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Headscratchers / The Books of Ember

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     Flaws in the plan 
  • Why such a convoluted plan where so much could go wrong in escaping the city? The whole thing with the boats and the secret rooms upon secret rooms and the wheels getting stuck and the dangerous rapids. Why not just hide a giant elevator that you need the cards to operate?
    • The rooms aren't as secret as they appear to be — the instructions are quite clear on how to get them, they're just tucked out of the way where people won't stumble on them. If the mayor had read the instructions and led the city as they were supposed to, it would have been a relatively simple task.

  • Where are the telephones gone? They must've existed quite recently, since Lina keeps a recording of her father's voice from a message. Why is the entire city relying on messengers to relay information?
    • It's pretty likely that at some point all of the telephones in Ember simply broke and stopped working, at which point none of the Emberites knew how to fix them and just threw them out and resorted to messengers.
      • Just as likely, the copper in the phone lines was stripped for repairs to the power grid as wiring supplies ran out. Phones were a luxury, but power is life.

     Lack of sunlight 
  • How are the Emberites not all dead already due to a lack of sunlight?
    • They wouldn't die from lack of sunlight, as long as they get their vitamin D elsewhere.
      • The book explicitly mentions that the Emberites take vitamins with their meals, so that's probably how they get their D.

     Giant wildlife 
  • Where exactly did that giant mole come from?
    • The giant wildlife was only in the movie. Presumably the filmmakers wanted to take advantage of the nuclear disaster that precipitated the city being built, by showing the effect radiation has had on the wildlife.
  • Why not eat the giant moles?
    • They hadn't run out of food yet, and they aren't shown to have any weapons, especially not ones that would be useful against a huge, vicious mole who lurks primarily in the dark and away from people.

     Assignment Day 
  • The way they choose people's careers in Ember. Kids basically pull a piece of paper from a bag and hope they get something they have some skill in. The generator is failing, supplies are running out, and the best way they can think of to assign jobs is the luck of the draw. You would think it would make more sense to assign people with some actual skill with machines or mechanics to work on the generator, since it's so key to their survival.
    • Lina and Doon trade their jobs as a Messenger and a Pipe Worker respectively. I think a blind eye is deliberately turned to this because as long as the jobs are done, who cares who does them?
    • None of the jobs mentioned in the book require much talent or know-how: you don't need to have a special aptitude for collecting garbage or delivering messages. Lina's boss also mentions that there's an evaluation after five years and people can switch jobs then.
  • One possibility of the career selecting method is that, given the smaller number of people available to start new jobs, the city needed someone to do the less desirable ones, so they started making it mandatory that someone had to do certain jobs and made it random to avoid appearing guilty of favoritism.

  • In the second book, one of the attempted projects was making a creek so they could swim in it. But wait, how would the Emberites be able to swim?
    • I guess some of the Sparks residents could teach them or had taught them?

     Riding out 
  • In the film, what were the Builders thinking when they built the funhouse ride out? Were they giggling to themselves about how many of their older descendants would have heart attacks on their way out?
    • The ride out was so tumultuous because Doon and Lina were forced down a wrong path partway through. The river came to a fork at one point, with one direction leading through an obviously man-made tunnel that they were supposed to go through. The problem was that their steering mechanism broke off before they could turn that way, so their boat got swept down the other, less-stable path. (Possibly the one that was used to reach Ember in the first place.) All they needed to do is mention this in the note for the rest of the Emberites and they'll all know to follow the proper course.

     Further precautions 
  • Why didn't the Builders take any more precautions to ensure the box wouldn't fall into obscurity like it did in the film? The book answered this question better by having the box be stored in the mayoral office in the basement of the gathering hall, and by explaining that Lina's great-great-she-doesn't-know-how-many-greats-grandfather took it from there without telling anyone because he thought it held something that would save him from sickness. The movie, however, has each mayor seemingly carry the box everywhere with them, and the one holding it when it was lost simply drops dead.
    • But if he thought that, he already didn't know what the box was.
    • Right, but the box was still in an accessible place, where each new mayor would be able to find it. There's still the potential for it to be lost, true, but it's a safer plan than letting each mayor carry it with them wherever they go.
    • Another grand idea would've been to have an alarm sound when the box opened; that way it wouldn't have gone unnoticed even by Lina's family.

     Sul's job 
  • How could Sul not know where the key to the generator room is when his job whenever a problem with the pressure occurs is to go and fix the water wheels, which are in the generator room? Wouldn't a job like that require knowledge of how to get in?
    • Not necessarily. The only knowledge really necessary is knowing who to go to. He doesn't need a key, just someone who has one to let him in.

  • Why didn't the Builders just call the instructions the "Intructions for Exit", instead of using such a comparatively complicated word? I don't know many people who would even know what 'egress' means, and if it's urgent for people to leave the city once 200 years have passed, shouldn't the mayor be able to have an instant idea of what the instructions are for as soon as the box opens?
    • There really isn't any indication that a rapid exit would be necessary at the planned 200 year mark, just that it's time to go back to the surface. As a result, the Builders may have wanted to add some gravitas to the situation, to make people view it less as "walk to the exit, folks" and more of a grand transition, making them feel that this is not something that should be ignored or undone once done. Language is also heavily subject to fashion; there's a chance that the word "egress" was simply in fashion when the instructions were written, or that the writer was given to using highly formal tones.

     Building the city 
  • In the film, how did the Builders get down to the city and back up to the surface while they were building it? In the book, it's implied that they cut a path leading down into the Unknown Regions and a tunnel that led outside, but in the movie, that path was replaced by just a crack in the ground, that now opens up onto the top of the cavern rather than into its side, so there was no way the Builders could've used it to build the city unless they built some sort of pulley system or something, which seems inefficient.
    • Given that the city was meant to be a shelter for some global catastrophe, the crack in the roof likely wasn't there when the city was built; it opened up due to natural erosion and weathering during the two-plus centuries between sealing at the events of the book/film. As for the way the Builders put the thing together, it wouldn't take much effort to sink a large elevator shaft or two to ferry materials and personnel during construction, then demolish the shaft to seal the route when they were finished.

  • Why did the Builders leave behind the diamonds for the Emberites to find, but not any technology for them to power? True, they didn't know what would be left after the Disaster, but why not pack in a few dozen light bulbs just to be safe?
    • They did. Just running the town's ambient light involves hundreds of bulbs, all of the houses are electrically-lit, and we hear (or read) people talking about light bulb shortages. The problem is that the Emberites overstayed their timeframe by a significant margin; the supplies that would have helped them transition had already been consumed keeping Crapsack Town limping along far past its design life.
    • True, but the issue is that all those lightbulbs were left back in Ember; they had to mount an expedition back some time later to go and get them all, and only did so using a way back underground that Lina and Doon only happened to find. If the Builders were counting on the Emberites bringing some technology with them, they might've thought to mention it in the original Instructions.

     The mayor’s secret room 
  • The book implied that the room where the mayor hoarded all of his food was actually his office, which is described at one point as being in the basement of the gathering hall. The film, though, shows his office as being a separate room and that he has to go down into the Pipeworks in order to access the hoard. But if he has to do that every time, wouldn’t someone working in the Pipeworks have noticed him before?
    • In theory, but the Emberites basically live in a society where breaking out of your path is heavily frowned upon. You get assigned a job to do, it doesn't matter if you like it. You stay within the perimeter on pain of punishment. Don't ask, don't rock the boat. It breeds a very head-down-walk-forward mentality. If there was no reason to go down that tunnel, why go? By and large, the Emberites are very passive people. They're not likely to stick their necks out just to check out an abandoned, forgotten tunnel in a warren of abandoned, forgotten tunnels. No pipe to repair there? Good. Too many others to repair anyway. Get to the next task. No time for sightseeing.

    Legalities of Yonwood's actions 
  • To those who don't know, the third book centers around people in a certain town interpreting the mumblings of a comatose woman as instructions by God — anyone who doesn't abide by the mumblings gets a bracelet slapped on them that emits constant noise until they agree to stop the unwanted behavior. This seems to be done entirely outside of the law, as the one time we see it happen, the preteen kid pretty much gets ambushed by a small group of ordinary civilians. It doesn't seem like dictating behavior according to a supposed religious prophet should be legal, and it definitely doesn't seem like slapping noisemakers onto people if they don't comply would be legal, so why didn't anyone consider reaching out to the authorities, on the state level if not locally?
    • It's implied in The Prophet of Yonwood that society and central authority are already beginning to break down, at least in certain areas.

     Sul's fate 
  • Regarding the movie, was Sul supposed to have died when Doon left him in order to escape? Him being left behind is framed really emotionally, as though he's sacrificing himself to allow them to get out of the city. If he wasn't about to die, then the emotion wouldn't seem necessary since he'd see Doon again once the rest of the city managed to evacuate. But if we are to assume he died, from what? Was it the rising water? The electricity sparking everywhere? The movie isn't very clear on what happened to him.
    • The film version of Sul was basically an Ascended Extra, so there really was no narrative arc for his character to follow; you can headcanon any fate for him you like and since there was never a sequel it's a valid interpretation. As to the emotion, though, there are a few reasons for it: Sul was never particularly warm toward Doon, but he didn't balk at helping when the chips were down; without Sul's intervention one of the principal cast would've had to stay, so he enabled them to stick together; and really, it was a case of humans helping humans. Not high drama, but still heartwarming in its way. Personally, this troper thinks Sul would've survived; there was no imminent threat to his life, and he was plenty smart enough to head for higher ground rather than sit and passively drown and would've done so if the water rose too far or when help arrived.
In the film, Lina finds a can of pineapple, which clues her that something is wrong with the food situation, as nobody has had pineapple since her grandmother was a little girl. The explanation is that the shelves are listed as empty even though they have food on them and people have been stealing the unlisted food. The thing is they have already been down there over 200 years and pineapple doesn't last that long. They shouldn't be able to grow a tropical fruit and should be out of everything they can't grow down there. How is that can still good?

Alternative Title(s): The City Of Ember