One thought on “Unfortunate Associates: The Penultimate Peril

  1. Still mid-way, but: I keep being surprised by how different my angle on these books is, from how (I think?) you guys see them.

    In my reading, ASoUE is all about how dysfunctional and ineffective society can be — and how a lot of that is due to moral ambiguity. How the desire for moral certainty and correctness is unattainable – and without it, you have a thin, thin line between being ruthless and sliding towards villainy, and taking the moral high ground but being rendered ineffective.

    The Penultimate Peril really drives this home – the Baudelaires are finally among allies, on a mission, doing good, helping The Good Guys. And they discover that still everything is uncertain; that almost any action can be interpreted both ways; that more people want to help them than they thought, but also that “wanting to help” is little guarantee of anything. Wanting to do good, working to do good, doesn’t mean you actually are doing good. You can identify the extremes of villainy, but working out where you’re standing and what you should do next is a constant struggle. And villainy seems to be growing ever stronger, while those doing “noble deeds” seem to be spiraling further and further into obsolescence.

    And then the obvious question is: OK, if society is this messed up, can we quit?

    Can we go somewhere else? Can we start afresh, without all those problems? Can we collect just the people who don’t want to live with villainy and ignorance, isolate ourselves, and live in peace?

    That, to my eyes, is what The End is all about. It starts as an idyll, as the refuge the Baudelaires might be wishing for — the one place that rejects Count Olaf, that rejects the dysfunctions of society that we’ve been seeing in the previous twelve books.

    But the idyll cannot hold. To maintain it, you need Ishmael’s iron grip, his deception, and his keeping the society simple and docile. Even that isn’t enough – he does all that, and there is still a new schism brewing. You can’t keep people from having desires; you can’t keep people from creating friction. AND, isolation is another illusion — “sooner or later, everything washes up here.” You can pretend to be out of the game, to be untouched by that extremely dysfunctional society — but you can’t truly isolate yourself; it’s always going to catch up with you sooner or later.

    Snicket’s creations are absurd. But his dynamics are sharp and absolutely real.

    So, ummm, yeah. Harry Potter’s fine and all, but I like the series that acknowledges complexity, rejects moral absolutism, and struggles for constant awareness and consideration, thanks 🙂

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