'A Series of Unfortunate Events' - by Lemony Snicket Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'A Series of Unfortunate Events' - by Lemony Snicket

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A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of miserable books. The books follow the lives of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire after the death of their parents in a fire. As orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are sent to various guardians, none of whom are suitable to look after them for a variety of reasons. The children, who have inherited a large fortune from their parents, soon discover that there is an elaborate plot to steal it from them. The children endure extreme hard luck, none of the books has a happy ending, and on the back of each one there is a warning from the author to reader about how bleak the books are.

Despite the depressing plot lines, the books are actually considered quite amusing by many people, especially children. They are written in a light-hearted, humorous style. The title of each book is alliterated and thoroughly miserable. As well as the letter on the back of the book pleading with readers to read some other book instead, each book contains an amusing dedication to a woman named Beatrice.

Although at a first glance the books may seem like a normal narrative of events, the reader discovers a huge mystery as the story unravels. The mystery, about a secret organisation called VFD1, concerns many of the main characters from the books, as well as other characters nobody has heard of, the mysterious Beatrice, the author (Lemony Snicket) and Daniel Handler (another author, once thought to be the man behind the Lemony Snicket pseudonym, although appearing in the books as a completely different person). Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorised Autobiography is a companion book to the main books in the series, giving a lot of details about the mystery but never answering any of the important questions readers are dying to know the answers to.

The books are all published in hardcover and the pages have been deliberately cut in a rough way. Each book contains a colour illustration on the front, and black-and-white illustrations throughout, all done by the artist Brett Helquist (who, it transpires, is also involved in the VFD mystery). The last picture in each book gives a small clue about the next book.

The Books

The first of the books was published in 1999. The thirteenth, and apparently last, book in the series was released on Friday 13 October, 2006. The books have been translated into several other languages and distributed worldwide.

Author Lemony Snicket is extremely elusive. He never appears in public; his 'representative' Daniel Handler does that for him. The two are often very vague when giving out information regarding the planned books in the series.

The books in the series are:

  • 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

As has been mentioned, a companion book, Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorised Autobiography is also available. This book contains a reversible dust-jacket; putting it on the book the wrong way shows the cover of an overly jovial book called The Pony Party. The book informs all readers that it is necessary to disguise the book, and probably themselves, when reading.

Two further companion books, The Beatrice Letters and Notorious Notations, were also released before the final books in the series. Other tie-ins include a calendar, a puzzle book (The Puzzling Puzzles) and The Blank Book (in which you can 'record your own unfortunate events').

The Characters

The main characters in the books are the three intelligent Baudelaire orphans. Pursuing them is the evil Count Olaf and his team of henchmen and women.

Violet Baudelaire

At 14 years of age, Violet Baudelaire is the eldest of the Baudelaire orphans. She loves inventing, and is constantly thinking of, designing and building new contraptions to help people with their everyday life. A lot of Violet's inventions and ideas help her and her siblings get out of many tight corners. When Violet is thinking hard, she ties her hair up with a ribbon.

Klaus Baudelaire

Klaus, who turns 13 as the series progresses, loves to read. He can read very fast and absorbs all sorts of information. He wears round glasses. Like Violet, he has many good ideas.

Sunny Baudelaire

Sunny is only a little baby, however she already has four strong sharp teeth and loves to bite. Like Violet's inventing and Klaus's reading, Sunny's biting has also been extremely useful in helping the children out of trouble. Sunny usually speaks in her own language only understood by her siblings, but as the series progresses she learns how to walk and begins speaking English.

Count Olaf

Count Olaf, the children's first guardian after the death of their parents, is apparently a distant relative. However he is an extremely nasty person and is only interested in the children's money. He would be quite happy for them to be dead. He is constantly thinking of new (and very devious) plans to get the children's fortune, aided and abetted by his (not so clever) team of acolytes. The final two books in the series provide more information about Count Olaf's past, and causes for his behaviour.

Mr Poe

Mr Poe is the banker in charge of the children's finances. Despite being kind-hearted, he is not really able to see what is going on, and often doesn't listen to the children when they tell him about Count Olaf. He is in charge of finding guardians for the children.

Isadora and Duncan Quagmire

Isadora and Duncan are two triplets who the Baudelaires meet at boarding school. The third triplet, Quigley, died in a fire, along with Mr and Mrs Quagmire. The Quagmires have a large inheritance in the form of sapphires, which Count Olaf is trying to steal from them. The Quagmires get on extremely well with the Baudelaires; it is interesting for all children to find people in the same position as themselves.

The Setting

It is implied that the books are set in the United States of America; however, the time period is uncertain. The children are depicted in illustrations wearing Victorian clothes, yet many aspects of the books seem far more modern than Victorian times. In the same sentence, one book talks about both the horse-drawn carriages and motorcycles on the road, leaving the reader in a lot of doubt about the time period.

More Information

To find out all about the VFD Mystery, the best thing to do is to read the books. They are well written and extremely gripping. As the mystery deepens2, the reader is drawn further and further into it. You can also visit the Lemony Snicket Official Site.

On the Big Screen

A film incorporating the first three books from the series, entitled Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was released in 2004. The film featured Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, as well as modifications that allowed it to be properly adapted to screen. New editions of the books featuring stills from the film were released, as well as tie-in books about the film.

1The books never say exactly what it stands for, but it is thought the first word is 'Volunteer'. The books throw in several red herrings, with the initials VFD appearing often, but never turning out to mean that secret organisation.2Some people believe that the mystery is not a real mystery at all, and just the author having some fun, as it is getting a bit too deep to make sense. Others fear that, as the author deliberately did not reveal all the information by the end of the thirteenth book, a lot of facts will never be known.

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