Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

In what seems like my never-ending quest to read some children's books that I've always wanted to read, I checked out the first three books in Lemony Snicket's (Daniel Handler) A Series of Unfortunate Events series.

In the first book,
The Bad Beginning , Snicket lets us know from the very beginning that this not a book with a happy ending and that truly unfortunate things happen to the Baudelaire siblings: Violet, Klaus, and Baby Sunny. And indeed he keeps his promise when the siblings are orphaned early on in the book. The banker, Mr. Poe takes is the executioner of the Baudelaire estate and is in charge of placing the orphans with a family member. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of family members, and the orphans are placed with the murderous Count Olaf who is intent on receiving the Baudelaire fortune. It's up to the orphans to stop him, but as you can imagine, just when things are looking good for the children, they're hit with yet another misfortune.

In the second book,
The Reptile Room, the children are placed with the very kind and very generous Uncle Monty who has a very impressive collection of reptiles. Things are going very well, for the children who believe their luck is improving until Count Olaf makes an appearance and commits a terrible crime. The children are once again left without a guardian at the book's end, and things look bleaker than ever.

In the third book, The Wide Window, the children are sent to live with a distant cousin whom they call, Aunt Josephine. She lives in a rickety house that is precariously dangling over a lake filled with killer leeches. Aunt Josephine is terrified of everything, from telephones to stoves, but she does love grammar. The children are forced to eat horrendously cold meals and their grammar is constantly corrected, even poor Sunny, who is just a baby. At least they all agree that it's better than living with Count Olaf. But lo and behold, Count Olaf finds them, and due to more unfortunate events, the children are left homeless and without a guardian. my apologies in advance to all of you Lemony Snicket fans. It's not that I DIDN'T like the books, but seriously, can't you give the poor kids a break? I don't even want to read the rest of the books because I'm not sure I can handle all of the misfortune. I know, I know...the kids are SUPPOSED to suffer misfortune. Snicket told me this in the beginning and continued to tell me throughout the book, but I didn't listen to his advice and kept reading even when he told me I shouldn't if I wanted things to turn out well.

That aside, as a cynic, I did enjoy the humor in the book. I love Snicket's tounge-in-cheek style and tidbits of advice, like this one from Book 3: "If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats."

I also love the way he defines vocabulary words that may be a little difficult for readers. Take this instance from Book 1:

"But one type of book that practically no one likes to read is a book about the law. Books about the law are notorious for being very long, very dull, and very difficult to read. This is one reason many lawyers make heaps of money. The money is an incentive - the word 'incentive' here means 'an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don't want to do - to read long, dull, and difficult books.'"

The books themselves are repetitive, and the characters are flat and predictable, but I know that many kids and parents enjoy them. The three I did read were short and fast-paced, but I don't know if I'd read them to very young children. If I couldn't handle the sadness, I'm not sure young children would be able to. But I never said I was brave...

Other books in the series:

Book 4: The Miserable Mill

Book 5: The Austere Academy

Book 6: The Ersatz Elevator

Book 7: The Vile Village

Book 8: The Hostile Hospital

Book 9: The Carnivorous Carnival

Book 10: The Slippery Slope

Book 11: The Grim Grotto

Book 12: The Penultimate Peril

Book 13: The End


  1. I admit, I've only seen the movie (which is bad to admit when I'm commenting on a book review). But I am with you: why would I want to read about kids who have all sorts of horrible things happen to them? Why is that good? Or is it supposed to be funny enough to cancel out the horror of the dumb things that happen? Is it funny at all?

    I don't imagine I'll read any of these. At least, not until my son mentions wanting to read them.

  2. Rebecca,
    There ARE funny parts, and I honestly haven't read enough background information to determine Handler's intent. I can see how they appeal to kids, but I know by the third book, I already weary from reading them. I can't imagine reading 13!

  3. My students do tend to read them all. I think they are attracted to many things about the books:
    1. The anticipation of finding out how the children get out of the dire circumstances is the biggest draw.
    2. I think they like that they can recognize the bad guys before the author tells them who they are. (they are always disguised)

    I like them to read them all because the vocabulary of the books is incredible. The author explains the big words he uses (and he uses many words that are challenging for the age group that likes these books the most.)

    I read about five and have the last one on my list to read whenever it stays checked in for a bit. There is only so much time and so MANY books to read.

  4. Thank you! I've felt like a bit of an outsider for not enjoying these books at all, when everyone else seems to think they're grand. Just too depressing, with no real glimmer of hope at any point. Even when they sort of solve the problem at the end, their lives still suck!

  5. Mary,
    Thanks so much for telling why you think your students love them. I definitely love the often funny vocabulary lessons, and I can really see why children would be interested in discovering the bad guys and learning how the kids are going to get out of their current predicament.

    I did enjoy the humor, but I'm totally with you on the depressing part. I think its because I often read books to escape from "real life," and I often want happy endings.

  6. I read the first three, and it wasn't the bleakness that put me off - it was the frustration that this man keeps trying to kill the children, gets caught - and they know he wears disguises - and no one believes them when they say he's back and trying to kill them! Can this go on in all the books? I didn't stick around long enough to see, although I did enjoy the ones I read. The audio versions are even better (at least the first few ) - they are read by Tim Curry, who does a delightfully wicked Count Olaf. :-)

  7. I just find the whole depressing setting as tongue-in-cheek. Yes, I love the vocabulary bits and I admit after halfway through the series, I find the plot rather predictable. Yet, I do want to keep the entire series as it is different from other happy ending stories and for the vocabulary bits.