Warning - contains spoilers!
When I walked into the Crooked Book, a café/bookshop near where I live, I was not expecting to find my next great love. Unfortunately it was not Leonardo Di Caprio standing by the shelves, but something a great deal more unfortunate: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. It's been said that the series is too dark, too depressing, not appropriate for children. That's also been said about Roald Dahl, the brain behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Admittedly both Snicket (the pseudonym of author Daniel Handler) and Dahl err on the murkier side of literature, but that in no way affects the quality of their novels. A Series of Unfortunate Events is 13 novels telling the story of the ill-fated Baudelaire children, three children who are orphaned at the start of the first novel, The Bad Beginning. Due to their family fortune they are the target of Count Olaf, a distant relative who pursues the children relentlessly in every novel, all to get his grimy hands on their inheritance.
It's impossible to dislike the Baudelaires. Violet, Klaus and Sunny are the bravest, brightest kids probably in the whole northern hemisphere. Each has a talent that often comes in handy for each Olaf attack. Violet (age 14) is an inventor, Klaus (age 12) undoubtedly a descendent of Albert Einstein and Sunny (age 1) blessed with razor sharp teeth. Moments of happiness are entirely fleeting for the Baudelaire's. We are warned of this at the start of the novel, when narrator Snicket informs us that 'if you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.' Matter of fact, to say the least. The charm in the series lies exactly with this style of narration, however, with Snicket becoming as vital to the story as the orphans themselves. We are given a rickety picture of a man living in perpetual danger and I can't help but still finding that chilling and exciting even now, years after I read the novels. Snicket is an unsolved mystery, brimming with wisdom and witticisms whilst remaining entirely absurd.
There is the secret of the novel – the children go through ridiculous scenarios, losing every parental figure that ever tries to guide them, facing horrendous misfortune (in the first book alone the Baudelaire's have to live shut up in an attic, Violet is almost forced to marry Olaf and Sunny is almost dropped from a tower to her death) but somehow always band together to survive. The only sustenance for the children is their love for each other, and this renders them all the more likeable to readers.
Courageous children are vital in children's literature. From Dahl's plucky Matilda to Rowling's Harry Potter to Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, fiction for kids is grittier than ever. Despite this, there is great comfort in complex characters, regardless of age, who come through wiser and ultimately stronger.
Quote: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Daniel Handler, pub. 1999