A series of darkly humorous children's books by Daniel Handler, under the nom de plume Lemony Snicket.After their parents die in a fire at the family mansion, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are left in the care of Count Olaf, a sinister distant relative who wants his hands on the Baudelaire family fortune, which the children will inherit when Violet turns 18. Throughout the first few books in the series, the children are sent from one caretaker to another, each one more eccentric and troubled than the last. Count Olaf is following them in a series of Paper Thin Disguises that only the children immediately see through. Eventually, the children must strike out on their own to discover their family's dark secret - their parents' connection to a mysterious organization. And all the while, bizarre and improbable disasters strike the children and everyone around them for no discernible reason.The series has received acclaim, fame, and success since its 1999 debut, spawning an Oscar-winning movie and a video game based off of said movie. Lemony Snicket narrates throughout, providing commentary, anecdotes, and advice - usually against reading any more of his history of the Baudelaire orphans.For a guide to the copious amounts of literary/historical allusions present in the books, see hereA four-part prequel series called All the Wrong Questions, concerning a young Lemony Snicket joining VFD, was later announced. The first installment ("Who Could That Be At This Hour?") was out October 23rd, 2012. The sequel ("When Did You See Her Last?") is set for an October release.A Series of Unfortunate Events:
Abusive Parents: Not parents, strictly speaking, but many guardians are thoroughly unsuitable, especially Olaf.
Actor Allusion: An unexpected one, in hindsight: in book number 8, The Hostile Hospital, Violet is compared to Sleeping Beauty. A few years later, her actress Emily Browning would play the lead role in Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty".
Adaptational Attractiveness: While their appearance outside of illustrations are never really detailed in the books, the movie makes them appear much more "pretty" (excepting Violet, who was described as being pretty in the books), making Klaus look much older than he probably should, and making him no longer need glasses, which would be a vital plot point in the fourth book.
Adults Are Useless: By the 8th book, the three principles (by now ages fifteen, thirteen, and not-quite-two) take care of themselves, because every adult they've met is stupid, evil, cowardly, or some combination thereof. On rare occasions they encounter a decent, intelligent, competent adult — who promptly winds up dead.
And some of the decent, competent adults wind up cowed into uselessness by their more forceful (evil, greedy, etc) companions, such as Charles and Sir. Or they simply don't listen to the children's "outlandish stories".
Adventure Towns: Most book are in a different town (or island or mountain or ...). The sixth and twelfth books are set in the same nameless city in which the series began, though.
Affectionate Parody: Handler started off trying to write the sort of gothic, bloodthirsty children's stories he wanted to read when he was a child, and most of the books take off one genre or another, occasionally straying into Deconstruction territory)
Handler (At a Book Reading at Washington College): "Is it so wrong that I wanted to read books where terrible things happened to small children over and over?"
Alliterative Name: The Odd Name Out in both sets of triplets: Quigley Quagmire and Dewey Denouement. Beatrice and Bertrand Baudelaire. Actually, both Beatrice Baudelaires. The titles of the first twelve books are alliterative, as well as many, many locations mentioned throughout the books (Lousy Lane, Lake Lachrymose, Finite Forest, Heimlich Hospital, etc.).
Ambiguous Gender: The Person of Indeterminate Gender, a.k.a. the enormous person who looked like neither a man or a woman. In the movie the character isn't morbidly obese, but just very androgynous looking, either looking like a very feminine man, or a very manly woman.
Ambiguously Jewish: The author has noted that his characters are Jewish by default, and he unconsciously inserts Jewish themes and ideas into his books. In the final book, the Baudelaires mention that it is their family's tradition to name babies after deceased relatives. This is a Jewish tradition. note (Jews aren't supposed to name babies after still living relatives, as this is considered tantamount to putting a death sentence on the older party. This is an an Ashkenazi custom and may not apply to other groups of Jews.)
In The Slippery Slope, Verbal Fridge Dialogue numbers Sunday as the first day of the week, rather than Monday. In Judeo-Christian tradition, Sunday is the day following the Sabbath and the first day of the new week.
Anachronism Stew: The film, deliberately. The characters, environments, and vehicles seem to be early 20th century, but fax machines and reel-to-reel car tape decks and carphones seem to be 80s, and Olaf mentions a cell phone in a deleted scene. Given that Poe actually has to feel himself to check, one assumes that giant 80s-style cell phones aren't common at the time.
The books keep the time period as vague as possible, easily taking place any time in the 20th century, and the only real definite is that it takes place in the past but whether it's a hundred years ago or last month, it's never certain.
What with the computer in "The Austere Academy" being small and able to display a picture and may or may not be able to fake photographs, it definitely takes place sometime after the 50s, or at least at a point when computers did not fill a room.
Handler has way too much fun with this. At one point a location (a train station, if I remember correctly) is mentioned to have three shops - one is a computer repair shop. Another is a blacksmith shop. Have fun figuring out what time period those two establishments could coexist in.
And Now You Must Marry Me: Olaf tries to force Violet to marry him in Book the First, despite being her legal guardian. The creepiness of this is actually played up, culminating in the hilarious and horrifying line "You may not be my wife, but you are still my daughter, and—"
Anti-Love Song: Several of The Gothic Archies' accompanying songs on the audiobooks and The Tragic Treasury, including Smile!, Shipwrecked and Walking My Gargoyle.
Anti-Villain: Arguably the Baudelaires themselves in later books, and among actual antagonists, Fernald seems to fall into this category at times.
Arc Number: 13. It makes sense, since...well, look at the title.
Every book even has thirteen chapters. Averted in the final installment, however, thanks to the additional "Chapter Fourteen" which is treated as a seperate book despite consisting of a single chapter. This also causes the series as a whole to avert the arc number; until then, it would have had 169 (13 times 13) chapters, but it now has one chapter more than that.
Bilingual Bonus: some of Sunny's comments, such as her arigato in the Slippery Slope, or her saying Aubergine to mean that she is making a plot with this eggplant. Others are a mishmash of English ("Kicbucit?" for "Is he dead?") and a couple are plain old Hebrew ("Yomhuledet!" which is translated as "Surprise" but means "birthday" and "Yomhashoah" which is translated as "Never again" but means "Holocaust Memorial Day"). The children also make pasta Puttanesca, an Italian dish translating as "whore's sauce."
Violet goes through this when they return to the abandoned submarine and find some balloons.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The narrator and his comrades imply that V.F.D. dates back to Ancient Greece, that Martin Luther King, Edith Wharton, and Thomas Malthus were involved with it — although Malthus was on the evil side of the schism — and that Shakespeare may be alive. However, these may be the result of revisionism in accordance with V.F.D.'s own views.
Billed Above The Title: The movie adaptation's advertising often showed Jim Carrey's name and characters way above the central characters of the series.
Bitter Sweet Ending: Due to Executive Meddling, the ending of the movie, that closes the story in an ambiguous but optimistic way: "...the Baudelaires were very fortunate indeed". The third book, the last book the movie covers, also ends with this line.
Bizarrchitecture: Doctor Orwell's eye-shaped building, the "thumb" shaped buildings at Prufrock Prep and to a certain extent, the Eye decor of Olaf's house. Aunt Josephine's house clinging to the edge of a cliff counts as well, though THAT one didn't last long.....
Breaking Speech: Or rather, Gloat, in the movie. Olaf reveals to the audience that he has just legally married Violet and played everyone for a sap. When Mr. Poe demands that the Chief of Police arrest him, Olaf calls Poe and everyone out on how the kids had repeatedly tried to warn the adults and asked for help, but they wouldn't listen to them. "No one ever listens to children".
Briar Patching: The books themselves. Each one's back cover and narration will frequently tell the reader that they'd really be better off reading something, anything else.
Brick Joke: The phrase "red herring" is introduced in The Ersatz Elevator. That is not funny on its own - however, it is still crucial to a Stealth Joke pulled off in The Hostile Hospital. All the names on the patient list are anagrams - one of them, when rearranged, becomes the phrase "red herring."
Burger Fool / Suck E. Cheese's: The Anxious Clown, With clown-costumed waiters, balloons, and food with names like "Surprising Chicken Salad".
The Bus Came Back: Phil in The Grim Grotto. Tons of examples in The Penultimate Peril, incluing Mr. Poe, Jerome, Justice Strauss, the teachers from Prufrock Prep School, residents of the Village of Fowl Devotees, Hal (running an Indian restaurant), Carmelita Spats, Sir, Charles, and Bruce (a minor character from The Reptile Room).
Bus Crash: Hector; the Quagmire triplets; Captain Widdershins; Fernald; Fiona, in some interpretations: the human race.Maybe.
Busman's Holiday: Lampshaded — and defined, in trademark Snicket style — in The Penultimate Peril, in which Sir, the lumbermill boss, has come to a hotel to do some business at a cocktail party and attends a sauna so he can enjoy the smell of hot wood.
Actually, subverted pretty harshly. Even though this is a children's book series, Count Olaf and the other villains do some absolutely heinous things like burning down a hospital in an attempt to kill a group of children. Even though they fail in killing the children, they likely succeed in killing everyone else. Some of them could hold their own against the villains in a Stephen King novel.
Handler likes playing this one. On one hand, you have people like Count Olaf, who subvert this. On the other, it's played straight.
Cassandra Truth: Every time the children see through Olaf's disguises, nobody believes them in time except in The End.
Cerebus Retcon: As the series develops, it turns out that many of the characters' motivations and activities were tied up with the fraught history of a secret fire-fighting organization.
Cerebus Syndrome: The series starts off doing this backwards, moving from darkness and Grimm-style misery (First book) into comedy and wackiness, but then slides back into darkness again in the later books. The end of book five is when things really start to get dark.
Chekhov's Boomerang: In The Ersatz Elevator Violet attempts to use fire tongs for several different things, including welding and noisemakers. They only are effective for their final use, however.
Chekhov's Gun: Reading The Bad Beginning the first time, a reader might be confused as to why Snicket is so specific in which hand Violet uses to hold her spoon, or throw the grappling hook. Snicket makes sure the reader knows Violet is right-handed. At the end, Violet foils Olaf's plot by signing her name with her left hand, thus not fulfilling the marriage requirement that a bride sign her name "in her own hand" Also, in book the eleventh, Sunny finds some wasabi in the underwater room. This turns out to be vital in curing Sunny from a near-death infection.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The wart faced man from Olaf's troupe disappears after the 1st book and is never mentioned again. Also didn't reappear in the movie that was made 5 years later.
Cinderella Circumstances: The first book, in which the Baudelaire siblings live with the bossy and horrible Count Olaf who treats them like servants. In the tenth book, "The Slippery Slope", Sunny resides with Count Olaf and his henchmen after being captured by them. She ends up becoming a servant for the whole group, including cooking meals in freezing temperatures, cleaning, and sleeping in a casserole dish and having to clear a car floor of potato chipsby blowing them out. . The narrator even references Cinderella.
City with No Name Although many fictional place names are mentioned, the main city where the Baudelaires used to live is never named. (The film identifies it as Boston, but this never occurs in the books).
Clark Kenting: Numerous characters at various points, with the minor characters being better at it than the main ones.
Coattail-Riding Relative: Count Olaf, a distant relative, spends most of the series trying to get the Baudelaire orphans' inheritance. In the first book, he tries to marry Violet to do this.
Convection Schmonvection: Well, technically "Radiation Schmadiation." In the Film of the Book, Klaus uses Olaf's sunlight-refracting weapon to incinerate the wedding contract. The instant the sunlight hits the paper, it catches on fire. That means the thing was heated to about 400 degrees Farenheit just like that. Never mind the fact that Klaus perfectly lined up the device to hit such a small target, how come Olaf's hand didn't get singed? Or, you know, the stage didn't catch fire? There should at least have been smoke, considering how easily the paper went up.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Closer to this than Corrupt Hick is Sir, the amoral, cigar-smoking lumbermill owner who pays his workers in coupons and gives them gum for lunch; in a later appearance, business is bad, as nearby lumber source the Finite Forest is running out of trees.
Covers Always Lie: The twelfth book features several sinister-looking figures whom fans thought would be important — or even specific characters from previous books — but no corresponding characters appear in the text. Inverted by the British edition of the sixth book, on which the cover gives away the main plot twist.
Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: A website identified goth-girl fashion icons Emily the Strange and Ruby Gloom as characters; and numerous pages — including at least one on this very wiki — call Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography something like "The Unofficial Biography". A preview of The Beatrice Letters claimed that the punch-out letters in the book spelled out the "real" title of the thirteenth book ... Nope. Similarly, every preview of The Beatrice Letters claimed that the punch-out letters would spell out two different secret messages, but if there is a second one, it's nothing more than a Red Herring.
Death by Childbirth: Subverted. Kit Snicket dies not as a result of childbirth, but because of the Medusoid Mycelium, the cure for which she refuses to consume because of its effects on unborn children.
Department of Redundancy Department: Frequently used for humour in the narration throughout the series, mostly as part of the "defining words" and "translate Sunny's speech" gags:
But even so, the three children were eager to leave the Anxious Clown, and not just because the garish restaurant - the word "garish" here means "filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters" - was filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters.
In the ninth book, one chapter starts out with a description of deja vu. The second page of the chapter is almost exactly the same as the first page (including the picture and the chapter heading). Several chapters later, the exact same passage describing deja vu is repeated again.
In The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket attempts to put the reader to sleep by giving a very repetitive description of evaporation.
He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over.
Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (repeat until the word stops looking like a word), mess with electricity. Unless you're Violet Baudelaire.
Devil in Plain Sight: Count Olaf is almost always one of these, and no one believes the Baudelaires until they finally prove that his latest persona is a criminal. Averted with Olaf's assistants, who are never detected by the Baudelaires.
Diminishing Villain Threat: Count Olaf got less and less threatening as the books went on, although to some degree other villains picked up the slack.
In this case 'less threatening' does not necessarily translate into 'less dangerous'
Dirty Coward: It isn't Aunt Josephine's numerous, crippling, irrational phobias that qualify her for this title, but rather the way she instantly and shamelessly promises not to reveal Olaf's disguise and offers for him to take the children when she is threatened. The narrator and the Beaudelaires agree that she was a horrible guardian. To be fair to her, she's widowed, terrified of everything and got no support in life. Can you blame her for what she did?
Distant Finale: Seven-thirteenths of The Beatrice Letters. Ostensibly they're just supplementary reading, but there's no such thing as "optional," is there?
Don't Eat And Swim: Aunt Josephine tells the Baudelaries that they must wait one hour after eating before swimming in Lake Lachrymose. Klaus initially assumes it's because of cramps, but Josephine informs him that it's actually because of the lake's carnivorous leeches.
Dressing as the Enemy: The Baudelaires unintentionally do this in The Hostile Hospital when they disguise themselves as doctors and are mistaken by Olaf's associates for the two powder-faced women who are also disguised as doctors. Technically this trope is parodied, because despite them having ridiculously transparent disguises, Olaf's associates just assume he knows how to disguise you as someone shorter.
Then the inversion is subverted, when the Lemony Narrator later directly tells the reader this is not always the case.
DVD Commentary: Two, one that comes in the regular "actors and director" flavor and one that features the director and Daniel Handler in character as Lemony Snicket himself, who is obviously very disturbed at the director's insistence on introducing count Olaf into the plot at all, let alone (supposedly) As Himself.
Eskimos Aren't Real: When Count Olaf meets Dewey Denouement in Book the Twelfth, he is surprised he isn't just a legendary figure like unicorns or Giuseppe Verdi.
Every Episode Ending: Every book ends with exactly the same formula: There's a full-page picture containing a clue to the plot of the next book; comical bios for the author and illustrator, with a obscured picture of the former and a themed illustration of the latter; and a letter from Lemony Snicket to his editor explaining where to pick up the manuscript for the next book, along with several items related to it.
Inverted in the end of The End, where the photograph is an unobstructed portrait of the illustrator Dressed as Lemony Snicket (and a bewildered expression on his face), while the illustration apparantly depicts the author, and only his eyes are obscured (by cuccumber slices). The pattern is then restored at the end of Chapter 14, complete with a Gilligan Cut in the illustrator's bio.
Everyone Went to School Together: Quite a few characters went to school together, but this is somewhat justified by the fact that they were all members of a secret organisation and this was their training; also, several of these characters are The Ghost.
Subverted with the Last Chance General Store in Book the Eighth. It does sell a very wide selection of items, and so arguably could very well apply in-universe. However, as usual the manager is of little help to the Baudelaires.
Fictional Document: Snicket's letters at the end of each book, leading his editor to the manuscript of the following book and several props borrowed from it; also, numerous diaries and newspapers are quoted within the narrative, while the supplementary books are each a full-blown Scrapbook Story.
Foregone Conclusion: The intros to many of the books tell you that the story will NOT have a happy ending, and Lemony Snicket will also casually reveal which characters will have bad things happen to them throughout the book.
Fortune Teller: Madame Lulu in The Carnivorous Carnival. Later on it turns out that she is a Phony Psychic, and the book deconstructs both tropes.
Fun with Foreign Languages: Based on guesswork about word frequency, Snicket translates "cul-de-sac" as "At the end of a dark hallway, the Baudelaire orphans found an assortment of mysterious circumstances."
Gainax Ending: Ultimately, The End ends with almost all the characters in the series possibly dead, an offscreen cataclysm being implied with the Medusoid Mycelium and the Great Unknown, the Baudelaires ending up on an island in the middle of nowhere where the schism of V.F.D. no longer matters, and eventually sailing back to the mainland with Kit Snicket's baby daughter to seek a new life.
Genre Savvy: The Count Olaf in The Film of the Book seems to have read the books, because he knows to make sure Violet signs her name using her right hand.
Geographic Flexibility: The spatial as well as temporal milieu of the Series is best described as "everywhere and nowhere", as it's apparently far from most known continents, and the large city the Baudelaires lived in doesn't even have a name.
Half-Identical Twins: The Quagmire triplets are "absolutely identical," so how the Baudelaires tell whether they're talking to male Duncan or female Isadora is a mystery — although Isadora is illustrated with subtly longer hair. But at least the two brothers Duncan and Quigley never share a scene. Jacques and Kit are an aversion, as the book does not mention any similarity. At all. If anything, there's more similarity between Jacques and Olaf.
Hands Off My Fluffy: The Baudelaires are obviously distraught when a snake called the Incredibly Deadly Viper bites their sister, but Uncle Monty just laughs because the name is a misnomer.
Hanlon's Razor: The line between willful villainy and pure incompetence is rather thin, especially since some incompetent and stupid characters become pawns in what seems like a Gambit Roulette.
Hitler Ate Sugar: Played with, a few times. (Only a villainous person places his cup on the table without using a coaster or enjoys the works of Edgar Guest.)
Hoist by His Own Petard: Count Olaf dies of a wound he sustained from having his own harpoon gun fired at him by Ishmael.
The Adults Are Useless mentality of everyone the kids meet probably made most of them Too Dumb to Live when they refuse to believe the building they're in is on fire. YMMV on whether the (potentially lethal) negligence displayed by characters who were otherwise good people made this Laser-Guided Karma.
Hostage for MacGuffin: A Subverted Trope: in Book the Tenth, where for once it's proposed by the heroes, neither they nor the villain are capable of carrying out their side of the bargain.
Incoming Ham: Esmé Genevieve Gigi Squalor is the sixth most important financial adviser in the city, and she will be very sorry if you forget it.
Incurable Cough of Death: Subverted. Mr. Poe's cough is his defining character quirk (other than being woefully incompetent), and serves only to show what a weak and annoying person he is rather than mark him for death.
However, with the fire in the second to last book and the vague status on the minor characters, he may have died.
Infant Immortality: Despite all the terrible things that happen in the books, no children are killed during the course of the series. In fact, even though one of the Quagmire triplets was thought to be killed in a fire before the Baudelaires met them, it turns out that he survived.
However, several of the Baudelaires' friends who were about their age are taken by "The Great Unknown" in the last book. While the books make it clear that this is probably a very bad thing, it is never outright stated to be fatal.
There's also the case of Friday... She's under ten years of age and breathed the spores of the mushroom, so she had but a few hours left to live when we last saw her. It's never confirmed she took the antidote, and thanks to mob psychology, it's highly unlikely she did. It is later confirmed, by the Beatrice Letters, that Friday did survive due to the Viper's attempts to get an apple to her.
Ironic Nursery Tune: Book the Eighth's accompanying song, Smile! No One Cares How You Feel; Book the Twelfth's Things Are Not What They Appear feels like this as well. The Film of the Book plays music-box tunes and the saccharine "Littlest Elf" song during tragic scenes.
Also, The World Is A Very Scary Place. The lyrics could be threatening, to an extent, but the music is just so upbeat.
It Will Never Catch On: Real Life example: Daniel Handler thought the series was an awful idea, and when his editor said she liked it, he thought she was drunk.
Joker Jury. A Subverted Trope, in that the Baudelaires actually killed someone, albeit accidentally, and it turns out two figures of unfathomable evil apparently run the official courts.
Just a Stupid Accent: Characters trying to be "foreign" use broken English with clumsy syntax (like "I am loving of the children") and frequent interjections of "Please", and apparently everyone falls for it.
Kill All Humans: While not particularly harmful, the insects called snow gnats sting humans just for the fun of it. Klaus does state, though, that they are mildly poisonous and a large enough number of stings could cause severe illness.
Kill It with Fire: In the Village of Fowl Devotees, burning at the stake is the designated punishment for breaking any of the towns numerous rules (which includes the biggies like murder, but alsotrivial and ridiculous offenses like using mechanical devices, reading certain books, and talking out of turn in town meetings).
Kissing Discretion Shot: A very rare literary version. In The Slippery Slope, it's extremely obvious that there is some chemistry between Violet and Quigley, but the moment the two get alone and one starts with the Longing Looks, Snicket goes off on one of his signature spiels about how since the series started Violet has had little to no privacy, and that he will take this chance to give them a little. The readers were not amused.
Know When to Fold 'Em: Violet realizes that their climb to the ascending hot air balloon in The Vile Village is dangerous and forces her siblings back to the ground so they won't get hurt, even though the Quagmires are on the balloon and it is designed never to return to ground.
The theme of The End is that all stories are interconnected, and that the only way to fully understand one of them is to understand all of them.
Lethally Stupid: Any adult who isn't outright abusive to the Baudelaires will instead cause them trouble by being completely useless, or making them doing something way too dangerous for children. Poe is the best example, as he keeps bringing them to more crazy guardians sometimes even worse than the former.
Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Numerous rereleases of The Bad Beginning, including one priced higher than the thirteen-book box set. Also, the box sets, which have exclusive artwork. The new paperbacks are aversions because they're much better for about half the price.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Lemony Snicket insists that this is a true story that he has extensively researched in an attempt to make the story of the orphans available to the general public.
The Long List: The Snow Scouts Alphabet Pledge in the tenth book, along with lists of food, disguise items, and books seen elsewhere. Also, the long list of (close to 20,000!) rules they had to follow at the Village of Fowl Devotees.
Esme Squallor's personal library full of books cataloging what was in and out in various months, years, etc.
Lost Aesop: Parodied. The series starts off meandering fairly aimlessly through satires of various unfortunate literary settings, with Book the Third Lampshade Hanging its lack of a meaningful Aesop, but the later books begin to diverge wildly with mixed messages about what is justifiable in conflict; Book the Tenth resolves this, then Book the Twelfth forgets it was resolved, and Book the Thirteenth (and Last) concerns the impossibility of finding answers to the big questions in life, while ignoring most of the big questions in the series.
Lovable Coward: Lemony Snicket himself. In nearly every book, while narrating some terrifying situation, he comments that, had he been in the Beaudelaire's place, he would have been unable to go on and would have instead run away in terror, dissolved into helpless tears, etc.
Milkman Conspiracy: this series isn't keen on giving clear answers, but VFD seems to be nothing more than the Volunteer Fire Department.
Mind Screw: The 11th and 13th books featured an incarnation of Mystery and Death, shaped like an enormous question mark, that stalked the seas, its motives unfathomable; the existence and activities of V.F.D. get very close to this in the 12th book, too.
Mr. Seahorse: Sent up in The End, where Count Olaf tries to disguise himself as a pregnant woman. The Lemony Narrator states that "pregnancy occurs very rarely in males," noting actual seahorses as an exception.
Mysterious Past: Nearly every character has a mysterious past, and none are ever fully revealed. For example, Esme reveals that Beatrice stole the sugar bowl, but Lemony later states that he was involved too. Just HOW he was involved, we do not know.
Never Trust a Trailer: An official website that revealed the only details about the highly secretive twelfth book made numerous updates implying an elevator-centric plotline which never actually materialised, going so far as to reveal a chapter picture which actually referred to a single inconsequential offhand sentence; Snicket's On the Next mislead by giving away random details as though they were equally important, and later obscure themselves to become even more incomprehensible; one promised a prop in the following book that never actually appeared.
Nice Hat: The Council of Elders in the seventh book wear hats shaped like crows.
No Ending: While the trials of the Baudelaires are concluded in the last book, we don't know what happens next, nor many of the mysteries that were established.
Nominal Importance: Count Olaf's assistants are known only as "the hook-handed man," "the bald man with a long nose," "the white-faced women," and "the person who looks like neither a man nor a woman."
Later, named characters do join the troupe, and the hook-handed man's name turns out to be "Fernald".
Noodle Incident: It's implied that a lot of the backstory is too tragic to even mention, and Snicket himself alludes to downright absurd situations such as being trapped in a flooded Italian restaurant, which may or may not be hypothetical)
Open any of the books, turn to a page, read one of Snicket's monologues. Guaranteed you'll find at at least one.
Not So Different: Attempted — or perhaps spoofed — with the Baudelaires and Olaf from Book the Eighth onward.
Numerological Motif: Canon, text, paratexts ... the number thirteen is everywhere. It was once the number of search results for this page on the wiki.
The main series consists of thirteen books, each with thirteen chapters. The thirteenth book has a "hidden" fourteenth chapter which serves as an epilogue, bringing the main series total to one hundred seventy chapters rather than one hundred sixty-nine.
Only Sane Man: Frequently the Baudelaires are this, as are other well-read volunteers. During an interview, Liam Aiken (who played Klaus in The Film of the Book) himself described the siblings as "the only sane people."
Only Smart People May Pass: A Vernacularly Fastened Door has three questions which must be answered, usually involving scientific or literary subjects. Oh, and you have to find out what the questions are by yourself.
And spelling counts.
On the Next: Lemony's letters to his Kind Editor, which include the title of the next book and a few random details from it. As the series goes on, these letters become increasingly obscured, such as by tearing and water-stains, and so the information is increasingly elusive. In the case of the eleventh book, only half the title was known; the twelfth book's title was completely lost; the letter about the thirteenth book was just a single sentence written on a napkin — with the title included, but nobody realized at the time as it deviated from the usual title pattern.
Orphan's Ordeal: The entire point of the series. The Quagmire triplets have their own set too, though a good deal of it is offscreen.
Our Product Sucks: Again, the books frequently attempt to convince you that you'd be better off reading something else. Several books have the narration cut off in one of the last chapters just to inform you that while the story looks like it's moving in a happy direction, everything will fall apart and be miserable again before the book is over.
Painting the Medium: In The Ersatz Elevator, the three children are thrown down an elevator shaft, and rather than try to describe it, Lemony just prints two pages solid black.
In the eighth, ninth, and twelfth books, the Baudelaires get disguises of their own. Their disguises in the eighth book are particularly ridiculous: thirteen year old Klaus and baby Sunny just don face masks and ill-fitting doctor uniforms and are mistaken as the pale-faced women, by the women's own cohorts! In the ninth book, their disguises are a bit less paper thin, but Count Olaf still probably should have recognized them since he's been following them so long (though he does mention that they look familiar).
Subverted with Olaf's henchmen. When one of them is in disguise, the Baudelaires "meet" them before Olaf, and never recognize them.
Parental Substitute: Dr. Montgomery is a good substitute. In The Penultimate Peril, volunteers Kit Snicket and Dewey Denouement answer some of the Baudelaires' questions and the latter offers to become their guardian. All three of them die.
Perky Goth: Violet's character design changes from a rather innocent 50's girl style, to a lolita-style goth.
Persona Non Grata: Snicket mentions that he is banned from a certain town, not so far from where you live.
Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation: Lemony Snicket never shows his face in photographs, but there are several possible explanations for why this is, and most such photographs are only seen by the audience in his author bio rather than by the characters. The nearest thing we get to an actual image of him is the elusive taxi driver, which is rumoured, and hinted in the series, to actually be him.
Plot Tailored to the Party: In every book the children are in situations that require inventing skills, research skills, and sharp teeth (or cooking, from the 10th book on); also true to some degree of the Quagmire triplets, although Duncan's journalism interest is rarely useful.
This has actually gotten some controversy over being in a children's book series. Word Of God says this was meant to have him Kick the Dog.
A Spanish translation renders that line as "Metanse al jodido jeep!" which translates to "Get in the fucking jeep!"
Properly Paranoid: The Baudelaires, about Count Olaf's many attempts to infiltrate their lives and snatch them for their fortune; V.F.D., a secret organisation which has split into two opposing sides, one noble and one murderous; and Aunt Josephine in The Film of the Book, for the scene where all her crazy fears come true (although she's not around to see it). It makes us realise that maybe, just maybe, she's not as crazy as she seems. Then she sells the orphans out to Count Olaf to save her life, and we realise she is truly crazy to think he'll spare someone who could, albietly unlikely, speek out against him and reveal that Captain Sham is actually Count Olaf.
Public Execution: Fortunately averted in The Vile Village, but more or less straight in The Carnivorous Carnival.
Recursive Canon: Apparently Snicket's books are published within the world of the Series, but it's not clear if they're different versions.
Red Herring: A literal one shows up (but is anything but), and a patient in the Heimlich Hospital has a name that is an anagram of red herring.
Reference Overdosed: If you made a list of every time Snicket makes a Shout Out to literature and history in one of the later books (especially through Sunny's dialogue), it would be almost as long as the book itself.
Retcon: So heavy that a number of companion books had to be written to fully explain them; these were themselves retconned. Handler originally thought the series would only last a few books, not the intended 13, and hence the first four books were essentially unconnected; V.F.D. was created as an ongoing plotline when it became clear the series could run 13 books, and details from the first four books were retconned to be part of the V.F.D. backstory to bring the entire series together.
Sadist Teacher: Vice Principal Nero, a Small Name, Big Ego type who mercilessly butchers the violin every night but considers himself to be a genius. He forces the students of Prufrock Preparatory School to attend six hour concerts, and punishment for not showing up is having to buy him a large bag of candy and watch him eat it. He also loves mimicking the Baudelaire siblings every chance he gets, forces them to leave in a horrible little shack infested with crabs and fungus, and makes Sunny his secretary.
Olaf as Coach Genghis, who purposefully makes the Baudelaires run laps all night in order for them to do poorly in class. Nero praises him as "the greatest gym teacher in the world" after Olaf praises his musical "genius".
Subverted with Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass, who are not evil so much as they are very, very bad teachers. Remora's class consists of him endlessly telling short, boring stories while eating bananas, and Bass is obsessed with measuring things. When they are forced to give the Baudelaires "special exams" for sleeping in class (which they studied for thanks to notes collected by Duncan and Isadora Quagmire), by the third question they realize Violet and Klaus are actually very smart students, and only continue the exam because of Nero. They ask Nero if they can give an extra hard exam to Carmelita Spats instead because she's so awful, and when Nero decides he's going to expel the Baudelaires anyway for skipping gym, Remora and Bass state it's not cheating if you're trying to make sure athletics don't affect your schoolwork. They aren't in a position to do anything since Nero is their boss, so they prove to be just as useless as the rest of the adults in the series.
Sarcastic Confession: In a column included in the Harper Collins paperback edition of the series, Lemony Snicket says that the best way to keep a secret is to tell it to everyone, but pretend you are lying.
Scarpia Ultimatum: Olaf threatens to drop Sunny from a tower if Violet doesn't go through with his wedding scheme.
Shaming the Mob: Done by Olaf of all people to the audience of the play in the film.
Shout Out: Numerous allusions to literature, history, and mythology, among other things; many are listed here.
Why will no-one call me Ish?
Show Within a Show: The theme song from The Littlest Elf is heard on two characters' car stereos, and Olaf has a bobblehead of the character in his car, implying it's a film within the world of the story. This ties in perfectly with the conceit that Snicket's intended audience is also part of that world, when he recommends ditching out and seeing that movie instead.
Shrug of God: The fans can't get anything out of Daniel Handler.
Sigil Spam: Eyes are a frequent sight throughout the series, and one of the identifiers of volunteers.
Significant Anagram: Count Olaf's henchmen use anagrams of "Count Olaf" as pseudonyms. In the eighth book, Violet is given an anagrammed name on a hospital patient list. One of the anagrams in the list, when unravelled, reads "Beatrice Baudelaire". Whether this was done deliberately, to state that she IS actually alive at least until the hospital burned down, or not, is unknown. It may just be a red herring.
Interestingly, the names on Book 8's patient list are themselves anagrams of an Easter Egg status. Most of them are names associated with the book's production - "Linda Rhaldeen" becomes "Daniel Handler," the author, while "Eriq Bluthetts" becomse "Brett Helquist," the illustrator. There is only one exception: "Ned H. Rirger" is, in fact, an anagram of the phrase "redherring."
Sliding Scale of Continuity: The series is much the same as Harry Potter, with the first four books or so being mostly independent, starting off with the Baudelaires being adopted by a new guardian and carefully explaining who the characters are to potential new readers, but later on the continuity creeps and the reader starts to need to have read the previous books to make sense of all this stuff about VFD and Beatrice and so on.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Largely toward the "cynical" end of the scale; many characters seem like they would prefer to be idealistic but have had the optimism crushed out of them, and those who are consistently optimistic come across as foolish.
Spoof Aesop: Snicket's narration is peppered with comments like "The moral of World War I is 'Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand'"; the Spin-OffHorseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid compiles a lot of these, some from the main series and some entirely new.
Spy Speak: V.F.D., being a secret organisation, naturally uses copious quantities of this, so much so that there have been disputes among readers over whether certain phrases are in code or not.
"The world is quiet here."
"I didn't realize this was a sad occasion."
Stealth Pun: The Baudelaire children's first guardian after Olaf is called Uncle Monty, And he owns Pythons. You figure it out.
Strictly Formula: Books 2-7 are all of the same basic pattern of the Baudelaires being sent to a new guardian and Olaf arriving in disguise to try and steal their money. Surprisingly, the formula is broken halfway through the series after the VFD subplot takes over.
Synchronized Swarming: The swarm of "snow gnats"can take on forms like hoops and arrows when attacking people.
Take That: Lemony Snicket takes some not-so-subtle jabs at various political figures via Sunny's "baby talk": There's "busheney" for "You're an evil man" in The Slippery Slope and "scalia" in The Penultimate Peril, both of which have somewhat unkind translations).
Then there's his association of poet Edgar Guest with the villains in The Grim Grotto, even stating outright that it's because his poetry sucked in a Tastes Like Diabetes way. Kind of jarring in a series so focused on Black and Gray Morality.
Theme Naming: The teachers at Prufrock Preparatory School are named after fish, and later we discover some families of siblings with alphabetically sequential names.
Themed Aliases: Count Olaf and his henchman often use aliases that are anagrams of Count Olaf, such as Al Funcoot or O. Lucafont. The Baudelaires finally pick up on this in the eighth book.
There Are No Therapists: So many children are orphaned in this series, but instead of counseling they get sent to abusive foster homes — or worse.
Thirteen Is Unlucky: Thirteen books in the series. Each book except the thirteenth has thirteen chapters. The series has other examples as well.
Throw It In: In The Film of the Book, "Let me try that again, quickly, while it's fresh in my mind." The dialog was supposed to end after Klaus says "Our parents just died", but Carrey felt he didn't get the reaction right. Silberling just kept the cameras rolling and Carrey ad-libbed from there.
Totem Pole Trench: An interesting variant: Violet and Klaus put on the same oversized outfit to disguise themselves as a two-headed person.
Torches and Pitchforks: Well, torches anyway. In The Vile Village, the townspeople go after the Beaudelaires this way when the children are accused of murder.
Translation: Yes: Judging by the translations in-text, almost everything Sunny says carries a lot of meaning per sound. Complete sentences aren't more than two syllables long until she starts learning a little English in the later books, and she seems to get a lot more across with her babytalk.
Unreliable Narrator: In one of her letters, Beatrice claims that the stories the Baudelaires told her of their troubles in some cases differ wildly from Lemony's accounts.
The Un Reveal: When Sir is in a sauna, he puts down the cigar whose smoke usually covers his face, but he is covered up again by the steam.
In the illustration at the end of the fourth book, we can kind-of see the back of his head, so he may be bald.
Unusual Euphemism: On two occasions, flustered or frightened characters blaspheme the names of divine entities from about five different religions, concluding with "Charles Darwin!" or "Nathaniel Hawthorne!"
Viewers Are Geniuses: See below, but also note that many names (along with the so-called nonsense words that Sunny says) are a Shout Out to one thing or another.
Viewers Are Morons: In a parody of the way children's books try to be educational, Lemony constantly defines words such as alcove, brummagem, cower, denouement, ersatz etc. Ironically many viewers didn't realize this is supposed to be a joke, even though he uses the most bizarre and snarky definitions, and much of the humor comes from assuming the reader already knows the standard definition of the word.
Weirdness Magnet: Sort of. The children are more like weirdness iron filings, drawn to bizarre people and places. On the other hand, that might just be because there aren't any normal people in Snicketland.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Phil. Arguably a lot of minor characters who weren't brought back, in the last couple of books when many one-shot characters returned).
In the first book an assistant of Olaf's is mentioned who has warts all over his face. We never hear of him again.
Although the song "Scream and Run Away" associated with "The Bad Beginning" describes all Olaf's accomplices and mentions "one long-nosed bald man with warts". One would believe this confirms that the man with warts and the bald man with the long nose appear to be the same person, just described by a different distinguishing feature, but this cannot be the case when the novel lists the accomplices in such a way that the bald man and the wart-faced man as separate individuals. A later book would mention that Lemony Snicket received "wart removal cream" as a present, so perhaps he is the wart-faced man.
"Where Are They Now?" EpilogueChapter Fourteen; arguably a Subverted Trope because they haven't gone anywhere, although their views have moved on. The Beatrice Letters form part of an epilogue themselves. Even though the scrambled letters reveal that " BEATRICE SANK", the Baudelaires are apparently living out their lives doing what they love. Beatrice (that's the Beatrice born in Book 13) is currently trying to find Lemony Snicket, presumably to ask him what is happening.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: Every setting, from "the city", to fictional locations with alliterative names, to an island not on any map; we don't even know where half of them are in relation to each other.
If examined closely, the package the children receive at the end of the film is postmarked to Boston. The film is non-canon, and if Boston were the location, it'd be a highly fictionalized version of the city.
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Aunt Josephine, for nearly everything, including realtors. Why she hid inside a cave that Lemony says is 'Phantasmagorical, a word which here means "every scary word you can think of mashed together with horror' is because before her husband Ike died, she was ever so slightly braver and loved swimming in the leech-filled lake.
In the movie, though, it's revealed that not only was she completely normal before her husband died, but very adventurous as well!
The movie and an offhand line in a later book justify some of her fears.
Apparently one of VFD's safe places was a cave which was seized by a group of treacherous realtors, so perhaps that phobia was justified.
Wig, Dress, Accent: Most characters' disguises involve some combination of these or similar items, and the three stages of V.F.D.'s disguise training— Veiled Facial Disguises, Various Finery Disguises, and Voice Fakery Disguises — resemble this trope.
The Baudelaires, most notably Sunny, who's a baby for mosty of the series!
Also, most members of the VFD.
World Gone Mad: Once things were united behind VFD. Then the schism happened and everything went straight to hell.
World of No Grandparents: None of the relatives the Baudelaires are sent to live with are very closely related to them; at one point Mr. Poe attempts to send them to a nineteenth cousin. Possibly justified by the fact that many people are dying in fires.
Worst Aid: Violet's alleged Cranioectomy, a fake medical procedure - as Klaus points out, this would involve cutting off her head, which would almost certainly kill her. However, this is a rare case where it's actually an invoked trope; Count Olaf's henchmen wanted to kill her anyway!
Worst News Judgment Ever: "'Heimlich Hospital Almost Forgets Paperwork!' Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!" One of many examples courtesy of Geraldine Julienne, star reporter.