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The Great Unknown, also known as the Bombinating Beast, is a mysterious question mark shaped object that roams about the sea. Jacques Snicket was the very first to refer to it as "The Great Unknown."
For obvious reasons, not much is known about The Great Unknown, except that it 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. There is no proof of, or even a hint at, what could be lying underneath the waters where the question mark roams. It is speculated that The Great Unknown (aka Bombinating Beast) is some kind of sea monster, or perhaps a vessel. Although more likely the former.
It is also unknown whether The Great Unknown is evil or noble. Captain Widdershins said that the question mark "was something even worse than Olaf himself," and Snicket describes its aura of menace. Even Count Olaf himself fears the object. Yet, when Kit Snicket was aboard the Queequeg at the time that it was first approached by the question mark, the crew of the submarine decided to take their chances with it; it is unknown what happened to them.
- There is a theory that the Great Unknown is not simply a physical object, but is Lemony Snicket's metaphor for either death itself, simply the concept of "mystery" itself hence it being unknown, or both. Specifically, it could refer to the concept of unsalvagable, unobtainable and eternal mysteries that will never be figured out. Death itself could be thought of as one; an example is if there is an afterlife, or a world beyond death. 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. But it was enough. Reading their parents' words was, under the circumstances, the best for which the Baudelaire orphans could hope."
- "Perhaps it is better not to know precisely what was meant by this word, as some things are better left in the great unknown."