Truth Behind A Series of Unfortunate Events: Eyeballs, Leeches, Hypnotism and Orphans - Exploring Lemony Snicket's World

Truth Behind A Series of Unfortunate Events: Eyeballs, Leeches, Hypnotism and Orphans - Exploring Lemony Snicket's World

by Lois H. Gresh
     
 

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The ultimate companion guide to A Series of Unfortunate Events—a must for fans of Lemony Snicket.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the most popular children's series in the world and will be a major motion picture starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep coming this 2004 holiday season. Now comes The Reader's Guide to Lemony Snicket,

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Overview

The ultimate companion guide to A Series of Unfortunate Events—a must for fans of Lemony Snicket.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the most popular children's series in the world and will be a major motion picture starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep coming this 2004 holiday season. Now comes The Reader's Guide to Lemony Snicket, the ultimate companion guide to these fun and wildly successful novels. Digging beneath the surface, Lois Gresh uses science, history and little known facts to dig deep into the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events and provide young readers everywhere with how-to hints and tips, quizzes, cool anecdotes, fun facts and information on everything Lemony. Including:

*Facts about handwriting analysis and forgery

*Killer leeches, crabs, fungi and peppermint—all you need to know

*The truth about hypnosis—and how to use it!

*Real child inventors and their amazing inventions

*How to build a telephone, a hot air balloon and an automatic harmonica

*Are you as smart as Violet & Claus—the ultimate quiz

*And much more!

The ultimate renegade book report on A Series of Unfortunate Events, this reader's guide is a must for millions of young fans everywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
If you ever wanted to know obscure facts related to the Lemony Snicket series, then this is the book for you. This random collection of information (such as how to build a telephone, or exactly what kind of crabs could "live in the tin shack at Prufrock Preparatory School") adds to the mystery of the world of the Baudelaire orphans. For example, in Chapter Five, "Strange Snakes, Lizards, and Toads," Gresh explains all about the many reptiles (and amphibians) that could have been part of the Reptile Room. There are even lengthy fact boxes scattered throughout the chapters. However, in some instances, the logic is contradictory or confusing. For instance, one of the fact boxes in Chapter Five is "The Most Deadly Snakes in the World." This fact box explains the difference between a "deadly" and a "dangerous" snake. It then goes on to contradict itself in explaining which the "Coral snake" is. Another characteristic of the book is that it complements the random nature and tone of "A Series of Unfortunate Events." Words are defined and the author is shown in a picture with her face covered. If you like ghosts, tattoos, and an information book in text-book form (with one picture per chapter) then "unfortunately" this is the book for you. 2004, St. Martin's Griffin, Ages 10 to 16.
—Joella Peterson

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312327033
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
10/07/2004
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Truth Behind A Series of Unfortunate Events

Eyeballs, Leeches, Hypnotism, And Orphans â" Exploring Lemony Snicket's World


By Lois H. Gresh

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2004 Lois H. Gresh
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-32703-3



CHAPTER 1

Kids Who Invent Things


It was near Desolate Lake in the fall of 1990 that Carolyn Catastrophe planted a shrub that changed the world forever. It was a writhing mass of vines called the Nettle of Frankfurt. Its purple stems were littered with sour berries and flowers that smelled like the sewers.

Carolyn was delighted. By the time the snow melted next April, she and her best friend, Jonquil, would be able to sit beneath the Nettle and cast its berries into the water. The berries would float on the mud and eventually slide into the lower muck of Desolate Lake, where flake-haired horny toads would eat them, gain gas, and belch all those gorgeous bubbles to the surface of the water. "Ah, I can't wait!" Carolyn cried.

Jonquil, who was thirteen, peered at her from beneath his grandfather's cap. "I know the berries are the best for producing toad gas, but, Carolyn, how will we sit beneath the shrub long enough to throw berries into the lake? The Nettle stinks like sewers."

"I've thought of that," said Carolyn, "and it will no longer be a problem. I've invented a solution."

Carolyn could invent most anything. She'd created Liquid Squid Houseplant Fertilizer, which gardeners used all over the world. She'd created a machine that cleaned pollutants from ordinary city air; her Purifying Roto-Whirlers were on the roofs of skyscrapers everywhere.

And now, Carolyn Catastrophe had created a Nettle of Frankfurt that cast only the sweetest pheromones — a word that means "fragrance that makes people dizzy with good thoughts" — across Lake Desolate.

"When we throw berries into the water next April, Jonquil," she said, "people will dance for miles around."

And she was right, for next spring, as the snow melted and the flake-haired horny toads rose from the lake, Carolyn's Nettle blossomed and its aroma filled the air for miles around, and everywhere people stopped fighting and grubbing for money, and people danced together upon the shores of Lake Desolate.

Now in the case of the Baudelaire orphans — Violet, Klaus, and Sunny — life was as bad as the smell of the original Nettle of Frankfurt. Yet life got a little better — just as it did with Carolyn and the people who lived near Lake Desolate — each time Violet invented a contraption to get them out of a jam — a jam, in this case, meaning all those times when the evil Count Olaf tried to kidnap, torture, roast alive, or otherwise hurt the children.

And while Carolyn Catastrophe may or may not be real, and she may or may not be based on the early teenage years of the author — and while there may or may not be a Nettle of Frankfurt on the banks of Lake Desolate, nor any flake-haired horny toads (though there may be some gill-footed sapsucking eagles) — there is indeed an underlying truth about the brilliant inventions devised by Violet Baudelaire.

And that underlying truth is that Violet's inventions could indeed be real, and that you, the reader of this dreadful book, could indeed make her inventions yourself.

In this chapter, we'll take a look at some of Violet's inventions and tell you how to make them. We'll also have fun pondering Violet's more unusual creations, and we'll introduce you to some of the real world's youngest inventors of really cool stuff.


First Up: How to Build a Telephone

Do you remember how Aunt Josephine tells the orphans in The Wide Window (Book the Third) that the telephone is a very dangerous device because it can electrocute people? Klaus insists that the telephone is quite safe. And, of course, Violet declares that she's built a telephone and would be happy to take apart Aunt Josephine's telephone to explain how it works. This way, figures Violet, Aunt Josephine will no longer be afraid of telephones.

While reading the book, did you wonder how Violet might build her telephone? Well, I did, and so I read a lot of books and papers about telephones. And then I thought about the telephone for a few weeks. I wondered if Violet created a regular telephone or a cellular one.

I was interested to learn that a man named Elisha Gray invented a telephone around the same time that the more famous Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Each man zoomed to the patent office, but Bell got there first — literally, within hours of Gray's arrival — and after a lengthy legal battle, Bell was given credit as the true inventor of the telephone. In fact, I thought this stuff was so interesting that I wrote about it for you in "Fascinating Tidbit #1" (see box at right).

But, for now, let's get back to Violet and how she might have built her telephone.

A telephone is actually a simple device. It has a speaker near your ear and a microphone near your mouth. The speaker is tiny and might cost fifty cents. The microphone can be made of carbon granules pressed between two thin pieces of metal. As you talk, sound waves compress and decompress the granules.

A simple telephone also has a hook switch, which connects you to the telephone network — the big cables that run from your home to the road to the telephone boxes and to the telephone company.

If you tap the hook switch, you can dial telephone numbers. For example, if you tap the switch twice, the telephone company thinks you have dialed the number two. Violet's telephone could be as simple as this one. And it wouldn't take much for you to make a telephone, too.

Now, it's highly unlikely that Violet created a cell phone. That's a much harder task than building the simple phone described above. To make a cell phone, she would probably need equipment such as a circuit board, a liquid crystal display, a tiny keyboard, a microphone, a speaker, an antenna, and a battery.

There are a lot of other things that Violet invents or builds. Printing presses, hot-air balloon mobile homes, automatic harmonicas, and noisy shoes.

While I'd really like to talk about the noisy shoes first, you might prefer more intellectual topics, such as how to build a hot-air balloon mobile home. So we'll start with that topic first.


Second Up: How to Build a Hot-Air Balloon Mobile Home

In Book the Seventh, The Vile Village, the Baudelaire orphans end up in the town of V.F.D., which is filled with old people and crows. Also in V.F.D. is Hector, the town handyman. Due to town Rule #67, which prohibits anyone from building or using mechanical devices, Hector is forced to keep his inventing studio outside of town. There, he has built a hot-air balloon mobile home. Twelve baskets hang from several balloons, and each basket serves as a separate room in Hector's house.

While it might be hard to route plumbing around twelve baskets and install a water tank somewhere, and while it might be hard to build electromagnetic generators for a gigantic engine, it is possible to build a simple hot-air balloon. And if you make twelve of these hot-air balloons and then tie them together, you might indeed end up with a home very similar to Hector's. If you keep enough supplies on hand, such as bread, peanut butter, cookies, maybe some dried bananas and orange soda, your hot-air balloon mobile home would be fairly self-sustaining. The tricky stuff would be plumbing, heat, cooking, and, for lack of a better way to write it, the bathroom facilities. It's hard to figure how Violet might have fixed the plumbing and electromagnetic engine generator, whatever that is, in Hector's home.

So instead, let's ponder how Hector might build his hot-air balloon mobile home. First, just how do these balloons work?

You probably recall from science class that hot air rises over cooler air. This is because hot air is lighter than cold air.

A cubic foot of air weighs approximately one ounce, or twenty-eight grams. When heated, that same cubic foot of air weighs less. If you heat the air to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it will weigh about one-quarter less, or approximately seven grams less, than it did before you heated it. In a hot-air balloon, each cubic foot of air is light enough to lift approximately seven grams of the basket below.

Think about how enormous a hot-air balloon is. Let's say one of Hector's basket-rooms is about 1,000 pounds. To lift this one basket-room, a hot-air balloon has to contain roughly 65,000 cubic feet of hot air. That's a lot of hot air!

And then, to keep his hot-air balloon and basket-room rising into the clouds, Hector has to keep the air heated at all times. To do this, he puts a burner beneath what's called an open balloon envelope. If the air in the balloon starts cooling and the balloon starts dropping, Hector can reheat the air by firing up his burner. Or in Hector's case, he can reheat the air in twelve balloons using a fancy electromagnetic engine generator.

Suppose Hector is in his basket-room along with compressed liquid propane stored in cylinders. Hoses draw the liquid from the cylinders to the burners, and then the heat turns the liquid propane into hot gas, which rises into the balloon. This is how the hot air remains hot inside the balloon. For a couple of interesting and little-known facts about hot-air balloons, see "Fascinating Tidbit #2" (box here).

Now if you want to make a hot-air balloon, I have the instructions. To put them in this book would take about fifteen pages, and most of you would fall asleep, skim that part, or get mad at me for sticking instructions like that into this book. So I'm going to limit myself, hard as that is to do, to giving you some insight as to how Hector and Violet might make the twelve basket-room hot-air balloon mobile home work. How's that for a compromise?

Basically, twelve balloons are strung up together using some loosely connected rope. These balloons are bobbing in the sky, jostling gently against one another. One of the middle balloon basket-rooms contains a command center with battery-driven control systems. These control systems monitor and operate the other balloon basket-rooms in Hector's giant hot-air balloon mobile home. One of these balloon baskets-rooms serves as Hector's bedroom. This basket has pillows, blankets, maybe Hector's stuffed gorilla, and some straw on the floor. And another balloon basket-room serves as the kitchen. Here, the basket contains tubs of water with hoses, pouches of dry food, plates, cups, and other items. In short, each room has a different purpose, and all together, they form a hot-air balloon mobile home.


Third Up: How to Create Noisy Shoes

The noisy shoes are in Book the Fifth, The Austere Academy. Now this invention of Violet's sounds quite easy to create. She suggests simply gluing pieces of metal on shoes, so the crabs in the tin shack can hear the orphans walking around and the crabs might hide. This sounds very reasonable, don't you think?

Real-life noisy shoes usually do have metal or other hard objects on them. Tap dancers wear noisy shoes, for example. Sometimes, the metal is screwed onto the shoes with an underlying fiberboard cushion.

Oddly enough, ballerina slippers, which are not supposed to be noisy, are some of the hardest shoes around. Given how hard they are, it's actually amazing that ballerinas make such little noise when they dance. Ballerina slippers are probably a lot more uncomfortable than metal-plated tap shoes. Most pointe ballet shoes are constructed from leather, burlap, paper, glue, and nails. The dancer's weight rests entirely on the oval-shaped platform at the toes. Beneath the shoe is a stiff insole, or shank. As you might imagine, these shoes are really stiff when they're new.


Fourth Up: How to Build an Automatic Harmonica

Our final subject — though we could fill an entire book with inventions and machines created by Violet and other characters — is that of the automatic harmonica. You're probably thinking: Of all possible inventions, why did Lois choose this one?

Well, do you know what an automatic harmonica is? I had to think about it for a very long time. And then I still couldn't figure it out. But you might be a lot smarter than I am, and so, if you already know everything about automatic harmonicas, then you can just skip this part and move to the next section of the book.

Yeah, so I chose the automatic harmonica as a topic because I wanted to find out what it is!

Call me stupid. (But not to my face, please. For a photo of my face — so if you ever see me, you'll know who I am and you won't call me stupid — see the "About the Author" at the end of this book.)

The 1928 Tonk Brothers Catalog features an automatic harmonica, which it describes as a "rollmonica" that plays "a music roll just like a player piano. All you have to do is insert a roll and turn the handle while you blow." According to the Virtual Harmonica Museum, rolls for two hundred songs were available for purchase at $1.50 each.

Automatic harmonicas are a lot like player pianos, which, as noted in the Tonk Brothers Catalog, use music rolls and some kind of air flow. In the case of the harmonica, the air is from your mouth. In the case of a player piano, it comes from the pumping of bellows in the bottom of the piano. The pumping causes suction, which makes the piano keys go down and the music roll turn.

For each note the automatic harmonica (or piano) plays, there is a tiny pneumatic bellows. When suction occurs inside the pneumatic bellows, it collapses and you hear a note. The more air you blow into the automatic harmonica, the louder the note. A valve connected to the pneumatic makes it turn off and on.

Now I may be wrong, but it doesn't seem like a simple matter to build one of these things. While Violet could quite easily build a simple telephone, and while Violet and Hector could construct their hot-air balloon mobile home with some effort, it might be tricky for Violet to invent an automatic harmonica.

Snicket, a man we can never trust, of course, tells us in Book the Third, The Wide Window, that Violet invented an automatic harmonica before she became an orphan. Given how wealthy the Baudelaire parents were, it's possible that Violet had access to soldering irons, acid baths, metal pastes, dry cells, solutions of hot washing soda, bunsen burners, silver nitrate, potassium bitartrate, powdered chalk, nickel ammonium sulfate, and other tools and substances. It's possible that she could have purchased ancient musical rolls from eBay. Hey, you know what I think? My guess is that Violet did indeed invent an automatic harmonica, but it was big and sort of like a miniature player piano. She could have refurbished this player piano to use air rather than foot pedals. By blowing into a long tube on the side of the player piano, air would force the pneumatic bellows to compress and play notes. It would be like a harmonica and piano all rolled into one weird, new musical instrument. And it wouldn't require soldering irons, acid baths, metal pastes, dry cells, solutions of hot washing soda, bunsen burners, silver nitrate, potassium bitartrate, powdered chalk, or nickel ammonium sulfate.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Truth Behind A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lois H. Gresh. Copyright © 2004 Lois H. Gresh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Lois H. Gresh is the author of eleven horrible books. She's been falsely accused of trapping canaries in coal mines, forging Eye of Horus amulets in Cairo, and casting The Evil Eye upon entire cities, including Paris, London, New York City, Tokyo, and Budapest. She has been correctly accused of murdering thousands of hornets and wasps. She currently lives in an igloo, but with her profits from writing this book, she plans to move to a grass hut near the equator.

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