If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. – The Bad Beginning
So, I suddenly remembered that A Series of Unfortunate Events (the thirteen book series by Lemony Snicket, in case you’re unfamiliar) has been made into a Netflix show. While watching TV isn’t normally my thing I was interested to see how they’d adapt thirteen books, some of which I’d read as a child. As a kid, I bought most of them at some point or other, and read them, but I never read till the final book. Till date, I have no clue what happens in the end, and I’ve somehow avoided spoilers for it. I’m hoping that changes and I can finally finish the series now. I thought I would discuss the books as I read and the experience of reading them now, when I’m much older, a little wiser (maybe), and also maybe discuss the show too. I’m not really able to keep up with the show in the same pace as I am the books, so I’m afraid I’ll always be a bit behind, but it doesn’t hurt to discuss it.
A quick run down if you’ve not heard of the books (or seen the movie, which adapted only the first three books): A Series of Unfortunate Events is a children’s series by Snicket (the pseudonym of Daniel Handler) which follows the lives of three very unfortunate children (obviously) who lose their parents in a fire. Over the course of thirteen books the children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are pursued relentlessly by a scheming actor, Count Olaf, who is intent on getting his hands on the fortune their parents left for them. The tone of the novels is largely darkly Gothic, absurdist and somewhat formulaic. That said I did read (…on wikipedia) that things get more complex as we get further into the series, so maybe I’ll be surprised.
On the Books
So up till now, the ones I’ve read (or reread, actually) are:
The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, and The Ersatz Elevator.
It took me a surprisingly short amount of time, and I’d forgotten how light and readable these books are, in spite of Snicket’s dire warnings to the contrary. I’ve more or less finished with The Vile Village too, but I think it’s better to restrict this post to six books. Thus far, the children have endured their ridiculously unqualified lawyer Mr. Poe, Count Olaf in various disguises and his motley troupe, a herpetologist uncle, a somewhat omniphobic aunt, a mill where they had to work, a school where they were miserable, and a building sky-high with a very very very steep fall involving an elevator.
“If someone had told me, that day at the beach, that before long I’d find myself using my four teeth to scrape the bark off trees, I would have said they were psychoneurotically disturbed.” – The Miserable Mill
I can’t say I fully enjoy the style of the books, at times Snicket’s repetition gets a tad annoying, and I think people who find this a little grating would absolutely start to hate this series after a while because writing style and plot sequence are both totally formulaic. However it’s still interesting to see how I perceive the books now as opposed to when I read them as a kid. I had no idea that Prufrock Preparatory School (the boarding school where the children are sent to in The Austere Academy) was a reference to anything but now of course I’m a bit clearer on that. Sunny’s nonsense words which only people who know her very well can understand sometimes take on a new meaning (I’m sure, intended), such as when Klaus mentions Scylla and Charybdis and she chirps the word ‘Glaucus’. Also, if Snicket’s letters to the editor, concluding each novel faithfully are taken to be true (true within the realm of fiction that is), he leads a life that’s almost as exciting as the Baudelaires. I also didn’t realise that all the people who were so ridiculously inept in this novel were adults. I don’t think a single adult is ever useful to the children, at least, not thus far.
The things I hope I won’t be disappointed about when the time for revelations finally dawns are: the mystery of the Baudelaires generally, how they actually ended up in Olaf’s clutches in the first place, what VFD actually is (sorry for anyone who hasn’t read that far, I’m just actually curious), why Snicket chose to write about them, Snicket’s relationship with Beatrice, Beatrice herself…so there are a lot. Of course if the last book closes without satisfactory answers to these questions I will be more than a bit disappointed but maybe I’m pinning too many hopes on the books, which were, after all, designed for a younger readership.
On the Show
I’ve thus far seen the first four episodes of the Netflix series, so The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room, and while I haven’t been bowled over, I like it. It’s not really a show you can binge-watch, due to the formulaic nature. Watching it alongside the books means it’s easy to notice bits lifted verbatim, but there have also been some revelations in the early episodes themselves that haven’t been revealed in the books (although I’m beginning to think the show has diverged from the books in some ways). With having cast an actual narrator as Snicket the show sometimes seems a bit too faithful to the books in terms of dialogue, but perhaps this is unfair for me to say because they’ve been original in some ways and anyway, taking a route too different from the books might lead to its own set of criticisms.
I think the children are portrayed as somewhat less naive; not that they’re exactly naive in the novels, but they are less trusting of Uncle Monty (in The Reptile Room) so I can only imagine how increasingly pessimistic and exhausted they’ll grow as they’re passed on from guardian to guardian. My first impression of the character of Count Olaf was that he was far more of a comic than the book character, but he seems to be juggling both comic potential and an edge of danger efficiently. I’m curious to see where the show goes and how they portray the continually betrayed Baudelaires and the variety of villains, not just Olaf, because it’s difficult to build character development and emotional development in an inherently ridiculous setting (which the books definitely are, I mean, very little is realistic in the novels). I think it might be a bit more sensible than the books. So, yes, looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.
Everybody will die, but very few people want to be reminded of that fact. – The Austere Academy
This post has gotten very long. If you were/are a fan of the books/show or have any other thoughts, let me know!
All images (c) goodreads.com. All quotes attributed to the respective works (c) Lemony Snicket.