by Lemony Snicket
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 29th 2001
This first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events introduces
the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. How unlucky
they are! First, their parents are killed when their house burns
down. Then they are taken to live with their distant relative
Count Olaf, who turns out to be a very nasty character who wants
to get his hands on the children's fortune. It takes all the children's
intelligence to evade his wicked plans.
This is a wonderful book for children, because it is clever, funny,
entertaining, imaginative, educational, and even has insights
into grief and children's resilience. The narrator of the book
uses plenty of difficult words, but he takes the trouble to explain
their meaning as he goes along. The children are very sympathetic
characters; Violet likes inventing things, Klaus likes reading,
especially about the wildlife of North America, and little Sonny
likes picture books and biting things.
One very appealing feature of this book is that the bad people
are truly evil, and the good people are really good, even if they
have their faults. Count Olaf, the wart-faced man, the hook-handed
man, and his other accomplices are scheming and devious. When
the children are at the mercy of the Count, as they often are
in this story, their lives are awful. They never stop trying to
find ways out of their predicaments, but often there's not much
they can do. Even the adults who are meant to be helping the children
turn out to be no match for Count Olaf. The story takes disturbing
and unhappy turns, and readers with a nervous disposition may
become very anxious at crucial points. The only assurance I can
provide readers is that the children survive, and readers can
work that out that much for themselves because the book series
by Lemony Snicket currently has nine volumes.
Although when the children first are told the terrible news about
the death of their parents they do not weep and wail, there are
several times in the story when it is clear that they feel their
loss very sharply, and they can at least take some comfort in
being together when they are enduring unpleasant experiences.
They also take great pleasure in books and educating themselves;
their refusal to stop looking for ways to solve their problems
is admirable and shows their own strength. This story acknowledges
the existence of terrible events and does not pretend that everything
always turns out for the best in the end; that is both refreshing,
and might even make this book good for the moral education of
children. Children who have themselves suffered the loss of parents
might especially find some comfort in the story of the Baudelaire
children. Adults whose imaginations have not become completely
shriveled should also take great pleasure in this book.
I strongly recommend the audiobook read by Tim Curry.
Curry is a marvelous reader who brings the characters alive with
his reading - especially effective is his portrayal of Count Olaf
and the coughing Mr. Poe. The audiobook contains an interview
with Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket's "personal assistant,"
in which it is revealed that his favorite book as a child was
The Bear's Famous Invasion of Sicily, a book of which there
is no record on the Internet.
Lemony Snicket Web Site
© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks
on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health. He also believes that it is important to have a secret, or not so secret, life of fun if you spend most of your time thinking about serious matters.