A Series of Unfortunate Events

From Academic Kids

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a children's book series by Daniel Handler, writing under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket, and illustrated by Brett Helquist. There are 11 books in the series as of 2004, but it is expected that the final series will consist of 13 books (each with 13 chapters), excluding any companions Snicket decides to include, such as The Unauthorized Autobiography. The first book in the series, The Bad Beginning, was published in 1999 by HarperCollins Children's Books.


General Plot

The series follows the lives of the three Baudelaire orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, after the sudden deaths of their parents in a fire at their family home. In The Bad Beginning, they are sent to live with their distant cousin Count Olaf, a most unpleasant, evil man. In the following books, Olaf often disguises himself to get nearer to the orphans in hope of stealing their fortune someday. The orphans routinely try to get help from their parent's financial advisor Mr. Poe, but Poe is often oblivious to Olaf and the danger he represents. He assumes that Olaf is a very generous man for watching the Baudelaires, but eventually realizes that Olaf is a villain and the horrors that are around him. The Baudelaires find out about a secret organization, VFD, that Count Olaf is involved with. Gradually, they find out more and more about VFD and what a large part is has played (or is playing) in their lives.


Much is made of the unhappy nature of the story. The books' back-cover blurbs warn the reader of the dreadful things described within each volume and respectfully suggest reading something else instead. Each volume begins with a dedication to the memory of Lemony Snicket's beloved Beatrice (from The Bad Beginning: "To Beatrice — darling, dearest, dead.").

While the books are marketed primarily to children, they are also written with adult readers in mind; the series features many references likely to make sense only to adults. Many of the characters' names allude to other fictional works or real people with macabre connections. For instance, the Baudelaire orphans are named for Charles Baudelaire, and Sunny and Klaus take their first names from Claus and Sunny von Blow; Uncle Monty warns the children never to let the Virginian Wolfsnake near a typewriter, referencing both Monty Python and Virginia Woolf; and Snicket's dead former lover Beatrice may be a reference to Beatrice Portinari. Also, Poe's children, Edgar and Albert, refer to E. A. Poe (the name Albert was chosen so as to not make Edgar Allan Poe too obvious).

Although the books can be classed as 'steampunk', in that they involve young people struggling against great odds in an anachronistic setting, the addition in later books of the mysterious organization known as V.F.D. have begun to push the story into the new genre of post-steampunk (in the same way that later editions to the cyberpunk genre are now classed as postcyberpunk).

Audio Books

Most of the series of unabridged audio books are read by actor Tim Curry, though Books III-V are read by Handler as Lemony Snicket. All of the recordings include a loosely related song by The Gothic Archies, a novelty band featuring lyrics by Handler's Magnetic Fields bandmate Stephin Merritt.


The books released in this series to date are:

  1. The Bad Beginning
  2. The Reptile Room
  3. The Wide Window
  4. The Miserable Mill
  5. The Austere Academy
  6. The Ersatz Elevator
  7. The Vile Village
  8. The Hostile Hospital
  9. The Carnivorous Carnival
  10. The Slippery Slope
  11. The Grim Grotto

In addition, Handler has also written Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, a companion book to the series and The Blank Book with quotations from the first 10 books.

Recurring themes

  • Lemony Snicket narrates with respectful, subtle humor, usually when explaining words, details, and analogies. He often uses a deliberate spoiler for suspense.
  • The children are left in the care of eccentric guardians, most of whom are quite inadequate. Aside from Uncle Monty, all guardians have been either unconcerned with the orphans' care or too afraid to do anything about it.
  • Mr. Poe almost always coughs. He usually uses a handkerchief.
  • Count Olaf usually appears in disguise so effective that seemingly only the Baudelaires can recognize him.
  • Count Olaf will often have one disguised assistant: the Hook-Handed Man, the person of indeterminate gender, the bald man with the big nose, or the two powder-faced women. In the latter half of the series, new accomplices join Olaf and his troupe. They usually shared a bond with the Baudelaires before crossing over to Olaf's wickedness.
  • A symbol of a giant eye is found in connection with almost every villain, usually Olaf in disguise. More information about the secret of Olaf's eye-tattooed ankle and the organization V.F.D. is discovered in each book. They are certainly connected with a mysterious string of arsons.
  • Violet's inventions, Klaus's knowledge, and/or Sunny's sharp teeth (and, later, her cooking skills) save them from tragic events.
  • Count Olaf will always escape at the last minute.
  • Although the books are very subversive, there are no morals in the stories. In fact, the author has emphasized that he wrote the books with the intention of not including any morals.


A film version, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the first three books, was released on December 17, 2004. It stars Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine, Emily Browning as Violet, Liam Aiken as Klaus, Kara & Shelby Hoffman as Sunny, and Jude Law as the voice of Lemony Snicket. The film tie-in editions of the novels feature a variation on the usual reverse-psychology blurb: the blurb takes the form of a message from Count Olaf, listing the good points of the story (such as "a dashing count") but suggesting that it would be much easier and less boring to watch the movie instead.

Considering the success of the movie, the director and some of the lead actors hinted that they are keen on making a sequel, but no one has written a script as of yet. According to director Brad Silberling, the second movie would take its plot from the next few books. Also, Silberling is quite unhappy that the filming process took 7 months instead of 7 weeks in which he claimed he could shoot the movie. Browning has said that any further films would have to be produced quickly, as the children do not age by much throughout the book series.

External links

ja:世にも不幸なできごと nl:Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events sv:Syskonen Baudelaires olycksaliga liv


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