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Experience and Enjoy Lemony Snicket's Writing
The elusive author Lemony Snicket is quite the enigma, a word which here means "mystery." His time spent following the horrible mishaps faced by the Baudelaire children is well documented in his A Series of Unfortunate Events, but that doesn't mean the man himself is easy to find.
Luckily for us readers--and perhaps unluckily for the man himself--Snicket leaves behind a series of clues that the voracious clue-hunter can find and piece together to learn more about the man, the myth, the legend of Lemony Snicket.
A Brief Biography
Reports of Lemony Snicket's life and upbringing are scarce and often contradictory. Even his Unauthorized Autobiography cannot be entirely trusted on this matter. He may have grown up in a small town, now living in a big city. It's possible he was born by the sea, and now lives under it. He may have been kidnapped (or recruited) by a sinister (or noble) organization as an infant (or young child). It's possible that he has siblings, but just as possible that he does not. At press time, no reliable photographs or physical descriptions of the enigmatic Lemony Snicket seem to exist.
What we can say for certain is that at some point he was born and at another point he took upon himself the terrible burden, a word which here means "hardship," of tracking down the Baudelaire orphans and sharing their story with the world.
Not, of course, that he expects anyone to read these stories. In fact, he often advises against it and strongly, for these are stories of serious misfortune and woe, and no properly-minded person should take their weight upon themselves.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Snicket's most famous (and perhaps, most tragic) task has been following and documenting the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. Collected in thirteen books (with some supplements) and known collectively as A Series of Unfortunate Events, this series of unfortunate events begins with the death of the Baudelaire parents in a fire that also consumes the Baudelaire home.
The first four Baudelaire misfortunes, captured in The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill follow a somewhat stock pattern. Mr. Poe, the executor of their parents' estate, finds a guardian for the Baudelaires. Unfortunate events occur, either because of or in spite of those guardians, and by the end of the story, the Baudelaires are forced to move on to another new and possibly terrible situation.
It's not until the fifth book, The Austere Academy, that the real mystery and world-building begins. It breaks the formula set forth by the previous books and introduces interesting, recurring characters who shape the Baudelaire's outlooks and fates. From then on, through The Ersatz Elevator, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and finally, The End, the Baudelaires must endure terrible things while trying to solve the mystery of the fire that killed their parents.
Haunted by first guardian Count Olaf--who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the fortune the Baudelaire parents left behind, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny frequently find themselves without allies. The adults in their lives dismiss their concerns and neglect their duties toward the children, leaving them with only each other to rely on.
A Series of Unfortunate Characters
Violet Baudelaire is the eldest, fourteen and resourceful. She creates and invents things, often tying her hair up with a long ribbon while she's doing so.
Klaus Baudelaire, twelve, is a voracious reader who can store away and then bring in the most obscure and yet most helpful facts at any time.
Sunny Baudelaire, an infant, likes to bite things.
Count Olaf is a melodramatic and twisted actor and chief antagonist to the Baudelaire children. He is a master of disguise, but can usually be identified by the mysterious tattoo of an eye found on his ankle. He is also a member of the mysterious V.F.D., a vast and confusing conspiracy.
Count Olaf's Theatre Troupe serve as henchmen in Olaf's schemes. They include the Hook-Handed Man, the Two White-Faced Women, the Bald Man with the Long Nose, the One who looks neither like a Man nor a Woman, and others.
Mr. Poe is the banker in charge of the Baudelaire estate. He is never of any real use to the children and never believes their stories until it's too late.
Duncan and Isadora Quagmire are the Quagmire triplets. Their other triplet, Quigley, died in a house fire with their parents under circumstances not so very different from the Baudelaires themselves. They become good friends with Violet and Klaus.
Beatrice is a mystery. Lemony Snicket dedicates all his stories to her, occasionally pining for her in the pages of the books. What little we know of Beatrice tells us this: she is dead, and Lemony Snicket loves her very much.
A Series of Unfortunate Companion Stories
In addition to A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket and helpers have published a collection of other works related to these stories, expanding the world of the Baudelaires and especially of Lemony Snicket himself. Here is a list of all ASOUE books and companion pieces in order of publication:
- The Bad Beginning (1999)
- The Reptile Room (1999)
- The Wide Window (2000)
- The Miserable Mill (2000)
- The Austere Academy (2000)
- The Ersatz Elevator (2001)
- The Vile Village (2001)
- The Hostile Hospital (2001)
- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography (2002). This puzzling collection of letters, photos, songs and code gives a bit a picture of young Mr. Snicket's upbringing--but it may not be all that reliable.
- The Baby in the Manger (2002). This children's book is a secular Nativity story by Mr. Snicket.
- The Carnivorous Carnival (2002)
- The Slippery Slope (2003)
- The Grim Grotto (2004)
- The Lump of Coal (2004). This Snicket Christmas story is about a living lump of coal who wishes to be an artist.
- The Penultimate Peril (2005)
- The Beatrice Letters (2006). This collection includes letters written by Lemony to his beloved Beatrice, and letters from a different Beatrice trying to find more information about Lemony. It may also contain clues about what happens to the Baudelaires after the events of The End.
- The End (2006)
- Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid (2007). A collection of Snicket wit and wisdom.
- The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story (2007). The story of a poor, frustrated latke who just wants to teach people about Hanukkah.
- The Composer is Dead (2009). A whodunit about an orchestra, including musical accompaniment.
- 13 Words (2010). Tells a story through thirteen words.
There is also, of course, the unfortunate film staring the unfortunately cast Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. It is unfortunately flawed, and unfortunately does not live up to the book series with which it shares its name. Fortunately, some parts of it are quite good--especially on the aesthetic side--so it is not a total bust.
If These Events Are So Unfortunate ...
...why would anyone want to read about them?
Indeed, this is a question Lemony Snicket asks his readers quite often. He encourages them to find more pleasant stories, ones with happy endings and little conflict. Stories where adults are good to children and no one dies in fires. He acknowledges that telling these stories is his burden, but he doesn't see why anyone would want to share that burden with him.
Beyond the captivating characters and bizarre, ridiculous scenarios in which they find themselves, truly the biggest reason to read these books is Snicket himself. The dark humor and pathos he brings to the stories make them real page turners while keeping readers emotionally invested. He doesn't speak down to his readers, despite writing for a younger audience, He frequently uses terminology and makes references that will expand his readers' vocabularies and cultural awareness. Though the stories are bleak and depressing, Snicket brings a balance that few authors could match.
All The Wrong Questions
In fall of 2012, Lemony Snicket began publishing another series--one telling his own story. In part one, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, thirteen-year-old Snicket is a detective in training, sent with his mentor to discover who might have stolen the Bombinating Beast, a statue about the size of a loaf of bread. He finds a conspiracy much deeper than he originally thought, of course. This rare look into Lemony Snicket's youth shows a vibrant, brave and clever young man, and though those familiar with A Series of Unfortunate Events will know what a sad, hunted man he becomes, he makes a compelling young protagonist.
Daniel Handler, Friend (?) to Lemony Snicket
Daniel Handler, who frequently makes appearances on Lemony Snicket's behalf, is himself an accomplished author. His books for adults include the excellent The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, and a series of vignettes collected in the book Adverbs.
His young adult novel, Why We Broke Up, was a nominee for the Michael L. Printz award for the "best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit" in 2012.