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I don't know what I am in this story. It's hard enough to decide what I am- hero or villain or something else- in my own story, let alone yours.
Lemony Snicket, The Hero of the Story

"The Hero of the Story" is a short story by Lemony Snicket. It is included in Guys Read: Heroes & Villains short story collection edited by Jon Scieszka.


Rona: Some people will think you're a hero, and some people will think you're a villain.
Lemony Snicket: You could say that about anyone.
Rona: Does it matter what people say? Or is it more important what you think of your own actions?
The Hero of the Story

The story begins on a winter afternoon with thirteen-year-old Lemony Snicket sitting on a bench in a park, frightened about his current situation and tying to cheer himself up by imagining himself a hero. A woman, claiming she spilled tea on her baby carriage, asks Snicket to look after her baby for a minute while she grabs towels, and then quickly leaves.

Snicket is frightened of the small baby who looks angry and is dressed strangely and fancily, and attempts to calm himself and the baby by speaking to it and imagining it speaking back; as he does, he refers to the baby as "your highness," and is overheard by a girl on a bicycle, who he later discovers was the police commissioner's daughter.

After speaking to the baby for a while, Snicket notices that the woman is not back. He fails to find the woman at the tea shop or enlist help from the shopowner, and waiting in the park for another hour, Snicket decides to go to the library. There are two librarians, and the one he dislikes is on duty, so he goes to find a book to read.

He reads a story to the baby from a book suggested to him by the helpful librarian, with stories from all over the world that follow the Hero's journey format. He reads to the child a story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Rona, who decided to slay a giant crab that had been menacing her village. Rona tied a vine to two trees beside a cliff over the sea, and then baited the crab to the cliff. She leapt off and grabbed the vine, saving herself, but the crab fell into the sea. Rona was considered a hero in her village, but when a great emperor arrived with a great heap of money to use to pay the village in return for the crab, the villagers instead gave him Rona as a bride. Despite Rona's protests, she was taken to the emperor's palace, where she lived in boredom and fury and was refused a trip home. She began to plan, and tied a long bell pull to two lamps as tall as trees as she did to the cliff.

Before Snicket can finish the story, a man sees him and shouts, and causes the baby to cry. The man comes in and brings the police, who arrest Snicket. Snicket is left in an interrogation room, now frightened because they have taken the baby from him. A Police Inspector enters and informs him that the baby was the kidnapped emperor of Cramiton, and as he had been heard referring to the baby as "your highness" and nobody had seen the woman who gave him the baby, he is considered a kidnapper and a villain. She leaves him in the interrogation room, and Snicket then talks to an imaginary Rona about whether he is a hero or a villain, and whether she is as well.

After trying to sleep in the interrogation room, Snicket realizes that when the woman left, he could hear crying from her baby carriage, which meant there was a second baby. At that, the inspector returns and gives him the baby they'd taken, informing him that the baby is not the emperor as it is a girl.

While talking to the baby, Snicket realizes that the woman had kidnapped the emperor and used the female baby to throw off her trail. The inspector had informed Snicket that now they are looking for the baby's mother, and Snicket worries that this mother could have kidnapped the baby he is holding, or even if she didn't that she thought to abandon her child.

Snicket leaves the police station, deciding the baby should not be given back to a kidnapper, even if she is the baby's biological mother. As he walks, he speaks again to the baby and to Rona about morality. He reaches the library at sunrise as the helpful librarian is unlocking the door, and he gives the baby to her to raise and then leaving the city. A few days later, the real emperor was found and the kidnapper was sent to jail- however, she never mentioned another baby.

At the end, it is revealed that the reader was the baby in the story, who has had an interesting childhood and is now about thirteen.


Book References

Akin to All the Wrong Questions, Snicket references several books, though not by name. They are supposed to be:

  • The Princess Who Never Smiled as collected by Alexander Afanasyev: possibly referenced in Snicket's line, "I had not found a princess who never laughed[...]"
  • The Golden Goose: another possible reference for "I had not found a princess who never laughed[...]" as well as the following sentence, "or a talking goose who could turn grain into gold."


  • The events of the story take place after All the Wrong Questions. Snicket is thirteen, has nowhere to live, and has been "utterly unsupervised for a number of months."[1]
  • Definitions:
    • Menaced: "a word which here means attacked people and destroyed things".
    • Retinue: "a word for advisers and guards and slaves who were carrying the emperor's vast treasure."
    • Bell pull: "which is a cord attached to a bell to ring for servants or snacks."
    • Emperor: "means king".
    • Beside the point: "a phrase that here means she didn't want to talk about it with me."
  • At the end of the short story, it is revealed that the reader was the baby, which means that the reader is female. This is ironic since this story is part of Guys Read collection, an organization that encourages young boys to read.
  • Several lines in the book could be seen as possibly critical of V.F.D. and its method of recruitment (as described in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography), especially considering Snicket is seemingly, at the moment, on the run from the organization[1] and living alone. Such lines are:
Plenty of people hold babies who are not the baby's mother. I was proof of this.
Lemony Snicket: After all, I volunteered to take care of you.
Baby: You didn't volunteer. You were practically forced. And you're not really taking care of me.
I made a short list of things a baby might need, but of course I had none of them. I had no food or a bottle of milk. I had no blankets or toys. I had no mother or father.
— Lemony Snicket
Lemony Snicket: I'm not going to have the police place you in the care of a kidnapper.
Baby: If you take me with you, aren't you a kidnapper yourself?
Lemony Snicket: I don't know.