I thought I’d revisit a book franchise I enjoyed quite a bit as a child for this issue (save for the mediocre 2004 movie starring Jim Carrey). A Series of Unfortunate Events is a children’s book series released between 1999 and 2006, with many spinoffs and adaptations, including the aforementioned movie and a recent Netflix series. There are thirteen books in the main series, each of which follow the three Baudelaire orphans as they meet shady caretaker after shady caretaker and avoid the evil Count Olaf who is obsessed with obtaining the sizable Baudelaire fortune for his own selfish purposes. The author—going by the nom de plume Lemony Snicket—is also involved with the Baudelaires, following their trail of woe and taking the role of a transcriber of their lives. While I enjoyed the entire series as a whole, the cracks in the formula started to show after a while.
Each book is its own self-contained adventure while the latter books toss a few persisting threads in which did a good job of keeping my interest intact. While the first books are almost entirely inconsequential to one another, nearly all the side characters make a return at one point or another.
While it’s a series meant for children or preteens, there’s plenty of extortion, threats of violence, and murder in the books, though done in a way which isn’t graphic or overdone. It falls right in line with what you’d expect of a series meant for the 9-14 age group.
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (fourteen, twelve, and one, respectively) each have their own defining attributes which help them out of the direst situations that Olaf and his henchman can throw their way. Violet is the inventor of the group, Klaus the reader and researcher, and Sunny has some of the sharpest teeth known to man. Snicket does a fine job in creating inventive situations for them to find their ways out of. A few that stuck out to me were tricking Violet into marrying Count Olaf in a sham play, being stuck in an elevator shaft, and saving Sunny from poisoning.
What stuck out most to me during reading the series is the amount of wit and the outstanding nature of the humor sprinkled throughout. Snicket often interjects to explain more complicated words to the reader, translates Sunny’s dialogue, and hounds the reader to put the book down in favor of something more cheerful instead. Snicket’s family also appears throughout the series in minor roles as well, and he occasionally hides notes for them in the books. My biggest issue with the series is that while the five or six gags it has are spectacular, the gags wear out their welcome quickly. Hearing for the tenth time that you should put the book down and go outside grows stale. Part of this complaint is on me though, as reading the series without breaks only exacerbated the problem.
Another issue which is not related to my binging habit was that I found the plot to be stretched too thinly over the later books. Not a whole lot of larger story elements happen in each of them, and what little nuggets you do get don’t pay off in a satisfying way until much later. The series has a fun unlucky motif going for it (13 chapters in each of the 13 books) but I feel like maybe fewer books with more a more compacted overarching plot may have done it some good.
While flawed, I did enjoy my time with the Baudelaires and may pick up some of the spin-off books Snicket wrote after I cool off from reading these back-to-back. It’s an unfortunate year for all of us, but reading about the Unfortunate Events of the Baudelaire orphans made 2020 just a bit better.