A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (actually Daniel Handler, who insists he isn't Mr. Snicket when he does book signings).

  1. The Bad Beginning
  2. The Reptile Room
  3. The Wide Window
  4. The Miserable Mill
  5. The Austere Academy
  6. The Ersatz Elevator
  7. The Vile Village
  8. The Hostile Hospital
  9. The Carnivorous Carnival
  10. The Slippery Slope
  11. The Grim Grotto
  12. The Penultimate Peril
  13. The End

See also: Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters.

This is a remarkably funny series for intermediate readers. It is sort of an anti-fairy tale, because as the backs of the books and all their introductions warn, there are no happy endings. The villains get away. People die in horrid ways. Ridiculously bad situations occur regularly. And there seems to be no end in sight for the poor protagonists: The Baudelaire orphans.

The story centers around Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire and their eternal attempts to escape the nefarious Count Olaf, who wishes to steal their fortune and cause them bodily harm, preferably in that order. After their parents perish in a house fire, the Baudelaires are taken from caretaker to caretaker by Mr. Poe, their late parents' good friend and Orphan Affairs manager at a bank. Their first guardian is Count Olaf himself, who reveals himself as villainous scum almost immediately as he tries to hatch a plan to steal the fortune that the Baudelaires will inherit when they come of age.

The rest of the series involves Count Olaf tracking the orphans down in whatever bizarre circumstances they've encountered this time. He follows them to every new residence, sometimes enlisting the help of his acting troupe, and dons a ridiculous disguise of some sort as he plots to steal their fortune. No one ever believes that he is really Count Olaf no matter how many positive identifications the Baudelaires get under their belts; he is always able to hide his one long eyebrow and the tattoo of an eye he has on his ankle. The Baudelaires, also having the problems of their strange situations to deal with, have quite a time getting out of their predicaments, but by combining Violet's inventing skills, Klaus's amazing literacy, and Sunny's four sharp baby teeth, they always manage to construct a plan.

Things complicate when Olaf's plans include kidnapping their friends the Quagmire triplets in the fifth book of the series. After that point they not only have to try to track the Quagmires down (and figure out the secret of V.F.D.), but also avoid Olaf and attempt to stay alive despite Mr. Poe's increasingly ridiculous choices of residence for them.

The books contain several idiosyncracies. First of all, Mr. Snicket portrays the events of the Baudelaire orphans' lives as real events that he is personally researching and cataloguing, seemingly very reluctantly at that. He warns you that you should not be reading these and he wishes he was not writing them. Secondly, every book is dedicated to a mysterious Beatrice, with whom Mr. Snicket apparently was smitten. The dedications always mention that she is dear to him . . . and that she is dead. Usually in a very humorous way (such as "For Beatrice--My love for you shall live forever. You, however, did not."). Another common element is the constant definition of unusual words in the story; large vocabulary is sometimes used, and then immediately defined in narration in some silly way. And lastly, since Sunny is a baby, she talks baby talk--usually single-word exclamations that her brother and sister can somehow understand and usually translate.

This series definitely chronicles horrid events, but it is not scary in the least because it is so unrealistic in many respects. Most of the adults in the stories seem completely insane or have unusual hobbies or obsessions (such as impeccable grammar or fashion), and many mysteries are unraveled and hurdles overcome in ridiculous ways (such as Klaus decoding a completely ambiguous note or Sunny climbing up an elevator shaft using only her teeth). These come highly recommended not only for children, who will enjoy the story, but also for adults, because of the obscure references and the off-the-wall humor. There are thirteen books, the first having been released in 1999; beginning with The Carnivorous Carnival, it was announced that there would only be one book released a year. The End is the last volume in the thirteen-book series.

The publisher helpfully provides a reading guide for book clubs whose leaders wish to inflict such dreadful reading material upon their hapless readers:

  1. In The Bad Beginning, Mr. Snicket warns his readers, "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book." Yet many people have insisted on continuing to read this book anyway. What is wrong with such people?
  2. The theme of The Reptile Room might be best stated, "Look out for Count Olaf -- he will try to murder you!" Why do you think there are so few books that deal with this theme?
  3. In The Wide Window, the character of Aunt Josephine is frightened of many things, and then a very frightening thing happens to her. Is it useful to feel fear, because it prepares you for nasty events, or is it useless, because nasty events will occur whether you are frightened or not?
  4. The Miserable Mill brings up many important issues of the day, including child labor in the lumber industry, hypnotism within the medical profession, gum-chewing, cigar-smoking, cross-dressing, and the futility of coupons, bankers and optimism. How does the treatment of these issues in Snicket's work differ from their treatment in the newspaper, on television and in musical theater?
  5. Does anything in your life compare with the anguish the Baudelaire children encounter in The Austere Academy? If so, how terrible for you. If not, how nice. Discuss.
  6. In The Ersatz Elevator, Violet, Klaus and Sunny encounter many things which are not what they seem. Yet The Ersatz Elevator is what it seems -- a book containing nothing but despair, discomfort and woe. Discuss.
  7. Violet, the eldest Baudelaire child, often risks her life when using one of her inventions in a desperate attempt to escape Count Olaf's treachery. Is this a proper role model for young women?
  8. Klaus, the middle Baudelaire child, often finds out disturbing information when researching Count Olaf's evil ways. Is this a proper role model for young men?
  9. Sunny, the youngest Baudelaire child, occasionally uses her four sharp teeth in an aggressive manner, in order to defeat Count Olaf's dreadful behavior. Is this a proper role model for young babies?
  10. Each of the books in A Series of Unfortunate Events is dedicated to Beatrice. When HarperCollins asked Mr. Snicket about this mysterious woman, he burst into tears and was unable to answer. Is this an appropriate author for young readers?
  11. In each of Mr. Snicket's books, there is no evidence that Count Olaf has ever been captured by the appropriate authorities. Is this more terrifying than horrifying, or more horrifying than terrifying? Discuss.
  12. If Count Olaf is still at large, isn't it risky to attract his attention by purchasing and reading any of Mr. Snicket's books? Discuss.
  13. Who is standing behind you right now? Discuss.

An Unofficial "A Series of Unfortunate Events" drinking game

Note the usage of sips instead of swigs or drinks. The reason being that you may well die of alcohol poisoning otherwise. On that note, I take no responsibility for anything that befalls you if you do actually try this out. It's your own fault for reading children's literature whilst drinking excessively.

One sip:

  • Each time Lemony Snicket feels it necessary to point out how horrible the book is and that you would be better off reading something else.
    • Sip again if he actually suggests a specific book to read as an alternative.
  • Each time you realise that a character's name mirrors that of a literary figure or author.
  • Each time the author feels compelled to define a word he's just used.
    • Sip again if he does so by having a character utilise a word and then explain it patronisingly.
      • Sip yet again if Klaus immediately replies by squawking that they already know what said word means.
  • Each time the three children are described as currently thinking about inventing, researching and biting, respectively.
  • Each time Violet ties her hair with a ribbon to keep it from her eyes.
    • Again if one of the other characters comments on this.
  • Whenever one of the Baudelaires gets separated from the other two.
  • Whenever Mr Poe is totally unhelpful.
  • Each time someone comments on the children's manners.
  • Every time Count Olaf or one of his henchmen refers to the children as "Orphans".
  • Each time the children have to do work.
  • If someone gives an excuse for not attempting to reveal Count Olaf's disguise.
  • When someone mounts a rescue.
    • Again if said rescue takes up the entire book.
  • If one of the three children comments on a V.F.D. red herring.
  • Every time Olaf demonstrates his vanity.
  • Whenever someone refers to Violet as Veronica or Klaus as Klyde.
  • Each time the Baudelaires are framed.
  • Each time Snicket describes something as being rude.
  • Each time someone does something that could get them killed.
  • Every time something ironic happens.
    • Again if Lemony Snicket points it out.

Two sips:

  • Whenever Count Olaf looks like he's about to slap someone.
    • Again if he does.
      • Yet again if the recipient of said slap is Klaus.
    • Again if the dangerous shine in his eye is commented on.
  • Whenever one of the Baudelaires is incapacitated.
  • If Lemony Snicket makes a literary allusion by some method other than his characters' names.
  • If the kids reminisce about something that happened in a previous book.
  • Each time someone recounts a historic fact.
    • Again if it's not Klaus.
    • Again if it's Violet.
  • If one of Count Olaf's disguises fools all of the children.
  • Whenever someone comments on the Baudelaires' slide into poverty and parentlessness.
  • Whenever all three kids team up to do some research.
  • When Count Olaf's disguise is first revealed.
  • Whenever Violet thinks about the promise she made to her parents.
  • Each time someone refers to Count Olaf's eye obsession.
  • On every occasion when someone is described as "shivering" or "shuddering".
    • Again if it's one of the Baudelaires.
      • Again if it's Violet shuddering due to someone making a threat against her.
  • Each time Sunny gets someone out of trouble.
    • Again if he does so without using her teeth.
  • Every time Count Olaf or one of his henchmen casually threatens to kill or maim someone.
  • If someone makes a very bad joke.
  • Whenever Klaus has an outburst.
  • Whenever someone describes someone else or something in a diplomatic way to avoid causing offence.
  • Every time Snicket mentions the Baudelaires having a sleepless night.
  • Every time Snicket compares the reader's life to that of the Baudelaires.
  • Whenever a baddie makes an ageist or sexist comment.
  • Each time a Baudelaire relative dies in suspicious circumstances.
  • Whenever Count Olaf anthropomorphises something.
  • If Count Olaf isn't encountered until the latter half of the book.

Three sips:

  • When Lemony Snicket uses a word incorrectly.
  • Anybody utilises a technology invented after 1960.
  • Whenever one of Count Olaf's disguises doesn't fool an adult.
  • Whenever Beatrice is mentioned other than in the acknowledgement at the start of the book.
  • Each time one of the characters quotes from or refers to a famous work of literature or legal precedent.
  • When a character uses sarcasm.
  • If any character breaks the fourth wall.

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