Saturday, March 13, 2010

Boxcar Children #8: The Lighthouse Mystery

As the official poll tie-breaker, I've decided to make my next post of the Boxcar variety. After this, I'll be heading on over to Sweet Valley. Anyway, I bring you the first of (hopefully) many posts on the Boxcar Children. This particular book is one of what will henceforth be known as The Nineteen, referring to the nineteen books actually written by Gertrude Chandler Warner, before the series got taken over by ghosts and the kids entered a time warp as big as the one in Stoneybrook. One more thing: I will be playing the Official Boxcar Drinking Game™ as I read and write. The rules are very simple: any time someone says or does something to reinforce a gender stereotype, take a shot. Feel free to play along; the first round’s on me. And without further ado, The Lighthouse Mystery.

Beginning with the blurb on the back: Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny used to live alone in a boxcar. Now they're a world famous singing group called the Alden Four, working under the management of their tyrannical grandfather.

When the book begins, the Alden Four and Grandfather are just finishing their tour returning home from a visit with their Aunt Jane. In a good but confusing bit of continuity, this book actually picks up right where the last one left off.

The Aldens decide to take the generic "beach road" home, passing through the small town of Conley along the way. Conley is apparently known for its lighthouse, which, according to a sign, happens to be for sale. The kids somehow manage to convince Grandfather that a lighthouse would be a good investment and he figures he'll ask the town store owner what the deal is with the lighthouse and how to buy it. It turns out some other sucker got there first and already bought it. Who, you ask? Mr. I-must-be-overcompensating-for-something Hall, the owner of the store. Mr. Overcompensator agrees to rent out the lighthouse for a few weeks and so the Aldens move right in.

Nothing of any interest happens at all until the stroke of midnight (dun dun DUN!) when Watch, the dog, starts barking. Because something is obviously very wrong but absolutely nothing can be accomplished by rational persons at midnight, everyone just goes back to sleep. Well, first they all have a conversation. Benny claims he can smell mashed potatoes and Violet and Jessie are quick to point out that potatoes and salt do not smell. I think that deserves a shot.

The next day, the Boxcar Children head into town. While at the store, a (supposedly annoyed) man doesn’t fall all over the kids and tell them how great they are so naturally the Aldens are suspicious. They decide he’s part of their non-existent and previously unmentioned mystery. In fact, they’re on the lookout everywhere for “suspicious characters” i.e. people who don’t believe the sun shines out of the asses of the four Boxcar Children. And really, how could they.

Just after running into Annoyed Man, the kids meet another crazy character: a kid about Henry’s age who indignantly tells them that, despite his reading material, he most certainly does not go to college. According to Mr. Overcompensator, the boy is Larry and he’s unfriendly and uneducated because his asshole father thinks book learnin’ is overrated. The holier-than-thou Aldens make it their mission to befriend Larry. The Boxcars then decide that one of the two “cross people” they just met must be involved in their mystery. Yeah, I don’t get it either. In a ridiculous bit of foreshadowing, Benny says he doesn’t see how they could be involved but “Maybe they are cooking up something or other.” Old Gertie makes a point of telling us that Benny is kinda near the truth. No freaking WAY.

The next chapter begins with Jessie making lunch and me pouring myself a shot. The Aldens decide to eat lunch outside only it turns out sitting on rocks is kind of uncomfortable. They decide to fix the situation by putting rock chairs together and adding cement to make them last forever. Can’t you just imagine some children, fifty years later sitting in the seats of the legendary Boxcars? It just about brings a tear to my eye. In one of the most random and contrived plot points ever, some men (shot!) are cementing a nearby driveway; the Aldens decide to ask them for some cement. Guess what? One of the men working on the driveway is Annoyed Man. My goodness, it is a small world after all.

The Aldens return To The Lighthouse, stopping along the way so Henry can buy a trowel and I can take a shot. They spend the rest of the chapter cementing a table and chairs together and it’s so boring I either fall asleep or pass out due to drunkenness, I’m not sure which. Finally, the Aldens bring back the unused cement and pay for what they did use. They notice that Annoyed Man is no longer there; they’re glad since he’s a big old meanie and they don’t like him anyway. That doesn’t stop them from wanting to know who he is, and Old Lady Warner informs us they’re about to find that out. I can hardly contain myself.

Nothing interesting happens until midnight when, once again, Watch starts barking. The Aldens guess, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that someone’s cooking in the little house (I think it’s a summer kitchen) next to the lighthouse. After debating the possibility of someone being in the house for much longer than necessary (it’s about half a page), they come to no conclusions and figure they’ll check things out in the morning. However, Jessie and Violet happen to see a woman outside, walking away from the house. They figure everyone’ll talk about it in the morning and back to sleep they go.

In the morning, Jessie and Violet do mention the woman. Everyone decides to look around the little house for clues and stuff. Would you believe it? They find something! Not, like, in the house or anything, but just sort of lying around outside. It’s a piece of paper with some very advanced science-y stuff on it. Even Henry doesn’t understand it. All Aldens agree: someone very smart has been using the house for experiments.

After no segue at all, the Aldens decide that, since they’re on the beach, they should probably do beachy things like collect shells (did you know that Grandfather is, like, an expert on shells?) and go swimming. Unfortunately, they need bathing suits. I wouldn’t even mention it except when they go into town to buy them, Henry and Benny are more interested in the boats in the harbor while Jessie and Violet are of course more interested in bathing suits. (Have a shot? Don’t mind if I do.)

While the Aldens are buying their suits, they learn a bit more about their “mystery”. The boat that Henry and Benny liked was called the Sea Cook II. It’s owned by a Mr. Cook. Someone named Mr. Cook also bought the summer kitchen. Mr. Cook and Annoyed Man are the same person. Mr. Cook has a grown son who isn’t allowed to use the boat or anything (but the rebellious kid does anyway). Aaaand, the kid always comes back with “stuff”. Raise your hand if you’ve figured it out. Well, I’ll press on anyway. On the very next page, we learn that the son is “very smart” and his father won’t let him go to college, even though he’s applied and been accepted. Yes, that’s right. Larry’s asshole father from a bunch of chapters ago is Annoyed Man aka Mr. Cook and I totally did not see that one coming.

After that, nothing very interesting happens, including that the Aldens go swimming. That night, Benny, sitting on the lighthouse lookout, saw a ship start to approach the harbor then go out again. Somehow this stupid boy figured that someone on the boat could see him; Benny then turned off the lights and put on a dark coat. I guess that did the trick because the ship came in with Benny watching. He saw a man get off the boat, holding a pail and I call that a clue.

This is getting long… So, the Aldens are able to see into the summer kitchen and realize that someone’s been working there. They figure out (don’t ask me how) that Larry’s been doing experiments to turn seaweed and plankton into good food to feed the whole world! The Aldens decide they need to be friends with Larry (and damned if I know why).

The next sort of interesting thing that happens is a big town dinner thing. Conley is trying to raise money to put in streetlights, yes, streetlights. They think this’ll be the year they manage to do it! Larry is apparently the cook (But… but… boys aren’t allowed to cook! This SUCKS, I’m long overdue for a shot.) His usual help quit and the Aldens offer to help out. Aren’t they PRECIOUS. The only remotely interesting thing about the dinner is that a stranger shows up who talks to Larry for awhile. FORESHADOWING.

I’m really trying to skip stuff but these pesky little “clues” keep popping up. Like, the Aldens watch a ship come into a nearby harbor and because Grandfather is in the mafia well connected, they get a tour of the ship. They eventually realize there were big bags of plankton on board, the captain lives in Conley, and therefore the plankton must be for Larry. Turns out they’re right.

Moving on. Everything the Boxcar Children have figured out up ‘til now is right. Go figure. Next up, becoming friends with Larry. How? By forcing him to help them put screens on the lighthouse windows. I tried that friend-making technique three times and all it got me was a few hundred mosquito bites and a note saying “I hope u get malaria, bitch”. Some people have all the luck. Then, the Aldens make Larry cook their lunch. What is wrong with these assholes?

Hey, I’m almost done with this thing! The next night, there’s a huge storm. Stupid Larry (um, isn’t he supposed to be smart?) gets caught out at sea and the Coast Guard comes to bring him in. He’s taken to the lighthouse, unfortunately all delirious and stuff, ranting about feeding the world. Except, he knows what he’s talking about. He just wants everyone to eat plankton. Like I said. Delirious.

So. Anyway. Larry’s been cooking seaweed and stuff in the summer kitchen; his mother was helping him out by bringing him dinner. Which made Watch bark. Fascinating, isn’t it. Everyone tries the “food” and agrees it’s disgusting. Even so, Larry was accepted to college, choosing to go to Adams--which is, as Benny puts it, Henry’s very college! Asshole Father aka Mr. Cook aka Annoyed Man finally agrees Larry can go. I wish I cared. Out of gratitude or pity or hatred or something, the Cooks invite the Aldens over for dinner. John Carter, Grandfather’s friend from the FBI shows up and gives Larry his microscope. I wipe away tears of joy for Larry boredom.

Finally, the Aldens head home. Henry and Larry show up at college where Larry learns that the scientist he’ll be working with was that random stranger from the town dinner that happened so long ago I care even less about it now than I did 20 pages ago. And they all live happily ever after.

What, you want more details?

  • When the Aldens ask to rent the lighthouse, Mr. Overcompensator informs them that it’s set up for light housekeeping. Which is not to be confused with lighthouse keeping. Yes, the book goes there and yes, I rolled my eyes so hard they got temporarily stuck. Between that and all the cooking puns, I fear my love of wordplay is no more; hopefully that’s only a temporary condition.
  • Upon moving into the lighthouse, Jessie and Violet took note of the stove before anything else and I took a shot.
  • The lighthouse accommodations were such that Violet and Jessie had to share a room (and possibly a bed?) while Henry and Benny each had his own. Worthy of a shot? Why the hell not.
  • Like all good one-dimensional characters, each Boxcar child is only allowed to like one color; presumably their bathing suits correspond to that, though we only hear about Jessie’s blue suit and Benny’s red one. Small blessings, I guess. At least we aren’t hit over the head with Violet’s favorite color. Betcha can’t guess what that is.
  • When Larry is stuck in the storm, Henry is the one to contact the Coast Guard. Since the phones are out, he has to drive to the next town. I’d call that shot-worthy but Henry’s the only one who can drive.


  1. Violet's favorite color is chartreuse, right?

    Also, I love that Grandfather is a shell expert. That's so Grandfather.

    I have a feeling that Old Lady Warner would get along well with Ann M. They could say My Whockety a whole lot.

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  3. Ooh I loved the Boxcar children! My libary had every book in these pretty hardcovers and I used to just sit and stare at them jealously. I never did get the pretty hardcovers....

  4. @Sadako: nice try and A for effort on Violet's favorite color but it's actually taupe. You were close! You're right, Ann M. and Old Lady Warner would make quite the nice friendship. I see something along the lines of a Mary Anne/Mrs. Towne thing though without Mrs. Towne's spunk.

    @Fran: Nice! I've never seen these in hardcover before. I wonder, would they look less embarrassing on bookshelves?

  5. I know I have this one, but I must have blocked it out of my memory. Probably because I love gender stereotypes and the conversion of seaweed to food SO much. Thus confirming that a drinking game is really the only way to go with these books.

  6. Yes, a drinking game is necessary. I'm just the tiniest bit worried about corrupting youth since, after all, these books are still in print and some crazy kids are actually reading them. But maybe the only food-related lesson they'll learn is that seaweed is delicious. And that would be perfectly okay.