- Author: Lemony Snicket
- File Size: 3217 KB
- Print Length: 176 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (March 17, 2009)
- Publication Date: March 17, 2009
- Language: English
Are you made fainthearted by death? Does fire unnerve you? Is a villain something that might crop up in future nightmares of yours? Are you thrilled by nefarious plots? Is cold porridge upsetting to you? Vicious threats? Hooks? Uncomfortable clothing?
It is likely that your answers will reveal A Series of Unfortunate Events to be ill-suited for your personal use. A librarian, bookseller, or acquaintance should be able to suggest books more appropriate for your fragile temperament. But to the rarest of readers we say, “Proceed, but cautiously.”
Make no mistake. The Bad Beginning begins badly for the three Baudelaire children, and then gets worse. Their misfortunes begin one gray day on Briny Beach when Mr. Poe tells them that their parents perished in a fire that destroyed their whole house. “It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed,” laments the personable (occasionally pedantic) narrator, who tells the story as if his readers are gathered around an armchair on pillows. But of course what follows is dreadful. The children thought it was bad when the well-meaning Poes bought them grotesque-colored clothing that itched. But when they are ushered to the dilapidated doorstep of the miserable, thin, unshaven, shiny-eyed, money-grubbing Count Olaf, they know that they–and their family fortune–are in real trouble. Still, they could never have anticipated how much trouble. While it’s true that the events that unfold in Lemony Snicket’s novels are bleak, and things never turn out as you’d hope, these delightful, funny, linguistically playful books are reminiscent of Roald Dahl.
British actor Tim Curry, whose reputation for playing dastardly villain types precedes him, is terrific in this adaptation of the intentionally over-the-top, slightly scary tale of the Baudelaire orphans. As narrator/author Snicket, Curry relates the sad saga with pity and enlightenment sparked by dashes of humor. When the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny, learn that their parents have perished in a fire at the family mansion, the children’s rocky course is set for misery and misadventure (enough to fill the projected 13 volumes of this clever book series). The executor of the Baudelaire parents’ will and keeper of the family fortune, Mr. Poe, arranges for the orphans to live with a guardian, a creepy distant relative named Count Olaf. Nasty in more ways than one, Count Olaf mistreats the children, leading them to quickly discover that he only wants their money. After they unravel one of the count’s more awful schemes, the children are eventually delivered from the situation, leading neatly into a sequel. Curry plays Olaf with an appropriately spooky whispering hiss and deserves extra kudos for his convincing portrayal of Poe’s racking, sometimes phlegmy cough. As a bonus, the tape contains a hilarious interview between historian, critic and author Leonard S. Marcus and Daniel Handler (suspected to be the mysterious Lemony Snicket himself). An entertaining song called “Scream and Run Away,” about Count Olaf, fittingly closes the proceedings.
It has been a while since I last read this book and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed returning to its pages. The most unique, intriguing, and frustrating aspect of the book is that the main character of the story could be argued to be the narrator. Everything is told through the voice of Lemony Snicket, which is actually the narrator and not the author’s actual name. The style is not a typical style for most children’s books and it is pulled off with success.
The writing style is amazing. You are pulled into the story, engage with all the characters, and before you know you have finished the tale. I almost went and immediately bought the next book. The only thing that stopped me was the huge pile of books I currently have to finish. It truly is no wonder that this series has obtained such success.
There is one aspect of the writing style that I found quite annoying. The narrator continually defined the words that he and the other characters were using. As the story progressed the other characters also begin defining the words that they were using. It was annoying because I am an adult reader who was well aware of what all these words meant. Yet, while I was quite engaged by the story the book was not written for me. It was written for middle school readers who are still increasing their vocabulary. The first time I encountered Snicket’s unique way of defining words in a story I knew what he was doing. While I, as an adult reader, was slightly annoyed I was also kind of awed by his genius. He has this book that he doesn’t want to dumb down for his readers, yet he also doesn’t want to loose their interest as they encounter words they may not be familiar with. To decrease the frustration of reading by including the definitions into the quirky flow that already existed in the novel is nothing short of genius.