If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I’m afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether. The story may seem cheery at first, when the Baudelaire children spend time in the company of some interesting reptiles and a giddy uncle, but don�t be fooled. If you know anything at all about the unlucky Baudelaire children, you already know that even pleasant events lead down the same road to misery.
In fact, within the pages you now hold in your hands, the three siblings endure a car accident, a terrible odor, a deadly serpent, a long knife, a large brass reading lamp, and the reappearance of a person they�d hoped never to see again.
I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter.
With all due respect,
For Beatrice— My love for you shall live forever. You, however, did not.
The stretch of road that leads out of the city…
“Doesn’t Sunny like coconut?” Uncle Monty asked. He, Mr. Poe, and…
I am very, very sorry to leave you hanging like…
One of the most difficult things to think about in…
That night felt like the longest and most terrible the…
Bad circumstances have a way of ruining things that would…
“My, my, my, my, my,” said a voice from behind…
While the jeep sputtered ahead of them, the Baudelaire orphans…
When Violet opened the enormous door of the Reptile Room…
When you were very small, perhaps someone read to you…
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Violet was upstairs, surveying her…
I promise you that this is the last time that…
If this were a book written to entertain small children…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
TO MY KIND EDITOR
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER
The stretch of road that leads out of the city, past Hazy Harbor and into the town of Tedia, is perhaps the most unpleasant in the world. It is called Lousy Lane. Lousy Lane runs through fields that are a sickly gray color, in which a handful of scraggly trees produce apples so sour that one only has to look at them to feel ill. Lousy Lane traverses the Grim River, a body of water that is nine-tenths mud and that contains extremely unnerving fish, and it encircles a horseradish factory, so the entire area smells bitter and strong.
I am sorry to tell you that this story begins with the Baudelaire orphans traveling along this most displeasing road, and that from this moment on, the story only gets worse. Of all the people in the world who have miserable lives—and, as I’m sure you know, there are quite a few—the Baudelaire youngsters take the cake, a phrase which here means that more horrible things have happened to them than just about anybody. Their misfortune began with an enormous fire that destroyed their home and killed both their loving parents, which is enough sadness to last anyone a lifetime, but in the case of these three children it was only the bad beginning. After the fire, the siblings were sent to live with a distant relative named Count Olaf, a terrible and greedy man. The Baudelaire parents had left behind an enormous fortune, which would go to the children when Violet came of age, and Count Olaf was so obsessed with getting his filthy hands on the money that he hatched a devious plan that gives me nightmares to this day. He was caught just in time, but he escaped and vowed to get ahold of the Baudelaire fortune sometime in the future. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny still had nightmares about Count Olaf’s shiny, shiny eyes, and about his one scraggly eyebrow, and most of all about the tattoo of an eye he had on his ankle. It seemed like that eye was watching the Baudelaire orphans wherever they went.
So I must tell you that if you have opened this book in the hope of finding out that the children lived happily ever after, you might as well shut it and read something else. Because Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, sitting in a small, cramped car and staring out the windows at Lousy Lane, were heading toward even more misery and woe. The Grim River and the horseradish factory were only the first of a sequence of tragic and unpleasant episodes that bring a frown to my face and a tear to my eye whenever I think about them.
The driver of the car was Mr. Poe, a family friend who worked at a bank and always had a cough. He was in charge of overseeing the orphans’ affairs, so it was he who decided that the children would be placed in the care of a distant relative in the country after all the unpleasantness with Count Olaf.
“I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable,” Mr. Poe said, coughing into a white handkerchief, “but this new car of mine doesn’t fit too many people. We couldn’t even fit any of your suitcases. In a week or so I’ll drive back here and bring them to you.”
“Thank you,” said Violet, who at fourteen was the oldest of the Baudelaire children. Anyone who knew Violet well could see that her mind was not really on what Mr. Poe was saying, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet was an inventor, and when she was thinking up inventions she liked to tie her hair up this way. It helped her think clearly about the various gears, wires, and ropes involved in most of her creations.
“After living so long in the city,” Mr. Poe continued, “I think you will find the countryside to be a pleasant change. Oh, here is the turn. We’re almost there.”
“Good,” Klaus said quietly. Klaus, like many people on car rides, was very bored, and he was sad not to have a book with him. Klaus loved to read, and at approximately twelve years of age had read more books than many people read in their whole lives. Sometimes he read well into the night, and in the morning could be found fast asleep, with a book in his hand and his glasses still on.
“I think you’ll like Dr. Montgomery, too,” Mr. Poe said. “He has traveled a great deal, so he has plenty of stories to tell. I’ve heard his house is filled with things he’s brought from all the places he’s been.”
“Bax!” Sunny shrieked. Sunny, the youngest of the Baudelaire orphans, often talked like this, as infants tend to do. In fact, besides biting things with her four very sharp teeth, speaking in fragments was how Sunny spent most of her time. It was often difficult to tell what she meant to say. At this moment she probably meant something along the lines of “I’m nervous about meeting a new relative.” All three children were.
“How exactly is Dr. Montgomery related to us?” Klaus asked.
“Dr. Montgomery is—let me see—your late father’s cousin’s wife’s brother. I think that’s right. He’s a scientist of some sort, and receives a great deal of money from the government.” As a banker, Mr. Poe was always interested in money.
“What should we call him?” Klaus asked.
“You should call him Dr. Montgomery,” Mr. Poe replied, “unless he tells you to call him Montgomery. Both his first and last names are Montgomery, so it doesn’t really make much difference.”
“His name is Montgomery Montgomery?” Klaus said, smiling.
“Yes, and I’m sure he’s very sensitive about that, so don’t ridicule him,” Mr. Poe said, coughing again into his handkerchief. “‘Ridicule’ means ‘tease.’”
Klaus sighed. “I know what ‘ridicule’ means,” he said. He did not add that of course he also knew not to make fun of someone’s name. Occasionally, people thought that because the orphans were unfortunate, they were also dim-witted.
Violet sighed too, and took the ribbon out of her hair. She had been trying to think up an invention that would block the smell of horseradish from reaching one’s nose, but she was too nervous about meeting Dr. Montgomery to focus on it. “Do you know what sort of scientist he is?” she asked. She was thinking Dr. Montgomery might have a laboratory that would be of use to her.
“I’m afraid not,” Mr. Poe admitted. “I’ve been very busy making the arrangements for you three, and I didn’t have much time for chitchat. Oh, here’s the driveway. We’ve arrived.”
Mr. Poe pulled the car up a steep gravel driveway and toward an enormous stone house. The house had a square front door made of dark wood, with several columns marking the front porch. To each side of the door were lights in the shapes of torches, which were brightly lit even though it was morning. Above the front door, the house had rows and rows of square windows, most of which were open to let in the breeze. But in front of the house was what was truly unusual: a vast, well-kept lawn, dotted with long, thin shrubs in remarkable shapes. As Mr. Poe’s car came to a halt, the Baudelaires could see that the shrubs had been trimmed so as to look like snakes. Each hedge was a different kind of serpent, some long, some short, some with their tongues out and some with their mouths open, showing green, fearsome teeth. They were quite eerie, and Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were a bit hesitant about walking beside them on their way up to the house.
Mr. Poe, who led the way, didn’t seem to notice the hedges at all, possibly because he was busy coaching the children on how to behave. “Now, Klaus, don’t ask too many questions right away. Violet, what happened to the ribbon in your hair? I thought you looked very distinguished in it. And somebody please make sure Sunny doesn’t bite Dr. Montgomery. That wouldn’t be a good first impression.”
Mr. Poe stepped up to the door and rang a doorbell that was one of the loudest the children had ever heard. After a moment’s pause, they could hear approaching footsteps, and Violet, Klaus, and Sunny all looked at one another. They had no way of knowing, of course, that very soon there would be more misfortune within their unlucky family, but they nevertheless felt uneasy. Would Dr. Montgomery be a kind person? they wondered. Would he at least be better than Count Olaf? Could he possibly be worse?
The door creaked open slowly, and the Baudelaire orphans held their breath as they peered into the dark entryway. They saw a dark burgundy carpet that lay on the floor. They saw a stained-glass light fixture that dangled from the ceiling. They saw a large oil painting of two snakes entwined together that hung on the wall. But where was Dr. Montgomery?
“Hello?” Mr. Poe called out. “Hello?”
“Hello hello hello!” a loud voice boomed out, and from behind the door stepped a short, chubby man with a round red face. “I am your Uncle Monty, and this is really perfect timing! I just finished making a coconut cream cake!”
“Doesn’t Sunny like coconut?” Uncle Monty asked. He, Mr. Poe, and the Baudelaire orphans were all sitting around a bright green table, each with a slice of Uncle Monty’s cake. Both the kitchen and the cake were still warm from baking. The cake was a magnificent thing, rich and creamy with the perfect amount of coconut. Violet, Klaus, and Uncle Monty were almost finished with their pieces, but Mr. Poe and Sunny had taken only one small bite each.
“To tell you the truth,” Violet said, “Sunny doesn’t really like anything soft to eat. She prefers very hard food.”
“How unusual for a baby,” Uncle Monty said, “but not at all unusual for many snakes. The Barbary Chewer, for example, is a snake that must have something in its mouth at all times, otherwise it begins to eat its own mouth. Very difficult to keep in captivity. Would Sunny perhaps like a raw carrot? That’s plenty hard.”
“A raw carrot would be perfect, Dr. Montgomery,” Klaus replied.
The children’s new legal guardian got up and walked toward the refrigerator, but then turned around and wagged a finger at Klaus. “None of that ‘Dr. Montgomery’ stuff,” he said. “That’s way too stuffy for me. Call me Uncle Monty! Why, my fellow herpetologists don’t even call me Dr. Montgomery.”
“What are herpetologists?” Violet asked.
“What do they call you?” Klaus asked.
“Children, children,” Mr. Poe said sternly. “Not so many questions.”
Uncle Monty smiled at the orphans. “That’s quite all right,” he said. “Questions show an inquisitive mind. The word ‘inquisitive’ means—”
“We know what it means,” Klaus said. “‘Full of questions.’”
“Well, if you know what that means,” Uncle Monty said, handing a large carrot to Sunny, “then you should know what herpetology is.”
“It’s the study of something,” Klaus said. “Whenever a word has ology, it’s the study of something.”
“Snakes!” Uncle Monty cried. “Snakes, snakes, snakes! That’s what I study! I love Snakes, all kinds, and I circle the globe looking for different kinds to study here in my laboratory! Isn’t that interesting?”
“That is interesting,” Violet said, “very interesting. But isn’t it dangerous?”
“Not if you know the facts,” Uncle Monty said. “Mr. Poe, would you like a raw carrot as well? You’ve scarcely touched your cake.”
Mr. Poe turned red, and coughed into his handkerchief for quite some time before replying, “No, thank you, Dr. Montgomery.”
Uncle Monty winked at the children. “If you like, you may call me Uncle Monty as well, Mr. Poe.”
“Thank you, Uncle Monty,” Mr. Poe said stiffly. “Now, I have a question, if you don’t mind. You mentioned that you circle the globe. Is there someone who will come and take care of the children while you are out collecting specimens?”
“We’re old enough to stay by ourselves,” Violet said quickly, but inside she was not so sure. Uncle Monty’s line of work did sound interesting, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to stay alone with her siblings, in a house full of snakes.
“I wouldn’t hear of it,” Uncle Monty said. “You three must come with me. In ten days we leave for Peru, and I want you children right there in the jungle with me.”
“Really?” Klaus said. Behind his glasses, his eyes were shining with excitement. “You’d really take us to Peru with you?”
“I will be glad to have your help,” Uncle Monty said, reaching over to take a bite of Sunny’s piece of cake. “Gustav, my top assistant, left an unexpected letter of resignation for me just yesterday. There’s a man named Stephano whom I have hired to take his place, but he won’t arrive for a week or so, so I am way behind on preparations for the expedition. Somebody has to make sure all the snake traps are working, so I don’t hurt any of our specimens. Somebody has to read up on the terrain of Peru so we can navigate through the jungle without any trouble. And somebody has to slice an enormous length of rope into small, workable pieces.”
“I’m interested in mechanics,” Violet said, licking her fork, “so I would be happy to learn about snake traps.”
“I find guidebooks fascinating,” Klaus said, wiping his mouth with a napkin, “so I would love to read up on Peruvian terrain.”
“Eojip!” Sunny shrieked, taking a bite of carrot. She probably meant something along the lines of “I would be thrilled to bite an enormous length of rope into small, workable pieces!”
“Wonderful!” Uncle Monty cried. “I’m glad you have such enthusiasm. It will make it easier to do without Gustav. It was very strange, his leaving like that. I was unlucky to lose him.” Uncle Monty’s face clouded over, a phrase which here means “took on a slightly gloomy look as Uncle Monty thought about his bad luck,” although if Uncle Monty had known what bad luck was soon to come, he wouldn’t have wasted a moment thinking about Gustav. I wish—and I’m sure you wish as well—that we could go back in time and warn him, but we can’t, and that is that. Uncle Monty seemed to think that was that as well, as he shook his head and smiled, clearing his brain of troubling thoughts. “Well, we’d better get started. No time like the present, I always say. Why don’t you show Mr. Poe to his car, and then I’ll show you to the Reptile Room.”
The three Baudelaire children, who had been so anxious when they had walked through the snake-shaped hedges the first time, raced confidently through them now as they escorted Mr. Poe to his automobile.
“Now, children,” Mr. Poe said, coughing into his handkerchief, “I will be back here in about a week with your luggage and to make sure everything is all right. I know that Dr. Montgomery might seem a bit intimidating to you, but I’m sure in time you will get used to—”
“He doesn’t seem intimidating at all,” Klaus interrupted. “He seems very easy to get along with.”
“I can’t wait to see the Reptile Room,” Violet said excitedly.
“Meeka!” Sunny said, which probably meant “Good-bye, Mr. Poe. Thank you for driving us.”
“Well, good-bye,” Mr. Poe said. “Remember, it is just a short drive here from the city, so please contact me or anyone else at Mulctuary Money Management if you have any trouble. See you soon.” He gave the orphans an awkward little wave with his handkerchief, got into his small car, and drove back down the steep gravel driveway onto Lousy Lane. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny waved back, hoping that Mr. Poe would remember to roll up the car windows so the stench of horseradish would not be too unbearable.
“Bambini!” Uncle Monty cried out from the front door. “Come along, bambini!”
The Baudelaire orphans raced back through the hedges to where their new guardian was waiting for them. “Violet, Uncle Monty,” Violet said. “My name is Violet, my brother’s is Klaus, and Sunny is our baby sister. None of us is named Bambini.”
“‘Bambini’ is the Italian word for ‘children,’” Uncle Monty explained. “I had a sudden urge to speak a little Italian. I’m so excited to have you three here with me, you’re lucky I’m not speaking gibberish.”
“Have you never had any children of your own?” Violet asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Uncle Monty said. “I always meant to find a wife and start a family, but it just kept slipping my mind. Shall I show you the Reptile Room?”
“Yes, please,” Klaus said.
Uncle Monty led them past the painting of snakes in the entryway into a large room with a grand staircase and very, very high ceilings. “Your rooms will be up there,” Uncle Monty said, gesturing up the stairs. “You can each choose whatever room you like and move the furniture around to suit your taste. I understand that Mr. Poe has to bring your luggage later in that puny car of his, so please make a list of anything you might need and we’ll go into town tomorrow and buy it so you don’t have to spend the next few days in the same underwear.”
“Do we really each get our own room?” Violet asked.
“Of course,” Uncle Monty said. “You don’t think I’d coop you all up in one room when I have this enormous house, do you? What sort of person would do that?”
“Count Olaf did,” Klaus said.
“Oh, that’s right, Mr. Poe told me,” Uncle Monty said, grimacing as if he had just tasted something terrible. “Count Olaf sounds like an awful person. I hope he is torn apart by wild animals someday. Wouldn’t that be satisfying? Oh, well, here we are: the Reptile Room.”
Uncle Monty had reached a very tall wooden door with a large doorknob right in the middle of it. It was so high up that he had to stand on his tiptoes to open it. When it swung open on its creaky hinges, the Baudelaire orphans all gasped in astonishment and delight at the room they saw.
The Reptile Room was made entirely out of glass, with bright, clear glass walls and a high glass ceiling that rose up to a point like the inside of a cathedral. Outside the walls was a bright green field of grasses and shrubs which was of course perfectly visible through the transparent walls, so standing in the Reptile Room was like being inside and outside at the same time. But as remarkable as the room itself was, what was inside the Reptile Room was much more exciting. Reptiles, of course, were lined up in locked metal cages that sat on wooden tables in four neat rows all the way down the room. There were all sorts of snakes, naturally, but there were also lizards, toads, and assorted other animals that the children had never seen before, not even in pictures, or at the zoo. There was a very fat toad with two wings coming out of its back, and a two-headed lizard that had bright yellow stripes on its belly. There was a snake that had three mouths, one on top of the other, and another that seemed to have no mouth at all. There was a lizard that looked like an owl, with wide eyes that gazed at them from the log on which it was perched in its cage, and a toad that looked just like a church, complete with stained-glass eyes. And there was a cage with a white cloth on top of it, so you couldn’t see what was inside at all. The children walked down the aisles of cages, peering into each one in amazed silence. Some of the creatures looked friendly, and some of them looked scary, but all of them looked fascinating, and the Baudelaires took a long, careful look at each one, with Klaus holding Sunny up so she could see.
The orphans were so interested in the cages that they didn’t even notice what was at the far end of the Reptile Room until they had walked the length of each aisle, but once they reached the far end they gasped in astonishment and delight once more. For here, at the end of the rows and rows of cages, were rows and rows of bookshelves, each one stuffed with books of different sizes and shapes, with a cluster of tables, chairs, and reading lamps in one corner. I’m sure you remember that the Baudelaire children’s parents had an enormous collection of books, which the orphans remembered fondly and missed dreadfully, and since the terrible fire, the children were always delighted to meet someone who loved books as much as they did. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny examined the books as carefully as they had the reptile cages, and realized immediately that most of the books were about snakes and other reptiles. It seemed as if every book written on reptiles, from An Introduction to Large Lizards to The Care and Feeding of the Androgynous Cobra, were lined up on the shelves, and all three children, Klaus especially, looked forward to reading up on the creatures in the Reptile Room.
“This is an amazing place,” Violet said finally, breaking the long silence.
“Thank you,” Uncle Monty said. “It’s taken me a lifetime to put together.”
“And are we really allowed to come inside here?” Klaus asked.
“Allowed?” Uncle Monty repeated. “Of course not! You are implored to come inside here, my boy. Starting first thing tomorrow morning, all of us must be here every day in preparation for the expedition to Peru. I will clear off one of those tables for you, Violet, to work on the traps. Klaus, I expect you to read all of the books about Peru that I have, and make careful notes. And Sunny can sit on the floor and bite rope. We will work all day until suppertime, and after supper we will go to the movies. Are there any objections?”
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked at one another and grinned. Any objections? The Baudelaire orphans had just been living with Count Olaf, who had made them chop wood and clean up after his drunken guests, while plotting to steal their fortune. Uncle Monty had just described a delightful way to spend one’s time, and the children smiled at him eagerly. Of course there would be no objections. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny gazed at the Reptile Room and envisioned an end to their troubles as they lived their lives under Uncle Monty’s care. They were wrong, of course, about their misery being over, but for the moment the three siblings were hopeful, excited, and happy.