think not! Meanwhile, Sir is a 19th century robber baron who pays his employees in coupons. He does not care for the children in the slightest: he just wants cheap labor for his mill.
What a Wonderful World: Lucky Smells Lumbermill is seedy and disgusting. Because Sir is too cheap to pay for paint, all of the signs in the mill are written in chewed gum. The room the orphans share with the other mill workers lacks windows, so someone drew windows on the wall in marker. Charles, Sir’s partner, has convinced Sir that the workers need a library, but it only has three books in it, and none of them are particularly interesting. Lucky Smells brings to mind the shabby Count Olaf, who in a previous installment, blew his nose on a herpetologist’s curtains.
Lucky Boy: Just as the story was beginning to become repetitive, Snicket decided to change things up. This is the first novel in the series where Count Olaf does not immediately appear to try and steal orphan’s fortune. Instead, the novel focuses on the miserable conditions in the mill and Klaus’s strange behavior after visiting Dr. Orwell. Olaf’s location and role in the events is not immediately clear. This lends a sense of mystery and dread to the novel.
Chewed Gum: No matter who the secondary antagonists are, it’s always Count Olaf who is after the orphan’s fortune. The title of the series would be more apt if what happened to the orphans really was just a series of unfortunate events. As it is now, it feels like everything would be fine in the children’s lives if only Olaf were not around. It’s far more disturbing to think that the world is an inherently capricious place than to think that your life is bad only if one guy has it out for you.
Does it Represent…
Women: Many horrifying things happen in this novel, but the worst part was where I assumed Dr. Orwell was a man.
People of Color: Uh… there are some in the Netflix series. Does that count?
LGBT People: Shockingly, yes. Charles is not merely Sir’s business partner: he’s also his lover. Now, because this was a children’s novel published in 2000, it is never explicitly stated that the two are a couple. In fact, it is only obliquely implied. For example, one hint comes when Charles says he wants the orphans to live with Sir and not work in the mill; that way, they will really be part of the family. This statement makes sense only if Charles and Sir are already a family.
The Disabled: Nein.
Memorable Quote: “I’m sure you have heard it said that appearance does not matter so much, and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. This is, of course, utter nonsense, because if it were true then people who were good on the inside would never have to comb their hair or take a bath, and the whole world would smell even worse than it already does.”
Recommended for: People who like dry humor and watching horrible things happen to helpless children. An infant is almost impaled on a sword!
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars