Thursday, April 12, 2012

Series Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket

Series Run: 1999-2006

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Juvenile

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of books published for children as I was growing up. It was insanely popular for a while and then slowly found itself in the background behind bigger books such as Harry Potter. The series stars three clever orphans: Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, as they keep away from the dreadful Count Olaf trying to steal their inheritance. Along the way many people die, others are saved and the orphans learn more about their parents than they thought there was to learn. 

There was once a series of books so dreadful that as a child I could not continue to read them as they would leave me somber and depressed afterwards. Though they were great fun to read, at the time in my life I was already depressed enough that reading such a dreadful series would do me more harm than good, so I abandoned the series. Looking back I think the book reminded me too much about my own feelings of being lost in the world, that feeling of helplessness.

Of course after the series was finished, I couldn't help but wonder, wonder what had happened to the Baudelaire Orphans, their friends and Count Olaf, so a couple of weeks ago I went through my house searching for the lost copies of various books in the series and then going to the library to get the rest and began rereading, from the beginning, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Just a few moments before writing this I have finished the last and final book, The End. It's hard to describe the feelings coming away from this book, other than awe. When starting this series, you do not expect it to be what it ends up being. As dark as the story begins (starting of course with The Bad Beginning) it seems to be a children's book, with morals for children. It seems very starkly good vs evil, with plucky heroes who have to save themselves and the adults help them out in the end, even if for the most part the Baudelaires are let down by them. The prose is light and humorous and provides excellent vocabulary. The voice of Lemony Snicket is a joy to read and seems to be made to draw a younger audience in.

The story continues along this path, with The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, which have similar themes of the children just trying to get over their parents death and fit in with new guardians who love them even if they are a bit eccentric. The next turn in the story with begins through an almost transition book of The Miserable Mill (which seems to me part guardian who loves and wants to help, and part of the next turn in the story) seems to be with guardians who are not loving towards the Baudelaires, but do promise to give the orphans a place of safety from Count Olaf, and the book becomes less of the children learning to deal with their grief and more of trying to escape from someone. This arc, which for me contains The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator and The Vile Village, is the arc that as a child put me off of the book. You could call this part the lowest point of the story as everything goes wrong and there are only few bursts of happiness, such as meeting the Quagmires and spending time with Jerome Squalor and Hector.

However, the next few books after The Vile Village things seem to turn for the Baudelaires, they become so fed up with adults constantly failing them that their attitude changes and they start almost fighting back. They are tired of being kept in the dark as well, wanting to know the mystery of V.F.D and so many other mysteries that seem to be cropping up everywhere. The last few books consist of them figuring out some of the mysteries, finding more and finding themselves wrapped up in something that they hope is noble.

There are many themes in this story, and I feel that this is best reviewed as the entire thirteen books as opposed to one book at a time as the themes span across the books. The biggest theme is that of good vs. evil and then the unraveling of that idea. We start out, as the orphans are, so sure that there is evil and that there is good and there is a line between them and good should triumph over evil. We soon learn however the tragedy that good does not always win, and then that things are not that black and white. Throughout the books the Baudelaires are believed to have done several terrible things, and they have done things that they believe to be terrible, villainous and are very guilty about. Them coming to terms that the correct thing cannot always be done in every situation and that things are not so clean cut is one of the biggest journeys they and us as the readers take. It is also a coming of age story for them as a group of siblings. The wisdom they come into by the end of the series is staggering, the largest example being how they see Count Olaf by the end.

Snicket raises so many questions, not just about other things in the plot, but questions that make you think. Who are the real villains? What would you do in these situations? This is something I did not expect from a children's book, I rarely even see it in Young Adult books, these book made me think.

On top of that he has created a extreme cast of characters and settings that the world of the Baudelaires seems both to be of our own world, though whether it would be Great Britain or America I could never decide, but at the same time not. The use of alliteration made things fantastical, beasts that don't exist in our world, people being treated in ways that we would never expect in our world, but not so farfetched as it could be.

What's funny is that this story is all these things, plus educational. The books are littered with advanced vocabulary that are explained, but in such a way that it does not dumb down the reader. There are also allusions to several books and writers and there is a theme of reading in books. The orphans continually get themselves out of trouble by reading or using a library.

I honestly recommend this series to anyone who loves reading. I don't think this series gets as much publicity as it probably should. It doesn't let you BE the main character as much as other series draw you in for that reason, but the world draws you in, and the somewhat bad endings at the end of each book only serves really as a cliffhanger to a story that you know continues. Every book is a quick read, though if you are easily depressed I would try not to read many of the middle books in a row. I myself read them once a day on days I didn't work and then chased them with more lighthearted, happier books (Like the Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones).

And The End is a very satisfying book to say the least, and probably not for the reasons you'd expect when starting the series.



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