A Series of Intriguing Books
By Josh Fickes
For this edition’s book review, I would like to recommend a book series, rather than an individual book. I have heard mixed opinions concerning this series, and I will admit that it’s not for everyone, especially considering its slightly younger target audience. Regardless, I greatly enjoyed reading A Series of Unfortunate Events. I will attempt to avoid spoilers as much as I can, but to fully express my opinion I will need to divulge some information introduced in later books of the series. Consider this a formal warning.
This series of books follows the journey of three orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, as they attempt to prevent their greedy relative, Count Olaf, from stealing the fortune which they inherited after their parents’ untimely deaths in their burning home. These books were written by Daniel Handler, or, as he is better know with his pen name, Lemony Snicket. However, unlike most pen names which serve to keep authors’ identities anonymous, “Lemony Snicket” is a character in the series, allowing Handler to write from the perspective of an inhabitant of the world which he designed.
Handler, who I will from now on refer to as “Snicket” for simplicity, does an exceptional job of remaining in character throughout the entire series. He is witty, enjoys playing with language in his writing, and remains continually protective of his identity. He also breaks the fourth wall often, as Lemony Snicket is a character who intends for people to read what he writes, and he also defines more advanced words; this exasperated me a bit, though a younger reader would find it helpful, and this repeated method of explaining vocabulary does lend itself to some clever jokes. All of this brings a fresh style to his books which I personally found very engaging.
I have avoided spoilers so far. I cannot promise the same for this next part as I delve into my qualms with and praises for the series.
The series contains thirteen books, and about the first five books repeat the same formula of the Baudelaires finding a new guardian, being confronted by Count Olaf, and foiling Count Olaf’s plan, losing their guardian in some way, and moving on to a new home for a new book. I cannot say that this series is for everyone if it’s first few books pale in comparison to the second half of the series. Snicket finally breaks his routine around book six and delivers an incredible story full of conspiracies and mysteries. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire learn of the existence of a secret organization which their parents were involved in, and they leave their routine of moving between guardians in order to learn about the organization and rescue their new friends, the Quagmire triplets.
The largest complaint I have heard about this book is that it leaves an abundance of questions unanswered at its ending. While I think that this is partially due to Snicket changing his plans for the stories part way through the series (he refers to Klaus as currently being an adult in an early book, but most of the later books indicate that Snicket’s research concerning the Baudelaires occurs only days after each event in the story), I also think that most people are simply confused by Snicket’s unconventional use of certain methods of storytelling. One of the reasons why I actually enjoyed the book was because it did not completely explain everything directly to the reader; it demanded that the reader understand the meaning of certain events to draw conclusions about the story, which authors seem to rarely implement due to the possibility that readers feel confused. If you enjoy trying to piece together additional information about stories, then I highly recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events. Another rarely used device which Snicket employs is one called a “McGuffin.” This comes in the form of the sugar bowl in this series, and it caused many readers pain at the end of the story, which is why I believe McGuffins are so rarely used in writing. A McGuffin is something in a story which serves only to drive the plot. Imagine if in The Lord of the Rings Frodo’s ring, the One Ring, was completely ordinary and the heroes kill Sauron without ever destroying the ring. This would make the ring a McGuffin because its only purpose was to drive the story; it motivated characters to do things but never affected the plot in any other way. The sugar bowl in A Series of Unfortunate Events constantly drives the plot, as all of the secret organization continually attempts to obtain the sugar bowl. However, once Snicket obtains the sugar bowl, its contents are never revealed to the reader, leaving the biggest mystery in the book answerless. This lack of answers definitely leaves some disappointed in this series, but I found it an interesting opportunity.
Throughout the series, Snicket flees from authorities while trying to research the Baudelaires and their journey, and I felt, after finishing the final book, that Snicket’s lack of answers was an invitation to join in his frantic research. I remember finishing the last book and then, the next morning, lounging on my sofa as I browsed various wikis and articles on the Internet as I tried to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I came to the realization as I continued my research that this lack of answers led to some incredible literary themes which I would love to discuss in more detail sometime, how adults are sometimes just as confused by life and tragedy as children are, how not knowing all of the answers in life is sometimes just the way life is, and others. However, not only did I discover some interesting analyses of the book, I also found an answer to just about every question except the sugar bowl, on which I read many theories. My favorite sugar bowl theory from a comedic standpoint was that it was filled with sugar and Count Olaf just really needs his sugar; my favorite from a plot standpoint is that it contained evidence which proved Snicket’s innocence, and thus a certain unibrowed individual’s guilt, in the Quagmire fire. My other research discovered other intriguing points of the plot, such as the fact that a certain map of a tunnel between two homes acts as evidence that one of the owners of one of those two homes was responsible for the Baudelaire fire. In short, I greatly enjoyed being able to spend some time researching the Baudelaires, just like Snicket, in order to learn the answers which were not directly presented in the books.
This article has drawn on long enough, I think, and if you are still reading then you are probably very interested in this series or very bored with nothing else to do. While this series takes a while to reach its most interesting, conspiracy-filled plot points, the mysteries and deep literary value and challenge of trying to understand everything which occurs in this story make it a very worthwhile read. If you pick up these very fantastic documents, I promise that they will make you think and that you will internally chuckle at some of Snicket’s witty writing while being swept into a zany and interesting world.