Friday, January 13, 2017

Retrospective: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

In honor of the new series on Netflix (not sponsored, just hyped), I've decided to take a quick look at one of my favorite book series of all time, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Widely acclaimed and well loved by fans, this series of books is a part of many of our childhoods. I have fond memories of waiting eagerly for the next installment, discussing theories about them with my brother, and drinking in every sardonic and woeful detail of the books over and over.

The story is that of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. They once had a very pleasant life with very pleasant parents in a very pleasant house. All that changes when a terrible fire burns down their home and kills their beloved parents, forcing the children into the clutches of the evil Count Olaf, a greedy villain who will stop at nothing to attain the Baudelaire fortune. As the children are passed from home to home, from guardian to guardian, Count Olaf follows their every move and making their lives all the more miserable.

Sounds pretty grim for a series of kids books, right? Well, that's kind of the beauty of them. These books never shy away from the dark fact that these children are very miserable and very little good things happen to them. Kids can handle heavy material and these books understood that. It doesn't hold back because the target audience is mostly young readers. Mind you, there is a fantastical edge to the books. While sometimes your dealing with real dangers such as attempted murder and even REAL murder (yeah, people are straight up murdered in these books), there are also times when you have a baby beating a grown woman in a sword fight using only her teeth. Things like that keep these from being straight up adult books and can keep children both interested and hopeful. Despite everything that these children go through, and even when you're warned right away that the book doesn't end happily, there is hope that things will turn out at least a bit well for our likable protagonists.

There's also the addition of shadow characters hinted at throughout the books. Lemony Snicket, the mysterious author of the books, has a brilliant voice and feels like he's just as much a part of the story as the Baudelaire orphans. His commentary on the lives of the children, the insights into his own life, and even the remarks of a certain woman named Beatrice (a character in which all we know about her is that she's dead), make him one of the first and foremost mysteries the books have to offer. There are a great many hints about some secret force going on behind the Baudelaires' lives, leaving the readers digging for clues right along with the characters.

Now, some may be thinking what the point is for children to read books where everyone is miserable and people die. Well, growing up with these books, there were two big lessons that I took from these books that many children can also take from them. Firstly, be grateful for what you have. Far too often today people in general possess a sense of entitlement and take for granted what they have. Many times the Baudelaires long for the simple comfort of their rooms, or a lost possession, and for their parents love. These children have practically nothing and, as a kid who is reading this in their cozy bedrooms in their own homes with their parents calling them to dinner, they can learn to appreciate what they have when they have it. The second thing that these books teach you is a lesson of self reliance. You quickly learn that the Baudelaire orphans are by far the smartest characters in the books. Every adult in these books fall into one of two categories: well-meaning morons or pure evil! The Baudelaires have no choice but to rely on themselves, as there are no adults who will help them. While in the real world adults can (and sometimes should) handle things on their own, children must sometimes take matters into their own hands and solve their own problems. It's an empowering message to the young and an appreciated message.

The books are a simple read with some great commentary by the author that both teaches children and inspires their imaginations. The tale of the Baudelaire orphans is one that just made my childhood. I even went back and read them again recently, and they still hold up all these years later, the magic not lost. Take a Violent, Fervent Dive into these books and witness the melancholy for yourself.

Have you read A Series of Unfortunate Events? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: The dragons are coming. Heed her warning, and you might survive....

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