“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.“
When I read these words for the first time, the opening line to Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning, almost ten years ago in the corner of a Barnes and Noble, I was hooked. I was ten years old, had just devoured Harry Potter, and was on the hunt for my next read. I bought this book right away, and proceeded to devour this series too.
This first book, The Bad Beginning, opens with the three Baudelaire siblings: Violet, the inventor, Klaus, the bookworm, and baby Sunny, the biter. The author tells us that they are “intelligent,” “charming,” “resourceful,” and they have “pleasant facial features,” but all of this will not save them from the series of unfortunate events that their lives will soon become. The children are having a nice day on the beach when they receive the news that their parents have been killed in a fire, a fire that also burned down their home. Orphaned and homeless, the children are sent off to live with a distant relative they have never met, the odious Count Olaf, the word odious here meaning extremely unpleasant or repulsive. Far from being a kind guardian, Count Olaf only wants to use the children for their enormous fortune. He doesn’t get away with it at the end of this book, but he refuses to give up, and throughout the series, he continues to pursue the children, greedy for their fortune. The children continue to be shuttled from terrible relative to terrible relative, Count Olaf hot on their heels, all the adults in their life seemingly useless against him.
There are so many reasons why this series is great. At an age where most of the books written for me were either fantasy or stories about popular middle school girls (I couldn’t relate), these books were a breath of fresh air. As it is probably clear from the title and the summary, these books paint a dark picture of the world. While some people might say that means these books aren’t for kids, I would disagree. I think this is the perfect series for children to read, because it perfectly describes the experience of being a child. We read these books at a time when we’re learning that life isn’t fair. The world isn’t so great as we thought it was. Despite the fact that the Baudelaire children are right and good, they still lose again and again. This series shows us a perspective of the world that most contemporary children’s books don’t, but that is necessary as we try to come to grips with it.
Okay, so I’ve strayed into morbid territory, something Lemony Snicket himself often does. Not only are the stories of his books delightful, but his prose is delightful as well. This book is written to read like a classic, which I hope one day it will become, set in a world that seems timeless. The plots are often over the top and absurdist, but the main characters are ones you will fall in love with.
The series is narrated by Lemony Snicket himself, who is both the supposed author of the series and a character in them as well. Instead of reporting events objectively, he colors them with his own dark wit. One of the trademarks of the series is Snicket’s use of imaginative vocabulary. As a child, I learned the difference between figuratively and literally, what irony is, and that the word “blanched” really means “boiled.” If you hear me using too many big words today, you know who to blame.
As a young child, these books taught me so much about the world, about human nature and their words, in a delightful and fascinating way, and years later, looking back on them, I see the true power of their influence. These books have changed who I am, leaving me infinitely thankful for them. I hope that they continue to be read and to change people for years to come.