The story begins where The Hostile Hospital left off, with the three Baudelaires still hiding in the trunk of Count Olaf's car, listening to Count Olaf and his troupe discuss their plans. They talk about a woman named Madame Lulu. Madame Lulu has told Count Olaf where the Baudelaires are hidden each time they move. Count Olaf and his troupe depart the car and the Baudelaire then make it out of the trunk of Count Olaf's car through some clever lockpicking on the part of Violet Baudelaire. The orphans spy on Madame Lulu's caravan in Caligari Carnival and hear her explaining to Olaf that her carnival needs more customers otherwise they may close. They also recognize Lulu's accent as that used by Olaf when he was disguised as Gunther in The Ersatz Elevator. Madame Lulu is Count Olaf's bartender and it is also implied that Madame Lulu and Count Olaf likely had a romantic relationship in the past.
They disguise themselves for the carnival's House of Freaks, using Count Olaf's disguises stored in the trunk of his car. Sunny Baudelaire wraps herself in a beard to disguise herself as Chabo the Wolf Baby. Violet and Klaus Baudelaire squeeze into one large shirt as a two-headed person with highly differing voices, 'Beverly' and 'Elliot'. Violet and Klaus also put scars on their face and sprinkle talcum powder in their hair to further disguise their appearance. Madame Lulu hires the children after they do an act for her in which Violet and Klaus attempt to eat an ear of corn as a two-headed person and Sunny acts menacing by showing off her sharp teeth and biting things. Madame Lulu leads them to a caravan in which the other three freaks live. The Baudelaires befriend the freaks: Hugo, who is a hunchback, Colette, who is a contortionist, and Kevin, who is ambidextrous (and very pessimistic). Sunny also discovers her talent in cooking when she comes up with idea to add cinnamon to the hot chocolate Hugo made.
The next morning they discover that when Olaf asked Madame Lulu "Is one Baudelaire parent still alive?", she consulted the crystal ball and answered "Yes, one is up in the Mortmain Mountains." The children performed in a humiliating freak show. They then encouraged the other freaks to not just settle into being sideshow freaks and instead embrace their potentials and lead a better life. Afterwards, Olaf arrived with a pack of lions as a gift to Madame Lulu and announced that a lion pit shall be made in which one of the freaks shall be thrown tomorrow. This is intended to draw a large audience.
The orphans go back to Lulu's tent to search for clues. They first discover the V.F.D. symbol on the outside, and inside find a secret archival library under the table hidden by a tablecloth that she uses to aid her in her predictions. The mysterious effects behind her fortune telling turn out to be no more than ropes and pulleys. They accidentally break Lulu's crystal ball when trying to lift the tablecloth higher to get a better glimpse of the archival library, and they are discovered when Lulu comes in. Lulu breaks down and throws off her disguise, revealing herself as a woman named Olivia who just wants to give people what they want. She is a member of V.F.D. and tells them about the V.F.D. disguise kit and a schism which happened in the organization. Olivia discovers that the children are actually the Baudelaires in disguise when Klaus lets slip that Olivia made a prediction regarding the Baudelaires' parent. The Baudelaires admit to their identity and plan to travel with Olivia to the Mortmain Mountains to determine if one of their parents is really alive. Though Olivia did say to Count Olaf that one of the Baudelaires' parents is alive, she is not actually sure and only suggested the Mortmain Mountains as their possible location as that is one of the few remaining V.F.D. headquarters. Violet plans to invent a vehicle made from the cars from the nearby roller coaster and the fan belt from the lightening effects Olivia used in her fortune telling that would enable them to escape from the carnival and travel up the Mortmain Mountains.
That night Esmé Squalor, who is jealous of Olaf's attention to Madame Lulu, comes to the caravan of the freaks in an outfit that says I Love Freaks. It also has a sack on one shoulder to mimic Hugo's hunchback and a hat with something sticking out of it to imitate Beverly and Elliot's two heads. She tries to convince them that whoever is picked to be thrown into the pit of ravenous lions the next day should throw Madame Lulu in instead. If they do that, they will be made part of Count Olaf's theater troupe and have an exciting career as a criminal. She also bribes them by giving them gifts that disguise their deformities. To Hugo, Esmé gives the large coat the hook-handed man wore when he was the doorman in The Ersatz Elevator which completely disguises his hunchback. To Colette, she gives a large robe that would allow her to contort her body into any shape she wanted without people being aware. To Kevin, she gives a rope that would allow him to tie one hand behind his back so that he can have dominant hand like regular people. To Beverly and Elliot, Esmé gives a sack that would allow them to hide one of their heads. And, to Chabo the Wolf Baby, Esmé gives one of Olaf's razors. Hugo, Colette, and Kevin are completely fooled by Esmé, feeling happy that for once a normal person likes them and gives them an opportunity to do something other than be in a freak show, and agree to do exactly what she suggested. The Baudelaires, however, are not fooled by Esmé and decline the offer, much to Esmé's chagrin. The next morning the orphans go and get the coaster carts ready.
A large and rude audience shows up to see the lions devour someone. Among the audience is the female reporter who broke the story that the Baudelaires murdered 'Count Omar' (Olaf). Olaf dramatically unfolds a paper that will show who is to be devoured by lions, and Beverly and Elliot are picked. They manage to stall and eventually create a chaotic scene in which Madame Lulu and The Bald Man with the Long Nose fall into the pit and get devoured. After that happen they grew deepley deppressed after not keeping their side of the promise with Madame Lulu. (Olivia)
Escaping to Madame Lulu's tent, the orphans find a map of the mountains with a coffee stain on it. Olaf appears, apparently still not recognizing the Baudelaires in their disguises, and states the stain indicates V.F.D.'s secret base in the Mortmain Mountains. The orphans are recruited into Olaf's troupe as are the other freaks. The carnival is burned to destroy the evidence, and the lions, trapped in the pit and unable to escape, are burned to death and are later found as blackened bones by Lemony Snicket during his research. Together Olaf, his employees, and the children depart for the mountains. Beverly and Elliot are in the travel trailer caravan behind Olaf's car, while Chabo is in the automobile car. Olaf then reveals that Lulu told him that they are the Baudelaires, and the newly recruited freaks cut the caravan off the car while on a steep slope. And then it resumes to the next book.
- Violet Baudelaire
- Klaus Baudelaire
- Sunny Baudelaire
- Count Olaf
- Esmé Squalor
- White-Faced Women
- The Bald Man with the Long Nose
Dear Reader: A Letter from Lemony Snicket
The word "carnivorous" which appears in the title of this book, means "meat-eating," and once you have read such a bloodthirsty word, there is no reason to read any further. This carnivorous volume contains such a distressing story that consuming any of its contents would be far more stomach-turning than ever the most imbalanced meal.
To avoid causing discomfort, it would be best if I didn't mention any of the unnerving ingredients of this story, particularly a confusing map, an ambidextrous person, an unruly map, a wooden plank, and Chabo the Wolf Baby.
Sadly for me, my time is filled with researching and recording the displeasing and disenchanting lives of the Baudelaire orphans. But your time might be better filled with something more palatable, such as eating your vegetables, or feeding them to someone else.
- For Beatrice–
- Our love broke my heart,
- and stopped yours.
- Madame Lulu is revealed as a member of V.F.D. and tells the children about her V.F.D. disguise kit and a schism which happened in the organization, pitting former members against each other.
- The orphans go back to Lulu's tent to consult her and discover the V.F.D. symbol outside of the tent.
- The Mortmain Mountains are revealed to be the location of the last V.F.D headquarters.
- The Valley of Four Drafts is revealed on Madame Lulu's map.
In the last picture of The Carnivorous Carnival, the Freaks' Caravan is shown rolling off the edge of a cliff. Falling through the air is a copy of the Snow Scout Handbook.
Letter to the Editor
NOTE: Parts of this letter are missing and are denoted by (...).
To My Kind E (...) itor,
I hope you can read thi (...) . The weather here is so freezing that the ink in my typewriter ribbon occasionally (...) . Here in the Valley of Four (...) , the icy (...) has (...) and the results are quite (...) .
As my enemies draw closer, it is simply not safe to place the entire manuscript of the Baudelaires' (...), entitled THE SLIPPERY SLOPE, in y (...) . (...) Instead, I am taking each of the thirteen chapters (...) in different places. (...) "The world is (...) She will give you a key, which wi (...) the first chapter, as well as a rare photograph of a swarm of (...) , to help Mr. Helquist with his illustrations. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU (...) trice.
Remember, y (...) last hope that the tales of the (...) to the general (...)
(...) i (...) a (...) ue (...) e (...) ect,
L (...) m (...) ny (...) ick (...) t
To My Kind Editor,
I hope you can read this letter. The weather here is so freezing that the ink in my typewriter ribbon occasionally stops flowing. Here in the Valley of Four Drafts, the icy river has thawed and the results are quite spectacular.
As my enemies draw closer, it is simply not safe to place the entire manuscript of the Baudelaires' latest adventure, entitled THE SLIPPERY SLOPE, in your immediate possession. Instead, I am taking each of the thirteen chapters of the story away, and will put them all in different places. (...) "The world is quiet here" She will give you a key, which will unlock the box which contains the first chapter, as well as a rare photograph of a swarm of snow gnats, to help Mr. Helquist with his illustrations. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU (...) Beatrice.
Remember, you are my last hope that the tales of the Baudelaire orphans can finally be told to the general public.
With all due respect,
- The image for Chapter Seven depicting Madame Lulu's broken crystal ball shows several darkened images, presumably of Lemony Snicket , a cover page of The Daily Punctilio with a headline beginning with "Snicket," a topographic map of the Mortmain Mountains , a menu from Café Salmonella , a boarding pass for The Prospero , and a document featuring the V.F.D. logo.
- The first image shows Olaf's car and its license which reads IH8ORFNS. (I hate orphans.)
- Main Article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works
- The name "Colette" is a reference to French writer Colette.
- Hugo and his hunchback condition are an allusion to Victor Hugo and his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- "Elliot" and "Beverly", the aliases Violet and Klaus use when disguised as a two-headed freak are those of twin brothers in the David Cronenberg film Dead Ringers.
- Caligari Carnival is a nod to the 1920 German expressionist film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.
- "Plath Pass" on the map of the Mortmain Mountains may be a reference to American poet Sylvia Plath.
- Klaus refers to Joseph Merrick (incorrectly naming him "John Merrick"), an English man with severe deformities while discussing the cruelty of freak shows.
Several editions of The Carnivorous Carnival have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Carnivorous Carnival (UK), The Carnivorous Carnival (UK Paperback) and La Fête Féroce.
The Carnivorous Carnival (UK)
This edition has the same content as in the original one. The main difference here is the cover, which is black, has different fonts and a purple spine. Brett Helquist's illustration is also different. The book is published by Egmont. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Carnivorous Carnival features a row of, what appears to be, cards. Most likely these are tarot cards that psychics use to read somebodies fortune. This is repeated on the back cover.
The Carnivorous Carnival (UK Paperback)
This is a paperback version of The Carnivorous Carnival released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape.
La Fête Féroce
La Fête Féroce is the French edition of The Carnivorous Carnival, published by Nathan Poche. It has a very different cover, Brett Helquist's illustration is not seen here, apart for a portrait of the Baudelaires. It is almost entirely black, with a white illustration of a whip.