Monday, December 28, 2015


Note: Over the past two Mondays, I’ve discussed the first six books of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (the links are here and here). Today I’ll be talking about the next three. Also, in case you’d like to read more of my caffeine-induced ramblings, and in case you missed it earlier, here’s a link to my guest post on Opal’s lovely blog.

When I was a child, without fully understanding why, I knew that THE VILE VILLAGE marked the turning point in ASOUE. From THE VILE VILLAGE on, the series gets darker, and deeper, and—dare I say it?—better. So let’s talk about this.

The Darkness. I’ve come across a bunch of negative reviews of ASOUE out there, including a fair deal of disapproval aimed at the darkness and the ambiguity. People have expressed their belief that the difficult elements in this story are not suitable for children or that kids couldn’t possibly enjoy a story with those aspects. And I get that. Really, I do. Because, for a while, I stopped understanding ASOUE as much as I did before, and I wondered if the books were too depressing. But, at that same time, (I was sixteen) I also stopped thinking as deeply, I started writing more annoyingly pretentious-sounding stories, and someone who meant a lot to me died. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that the books weren’t lacking. I was the one lacking. I had temporarily lost my focus.

To take the attitude that children cannot handle the level of negativity in ASOUE—to say that they should be shielded—is to borrow too much of Mr. Poe’s mindset, in my opinion. It’s to forget how capable children can be, how deep, how thoughtful, if given the chance. Like the pain of childbirth, I suspect that adults tend to forget the pain of growing up—that niggling feeling of being too big for your mind and too big for your body.  

Your childhood is your most formative stage. Most everything has a bigger impact. All the contributing elements in your environment join forces to shape the person you will be in adulthood. So, it’s important for children to understand, sooner rather than later, that the world does not operate in black and white and that suffering does not mean the end of a person. True, yes, don’t expose young people to something they aren’t ready for. There’s no need to watch TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with your three-year-old because Liz said not to shelter your children. (News flash: Liz doesn’t know everything. She just pretends to know everything.) But if you shield young people from reality for too long, you will only raise more people like Mr. Poe, adults who hide from the ugly truth—who cough into their handkerchiefs—so they don’t have to get their hands dirty and help people. You will only create adults who don’t understand what the world is really like.

Mr. Poe. THE VILE VILLAGE marks the point where Mr. Poe officially reaches the end of his meager patience with the children. In his mind, he has found home after home for the Baudelaire orphans, and time after time they have caused trouble. No, seriously, that’s what he thinks. Never mind that Count Olaf has been after the children’s fortune since the beginning, that he has caused all this trouble himself, and that he is the one who should be punished for his actions. Instead, Mr. Poe blames the children for their misfortunes. According to him, they are the trouble-makers, the culprits who continuously put his bank’s name in a bad light, the individuals who make his job thirteen times harder. If it weren’t for the Baudelaires’ tendency to kick up a fuss and to see Count Olaf everywhere, he wouldn’t have to keep finding new homes for them. And so on and so forth.

I guess, since the Baudelaires are children, and since they are orphans, they are particularly vulnerable, which makes them easy targets for the blame game. Why on earth would Mr. Poe want to recognize his own incompetence and blame himself for all the times he has utterly failed the children? And why would he blame Count Olaf, since Count Olaf wouldn’t have been such a problem had Mr. Poe done his job properly? No, the blame must land squarely on the Baudelaires’ shoulders.

So here, at this final juncture in this final formulaic installment before Snicket delves into unchartered territory, Mr. Poe cares so little he is willing to dump the children off on a village. It doesn’t even matter which village. Let the children pick one, any one, and he will leave them there without fact-checking or researching beforehand. Don’t first make sure this is a good place. Don’t even take the children over in person. Just send them on their merry way and warn them that this is their last chance not to cause trouble and make the bank look bad. Good job, Mr. Poe—you get a gold star.

The Village. Now we come to the point where I argue that the people in the Village of Fowl Devotees don’t even count as guardians. In my opinion, a guardian, however flawed they might be, is someone who takes you into their home and at least cares for your basic needs. A guardian is not someone who dumps you on someone else, in the way that the village council dumps the children on Hector. Hector may be the one who takes care of the children, because he was assigned to the role, but he was never intended to be the sole caregiver. The village as a whole had volunteered for that job. And instead of fulfilling that responsibility, the only remotely guardian-like connection they have with the children is in making them do all the village chores.

The Rules. The people of the village have so many rules, it’s nearly impossible to do anything without breaking one. Worse than that, they are uncompromising and unforgiving in their pursuit of the law. They fail to recognize that human beings need freedom and wiggle room in order to live life fully and completely. Like a lot of people, they find it easier just to have those in authority dictate all their actions so they don’t have to think for themselves, so they don’t have to deviate from established patterns, and so they don’t have to care about others.

The Baudelaires’ Struggle. After THE VILE VILLAGE, where another person who was supposed to care fails them miserably (Hector), the Baudelaires find themselves at a new emotional low. To have the hope of escape offered to them (the hot air balloon and the freedom from suffering it represented), and then to have that taken away, along with their friends (the Quagmire triplets), is to rub salt in the wound. They have been resourceful and they have tried their hardest and they have contributed their best, and they still end up worse off than they were before. They do not know if anyone will rescue them, they do not know if their friends are safe, and they do not know if they will be thrown in jail for a crime they did not commit.

THE HOSTILE HOSPITAL finds them on the run from the law, in more danger than they have ever faced before, with enemies on every side. The world is darkening around them, and they fear they are becoming dark with it. Only now do the children begin to see how truly awful supposedly non-villainous people are. In V.F.D. the villagers, who condemn murder, are eager to burn the children at the stake. In Heimlich Hospital the audience, which condemns murder, is eager to see doctors perform a craniectomy on Violet. And in THE CARNIVEROUS CARNIVAL the onlookers, who condemn murder, are eager to watch lions devour one of the freaks in the freak show. Even the supposedly good people are not good. The law-abiding citizens are not good. No one is good.

The children begin to doubt their own innocence in all of this. As they strike out into the bloodthirsty world on their own, they are forced to make decisions they are not always proud of. They trick poor, old Hal and steal the keys to his library of records even though they hate lying to the elderly man. They disguise themselves as freaks and lie about their identities. They snoop. The commit arson. They begin to wonder if they are turning into Count Olaf. Surrounded by adults who blind themselves to reality, adults who accept what they are told without asking questions, adults who embrace and worship their limitations, adults who enjoy hurting others, how are the Baudelaires supposed to grow up to be good people? Since the death of their parents, no one has set a decent example for them, and they have been forced to forge their own moral compasses. (Don’t worry, I will definitely cover this topic more in my next ASOUE discussion.)

So yes, I can see where this sort of story would bother adults—because it reflects reality. Even the good guys are bad guys. Adults fail children just as they fail other adults. Too often children have to sink or swim on their own, to figure out their morality in a sea of ambiguity. But that’s the beauty of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. It’s more than just a condemnation of those who do not care enough. It is a wake-up call. And that, more than anything, is why it is well worth reading.

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 two 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. Ah, the more I read your posts the more I want to read this series again because I love everything about it. I think that when I read them the first time I understood that it was deeper than it seemed, and meant a lot, but I wasn't able to explain to myself *why* I felt that way. You bring up a lot of points that only came back to me later. I remember that I read it alongside my mom, and she stopped reading after The Hostile Hospital because she said they were "too depressing". That always struck me as weird -- I knew they were depressing, and dark, but I also felt like there was something more to that and I couldn't stop reading. I had a lot of difficulty finding books I enjoyed and connected with when I was younger and Lemony Snicket's books kind of filled that gap. I don't know what that says about me. xD

    1. Mission accomplished. I totally felt the same way reading them when I was younger--I knew they were deep and special, but I couldn't put my finger on the why until I got older. My mom thought they were rather depressing too--I think maybe it's important to read them as a kid before you read them as an adult? The dual perspective might be what makes them so special? ASOUE was definitely one of the hallmarks of my childhood, and not many other books measured up. And pssh, loving them says that you're a brilliant person, obviously. *nods knowingly*

  2. I like the overarching theme you discuss, which is essentially should children be exposed to books that don't look at the world through rose-colored lenses? And I think that's very interesting because even though it's not something my parents ever impressed on me, it's something they impress on themselves—if something makes them overly unhappy or uncomfortable in a book they just stop reading. And I think ASOUE is interesting in that it gives children a chance to look at the world as if they were adults, who do get exposed to a lot of unhappy and uncomfortable things. I do remember Violet's almost craniectomy... That was a good scene.

    I don't know... I think it's just good as a kid to know there's someone in the world who won't lie to you and that person is Lemony Snicket.

    1. Thank you! It's been something that's been on my mind recently--the whole idea of how much adults should censor the literature children should read, as well as the measure to which children can handle more than adults realize. It's definitely important, in my opinion, for a child to be exposed to the darker aspects of life at an earlier age. Definitely, that shouldn't happen all at once, and it's much better in a controlled environment, like with ASOUE. I think adults especially are too quick to cave to discomfort when sometimes a sense of discomfort might be a warning sign that we're getting too comfortable. And it's important for children to begin to feel like adults take them seriously--the way Lemony Snicket treats his younger readers as though they are essentially adults. It's definitely a topic worth exploring more. The cranioectomy was definitely a big scene for me when I was younger, because it just showed so much of human nature (specifically the audience), and it really impressed on me how poor a job Mr. Poe had been doing that the kids could even be in that situation in the first place.

      Yeah, I so appreciate how Lemony Snicker tells it like it is, but he also tells it well in a way that won't scar children. Thanks for commenting! :)

  3. Wow, reading over your posts about this series, I feel like there's so much I missed when I read it the first time. I mean, of course I understood what was happening to a certain extent, but I think that, for the most part, ASOUE was more of a story than anything else. Maybe because I was a lot younger (middle school, I believe) I just didn't see many of the deeper meanings.
    Also, I think that, to me, the situations seemed too unrealistic to be taken too seriously, but I still loved seeing the Baudelaires... resilience, how they always managed to make it out, no matter how dark the situation was. It was... kind of encouraging, I think. To know that they, kids the same age or younger than I was, could do all of that.
    Also, it was kind of funny. :D

    Anyways, reading over your discussions makes me want to go back and reread the series from the beginning, so I can catch all that stuff I didn't see the first time around. I think I'm going to try to pick up the first one when I go to the library tomorrow. :)


    1. I was surprised and excited by how much I noticed rereading it this time around, so obviously I had to share it with you all. :P ASOUE was definitely just a story with heavy emotional significance to me when I was a young thing--and it's only been this time around that I've figured out why. I think it's definitely a series that can be appreciated more deeply the older you get, which I think is fantastic.

      There is rather an element of unreality in some of the things that happen to the Baudelaires, as well as some of the things they do. I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that a lot of stuff feels a little unreal to younger children? I found their resilience so encouraging--they were good examples to me during a time when I desperately needed good examples.

      Lemony Snicket cracks me up so much. :P

      I'M SO HAPPY. I hope you love them just as much as ever! *happy dance*

      Thanks for commenting! :)