A Series of Unfortunate Events is the collective volume of the thirteen children's books following the unfortunate lives of the Baudelaire Orphans, as written by Lemony Snicket which is a pen name for Daniel Handler. The whole series, including Snicket's additional materials, were published by HarperCollins and illustrated by Brett Helquist. Side works include The Beatrice Letters and Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography.
- "Dear Reader, If you have just picked up this book, then it is not too late to put it back down. Like the previous books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there is nothing to be found in these pages but misery, despair, and discomfort, and you still have time to choose something else to read."
- —Lemony Snicket
This series is most commonly classified as "children's" fiction, but it has also been classified as teen/young adult and having a quality that older adults can enjoy, similar to the Harry Potter series. There is a level of complexity in the series, such as the relations between characters and how it is all connected, as well as allusions to many pieces of literature that a young child would not grasp. It may be considered mystery due to many mysterious themes and elements. A Series of Unfortunate Events could be seen as a parody of children's literature or psuedo-children's literature.
Some have classified it into specific genres such as gothic fiction, or some variety thereof, whether it is mock-gothic, a satire of gothic literature, neo-Victorian or "suburban gothic". There are also some slight steampunk elements.
Another genre that the series has been described as is absurdist fiction, because of its strange characters, improbable storylines, and black comedy due to the morbid nature of the series.
Characterized by Victorian Gothic tones and absurdist textuality, the books are noted for their dark humor, sarcastic storytelling, and anachronistic elements, as well as frequent cultural and literary allusions. They have been classified as postmodern and metafictional writing, with the plot evolution throughout the later novels being cited as an exploration of the psychological process of transition from the idyllic innocence of childhood to the moral complexity of maturity.
Plot and setting
The series focused on Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, who become extremely unfortunate children after their parents perish in a fire that destroys their entire home, only to be brought to their (claimed) third cousin four times removed, the treacherous actor Count Olaf. However, the Baudelaires soon discover that Olaf is an abusive adoptive father and is after their inherited fortune which Violet will obtain when she turns 18. In addition, Olaf claims that once he finds a way to obtain their fortune, he will kill them.
Books 1-13 in the series describe the treacheries that the children face through their young lives while trying to prevent Olaf and his many associates's attempts on getting his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, while trying to avoid death along the way while at the mercy of the world. Meanwhile, the Baudelaires must deal with absurd situations, a secret society known as V.F.D., and gullible and incompetent adults, many of which refuse to believe the Baudelaires and are unable to see through Olaf's disguises.
The world in the books often feels dystopic and hostile (a word which here means, "unsafe"), although it is set in a conventional setting without any war, famine, etc. The dystopic elements are often found in sociology, human behavior and laws. For example, a baby is forced to become a school secretary because she is too young to attend a normal school (and none of the administration staff think this is absurd), and there is a village that burns people to death if they don't follow its ridiculous and contradictory rules and the villagers are fine with this. The adults in the series often come across as stupid, corrupt, incompetent, ignorant, delusional, psychopathic, lack common sense, vulnerable to peer pressure and follow mob mentality. The world in the series often feels very corrupt, chaotic and cruel, leading many to call it a "crapsack world".
A Series of Unfortunate Events is set in an anachronistic time period that is sometime in the 20th century, with old and new inventions used. The location is the series is unknown; three of the books (1, 6, 12) are set in an unspecified urban city. The Baudelaires visit a myriad of locations, such as a lakeside town, a boarding school, hinterlands, mountains, etc. The ambiguity of both the time and the setting are likely intentional decisions by Daniel Handler.
Despite that A Series of Unfortunate Events is often categorized as a "children's book series", there is a lot of questionable, disturbing and mature content in the series.
Daniel Handler admits that he wrote the series because he was sick of how "sappy", "dumbed down" and "optimistic" children's books are, as they tend to always have happy endings or be unrealistically cheerful and uplifting. Handler was inspired to write the series after watching news stories on TV about the lives of unfortunate children around the world. In Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, Lemony Snicket parodied a non-real series called The Luckiest Kids in the World!" where three children are treated to a fun party, a big prize, a pony ride, several kind and sensible adults, and all the cake they can eat. The Littlest Elf is also a parody of these themes. Lemony Snicket warns the reader on each book cover that the Baudelaires' lives are unpleasant - there is no happy beginning, no happy end, and very happy things occur throughout the series.
Although there is no official age rating on the series, 12 years and above is generally recommended as Klaus is that age.
Throughout the series, the children encounter abuse (e.g. child abuse), death, murder, violence, horror, suffering, loss, pain, grief, misery and despair in a series of unfortunate events. The books also contain slight sexual themes, mainly in Count Olaf's attempt to marry a 14-year-old Violet. Examples of mature content include (spoilers):
- In The Bad Beginning, the Baudelaire parents supposedly burn to death in a fire. Child abuse is shown in Klaus being slapped across the face, and Sunny's mouth being duct-taped, having her body tied with rope and hung in a bird cage which Olaf threatens to drop. The books ends with Olaf telling Violet he intends to kill her and her siblings with his own two hands.
- In The Reptile Room, Uncle Monty is poisoned to death. When Stephano attempts to kidnap the Baudelaires, he orders them to "get in the damn Jeep", and when the car doesn't run, he screams, "BLASTED FURNACES OF HELL!"
- In The Wide Window, Aunt Josephine is heavily implied to have drowned or eaten by leeches.
- In The Miserable Mill, Charles is almost sawed to death. In the TV adaptation, Sunny is almost thrown into a furnace.
- In The Vile Village, Jacques Snicket (Count Omar) is burned at the stake.
- In The Hostile Hospital, Violet almost gets her head cut off.
- In The Carnivorous Carnival, there is a pit of lions which maul two victims to death.
- In The Grim Grotto, there is disturbing and terrifying descriptions of Sunny almost suffocating to death.
- In The Penultimate Peril, there is a hotel fire which may have killed lots of residents.
- In The End, there is descriptions of an entire island being poisoned to death.
Reviews for A Series of Unfortunate Events have generally been positive, with reviewers saying that the series is enjoyable for children and adults alike, and that it brings fresh and adult themes to children's stories. The Times Online refer to the books as "a literary phenomenon", and discuss how the plight of the Baudelaire orphans helps children cope with loss—citing the rise in sales post September 11, 2001 as evidence.
The series has come under criticism from some school districts for its dark themes, citing objections to the suggested incest (referring to Olaf's attempt to marry his distant cousin Violet in The Bad Beginning, although his motivation was not sexual in nature, but rather an attempt to gain the Baudelaire fortune) and the words "damn" and "hell" being said in The Reptile Room. Handler later commented that the word's use was "precipitated by a long discussion of how one should never say this word, since only a villain would do so vile a thing! This is exactly the lily-liveredness of children's books that I can't stand." Access to the books was similarly restricted at Katy ISD Elementary School in Katy, Texas.
The series has also been criticized for formulaic and repetitive storytelling. Lemony Snicket constantly defines words, similar events occur repeatedly (the Baudelaires appear with a new guardian, Count Olaf appears in a disguise, no one believes the Baudelaires, someone is killed or almost killed, and Olaf escapes), and when someone says something, "cried" is often used, such as "Violet cried, "It wasn't us!"
A Series of Unfortunate Events consists of thirteen novels:
- The Bad Beginning
- The Reptile Room
- The Wide Window
- The Miserable Mill
- The Austere Academy
- The Ersatz Elevator
- The Vile Village
- The Hostile Hospital
- The Carnivorous Carnival
- The Slippery Slope
- The Grim Grotto
- The Penultimate Peril
- The End
Releases and packaging
The series carries a unique feel, not only in content, but also in packaging.
The original covers were made to look old fashioned, with Victorian designs throughout. They were originally released in paperback, but those have now become harder to find, with hardcovers becoming the standard for the series.
Several hardcover box sets were released in the US. The first four box sets came with three books each, and were each referred to as "A Box of Unfortunate Events." Books 1-3 were released as The Trouble Begins, books 4-6 were released as The Situation Worsens, books 1-6 were re-released as The Loathsome Library, books 7-9 were released as The Dilemma Deepens, and books 10-12 were released as The Gloom Looms. Shortly after publication of the last book, The End, the entire series was released in a box set called The Complete Wreck.
The series's illustrator Brett Helquist returned to illustrate another release of the series in paperback form, made to mimic the penny dreadful--a common nineteenth century British publication that was usually released in parts, each of which cost a penny. Books one, two, and three saw releases in this form, as well as secondary names: The Bad Beginning or, Orphans!, The Reptile Room or, Murder!, and The Wide Window or, Disappearance! Penny Dreadful releases have been put on hold indefinitely for the remainder of the books.
Other works by Snicket, set in the VFD universe
All the Wrong Questions
- Main article: All the Wrong Questions
Starting in 2012, a new series by Snicket, set in the same VFD universe, began, entitled All the Wrong Questions. This new book series depicted the childhood of Lemony Snicket himself. In his adolescence, Snicket is new to VFD and is taken by his chaperone S. Theodora Markson to the town Stain'd-by-the-Sea, where he solves mysteries on his own and asks all the wrong questions.
There have been two major adaptations of A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Paramount film, and the Netflix series. Only the latter, which began in 2017, is considered "canon" and a valid source on this wiki, due to Handler's involvement and its mostly true-to-the-book depictions.
2004 film (non-canon)
- Main article: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (film)
The first three novels of the series, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, were made into a film, entitled Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and starring Emily Browning, Liam Aiken and Jim Carrey.
Video game (non-canon)
The film was consequently adapted into a video game.
The game is based primarily on the movie, which in turn is based on the plots of the first three books of the series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window.
Players take the roles of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, solving puzzles, fighting villains and finding objects.
- Main article: A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV series)
On January 13, 2017, Netflix released a TV series based on the books. Because of the cancelled franchise of films, Lemony Snicket was reportedly happy with the idea, and had intentions to join production. He is one of the executive producers and a writer for the series, which, in the first season, contains eight episodes. Each book is broken up into two episodes, and season 1 adapts the first four in the series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill. A second season was renewed in March 2017, and it will cover the next five books: The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, and The Carnivorous Carnival.
Directors of the series include Barry Sonnenfield, Mark Palansky, and Bo Welch. Violet is played by Malina Weissman, Klaus by Louis Hynes, and Sunny by Presley Smith, while Sunny's voice is performed by Tara Strong.
- 13 Shocking Secrets You'll Wish You Never Knew About Lemony Snicket
- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography
- The Beatrice Letters
- The Blank Book
- The Dismal Dinner (released by Lunchables)
- The Pessimistic Posters
- The Ponderous Postcards
- The Puzzling Puzzles
- The Notorious Notations
- The Tragic Treasury