Monday, December 21, 2015


Note:  Last week I began my analysis of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by discussing the first three books. Today I’ll be talking about the next three. Also, in case you’d like to read more of my caffeine-induced ramblings, here’s a link to my guest post on Opal’s lovely blog.


For the most part, books 3-7 in A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS follow the same basic pattern as book 2. Mr. Poe places the Baudelaire children in a new home after their previous guardian situation turns out to be a no-go. Then, while the children try to remain optimistic, Olaf shows up and wreaks havoc. With the exception of Uncle Monty’s home in THE REPTILE ROOM, the environments are already less than optimal before Olaf appears. And, of course, each book ends with the children needing a new home.

Mr. Poe. While books 2-7 do follow the same basic plot formula, the characters have plenty of room to grow and/or change. For instance, in books 1-3, Mr. Poe seems relatively willing to dig up what he deems to be a nice, new home for the children, but THE MISERABLE MILL marks the part where even that small willingness dwindles. If it weren’t bad enough that he had initially dropped the Baudelaires off with a man whose relation to the children he couldn’t remember (THE BAD BEGINNING), now he deposits the children at a lumber mill run by a man whose name he does not even know and whose face he has never seen. At this part of the story, also, he begins to spend less time making sure the children acclimate well. And his noticeable absence leaves the children open to exploitation. Were Mr. Poe invested in the Baudelaires’ lives even a tiny bit more, the children could be spared a great deal of suffering.

Likewise, at the boarding school in THE AUSTERE ACADEMY and at the penthouse in THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR, Mr. Poe performs the very least he can of his duties and dumps the children off before hurrying away to deal with other “important” things. Given what has continually happened to the children in their new homes, you would think he would do more to make extra sure that they remain safe and protected. Instead, he cares less and less. Ironically, the point where he becomes Mulctuary Money’s Vice President in Charge of Orphan Affairs (at the beginning of THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR) marks the point where he pretty much stops helping the orphans at all.

The Hypnosis. What I didn’t quite realize as a child was that ASOUE tracks the gradual effects, both negative and positive, of prolonged trauma on young people. I will cover this more in my next discussion, but for now I want to talk about Klaus’s hypnosis and how it might tie in with this.  

Twice Count Olaf’s associates hypnotize Klaus and use him to hurt both Phil (a worker at the Mill) and Charlie (co-owner of the mill). Of course, in real life, hypnosis is a little different than is commonly portrayed in movies and literature. Someone who is hypnotized will not obey orders to perform an act they would not ordinarily do willingly. In other words, if you are not a killer at heart, hypnosis cannot make you a killer. Now, it’s possible that Lemony Snicket (or should I say, Daniel Handler) was not privy to this information while he was writing THE MISERABLE MILL. But what if he did know? If we are to assume that Lemony Snicket was aware of this fact, is it possible that he was trying to say that deep down, Klaus wanted to hurt the people who didn’t care enough about him (and consequently, by not caring enough, contributed to his torment)—that the dark and bitter parts of him are being brought to life through hypnosis? Just something to think about.

Sir. Sir, the children’s guardian in THE MISERABLE MILL, sees them as both a burden and an asset. He is not willing to treat them any better than he treats his workers, and he does not treat his workers well at all.

The onus of finding out whether Sir would be a good guardian or a failure is on Mr. Poe, which means Mr. Poe should do his research. And it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out that Sir feeds his workers gum for lunch after not providing breakfast or that he only pays them in useless coupons. Naturally, if Mr. Poe knew that, it would be worse than negligence to leave the children with a man like Sir. But the fact that Mr. Poe isn’t expecting Sir to put the children to hard labor does not negate the fact that it would be wise for him to see how the mill is run and to see whether the employees are happy or not. That alone would give him a decent idea of Sir’s character. Instead, it seems that Mr. Poe eagerly dumps the children off on the first available person and thinks no more about it. And I doubt I need to tell you how irresponsible that is.

Charles and Jerome. While Charles, from THE MISERABLE MILL, is not the children’s guardian, he is their guardian’s business partner, and he is in a perfect position to witness how they are being treated and to do something about it. The very least he could do is call the police or inform Mr. Poe that the children are being underfed and overworked, which is, by the way, ILLEGAL. Although he is polite and nice and gives the Baudelaires small snacks from time to time, his lack of action makes him complicit in Sir’s abuse of the children. His spinelessness and his avoidance of difficulties coupled with his surface kindness and his compassion, do not make him any less of a bad guy because the end result remains the same—his complacency puts the children in danger.

Jerome, on the other hand, is the children’s guardian for a time (in THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR), so he is responsible for making sure they stay safe and well. And his negligence is inexcusable. He has such an aversion to arguing, even when it is necessary, that he will not even tell a waiter that no, he doesn’t like salmon, so no, he doesn’t want a salmon puff. Even when he recognizes that the children are genuinely concerned about Olaf masquerading as Gunther the auctioneer, he does not press the issue because he does not want to argue with Esme and Olaf/Gunther. When the children show that they are determined to find and rescue the Quagmire triplets no matter the cost, he surrenders guardianship of them because he does not want to argue and he is not willing to do what he knows he needs to do, which is take care of the poor hurting children. Even when he knows they have no one, even when he had promised to take care of them when he took them on in the first place, he does not care enough to help them out in their time of need. Incidentally, he is the last guardian that the children ever have (since I don’t count the village in THE VILE VILLAGE as a guardian—and I’ll explain why next week).

The Baudelaire Children. Okay, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the various adults who have failed the Baudelaires, but it’s time I cover the children themselves. Despite all they have been through, I think it’s safe to say that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny have unbreakable spirits. When they have to do scary things for the sake of others or for the sake of survival, such as Sunny climbing up an elevator shaft with her teeth or Violet scaling a tower using a homemade grappling hook and homemade rope, they do so willingly. If it weren’t for their intelligence, their quick-thinking, and their resourcefulness, they wouldn’t have escaped Olaf’s clutches even the first time. Basically, their ability to think on their feet is the only thing that keeps them alive and free—not the adults, not anyone else, just their innate ability to function no matter what.

While we know they have faced—and continue to face—a great deal of suffering, and while we know that suffering has left its mark on their souls, we never see them wallow. Even Lemony Snicket frequently acknowledges that they are braver and smarter and stronger than he is and that he would crumble under the pressures they withstand. True, the Baudelaires would benefit greatly from external support, such as a guardian who actually cares, and I pity them for having to suffer so very very much throughout the course of the series, but the fact that they have survived what they have survived and still manage to get out of bed (so to speak) every morning is phenomenal. Even in adversity, they thrive—Violet with her inventions, Klaus with his booksmarts and research skills, and Sunny with her fearsome toothiness and her culinary talents. They are some of the best role models you could find, and I am happy that I spent my childhood looking up to them.

Okay, little coffee beans, that’s it for today. What are your thoughts? Have you read the series? Which book is your favorite? I will be posting three more discussions on A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and I will try to encompass as much as possible, but if there is a character or place or theme from ASOUE that you especially want me to discuss and are concerned I won’t cover, feel free to let me know. As always, I welcome your feedback.


  1. WOAH, I love your hypnosis theory! Very often I think people just use hypnosis to make people do things without them knowing—without considering how hypnosis actually works—but if Klaus seriously did want to hurt those who hurt himself and his loved ones... SUCH COMPLEX CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.

    I also think your contrasts are interesting—people like Sir and Count Olaf obviously are problematic, vile characters because they actively make the Baudelaires' lives worse and purposely hurt them. On the other hand, characters like Jerome and Charles are ALSO problematic and terrible, not because they are actively trying to hurt the children, but because they don't do anything to make their lives better when it is so clearly their responsibility to do so. I love that.

    Thanks for doing these analyses, Liz! They are so insightful and interesting and yeah.

    1. Thank you! I just thought of it out of the blue, and I liked it, so I figured I'd mention it. It would definitely make Klaus a more complex character, and it would be natural/understandable as well, considering what he's been through.

      I think it's definitely a powerful element in the story that both the bad people and the "good" people hurt the children in different ways.

      You're welcome, and thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying them. :)

  2. *peeks head in* So, I know I've been a terrible blogger friend lately! I'm so sorry! I've fallen majorly behind on some of my blog readerships and am only now catching up. :p BUT. I do intend to read and comment on most if not all of your posts that I've missed. :)

    To actually discuss this post: I love the insight you show in your discussions, especially about that hypnosis theory. Like, whoa. I'd never noticed that before, but if that was intentional, it's a brilliant way to show how that trauma had changed Klaus.

    And YES, the Baudelaire Children were absolutely incredible.


    1. *welcomes you* It's totally okay--no worries! I drop out randomly too. Sometimes it's just nice to take a break. And aww, thank you!

      And thank you again! It really would change everything, wouldn't it? I really hope Lemony Snicket did it on purpose. :D

      They really are. *gives you coffee beans*

      Thanks for commenting! :)

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