Today I’m going to be doing a series review of one of my favorite book series as a child: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The first time I read the series was probably when I was between the ages of 10-14? So now, 10 years later, I decided to reread the series to see what kind of new insights I might glean the second time around and with much older eyes. This post might contain spoilers.
A Series of Unfortunate Events (ASOUE) follows the three Baudelaire siblings after they learn that their parents perished in a terrible fire, leaving them the Baudelaire orphans. Throughout the series, they are shuttled from guardian to guardian, mishap and misfortune and an evil villain named Count Olaf following them every step of the way. Count Olaf will stop at nothing to get at the Baudelaires’ fortune and cooks up all sorts of evil schemes. Later in the series though, the Baudelaires learn of a secret organization that seems to involve them and everyone they have encountered. Sounds pretty dark for a children’s series, no?
That is precisely why I think this series is so important for children (and adults) to read. As a child, I was a huge fan of Disney (still am) and their ideas of happily ever after and all your dreams coming true. ASOUE is the complete opposite of that. Happily ever after does not exist in this series. Just when you think that maybe something good can finally happen, something unfortunate always comes along at the last minute. If Disney movies take huge leaps of probability to give you your happy ending, Lemony Snicket (pen name of the real author, Daniel Handler) takes huge leaps to give you an ending full of despair and misfortune. And he doesn’t apologize for it. In fact, he tells you on the back cover of the first book that you would be better off reading something else. Yet, this is the sad state of our world. Happy endings don’t just come easily to us. Even if we work for it, it might still not come to us. I think this is an important lesson for kids to know growing up. Sometimes, life just doesn’t work the way we want it to. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Nothing ever goes right for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny despite their cleverness, resourcefulness, and persistence. But they never give up trying. They never give up trying to convince people that Count Olaf is bad, even though 7 books in, people still don’t believe them.
What I love about Violet, Klaus, and Sunny is that they are actually smart. Violet is an inventor, Klaus has read basically every book in the world, and Sunny is a freaking baby who says extremely clever things and has the sharpest front teeth. Their skills combined allow them to get out of any situation they find themselves in and I love the message this puts forth. You don’t like something, don’t just sit around wishing for change, be resourceful and change it yourself. And especially don’t wait around for someone else to do it for you. The adults in this series are incredibly incompetent and stupid and they never believe the Baudelaires when they say Count Olaf is in disguise. Don’t even get me started on Mr. Poe. The Baudelaire siblings really have to fend for themselves the entire time.
Another thing that struck me while reading the series a second time was the idea that it is not enough to be kind. Despite their fair share of encounters with villainous or downright stupid adults, the Baudelaires also meet many adults who are kind and treat them with respect. Unfortunately, those adults are unwilling to be brave enough to stand up for the children or help them in any real tangible way, and I honestly think that was one of the saddest parts of the series. Kindness and politeness helps no one who is in real trouble. It takes a special kind of courage and nobility to really right the wrongs in the world. That brings me to the big secret organization that is introduced later in the series, which consisted of people trying to be that noble or at least, “just noble enough”.
When I was reading this series 10 years ago, I was more caught up in the mystery of who this secret organization was and how they are involved in the Baudelaires’ lives. Spoiler alert: we never get any satisfying answers. Sure, we get a few tidbits here and there and maybe we could piece together the whole picture if we were clever enough. But it’s definitely far from a satisfying conclusion. And now I realized that was the whole point. We don’t always get the answers we want in this world and we don’t always get to have that sense of closure. There are several fan theories out there about what happened to the Baudelaires after The End, what happened to the Quagmires, and all sorts of other questions. Lemony Snicket actually gives us the answer: The Great Unknown.
The Great Unknown was introduced in The Grim Grotto as a large and mysterious submarine in the shape of a question mark. The first time I read this series, I was dying to know who was in that submarine, where it came from, whether it was part of V.F.D. Now, I realized that that submarine was a literal metaphor for The Great Unknown. In The End, we learn that the Quagmires decided to take their chances and enter this mysterious submarine. That was Lemony telling us that the Quagmires decided to venture out into The Great Unknown, but most importantly, that they were brave enough to do so. So many times in our lives, we just don’t know about the future or what happens if we make certain decisions. The Great Unknown is large and mysterious and scary, so scary that even villains like Count Olaf are afraid of it. Still, the best people are those who don’t let that fear stop them from venturing out into the world and confronting the unknown head-on. Very clever, Lemony.
As a side note, Daniel Handler’s writing is so incredibly fun and interesting. It is so snarky and he goes off on tangents that can actually be important for the story. I’ve never seen a writing style like his and I can honestly say it is the most unique one I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Daniel Handler really knows how to play with prose and words and it definitely adds an extra layer (or two) to the story.
Last thing I wanna mention is one of the recurring themes throughout the series, which I didn’t even realize was a recurring theme until the last book. This is the idea that children should be protected from the knowledge that terrible things happen in the world. This is the reason why nobody tells the Baudelaires anything about V.F.D. The adults want to protect them from the knowledge that there are terrible terrible people in the world and that there are not so terrible people who may still do terrible things. By the end of the series (or even halfway), it is painfully obvious that the Baudelaires already know this from first hand experience and therefore don’t need to be coddled in this way. Parents should be preparing their children for the world’s adversities so that they can face them head-on. As Violet put it, “[Our parents] didn’t want to shelter us from the world’s treacheries. They wanted us to survive them.”
So those were some of my thoughts rereading this series again 10 years later as an adult. I was definitely able to see a lot more of the deeper meaning behind what Daniel Handler was trying to convey, beyond the basic plot points. Although the plot of V.F.D. itself is still incredibly intriguing and like an itch I can’t scratch! I’m going to read the spinoff series, All the Wrong Questions, next and hopefully get some more answers. In the meantime, I’ll just look up fan theories on tumblr. 🙂 I’m also going to try and watch the Netflix series this summer, which is one of the reasons why I decided to pick this series up now actually.
Cheers and happy reading!