Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Movies You May
Have Missed
Submit your own reviews to the Digest!
Book the First: The Bad Beginning; Book the Second: The Reptile Room; Book the Third: The Wide Window

Cleolinda: ***

Well, here's the background on this one: I heard of Lemony Snicket probably a year or two ago, and it was explained to me as "Harry Potter, only darker." Yeah, that didn't sound like code for "rip-off" at all, so I stayed away from the books on sheer principle. And as with most things I avoid on sheer principle, I find out that I totally misunderstood what they were about in the first place.

Now they're making movies out of the books, so I felt obligated to read them just to see what they were all about, and after visiting a couple of web sites, actually got quite intrigued. Fast forward to my birthday this past weekend (12/14/02), and I received the first three books as a boxed set. (Can I mention? They were beautifully bound, glossy hardcovers with lovely pen-and-ink illustrations, and I saw them myself in the sale bin for $9 a box--hey, a sweet deal only enhances a gift in my family. We're weird that way--so they were a steal, basically. Pick up a set for yourself some-where.) So, interrupted only by a brief Christmas shopping excursion, I sat down and read them that Sunday, the 15th. All three of them. Basically in one sitting. And I was mad I didn't have the next installment when I was done.

I can see where they get the "Harry Potter but darker" tag from--essentially, there is no good way to describe these books, and that's the closest you can come to it. The Baudelaire children--Violet the inventor, Klaus the bookworm, and baby Sunny the biter--are immediately bereaved of their parents in the first chapter (can you say someone is "bereaved of" someone? Well, I just did). Evil relative Count Olaf is introduced, the children are saved from his first nefarious scheme to get the Baude-laire fortune, and the pattern is set in place: Children will be sent to some far-flung relative's care, Olaf will infiltrate relative's household, children become desperate to prove the danger to the oblivious adults around them.

The world they live in--perhaps this perception is aided by Brett Helquist's Gorey-esque illustrations--seems gloriously quaint and old-fashioned, despite occasional references to telephones and fax machines. Unlike Harry Potter, which has a wonder-ful visual flair and a fantastical parallel wizard-world of its own, Snicket's world is just a few degrees off ours. This is achieved not through detail so much as lack of detail--an old-fashioned simplicity that makes the books feel like they could have been written (fax machines aside) last year or last century. Violet "puts her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes" when she feels inventive, not "puts it in a ponytail with a scrunchie," you know? Aunt Josephine is terrified of the stove but there's no mention of a microwave she could use instead. It's just little details like that. Besides, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, the books have a Victorian sort of "Perils of Pauline" feel that I really dig.

So where Rowling populates Harry's world with chocolate frogs and Whomping Willows, the joys of Snicket (and I may as well mention here that the author's real name is Daniel Handler) are largely verbal. To wit:

**It is now necessary for me to use the rather hackneyed phrase "meanwhile, back at the ranch." The word "hackneyed" here means "used by so, so many writers that by the time Lemony Snicket uses it, it is a tiresome cliché." "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" is a phrase used to link what is going on in one part of the story to what is going on in another part of the story, and it has nothing to do with cows or with horses or with any people who work in rural areas where ranches are, or even with ranch dressing, which is creamy and put on salads. Here, the phrase "meanwhile, back at the ranch" refers to what Violet was doing while... Klaus began to his research in Uncle Monty's library, and Sunny guarded the door with her sharp teeth.**

If Handler--pardon me, Snicket--says "the word [blah] here means" once, he says it a hundred times; it's sort of the Hallmark of Snicket, along with heavy foreshadow-ing that something terrible is going to happen any moment (but will actually happen three chapters ahead) and alliterative names, like Lachrymose Lake and the Curdled Cave. I can't imagine how they're going to translate this to a movie--Jim Carrey has been cast as Count Olaf; more about this on our Snicket movie preview page (down at the moment)--except for one clue, if the rumor turns out to be true: I just read yesterday that Johnny Depp may play Snicket, who has not shown up yet as a character in his own right, but the rumor gives a delicious hint as to how they may pull these three books together into this first movie by using a narrator. Also, the books rock that much more if you imagine Johnny Depp reading them aloud, so that's also good.

Get more on Snicket:

**Visit Lemony Snicket's official site at
www.lemonysnicket.com for games, art, and
--a wanted poster?

**Join the hunt at

**Visit fantastic fansite www.unfortunateevents.net

**Get a
Box of Unfortunate Events at Amazon, or the entire set of nine books (of thirteen) that have been published

Discuss increasing returns
on the message boards!
See our Lemony Snicket movie preview page!

Snicket at Amazon