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 A Series of Unfortunate Events. 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 which references sailors seeing the Bombinating Beast swimming out to sea, curled up into a question mark. 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. Illustrations from Shouldn't You Be in School? also depict the fledgling Bombinating Beast curled up into a question mark within a fire well near Wade Academy. 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, although 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.
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. The nature or intentions of the Great Unknown are, ironically, 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 them, but Snicket refers to them as being gone forever. 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.
- There is a theory that the Great Unknown is not simply a physical object, 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."
- 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