A Series of Unfortunate Events Series, by Lemony Snicket

Title: A Series of Unfortunate Events Series
 Lemony Snicket
Harper Collins
Publication date:  1999 to 2006
Pages: 3418
ISBN: 9780061119064
Source: Myself
Rating: 4/5
Buy at: BookDepository

In this first book, readers are introduced to the unfortunate Baudelaire children — 14-year-old Violet, 12-year-old Klaus, and their infant sister, Sunny — when they learn they’ve just been orphaned by a terrible house fire.

The executor of the Baudelaire estate — a phlegm-plagued banker named Mr. Poe – sends the children to live with a distant relative: a conniving and dastardly villain named Count Olaf, who has designs on the Baudelaire fortune. Count Olaf uses the children as slave labor, provides horrid accommodations for them, and makes them cook huge meals for him and his acting troupe, a bunch of odd-looking, renegade good-for-nothings. When the children are commandeered to appear in Count Olaf’s new play, they grow suspicious and soon learn that the play is not the innocent performance it seems but rather a scheme cooked up by Olaf to help him gain control of the children’s millions.

All this bad luck does provide for both great fun and great learning opportunities, however. Violet is a budding McGyver whose inventions help the children in their quest, Klaus possesses a great deal of book smarts, and Sunny — whose only real ability is an incredibly strong bite — provides moral support and frequent comedy relief. Then there are the many amusing word definitions, colloquialisms, clichés, hackneyed phrases, and other snippets of language provided by the narrator (a character in his own right) that can’t help but expand readers’ vocabularies. Though the Baudelaire children suffer myriad hardships and setbacks, in the end they do manage to outsmart and expose Olaf’s devious ways. But of course, with luck like theirs, it’s a given that Olaf will escape and return to torment them again some day. If only misery was always this much fun.

From the 1st book: The Bad Beginning.

Yes, I should have read this when I was a kid while the books were first coming out, but I did not. I only read them during the last year. And you know what? They only helped to make me see how important children’s books are for children and “grown-ups” alike. Indeed, after reading A Series of Unfortunate Events Series, I’m quite sure my Children’s Fiction intake is going to grow exponentially.

A Series of Unfortunate Events Series tells the story of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, three siblings who are orphaned when a fire burns down their home and their parents with it. They are sent to the home of a distant family member, Count Olaf, who is only too keen on acquiring the Baudelaire’s fortune for himself. To get it, he’s willing to do anything. When the adults don’t believe the Baudelaires to be telling the truth about Olaf’s wishes and the horrible way they are treated, it is up to the Baudelaires to fend for themselves. But the more they fight, the more the world fights back: with death, enigmas, pain, questions, and tears. Plenty of tears.

After all, this may be a children’s fiction series, but it is not a happy one. There are humorous moments – plenty of characters are parodies of stereotypes -, but at its core, it’s a heart-wrenching tale simply because it mimics reality only too well.

The more the Baudelaires live, the more questions are raised and fewer are answered. Right to the very end they wonder about so many things that happen to them, and they learn so very much too. They learn to take a stand before it becomes too late, to stop going with the current to start going against it, to use each others strengths and support one another no matter what. They learn to mistrust and to trust, to cry and to hope.

However, some may say they take a little too long to learn. It takes them a few books to act instead of react, which peeved me a bit as the siblings clearly have the brains and the will to stomp their feet down. As did the explanations of words and the lengthy reminders in the beginning of each book that the readers ought to close the book and do something more pleasant instead.

But the sheer honesty of this story, though at times brutal, more than made up for it. Snicket knows his readers are children, but he doesn’t dumb it down for them. Yes, the world can be a horrible place. Yes, sometimes all you can do is lie down and cry. Yes, you’ll live through your life with hundreds of unanswered questions and unsolved injustices. But that’s the way it is. All you can do is keep your chin up as you do your best to live your life and finish each day with a cup of bitter tea and a good book. And maybe, in the meanwhile, you’ll find good friends to walk with you and send you letters in code whenever you’re apart. Maybe you’ll even befriend an Incredibly Deadly Viper, who really isn’t deadly at all and would really just like to curl itself around you as if it were a kitten. Maybe you’ll discover that villains and heroes don’t exist, not really, that “People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict”, that a hero can as easily do something wicked as a villain can do something noble.

I wish I had read this series as a child. Perhaps I wouldn’t have understood as much of it, perhaps I’d have understood more. Regardless, I know it would have made growing up easier. Every kid needs a happily ever after, sure, but they also need the harsher truths. It’s the best way to conquer life. What better place to learn them than in books?

So thank you, Lemony Snicket, for finding time amidst your sorrow for Beatrice to tell us the woeful story of the Baudelaires. It was hard to read, like you warned us it would be, but I am a better human for knowing it now. I hope the Baudelaires found a home. I hope you are safe.


The book in a quote

“”The world is a harum-scarum place.”
“Harum?” Sunny asked.
“It’s complicated and confusing,” Olivia explained. “They say that long ago, it was simple and quiet, but that might be a legend.””


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