Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.

Very few books start off on such an ominous note, which, instead of encouraging readers from picking up the book, advises them away from the tale. On one hand, this marketing strategy is a stroke of genius, appealing to man’s nature to be curious about things that they are warned against. On one hand, would be readers with a penchant for happy stories might just get turned off, set down the volume and move ahead to the next book on the shelf.

What first struck me about the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series was the great presentation of the hardbound version. There was intricate artwork on the book’s cover and the jagged edges on the pages made it look like parchment bound together like a journal of olden times. Pretty smart since it was being marketed as the chronicles of the events in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, who lost their parents to a mysterious fire and had the misfortune to be shipped to their distant uncle, Count Olaf, who is the epitome of of villainy, which is defined as the act of depicting vicious behavior and vicious action.

The original price of a brand new book is quite costly so I opted not to buy it and get hooked to the series when it first came out. However, I recently chanced upon a secondhand paperback at a surplus bookshop and decided to see for myself why it was such a hit and spawned many volumes after the first one came out over a decade earlier.

From the get go, I could understand why the series was popular among children and young adult readers. It was unique and different in its tone and presentation. Unlike most books for that certain demographic, it was dark and dreary, that gets readers to sigh with each misadventure experienced by the lead characters. It was written in a narrative format wherein the author Lemony Snicket gives an account of the lives of the Baudelaire siblings who encounter one misfortune after another after their parents perish in a mysterious fire. Its biggest appeal perhaps is that it is couched in simple words that is understandable to even the youngest of readers, and the subsequent explanation of the more complicated words used by the author to minimize confusion and ensure that readers follow the thread of the story.

The characters are quite sympathetic, as most children who are placed in the limelight are, Violet, the oldest of the Beudelaire brood, who has a quick mind and has a knack for inventing things, Klaus, the middle child, whose voracious reading helped them uncover the plot of the deplorable Count Olaf, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, and Sunny, their little baby sister who has a penchant for biting things and babbling in baby talk. Credit goes to the author for translating Sunny’s mumbles and including her in the equation for the duration of the story.

The most effective character in the book, in my opinion is the nefarious, in this case used to describe someone who is infamous for his notorious actions, Count Olaf. He is a character that is so dark and seedy that he will resort to marrying a 14 year old relative in order to get the millions left by the orphans’ parents to their children. Most of his actions are distasteful at best, and can rival the plotting of the wickedest of villains in known literature.

All in all, the book was well written and compelling, but is better suited for younger market. While I liked the premise of the story well enough, the first book (The Bad Beginning) did not provide enough questions in my mind to want to get the next book to know what will happen next to the three unfortunate children. However, a movie based on the book released in 2004 starring Jim Carrey as Count Olaf and Sucker Punch actress Emily Browning combined elements of the first two books to make the film more interesting and appealing on the big screen. While I wasn’t a big fan of Carrey’s interpretation of Olaf, I admit that it could have been worse. It was not my favorite children’s movie but I think that it did a good enough job of translating the general tone of the book to the movie and successfully told the same story in an interesting enough fashion.