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The Bombinating Beast is a mysterious sea creature and a major element in the All the Wrong Questions series.
It is also suggested that it is The Great Unknown mentioned a few times in the A Series of Unfortunate Events books. This is further implied in the TV series, where it is confirmed that the entity in question is a sea monster since the viewer can see an eye, scales, and it makes a bombinating sound. Both the Bombinating Beast and the Great Unknown are large entities that roam the sea and have a body in the shape of an ominous question mark.
Original Bombinating Beast Legends
The original Bombinating Beast was a mythological sea monster that lurked in the waters outside the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea. It was known to eat humans, and made a terrifying bombinating (buzzing) sound while hunting. It was believed to be half-horse, half-shark, though some legends claim half-alligator and half-bear.
Allegedly, the Bombinating Beast could be tamed by imitating its buzz. One myth professed a wizard held the beast under his power so long as it was kept fed.
Stain'd-by-the-Sea's bell tradition began with a ringing of a gong in the town square that was used to warn the beast away on moonless nights.
The original beast was apparently slain by Lady Mallahan. While some presume this is simply a legend, Mallahan's descendants owned a statue that could control the beast, so it's likely that the original monster was indeed killed by the voyager.
Postmortem, the beast became a mascot for both the Mallahan Family's newspaper, The Stain'd Lighthouse, as well as the town, and it decorated several areas of city, including the Colophon Clinic and Mallahan Lighthouse. While not explicitly stated, images of the Bombinating Beast can in seen the original illustrations of All the Wrong Questions to be decorating Stain'd-by-the-Sea's Library, the Bellerophon Taxi, the town's streets, the Mann Mansion, the buildings surrounding the Roe House and the hallways of Wade Academy.
Though the beast was considered dead, in the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea, women would warn their children and husbands that the beast would eat them if they did not finish their vegetables, and locals would still dress as the beast on Halloween and Purim. Supposedly sailors still saw the Bombinating Beast swimming with its body curled up like an underwater question mark.
The beast is described as looking like a sea horse, though Lemony Snicket says it "looked like a sea horse like a hawk looks like a chicken," with thin and fierce eyes, and rows of tiny, sharp teeth.
Recreation of the Beast
|“||The Bombinating Beast moved black and cold to the surface, and we froze and listened to it echo across the land and the sea, before Stain’d-by-the-Sea had occupied both. The sound moved deep underground, shivering and shimmering like something hidden, and then rattling and clattering, louder than the train. The Bombinating Beast lumbered out of the fire pond and over any wall foolish enough to try and contain it. It rushed unbound and unsupervised across the dark countryside the town had ruined. We could hear its tail lash out of the water and shake droplets into the sky. We could hear its claws across the ground, like sparks from a fire, and the rustle of its shiny, scaly skin against the helpless rocks, slithering past everything and making everything shudder. It galloped and swam, it leapt and it bounded. It moved like spilled ink across paper or dread across the heart. The Bombinating Beast moved like a heavy shadow, or an angry fist. It was enormous and slippery, desperate and hungry. It was coming closer.||”|
After the draining of the sea, Armstrong Feint became fascinated with the Bombinating Beast and recreating it. While his process for recreating the monster is unknown, it somewhat involved the process by which caviar is made, perhaps the special tanks used for the fish.
While he managed to create hybrid specimens, Armstrong was not able to control them without the statue, which he failed to purchase from the Mallahans due to a miscommunication. He and his society, the Inhumane Society, moved into Stain'd-by-the-Sea and tried multiple times to steal it.
The young beasts began as tadpole-like creatures, raised for a while in an abandoned aquarium, inside tanks that had been used by the Roe House. It is unknown how many were created and how many survived, but only one was noted to have reached adulthood, as only one was kept in the fire pond at Wade Academy, and later summoned by Lemony Snicket with the statue. Snicket fed Armstrong to the creature, and then wandered into the Clusterous Forest with the statue. It is unknown what he did with the statue and what happened to that beast, or its siblings, after this.
The creature is described as having shiny, scaly, black skin, "as wet as blood but as dry as the grave." It has several rows of sharp teeth, with a slimy mouth and fiery bright eyes covered in several sets of scaled lids, like the blades of a machine; the eyes are dark and wet and "blink every which way." It has a tail and claws and a forked tongue. It also roars- a "deafening and reckless" roar- as well as buzzes.
- Main article: Bombinating Beast Statue
The Great Unknown
The Great Unknown is a mysterious question mark-shaped object that roams about the sea off the coast of The City. One of Kit Snicket's brothers, either Lemony or Jacques, first referred to it as "the Great Unknown". The books never clarify whether this object is natural or man-made.
The Great Unknown slithers about like a snake. It appears to look like a "shadow as chilling as Count Olaf's glare and as dark as villainy itself." It is larger than the Carmelita and the Queequeg, (Though in the Netflix series it is shown to be much, much larger than would be implied by that sentence). The nature or intentions of the Great Unknown are unknown. Captain Widdershins said that the question mark "was something even worse than Olaf himself," and Snicket describes it as emanating an aura of menace. Even Olaf fears the object.
However, when the Queequeg was destroyed after being struck by the falling remains of the Quagmires' flying home, Captain Widdershins, Fiona, Fernald, Hector and the triplets decided to take their chances with it. Only Kit chose not to be drawn into the Great Unknown and escaped on a pile of books, and the Great Unknown did not pursue her.
In Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, p. 150, there is a map which contains a weird creature. It may be The Great Unknown for two reasons: Firstly, the Baudelaires see the Great Unknown in The Grim Grotto near Briny Beach, and the creature is near it on the map. Secondly, the creature is like a weird sea creature, and it could be a sea creature. However, Count Olaf refers to the object having "sonar" on which the Carmelita could appear and refers to it in the plural or gender-neutral term "their". Although Kit is familiar with it, she denies knowing its true nature to the Baudelaires.
With the inclusion of the Bombinating Beast in All the Wrong Questions, as well as this quote:
|“||Supposedly sailors still saw the Bombinating Beast, swimming with its body curled up like an underwater question mark, although with the sea drained, I couldn’t imagine that this could be true, at least not anymore.||”|
It is a popular speculation that the Great Unknown and Bombinating Beast are the same creature. While Lemony did not name the creature in A Series of Unfortunate Events, it is possible that he is still in control of it and wants to keep its powers secret, or ashamed of his past with it. It is also unknown whether the Great Unknown, if it is the Beast, is the original Bombinating Beast or the recreation made by Armstrong Feint; if it is the recreation made by Feint then it is actually a hybrid species and an invasive species, presumably being released into an environment not meant for it.
It should be noted that the Great Unknown and Bombinating Beast are explicitly the same in the Netflix adaptation, though whether that means it is canon in the book series is unclear.
|“||Perhaps it is better not to know precisely what was meant by this word, as some things are better left in the great unknown.||”|
— Lemony Snicket, The End
There is a theory that the Great Unknown is not simply a physical object/being, but is Lemony Snicket's metaphor for either death, the concept of mystery, or both. Specifically, it could refer to the concept of unsalvageable, unobtainable and eternal mysteries that will never be figured out. Death could be thought of as such a mystery; an example is if there is an afterlife. In The End, Lemony Snicket begins using "the great unknown" when death or mystery appears:
- "They cried for the world, and most of all, of course, the Baudelaire orphans cried for their parents, who they knew, finally, they would never see again. Even though Kit Snicket had not brought news of their parents, her story of the Great Unknown made them see at last that the people who had written all those chapters in A Series of Unfortunate Events were gone forever into the great unknown, and that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny would be orphans forever, too."
- "While reading and writing, the siblings found many answers for which they had been looking, although each answer, of course, only brought forth another mystery, as there were many details of the Baudelaires' lives that seemed like a strange, unreadable shape of some great unknown. But this did not concern them as much as you might think. One cannot spend forever sitting and solving the mysteries of one's history, and no matter how much one reads, the whole story can never be told."
- "Perhaps it is better not to know precisely what was meant by this word, as some things are better left in the great unknown."
The theory is hinted at in the TV series. In The Grim Grotto: Part One, Fiona says "I like his use of symbolism, like how Moby Dick is both a literal whale and a metaphor for death." In The Grim Grotto: Part Two, one of the captured children says, "I heard it's a metaphor for death."
Assuming it is not symbolism, the Great Unknown takes the series's nihilistic tone a step further by verging into the point of Cosmic Horror, at least in the Netflix series.
Netflix Series Divergent Canon
There may also be two Bombinating Beasts in The Netflix series. Originally seen by Fiona, the Baudelaires duck behind a table and can see it out of the port hole. However, they soon look behind themselves and see it in the port hole behind then. Either it has circled the Queequeg instantly or there is more than one.
- Known merchandise of the Bombinating Beast that exists in Stain'd-by-the-Sea:
- Stuffed Animals
- Decks of cards with Bombinating Beasts printed on the back
- Coffee Mugs
- Cereal Bowls
- Place Mats
- Silverware (specifically forks are mentioned)
- Lamp Shades