Note: If you’re wondering why there are two posts today, it’s because I neglected to post The Wide Window yesterday.
The Miserable Mill is the fourth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket and was published in 2000 by HarperCollins.
Genre: Children’s, Mystery
I hope, for your sake, that you have not chosen to read this book because you are in the mood for a pleasant experience. If this is the case, I advise you to put this book down instantaneously, because of all the books describing the unhappy lives of the Baudelaire orphans, The Miserable Mill might be the unhappiest yet. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are sent to Paltryville to work in a lumbermill, and they find disaster and misfortune lurking behind every log.
The pages of this book, I’m sorry to inform you, contain such unpleasantries as a giant pincher machine, a bad casserole, a man with a cloud of smoke where his head should be, a hypnotist, a terrible accident resulting in injury, and coupons.
I have promised to write down the entire history of these three poor children, but you haven’t, so if you prefer stories that are more heartwarming, please feel free to make another selection.
With all due respect,
“It is much, much worse to receive bad news through the written word than by somebody simply telling you, and I’m sure you understand why. When somebody simply tells you bad news, you hear it once, and that’s the end of it. But when bad news is written down, whether in a letter or a newspaper or on your arm in felt tip pen, each time you read it, you feel as if you are receiving the news again and again. For instance, I once loved a woman, who for various reasons could not marry me. If she had simply told me in person I would have been very sad, of course, but eventually it might have passed. However, she chose instead to write a two-hundred-page book, explaining every single detail of the bad news at great length, and instead my sadness has been of impossible depth. When the book was first brought to me, by a flock of carrier pigeons, I stayed up all night reading it, and I read it still, over and over, and it is as if my darling Beatrice is bringing me bad news every day and every night of my life.”
“The children could tell, from Phil’s statement about everything and everybody having a good side, that he was an optimist. “Optimist” is a word which here refers to a person, such as Phil, who thinks hopeful and pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed,” but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”
“Well,” [Phil] said, “this isn’t too bad. My left leg is broken, but at least I’m right-legged. That’s pretty fortunate.”
“Gee,” one of the other employees murmured. “I thought he’d say something more along the lines of ‘Aaaaah! My leg! My leg!’”
~Snicket 26-27, 97
“To Beatrice—My love flew like a butterfly / Until death swooped down like a bat / As the poet Emma Montana McElroy said: / “That’s the end of that.”
Recommended Age Range: 10+
What I Liked:
More wonderfulness from Snicket! Seriously, these reviews simply do not do these books justice. You definitely need to read them for yourself to be able to enjoy them in all their glory, and you definitely need to read them more than once. It’s on the read-throughs that you spot all the brilliant foreshadowing, references, and plot hints that Snicket gives throughout the books. It’s really brilliant.
Something I didn’t mention: literary references. There are lots of them. Here’s just a few from the first four books: Baudelaire, Beatrice, Georgina Orwell, Ahab Memorial Hospital, Hurricane Herman, Café Kafka and Josephine, Damocles Dock, the Virginian Wolfsnake (don’t ever let it near a typewriter!), Prospero and Stephano, “Ackroid!” (which probably meant something like “Roger!”), and Mr. Poe. I’ll try to point out some more for each book after this. I suppose I could go into detail into each one, but where’s the fun in that? It’s much more fun to have you look it up for yourself! Sunny especially gets some good ones in. As I mentioned in my P/P/T section, Sunny’s words become less gibberish and more meaningful. It starts getting noticeable in the next book.
Shirley! I was expecting some “Surely you jest” jokes, but there weren’t any. Probably because Shirley couldn’t very well say, “Don’t call me Shirley.”
Also, another gruesome death, which is perhaps even more gruesome than the last one. Snicket even calls it gruesome. Again, it’s not described graphically, but it’s perfectly clear what happened.
One thing I’ve noticed: the Baudelaires are very good at noticing Count Olaf’s disguises. They’re terrible at noticing his henchmen’s, however. So far, the henchman’s disguise has always fooled the Baudelaires. Maybe not the reader, though. Remember, anagrams…
Instead of relying on their own skills, Klaus and Violet had to switch—Violet had to read and Klaus had to invent something. Character development!
What I Didn’t Like:
The device Klaus used to pull the log away was ridiculously unrealistic. Really, gum did that? I don’t think so.
More ineffective adults! They get more ridiculous each book. It’s like a running gag now.
The Miserable Mill has never stood out to me. In fact, it’s probably the one I dread rereading the most. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s relatively mediocre and doesn’t really advance the plot that much.
People/Places/Things to Keep in Mind (spoilers):
-Charles and Sir
-Snicket’s constant references to Beatrice, which start to make their way into the text and not just the dedication.
There is a school bus, referencing The Austere Academy.
The Miserable Mill, while perhaps in my opinion a relatively mediocre installment in the series, is still packed full of the dry Snicket wit that makes this series shine, as well as more misfortune for the Baudelaires, more character development, and more foreshadowing.
Coming Up Next: The Austere Academy