|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (December 2008)|
Volunteer Fire Department
|A Series of Unfortunate Events|
|Motto||"The world is quiet here"|
|First appearance||The Austere Academy|
|Last appearance||The End|
V.F.D. is a mysterious secret organization within the book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The purposes of the organization are never made clear, although the name of the organization—presumably an initialism for Volunteer Fire Department—is connected to various interpretations of the word "fire". V.F.D. members have been known to participate in various and often unusual intellectual pursuits, activist (though sometimes illicit) enterprises, and undercover activities, for example: cryptography, disguise training, crime prevention, espionage, animal conditioning projects, and social change. The organization's most known tenets include both extreme secrecy and dedication to the organization itself, with membership beginning from early childhood and seemingly based strongly on family ties.
It has been implied that the organization's original purpose was to fight physical fires, and later developed into a mission to fight other, metaphorical fires, like evil and ignorance. Its motto is "the world is quiet here," reflecting its dedication to keeping the world quiet, in other words, peaceful, knowledgeable and safe. Accordingly V.F.D. dedicates itself to collecting as much truthful information as possible in commonplace books, and compiling it all in various "safe places". Most veteran V.F.D. members have a tattoo of an eye on their left ankle.
At some point, V.F.D. underwent a schism, dividing its members into two opposing sides, frequently labeled as Volunteers and villains. Villains literally start fires as well as frequently engage in other sinister plots, while Volunteers work to thwart these efforts; however, it is emphasized that circumstances often force people to behave as their enemies would, suggesting that, on occasion, members of both sides have in fact done noble as well as awful things to each other. By the time the Baudelaire orphans have become aware of V.F.D., allying steadfastly with the Volunteers, it seems as though the biggest problem V.F.D. faces is its own schism, which has murderously pitted the two sides against each other.
V.F.D. was first mentioned at the end of the fifth book The Austere Academy when the Quagmire triplets, (Duncan and Isadora Quagmire, who were the only ones present at the time) were researching Count Olaf's history. At the climax of the book, they reveal that they have discovered an important secret regarding V.F.D., but are kidnapped by Count Olaf before they can tell the Baudelaire orphans what they've discovered. The V.F.D. increases in prominence in subsequent volumes; the group is connected with the deaths of the Baudelaire and the Quagmire parents and the schemes of their enemy, Count Olaf. It eventually transpires that it is the name of a secret organization. The Slippery Slope suggests that V.F.D. stands for 'Volunteer Fire Department' (which has since been confirmed), among other things; in The End Lemony Snicket's narration seems to confirm that 'Volunteer Fire Department' is indeed the correct meaning of the initials. In The Grim Grotto, it is revealed that while this was the origin of the organization, its members had many other interests. "V.F.D." is also used as an abbreviation for various terms and organizations related to the organization, which increases the confusion of outsiders regarding the purpose of the group.
According to Kit Snicket, it can be read to mean a group that actively starts fires (something of an allusion to the "firemen" in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451), which indeed happens when the group is split because of a schism. One group of Schismatics fights fires and the other half are arsonists. When the Schism occurred and exactly why it occurred is unknown, except that it was in the childhood of Kit Snicket and Dewey Denouement and that it appears that a line has been drawn between those who stop fires and those who start them. The members of the former are called "Volunteers" (and is actually a proper noun in this case as it is the official name of them in the books) and the members of the latter are called "villains". The "Volunteers" often appear to be desperate, in that their situation seems to be one of dire straits. It is openly stated that the "villains" are growing more powerful and the "Volunteers" weaker; however, the epilogue of the thirteenth and final book suggests that after the events therein, the "Volunteer" half of the organization seems to have survived or recovered, while the "villain" half has returned to its former power, or possibly both sides have been fragmented.
The protagonists of the series (Violet Baudelaire, Klaus Baudelaire and Sunny Baudelaire) discover that their parents were members of this secret organization, as were many of the guardians they were placed with after their parents' death, along with various other people they encountered throughout the books.
It should be noted that most V.F.D. members maintain libraries, and of course the natural enemy of a library is a fire.
Responding to a query on the series' website, Lemony Snicket stated that the sugar bowl contains "a tiny document concerning the nature of V.F.D." The first discussion of this nature appears in The Carnivorous Carnival. V.F.D. member Olivia Caliban tells the Baudelaire orphans: "The world is a harum-scarum place. […] They say that long ago it was simple and quiet, but that might be a legend." Although no specific mission statement is ever ascribed to V.F.D., the organization's purpose is defined on multiple occasions. Perhaps the most frequently cited tenet of V.F.D. is nobleness; according to Quigley Quagmire, all members of V.F.D. share "noble ideals".
In The Slippery Slope, Snicket lays out three charges which may be seen as the foundation of the organization: "integrity, the prevention of fire, and being well-read." Snicket reiterates these aims in describing V.F.D.'s members as "all the kind, brave, and well-read people in the world"; as those who have chosen "a life of decency, integrity, and kindness, which is […] challenging and noble"; and as those who "feel […] that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to a world full of schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things." The organization's promotion of bravery is affirmed in The Grim Grotto, where V.F.D. is described as awarding citations for bravery. In The Penultimate Peril, Snicket quotes Edith Wharton in describing the organization's goals: "One can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways."
V.F.D. isn't just a fire department. Aye—it started that way. But the volunteers were interested in every such thing! I was one of the first to sign up for Voluntary Fish Domestication. That was one of the missions of Anwhistle Aquatics. Aye! I spent four long years training salmon to swim upstream and search for forest fires.
All members of V.F.D. are placed in a rigorous training program in which they are taught a wide range of classical subjects in the arts and sciences. V.F.D. is further described as seeking to "unlock mysteries" and preempt villainy. In The Grim Grotto, Widdershins states that V.F.D. is about "justice […] and liberty […] and an opportunity to make the world quiet […] and safe." Kit Snicket likens the aims of Martin Luther King, Jr., to those of V.F.D., suggesting that because of his efforts he might be considered an honorary member.
A mysterious sugar bowl is of value to members on both sides of the schism, of which it is stated to be the cause and serves as a MacGuffin to drive the story in later books. Despite it and its contents being pursued by volunteers, villains, and the Baudelaires, its significance is never revealed and it does not appear in the final book of the series, although the books suggest that the sugar bowl contains an antidote for the fungi Medusoid Mycelium. The one hint to its true meaning is the remark, "it isn't the sugar bowl that's important, it's what's inside it". It is said in The Slippery Slope that the sugar bowl was thrown out the window of the V.F.D. headquarters in the Mortmain Mountains (in the Valley of Four Drafts) by one of the members (of V.F.D) into The Stricken Stream. The man who threw the sugar bowl out the window might have been Dewey Denouement. In The Penultimate Peril, the Baudelaire children conclude that Dewey Denouement dropped the sugar bowl into the pond outside the Hotel Denouement that contains the secret catalog of V.F.D.'s story, which also becomes the final resting place of Dewey Denouement himself.
The Baudelaires first hear the initials "V.F.D." at the end of The Austere Academy, when it is shouted by the Quagmires; in The Vile Village they learn the first initial stands for "volunteer". Following several red herrings (such as the "Volunteer Fighting Disease" group), they eventually meet Madame Lulu in The Carnivorous Carnival, who begins to explain to them about the organization. In The Slippery Slope, they learn what the acronym stands for and in The Grim Grotto and The Penultimate Peril, they work closely with members of V.F.D., trying to find the sugar bowl.
|A Series of Unfortunate Events|
|Function||compiled evidence against Count Olaf|
|First appearance||The Hostile Hospital|
The Snicket File is an important file of documents from the A Series of Unfortunate Events children's series.
Suggested in The Slippery Slope to have been written by Jacques, Kit and Lemony Snicket, it is first mentioned in The Hostile Hospital, in which it is also referred to as the Baudelaire file. Count Olaf wants to obtain and destroy it because it supposedly has enough evidence to put him and his associates in jail. The Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire also want the file, believing it to contain information about themselves and the whereabouts of a possible survivor of the fire that destroyed their family home.
The Snicket File has thirteen pages and is said to contain charts, maps, photographs, and useful information. It has also been described by characters in the series as "the file about the Snicket fires" and "the Baudelaire file". The thirteenth page features a photograph of Jacques Snicket, a man facing away from the camera (who is probably Lemony Snicket), and Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire (and, out of sight, the photographer) standing in front of 667 Dark Avenue in cold weather, accompanied by the text "Because of the evidence discussed on page nine, experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor's whereabouts are unknown."
The contents of page nine, and the rest of the pages of the file (with the possible exception of one page of Lemony Snicket's planned opening sentences for The Bad Beginning, which was instructed to be placed in the Baudelaire file), are unknown, as is whether the fire referenced is the one which destroyed the Baudelaire home, or that which destroyed the Quagmire home, or indeed any one of a number of other fires associated with the V.F.D.
In The End, Snicket writes: "Kit Snicket's story of the Great Unknown made the Baudelaires see at last that their parents had gone forever into the great unknown, and that they would be orphans forever, too." This implies that after The End the Baudelaires are pretty sure that their parents have died in the fire and probably correct in believing so.
After learning from the keeper of the Library of Records at Heimlich Hospital, Hal, that there is information about themselves in "the file about the Snicket fires", the Baudelaire orphans attempt to retrieve the file from the hospital's Library of Records. However, they only retrieve the last page - page 13 - which was accidentally left behind when the rest was removed for an official investigation of unknown nature. The Baudelaires interpret the page they obtain as indicating that one of their parents survived the fire that supposedly killed them, and this knowledge motivates them until The Slippery Slope.
In The Slippery Slope, Count Olaf is given the Snicket File by the man with a beard but no hair and the woman with hair but no beard, in reward for having burnt down Caligari Carnival. These three, along with Esmé Squalor retreat into his tent to read it and discuss its contents - sending away his associates, who he did not want to learn the file's secrets. The file is later revealed to name the location of the last safe place for V.F.D. Afterwards, it vanishes from the narrative and does not appear again; it is assumed to either still be in Count Olaf's possession or to have been destroyed as he intended. It has no significance to the story after these events occur; in The Grim Grotto, Snicket writes that "For quite some time, the Baudelaires had thought [the Snicket File] meant that one of their parents was alive after all, but now they were almost certain it meant no such thing." The survivor referred to in page thirteen of the Snicket File found by Klaus in The Hostile Hospital was actually Quigley Quagmire (first mentioned in The Austere Academy, but first physically appearing in The Slippery Slope) making it highly unlikely for the Baudelaires that one of their parents is still alive. It is possible that the "important pieces of paper" blowing around in the Hinterlands, as mentioned by Lemony Snicket in The Grim Grotto were the Snicket file. Or, the papers could have been pages from the Quagmire notebooks, which were ripped apart by a harpoon gun in The Vile Village.
Throughout the books, a variety of codes are used by individuals working for or against the organization.
The "Sebald Code" is first mentioned in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, attributed to Dr. Gustav Sebald, and was usually used to communicate messages through Dr. Sebald's movies. When a ring is mentioned (in any form of said word), the code is activated. The first word after the ring is in code, as is every eleventh word thereafter. When the ring is said again, the code ends.
"Verbal Fridge Dialogue" is a code whereby volunteers can contact others through the use of a refrigerator. It is noted in The Slippery Slope that it is used as an emergency communication. Fridges are used due to their contents having a high likelihood of surviving fires. Jam, olives and spices are all parts of the code.
From the book Versed Furtive Discourse in the novel The Grim Grotto, the code Verse Fluctuation Declaration works using a piece of poetry; words in a poem that the communicator wishes to use as code are substituted for alternate words. The book gives the example that My Last Duchess by Robert Browning may instead be written as My Last Wife by Obert Browning; in this case, the coded message is "Duchess R". In The Grim Grotto, the orphans receive a Volunteer Factual Dispatch which is written in this code.
A Vernacularly Fastened Door is a special lock used in V.F.D. meeting places. It contains a keyboard. To enter, a user must answer three questions, which are secret themselves, by typing the answers into the keyboard. Lemony Snicket explains that to do this, a volunteer must know a large amount of information. If they are correct, the door will open. The Vernacularly Fastened Door was first used in the series by Violet Baudelaire, Klaus Baudelaire and Quigley Quagmire in The Slippery Slope.
Other codes from the series are:
- "The world is quiet here" (V.F.D.'s motto), to be said in response to the phrase "I didn't realize this was a sad occasion." Also used as the password to access secret places.
- "Well, young lady, have you been good to your mother?", which should be responded to with "The question is, has she been good to me?"
- Mozart's 14th Symphony, whistled.
- "If there's nothing out there, then what was that noise?" is used during recruitment.
- A taxi driver showing pictures of babies may also be used during recruitment.
- Snicket, Lemony. "Enquiring Enquiries". A Series of Unfortunate Events.com. Retrieved February 7, 2010.
- p. 158, The Carnivorous Carnival
- p. 71, The Hostile Hospital; pp. 99, 107–108, 126–127, 188, 221–222, 225–226, The Grim Grotto; pp. 35, 178–182, 188, 190, The Penultimate Peril; etc.
- p. 168, The Slippery Slope
- p. 231, The Slippery Slope
- p. 68, The Slippery Slope
- p. 188, The Grim Grotto
- p. 311, The Slippery Slope
- p. 120, The Grim Grotto
- p. 180, The Penultimate Peril
- p. 99, The Grim Grotto
- p. 54, The Grim Grotto
- p. 319, The Slippery Slope
- p. 47, The Grim Grotto
- p. 6, The Penultimate Peril