The Bombinating Beast is a mystical 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 suggested in the TV series, where it is confirmed that the Great Unknown is a sea monster as you 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 question mark-shape.
All the Wrong Questions
In Who Could That Be at This Hour?, Lemony Snicket investigates the theft of a statue of the Bombinating Beast, which is described as seahorse-like sea monster. Later he finds a book in Stain'd-by-the-Sea's library.
Legend has it that is is half horse and half shark and that it lurks in the waters just outside Stain'd-by-the-Sea. It is rumored to have a great appetite for human flesh and made a terrifying bombinating (buzzing) sound when searching for prey. There is a story that Lady Mallahan killed it hundreds of years ago, although one author suspects she had just found a dead walrus on the beach. Other stories claim people could tame the beast by imitating its fearsome buzz.
Lemony also learns the creature is the mascot of the newspaper The Stain'd Lighthouse.
When Snicket encounters the Bombinating Beast's larvae or tadpoles in When Did You See Her Last?, the creatures prove themselves to be carnivorous when one bites his outstretched finger.
In the final book of the series, Snicket summons the full-grown Bombinating Beast to a train and pushes Hangfire into its mouth. Snicket directs the monster to enter the Clusterous Forest and it obliges him.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
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, and the Hook-Handed Man decided to take their chances with it and allowed it to swallow them up. It is unknown what happened to these people:
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 in the Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket said 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 "their". Although Kit is familiar with it, she denies knowing its true nature to the Baudelaires.
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 unsalvagable, 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.
- Who Could That Be at This Hour? (mentioned)
- When Did You See Her Last?
- Shouldn't You Be in School?
- Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?
- The Grim Grotto
- The End