Reviews: A Seriesof Unfortunate Events
The Entertaining Expedition
I was first introduced to the series when a (now distant) friend gave me the first four books at his recomendation. At first, I was reluctant. Then I read a little bit of the fourth book - and promptly jumped into The Bad Beginning. After I was done with those four books, I obtained the remaining books (at the time - it was 2002, and the ninth book had just come out) - and I stuck with the series up until its aptly titled finale, The End. And I loved about 99.99 percent of it. Yes, the author's "The word/phrase [INSERT WORD/PHRASE HERE] means..." catchphrase can get a little dull and, for some people, undesireable. In my case though, whatever. I was still in school, so I took any excuse I could to expand my vocabulary. So as a whole, I love it. This is primarily because A Series of Unfortunate Events is, if this makes any sense, a very comedic Dark and Edgy story. But also because it has the right characterization for our protagonists and antagonists. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are the kind of heroes you want to cheer on, even when they are forced to make questionable decisions - and Count Olaf, by contrast, is exactly the kind of villain you love to hate. But there's more to it than that. A trio of children, who are really smart, but have to make their way in a cruel world where the only people and things that aren't trying to harm you are themselves threatened by the world. I may not have lost my parents in a terrible fire, but I still identify with that kind of hopelessness. I think we all do. I know not of any other books or series that Daniel Handler has written - but ironically, it is this one, written under a pseudonym, that may very well go down as his best and well-known work. And on a final note, one of the books, somewhere, includes the dialogue "Well-read people are less likely to be evil." That isn't necessarily true - but incidentally, if you yourself are well-read and read this series, you may find delight in the large number of literary references in the series. Don't believe me? Go back to the main page, look at the "Shout-Out" entry, and click on the hyperlink entry there.
The film and the (first) book
As a kid, I loved nasty, gory stories. I grew up reading the works of Roald Dahl, and I remember how much I loved the repulsive, vindictive characters and scenarios. He was a children's author who would throw all caution to the wind and give kids exactly what they wanted. By comparison, Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events books feel something of an empty threat. The mournful narrator spends a great deal of the story reiterating how sad or grotesque the tale will be, basically promising readers a particularly unpleasant (thus delightful) story. But that nastiness never quite comes through. There are dark themes and deaths, but they don't resonate as much as the brutal simplicity of child eating giants or worm spagetti. Whereas Dahl takes things familiar to a child like warts, toads and dirt, Snicket relies on less familiar, more adult concepts, such as inheritance and looming threats of rape. The same goes for the clever word play, which again, I feel goes over the kid's heads. I appreciate that this is aimed at a younger teenage (11-14?) market, but I still think much of the implied nastiness is lost on those readers and that Snicket fails to employ enough gratuitous grime. At around that age, I was reading Goosebumps. Though formulaic, Goosebumps books had a far better grasp of the issues that bother kids (annoying brothers, bullies, shoe laces that won't stay tied etc.) Lemony Snicket lacks that crucial familiarity. Which brings me to the movie. To gain more appeal to the family audience, the film tones down the threats of child rape and portrays the villain as far more comical in nature. Funnily enough, I think this works much better. If Snickett's tales fail at being grotesque, they can at least be funny. Jim Carrey certainly succeeds in that regard; I haven't seen him in such a good role since The Grinch. The humour and the well realised visuals save the story and warrant a recommendation. The books, less so. I also highly recommend staying for the ending credits, which are pretty excellent in their own right.