Dec 9, 2013

#TheList, Nos. 696 and 708: A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Series of Unfortunate Events is a 13 part series that follows the miserable adventures of the three Baudelaire children. The children, orphans after losing their parents to a tragic fire, must protect themselves and their family fortune from Count Olaf, a distant relative, and his henchmen. Often caught in terrifying death traps, the children must escape using Violet's inventing skills, Klaus' thirst for knowledge, and Sunny's surprisingly sharp teeth. Despite the dangers the characters find themselves in, the books are packed with dark humor and word play, making them exciting and suspenseful reads. 

I read the first book in The Series of Unfortunate Events as a child after receiving it as a gift. My uncle told me I needed to read something other than Harry Potter (he also gave me The Golden Compass). I thought it was incredibly funny and unlike anything I had read before.  But for some strange reason, I never kept up with the series (I was probably too caught up with Harry Potter, let's be honest). Recently, I read a discussion of the series as a whole. It confirmed what I had imagined, that the series, while humorous and innovative, was formulaic in it's approach. However, it mentioned how the books took darker turns and added a great conspiracy midway through the series.  That was enough to make me pick them back up.

The Bad Beginning (No. 696), the first in the series, introduces the Baudelaires with their back story and their first major misadventure. The narrator immediately tells the reader that this is not a happy story. If you want a happy story, close the book and find something else.  Actually, this sentiment is expressed time and time again throughout the series. The narrator goes to great lengths - for example, attempting to bore the reader with the process of water evaporation - to prevent the reader from reading about the many tragedies the Baudelaires face.  Repeatedly shattering that fourth wall with warnings only entices the readers to continue turning pages. Everyone knows that if you tell someone not to do something, it only increases that person's interest.

The author also makes a great effort to define new vocabulary, one of my favorite aspects of the series.  There's absolutely no shying away from challenging words or phrases that readers may not have encountered in previous reading selections. Instead, the words or phrases are defined, examples are supplied, and then it is constantly brought back into the context of the story at hand.

The Vile Village (No. 708), the seventh book, is where the series begins to take darker turns.  Up until now, the Baudelaires have been fairly innocent in their escapes from horrible henchmen.  But this book leaves the Baudelaires falsely accused of murder and on the run from the police.  They must follow a conspiracy-based quest established in an earlier book, leaving running from the law as their only option.  Now that they are on the run, they continue to break the law in order to protect themselves and bring their adventures to an end.

Time after time, the three children escape death and/or capture without the assistance of an adult. When they try to seek adult help, they're often ignored or dismissed as having childish notions. But the Baudelaires frequently catch on to plots and Count Olaf's disguises before adults. Why? Because children often don't get the credit they deserve.  Many adults are depicted in a buffoonish manner to further highlight the children's potential. The series serves as an affirmation of the power of children. Even if the books become repetitive as the series progresses, that message is always prevalent.

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