The series follows the unfortunate lives of the three extremely unlucky Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, trying to get by in their difficult lives and survive the pursuit of their nemesis Count Olaf and his various associates who attempt to steal their inherited fortune.
The books were published between 1999-2006 by HarperCollins in North America and by Egmont in the United Kingdom. The main thirteen books in the series have collectively sold more than 60 million copies and have been translated into 41 languages.
The books also apparently exist within the universe of the series as well. According to Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, the books were on a banned list of books at Prufrock Preparatory School. Considering how The Unauthorized Autobiography was published in May 2002, this implies only the first eight books were available around the time of its fictional banning, although the books have been banned in some locations in reality as well (see controversy).
- 1 Genre
- 2 Plot
- 3 Development
- 4 Mature content
- 5 Reception
- 6 Books
- 7 Releases and packaging
- 8 Promotional Items and Merchandise
- 9 Adaptations
- 10 Other works by Snicket, set in the VFD universe
- 11 Related works
- 12 External links
- 13 This wiki in other languages
- 14 Sources
|“||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, The Ersatz Elevator
Although A Series of Unfortunate Events 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, which can be sometimes hard to understand. A Series of Unfortunate Events could be seen as a parody of children's literature or psuedo-children's literature. For example, there is a lot of mature content and characters dying in horrible ways. These include: People dying in fires, being poisoned, drowned in a swamp, being eaten by leeches, almost being buzzsawed to death or gored by lions, and Lemony Snicket is the type of who uses complicated language that many people wouldn't know, such as "augmented", "furtive", "rivulets", "verdant", "accoutrement", etc. In addition, the child protagonists of the series are often portrayed as being intelligent and more mature and "adultish" than many of the actual adults in the series. Some of the humor in the series may also be lost on less knowledgeable audiences; for example, in the TV series, Monty asks Stephano where he studied herpetology, and Stephano replies that he does not know anything about sores, which is a joke about herpes.
It may be considered mystery due to many mysterious themes and elements surrounding V.F.D.
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.
Others have classified this as surrealistic fiction because of the fact that the events in the books could happen to unlucky people, even if it doesn't seem like it. The books often have a wonky and creepy existentialist vibe to them, exemplified by all the strangeness and oddities the Baudelaires encounter, giving them a surreal, unsettling, alien or otherworldly vibe. This can make the series feel like a strange dream or nightmare.
Some have categorized the series as "horror" and "suspense", due to the amount of suspense, danger, death, violence, dread and tension in some of them.
Characterized by Victorian Gothic tones and absurdist textuality, the books are noted for their whimsical 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.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is set in an unusual, anachronistic time period that is ambiguously set sometime in the 20th century, with old and new inventions used. A variety of inventions and technology are mentioned. For example, there are helicopters, cars, phones, a microphone, and an advanced school computer (in the TV series, the computer looks like a computer from the 1990s and early 2000s). At another point, typewriters, telegrams, and carriages pulled by horses appear. This paints a very changing landscape of an industrial time, with technology not yet homogenized in all places in the series. In addition, the Baudelaire children are illustrated wearing very Victorian-era clothing.
This aspect is made even more absurd in the TV series, as Count Olaf mentions he bought an hourglass "online" (implying the Internet) and he prefers "streaming television in the comfort of his own home", a reference to Netflix. In The Miserable Mill: Part One, Pink Floyd – The Wall is mentioned, suggesting the series is not set before 1982.
The cars that some characters drive is also confusing as well. At the end of book 1, Mr. Poe is seen driving a car that looks like a 1910 Royal Model, while Count Olaf drives a car resembling one from the 1980s.
The location is the series is unknown; three of the books (1, 6, end of 11, 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 2004 film, however, is an exception. During a courtroom scene where a judge grants Count Olaf custody of the orphans, an American flag is present. In the finale, a letter addressed to the Baudelaires mentions the city is Boston, Massachusetts, meaning the Baudelaires are American in at least this continuity.
The ambiguity of both the time and the setting are likely intentional decisions by Daniel Handler, who when asked, said, "A Series of Unfortunate Events takes place in the city and regions surrounding it, during the week and sometimes on weekends. All The Wrong Questions takes place earlier, in a smaller town."
A Series of Unfortunate Events is also depicted as being full of diverse and multicultural mentions, from its locations, food, language and people. For example, Peru is mentioned in the second book, a Vietnamese restaurant is mentioned in the sixth, Hector may be of Hispanic descent as he cooks Mexican food in book seven, there is an Indian restaurant in book twelve, etc. Charles and Sir in book four are heavily implied to be a gay couple. There are mentions of rabbis throughout the series and different religions, traditions and culture. Handler also wanted a more ethnically diverse cast in the TV series.
The series focused on Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. Violet has a talent for inventing, Klaus has a talent for reading, and Sunny has a talent for biting. While they are portrayed very intelligent children, they are not perfect "superhumans" and have their own flaws. For example, Violet can overlook the obvious and doesn't know what leeches are, Klaus can be rude and doesn't know what a "xenophobe" means, etc. Sunny could be considered a superhuman to a degree, as she is a baby who has a sword fight with her teeth in the fourth book and climbs up an elevator shaft with her teeth in the sixth. They may also be interpreted as a tiny bit spoiled, as they later complain about doing chores for Count Olaf, although he did force them to do so and treated them like slaves.
They become extremely unfortunate, unlucky and depressed children after their parents perish in a fire that destroys their entire home, going on to live lives full of sadness, stress, misfortune, misery, and woe.
The Baudelaires are soon 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 won't hesitate to kill all three of them.
The first 7 books follow the same plot line, where the Baudelaires are sent to a new home with a new guardian. However, at the end of book 7, the series reaches a turning point, as the children are framed for murder, and the last 6 books is about them on the run from the police as well from Count Olaf.
The main thirteen books of the series describe the treacheries that the children face through their young lives while trying to prevent Olaf and his many associates' 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 series often feels dystopic, hostile, corrupt, chaotic and cruel, leading many readers to call it a "crapsack world". However, it is set in a conventional setting without any war, famine, etc (where the Baudelaires live, at least). Most of the dystopic elements are often found in sociology, human behavior and often barbaric and nonsensical laws which humanity follows obediently and submissively, and the vast majority of people lack critical thinking skills.
- In Book One, when Olaf attempts to marry Violet with an official marriage certificate, Justice Strauss reluctantly accepts it and says, "I'm afraid this dreadful nonsense is the law" despite that it was a scheme in a play and Violet was forced to sign under duress or else her baby sister would be killed.
- In Book Four, a 14-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a baby are forced to work at a dangerous lumbermill, making one wonder how this is legal, as the oldest (Violet) isn't even of age to work. One may also wonder if child protective services and child labor laws exist in the world of the series.
- In Book Four, a lumbermill illegally pays its employees with chewing gum and coupons. It is revealed in the TV series the employers are under hypnosis to accept this, and the entire mill is slave labor through mind control. However, in the book series strictly, it would make wonder why the employees continue to work in a terrible place and simply not leave as they are not being paid money.
- In Book Five, a baby is forced to become a school secretary because she is too young to attend a normal school, and while some members of the administration staff think this is absurd, they do not challenge Vice Principal Nero. This is very confusing as Sunny is not even able to perform half of the things a secretary could actually do such as stapling, picking up the telephone, etc. Along with this there are many other confusing things as well: Students are also forced to listen to Nero play the violin horridly for 6 hours each night. If they fail to listen to his recital, they are forced to give Nero a bag of candy. If students go to the administration building without an appointment they can't use silverware at meals. Other punishments include having their beverages served in large puddles, having their hands tied behind their backs, and eating their food as a dog. One might wonder if these punishments are even legal considering how the surface of tables would contaminate the food and drink with grime.
- In Book Six, many people are interested in what's "in" and "out" (fashion) that it is often prioritized over functionality, and the Baudelaires can't use an elevator because elevators are "out", forcing them to walk up and down many flights of stories, although they later discover that sliding down the railing is faster.
- In Book Seven, there is a village that burns people to death if they don't follow its thousands of ridiculous and contradictory rules. They also advocate book burning. The majority of villagers are fine with this, and those who aren't like Hector are cowardly, complacent and unwilling to try to change anything.
- In Book Seven, the world of the series is apparently so terrible that Hector intends to build a mobile home to last over a hundred years where he will spend the rest of his life away from human society, except for the Baudelaires and Quagmires.
- In Book Eight, Heimlich Hospital is a hospital which, in the world of the series, naturally plays on real fears such as inadequate healthcare and medical malpractice.
- In Book Eight, an audience gathers to see a girl getting her head cut off in hopes of curing mental illness. No one audibly questions the practice or asks if the girl even consented to it.
- In Book Nine, when Violet attempts to use a phone to call for help during their emergency about how she and her siblings are lost, stranded in the hinterlands with no money and unsure what to do, and how they've been framed as murderers, the operator hangs up on her.
- In Book Nine, people gather at a carnival for the sole purpose of seeing someone being mauled to death by lions. Later when the carnival is set on fire, one man says "I enjoy it when other people are in danger, not me!".
- In Book Nine at the lion show, someone questions if the show is even legal, however she is told to shut up and wait in the car by her husband if she has any more "ridiculous" questions.
- In Book Nine, when Count Olaf claims that whoever pushes someone into the pit will win a special prize, the audience fights among itself to push someone in.
- A newspaper seen throughout the series, called The Daily Punctilio, is full of errors, inaccuracies, exaggerations, and distorts the truth. The tabloid begins smearing and defaming the Baudelaires with lies.
Many of the adults in the series often come across as severely flawed, such as being stupid, corrupt, selfish, greedy, incompetent, ignorant, delusional, psychopathic, lack common sense, overly pedantic, cannot make exceptions, follow rules too easily, vulnerable to peer pressure and follow mob/herd mentality, etc. The Council of Elders is a strong example of this. In The Vile Village, the Baudelaires attempt to use "mob psychology" by shouting in a crowd, suggesting that humanity in the series is incapable of free independent thought.
Even if an adult is kind-hearted, they often have some other trait which negatively impacts the Baudelaires and endangers their lives, such as Josephine Anwhistle being cowardly. If an adult in the series is on the more kind and sensible side, such as Uncle Monty, they are usually doomed and will probably die over the course of the series, or their death is implied.
It is unknown if the adults seen in the series are intended to be "normal" or "average" in the world, or if the Baudelaires are simply unlucky when it comes to meeting decent people, as Lemony Snicket calls them magnets for misfortune.
The dismal psychology of humanity in the series even extends to children, such as a girl named Carmelita Spats whom Lemony Snicket calls rude and filthy, as well as the students who bully the Baudelaires at school.
After The Vile Village, the Baudelaires' living situation changes drastically, essentially become homeless with an uncertain living situation as they seek food, shelter, and jobs wherever possible in order to survive.
The author of the series, Daniel Handler (who uses the pseudonym Lemony Snicket), has said in an interview with The A.V. Club that he decided to write a children's story when he was trying to find a publisher for his first novel, The Basic Eight. One of the publishers, HarperCollins, passed on The Basic Eight, but they were interested in him writing a story for children. Handler thought it was a terrible idea at first, but met with the publishers to discuss the book. They challenged him to write the book he wished he could have read when he was 10.
He retooled a manuscript he had for a mock-Gothic book for adults, which became "the story of children growing through all these terrible things", a concept which the publishers liked, to Handler's surprise.
When asked what inspired him to write the series, Handler said, "I thought it would be interesting if terrible things happened to three helpless children over and over again."
Handler was not heavily focused on a moral message while writing the series, although he was forced to think about this aspect at times. Instead, he preferred to focus on the actual events of the plot instead of trying to craft the story around a moral message which could seem shoehorned and forced.
Handler was inspired by authors like Roald Dahl, Edward Gorey and Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who wrote books about creepy but nonsupernatural circumstances. He did not want to write a book about people casting spells or finding three rings to defeat a dragon. His original contract was four books, so if his series was not successful, it would have stopped at The Miserable Mill, although support eventually got him to write the full series.
Despite that A Series of Unfortunate Events is often categorized as a "children's book series", there is a lot of questionable, disturbing, distressing, violent, and mature content in the series. 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 few happy things occur throughout 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, be overtly cheerful and uplifting, and give unrealistic expectations. 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. In The Carnivorous Carnival, Lemony Snicket mentions a story called "The Story of Queen Debbie and Her Boyfriend, Tony":
|“||The story of the Baudelaires does not take place in a fictional land where lollipops grow on trees and singing mice do all of the chores. The story of the Baudelaires takes place in a very real world, where some people are laughed at just because they have something wrong with them, and where children can find themselves all alone in the world, struggling to understand the sinister mystery that surrounds them.||”|
— Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival
Although there is no official minimum age rating on the series, recommendations are often 8/9/10+. There are parents who read the series to their children as young as 6, which others argue is too young. Individual children have different levels of maturity.
Throughout the series, the children encounter abuse (e.g. child abuse), death, murder, people dying in horrible ways, violence, arson, horror, suffering, loss, pain, grief, misery and despair in a series of unfortunate events. The books also contain slight suggestive 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 birdcage which Olaf threatens to drop. The book ends with Olaf telling Violet he intends to kill her and her siblings with his own two hands. There are also suggestive lines:
- When Count Olaf proposes his marriage play, there is this line: "Violet imagined sleeping beside Count Olaf, and waking up each morning to look at this terrible man."
- When Violet signs the marriage certificate, Count Olaf says, "Now, if all of you will excuse me, my bride and I need to go home for our wedding night."
- When Violet reveals she signed the document with her left hand, Count Olaf says to Violet, "You may not be my wife, but you are still my daughter, and-"
- In the film adaptation of The Bad Beginning, Count Olaf attempts to murder the Baudelaires by trapping them inside a car on train tracks.
- 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!" It is also mentioned that during dinner, under the table, Stephano rubs the blade of his knife against Violet's knee during their entire meal, as a way to psychologically terrify her. The TV series adaptation even has a distressing close-up shot of Uncle Monty's dead body.
- In The Wide Window, the watcher/reader is led to believe that Aunt Josephine jumped to her death and drowned herself in a lake, with a suicide note about how she finds life unbearable. Although she survives that, Aunt Josephine is heavily implied to have drowned or eaten by leeches anyway.
- In The Miserable Mill, Charles is almost sawed to death, while Dr. Georgina Orwell actually is, and it is mentioned that later, the Baudelaires were still shuddering how she met her demise. In the TV adaptation, Sunny is almost thrown into a furnace, while Dr. Georgina Orwell actually burns to death in the furnace.
- In The Vile Village, both Jacques Snicket (Count Omar) and the Baudelaires are almost burned to death at the stake. Jacques ends up being killed anyway; in the books, the details of his death are unclear, but the TV series reveals he was physically beaten with a crowbar. In the TV series, suicide imagery is also seen with a noose in a jail cell. The noose is the reason why it is called a "deluxe" cell.
- In The Hostile Hospital, Violet almost gets her head cut off, and much of the book involves Klaus and Sunny worrying about their sister being decapitated and murdered. In the TV series, the book is adapted like a horror movie, and has a scene in which the viewer is unsure if Olaf will torture Violet, as he even activates an electrical surgical instrument in her presence. The hospital is set on fire, and there is no reason to believe everyone (such as all the patients) survived, especially the Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender who disappears after.
- In The Carnivorous Carnival, there is a pit of lions which maul two victims to death. The starving lions, who have been whipped so hard that their bodies have scars, perish in a fire.
- In The Grim Grotto, there are disturbing and terrifying descriptions of Sunny almost suffocating to death.
- In The Penultimate Peril, Dewey Denouement bleeds to death after a harpoon gun gores him in the stomach, and then proceeds to drown in a pond. Later, there is a hotel fire which probably killed many residents. The book ends with the implication that there are hundreds of people either burning to death or about to be burned to death.
- In The End, there are implications of an entire island being poisoned to death. The book also ends in quite a dark way, with the Baudelaires burying the bodies of Kit Snicket and Count Olaf. The series ends with the ambiguous possibility that the Baudelaires died after leaving the island.
Reviews for A Series of Unfortunate Events have been generally positive, with reviewers saying that the series is enjoyable for children and adults alike, and that it brings fresh, mature and adult themes to children's stories. The books sold 60 million copies and were translated into 41 languages. They were also shared and taught in certain classrooms and were purchasable at Scholastic book fairs.
The series became a literary cultural phenomeon of sorts in youth literature in the early 2000s, and was considered to be an unofficial competitor with the Harry Potter series. The series' boom would eventually be followed with series such as Eragon, Twilight, and The Hunger Games in the same decade. Adding to the phenomenon to the success of the series were mysteries such as the anonymity of Lemony Snicket, due to his indentity as Daniel Handler being unknown to the vast majority of people at the time, as well as the uncertain ultimate fate of the Baudelaires, leading to mass speculation and theorizing. Fans also had much hype towards the releases of The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril and The End which had longer gaps in their release dates and these books would answer many plot threads. The popularity of the series was referenced in a 2005 episode of The Simpsons called "The Bonfire of the Manatees" and later in a 2006 episode of Arthur called "Fern and Persimmony Glitchet", showing how A Series of Unfortunate Events captivated both adult and child audiences.
Although the first few books were criticized and notorious due to their controversial aspects, they gradually gained a cult following over the years as the series continued, leading to the 2004 feature film being produced only a few years after their initial launch, which boosted the popularity of the series further. This also led to a full Netflix adaptation of all thirteen books in 2017, which had a similar effect.
Fans often claim the books are intelligently written, humorous, full of interesting plot twists, engaging mysteries, cliff hangers, complex characters, and themes which force the reader to question their own morality with heavy grey-on-grey morality.
In regards to the children who read the series, the books have often been categorized as "coming-of-age" stories, and are in the "Growing Up & Facts of Life" section on Amazon.com. The Baudelaires go through a lot of character growth; they start off as wealthy and innocent and somewhat naive children who are dependent on their parents and after their parents die, the Baudelaires are unable to rely on their money and live in many dismal and impoverished circumstances. They gradually learn about the horrors and corruption in their world and, by the end, have become incredibly strong, brave, outspoken and mature teenagers. 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. A fan article compares the series to being a "guide for grief."
The series can help teach children critical thinking skills, such as skepticism, as well as a wide variety of vocabulary. Others noted that it can help children to become more independent and learn how to not only voice their own values, but also act on them, due to the themes about the consequences of inaction and complacency, even when it seems the whole world is against them.
In addition, the books may help to generate sympathy and understanding towards those who are unfortunate in life. The reader is forced to experience the constant tragedy of the Baudelaire orphans. For example, in The Austere Academy, the Baudelaires are forced to deal with bullying.
A Series of Unfortunate Events has received its fair share of criticism.
The series has been criticized for formulaic and repetitive storytelling. Similar events occur repeatedly. In Books 1-7, 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. In defense, the formula being recycled makes The Vile Village and the latter books more dramatic. Another example of repetitiveness is that when someone says something, "cried" is often used as a descriptor, such as "Violet cried, 'It wasn't us!'"
Lemony Snicket constantly defines words, even ones such as "rickety", "blanched" and "simmered". In defense, this is meant for the younger readers who probably do not have a large vocabulary. Handler appears to have taken this criticism seriously during development, in order to balance the story so younger readers know what is occurring, while at the same time, trying not to come off as too patronizing and condescending to older readers. In later books, definitions are moreso used in a fashion to describe the events that are unfolding, rather than the specific definition itself.
Some claim and criticize that the books teach children to not trust adults and that it's useless to come to them for help. The series portrays young people (the Baudelaires, the Quagmires, Fiona) as being more sensible and open-minded than the often irrational adults, even going so far to include a nightmarish insane village run by 25 insane elderly people (the Council of Elders), as well as Ishmael. However, another interpretation is that it teaches children to be wary of certain adults instead of all adults, and the idea of why blindly respecting and trusting someone, simply because they are older than you, can be a bad idea.
A woman also once approached Daniel Handler and said, "In one of your books, you teach that it is sometimes necessary to lie." The books do not always portray "honesty as the best policy", showing how at times, not telling the truth is sometimes can be the better option, and why dishonesty can help. For example, the Baudelaires decide to build a trap for Esmé Squalor in order to rescue Sunny, but Quigley has a moral dilemma and decides to be honest. Esmé calls him an idiot for telling her they built a trap, and this begins a chain dangerous of events occur which almost leads to Sunny being thrown off a mountain to her death, because Quigley thought being honest is the "right" thing to do.
The series contains elements of "moral ambivalence", often dismissing the idea of "right" and "wrong". For example, at the end of The Wide Window: Part Two, Klaus wonders if ditching Mr. Poe in order to catch a ride to Lucky Smells Lumbermill was the "right" thing to do. Violet replies that it does not really matter, what matters is what will happen to them.
While the series features some developed characters, it has also been criticized for keeping some characters rather one note. Two developed villains are the Hook-Handed Man and White-Faced Women, who eventually change their ways and leave Olaf. In contrast, Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats are introduced as selfish and bratty and go through little character growth. However, one-note characters can be a positive thing, in the sense that they portray the truth that some people will never change.
A Series of Unfortunate Events has come under criticism from both parents and some school districts for its dark themes. Upon its release, many were quick to deem the series as "sick" and "demented", due to the often overwhelming feelings of despair, children under constant threats of death and violence, people dying in gruesome ways, etc. This was especially true during the time when only books 1-4 were released, in which someone explicitly dies.
The finale of book 5 is perhaps the first turning point of the series; while Duncan is being kidnapped, he shouts "V.F.D.!" which adds a heavy sense of mystery, and the series begins to introduce increasingly complex themes and heavier social commentary. Although book 4 had commentary about corruption in the workforce, the latter books contain social commentary on corruption in aspects like education (book 5), fashion and wealth (book 6), herd mentality (book 7), healthcare (book 8) and entertainment (book 9).
Perhaps most controversial aspect was the suggested incest, referring to Olaf's attempt to marry his supposed distant cousin Violet in The Bad Beginning. Although his main motive is to gain the Baudelaire fortune and not sexual in nature, readers note that are suggestive lines.
There is some low-level profanity used in the series. For example, "damn" and "hell" are 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."
Since its release, access to the books have been banned and restricted in similar school districts; these include:
- Katy ISD Elementary School in Katy, Texas, due to having "violence/horror"
- T.M. Clark Elementary in Portland, due to the extremely vague reason "mysticism"
- Decatur, Georgia, due to Count Olaf attempting to marry Violet
The books have drawn the ire and praise of fundamentalist Christians, some of whom believe the books to be Christian allegories and some of whom believe them to be long-winded insults against Christianity. Despite this, Handler, who is a secular humanist, and does not consider himself a religious person, claimed the books are not supposed to be Christian allegories or attacks on Christianity.
The Baudelaire family have been confirmed to be of Jewish descent, although Violet, Klaus and Sunny do not mention deities or "God", implying religious ambivalence. For example, when the Baudelaires encounter tough situations, they resort to brainstorming and using their wits, instead of prayer and begging a higher power for help. The End mentions the Baudelaires do not believe in magic:
- "The Baudelaires, as a rule, did not believe in magic... Like all people who have seen something of the world, the children had come across plenty of things they had been unable to explain, from the diabolical hypnotism techniques of Dr. Orwell to the way a girl named Fiona had broken Klaus's heart, but they had never been tempted to solve these mysteries with a supernatural explanation like magic."
Some religious comparisons include:
- Count Olaf has been seen as a parallel to Satan or some dark god-like figure. He is tall, has animalistic features that appear demonic, almost goat-like with his goatee and sideburns. He stalks the children mercilessly, is a psychopathic serial killer, and his eyes in his house make the children always seem like they are being watched. No matter where they go, he always seem to find them, implying omniscience. He is also involved with the secret society known as V.F.D.
- In The Ersatz Elevator, the Baudelaires live at 667 Dark Avenue, which is one number away from 666. This may have been intended to foreshadow Esmé being evil, living one number away from a number viewed by many as being evil.
- The Vile Village can be seen as a commentary on organized religion, cults and extremism, as it essentially contains a cult of old people who worship crows and want to burn people to death for not following their ways as part of their hive mind.
- The Hostile Hospital can be seen as commentary on "the power of prayer", as the Volunteers Fighting Disease simply hope and tell the patients to feel better, but neglect actually giving them physical medicine like water and painkillers.
- The End is often theorized to be an inversion of the Book of Genesis. For example, the Island is theorized to be a parallel to the Garden of Eden. Ishmael is theorized to be symbolic of God. During the story, Violet receives an apple which is a "cure" of a fatal disease from a snake, which could be interpreted as an allusion to Eve receiving the "fruit of knowledge" from the serpent. However, the islanders reject the apples, leading to their possible deaths.
- There is a church mentioned in the series called the Cathedral of the Alleged Virgin, which is likely a satire of the concept of religion pushing beliefs as truth.
When asked if A Series of Unfortunate Events is a "world without God", Handler replied, "God is not a character in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The narrator mentions at one point that the characters often felt as if there was something powerful over them, which made no move to help them and was perhaps even laughing at their misfortune. But whether that person was God or the author is up for grabs."
A Series of Unfortunate Events consists of thirteen novels and and one epilogue chapter at the end of the series that is considered by Daniel Handler as a separate book.
- 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
- Chapter Fourteen (included with Book the Thirteenth)
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.
Numerous promotional items and merchandise has been released including calendars, buttons, dust covers, postcards, puzzles, board games and many more. An unofficial website focused on merchandise is here.
There have been two major adaptations of A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Paramount film, and the Netflix series. While the film is not canon to the books, the TV series has debatable canonicity as Daniel Handler was involved with some of it, although he was taken off the development team, and many things in the TV series are different from the books.
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 canceled franchise of films, Daniel Handler was happy with the idea and joined production as one of the executive producers and a writer for the first season which contains eight episodes, although he was less involved with the next two seasons.
Directors of the series include Barry Sonnenfeld, 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.
Other works by Snicket, set in the VFD universe
All the Wrong Questions
- Main article: All the Wrong Questions
All the Wrong Questions is another series written by Daniel Handler set in the same universe as A Series of Unfortunate Events, and includes several characters from it, although mainly in the form of small cameos. This series depicts the childhood of Lemony Snicket himself as a student in the V.F.D. organization. He 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.
- 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
This wiki in other languages
- https://www.aclutx.org/en/publications/banned-books (see bb2k5.pdf & bb2k6.pdf)