Monday, January 11, 2016

Discussion: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS // Book 13 and Wrap-Up

Note: Over the past four Mondays, I’ve discussed the first twelve books of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (the links are here, here, here and here). Today I’ll be talking about the final book in the series. 


At last we come to the close—the moment we’ve all been waiting for…or something dramatic like that. So, let’s talk about THE END. 

The Ambiguity. I think more than any other book in the series, THE END has taken a lot of heat. Dissatisfied people slam it for being a lazy, depressing, inconclusive conclusion. Admittedly, Lemony Snicket does not choose to answer all the questions that have arisen throughout the course of the series, and he certainly leaves a lot of mysteries unsolved. So I understand that if you’re coming into the final installment hoping for answers, you’re going to be disappointed. But I think those who insult Lemony Snicket on this count are the ones missing the point. Because, you see, Mr. Snicket did all of this on purpose. Which means it’s up to us to figure out why. 

As I have mentioned before, the Baudelaires have been through an enormous amount of trauma, and they have faced so much during their short life that they have, quite frankly, forgotten what it means to be safe and secure. They are tired, and Count Olaf has been breathing down their necks for ages. And you have to remember that time seems to pass more slowly for younger people than it does for adults, and that everything that happens when you are young will have much more of an impact on your psyche than it would when you are older. So, in other words, what they have experienced is significant. 

In the end, when Count Olaf dies, the children find themselves suddenly released from their torment. Sure, they will have to worry about their damaged reputations, when and if they do reach land after leaving the island where they ended up marooned for a year. They will have to find jobs and buy homes and make friends and all that fun stuff. Regardless, the main source of their continued trauma has ceased to exist. But that doesn’t mean they’re immediately going to be okay. 

A lot of people seem to have been hoping for an ending where everything gets tied up neatly and happily. But let me tell you something. You can’t endure that much prolonged suffering without sustaining damage. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, Count Olaf will no longer be able to go out and actively cause the children new hurt. But that doesn’t mean what he’s done will suddenly be undone by his passing. If only it would work that way in life—then most of our troubles wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, the Baudelaire parents will remain dead. The children will still bear the weight of trusting their guardians and protectors, only to be failed time and time again. They will still walk around, every day, knowing no one cared enough to make a difference. And they will still suffer the guilt of all the bad things they themselves have done—both intentionally and unintentionally. None of that will go away now that Olaf is gone. 

So slapping on a happy ending according to popular terms would be dishonest. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from how these books relate to children is that Mr. Snicket is far from dishonest. As much as it might not sit well with us, the ending Lemony Snicket gives to his characters is the happiest ending that he could, in all honesty, write for them. Yes, the Baudelaire children are strong, and knowing their track record, it seems that they will make it, that they will do well. I believe they will continue to survive and thrive because that is who they are—because what they have already gone through should have broken them, but it didn’t. But to pretend that it won’t take time for them to be happy again is to write a lesser story for the sake of warm fuzzies. And I, for one, am glad Lemony Snicket did not do that. 

True, he could have tacked on an epilogue showing the children old and content. But would that even fit with the tone of the series? I think not. Personally, I believe an add-on like that would also feel dishonest because it would have to ignore, almost completely, the years, maybe even decades, it would take for the children to move on. I much prefer the ending the way it is—stating the truth and pretending nothing. 

What about all the unanswered questions, Liz? Isn’t it sloppy writing to introduce all that mystery and then leave the readers hanging? 

In most cases, it probably would be the mark of a writer who got in over their head. But keep in mind that Lemony Snicket himself is just a character in A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. While he knows more about the Baudelaires’ story than even they do, he is still piecing together what he has found through extensive research after the fact. He is by no means omniscient. So to give us all the answers would be to break from the entire mold of the series—to break character—and I’m glad he didn’t do that. In order to give the readers what they really wanted, Lemony Snicket (I should really say Daniel Handler) would have had to sacrifice the entire point of the ending (or, at least, the point as I perceive it) which is: It’s important to know that we rarely get all the answers we feel we need in life. 

The Main Villain. Okay, now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s talk about the main villain in the story—the biggest bad guy. Who do you think that would be? 

Is it Count Olaf? Many of you will probably agree that he is the main villain, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in assuming that. I mean, Count Olaf is definitely the main antagonist. He is the one who actively and continually introduces the children to trauma. He is the one who does his level best to hurt the children. 

But I would contend here (and you’re free to disagree with me) that Count Olaf is not the main bad guy. Instead, I would say that Mr. Poe is. Let me explain. Count Olaf is like a dog eating unattended meat—he sees something he wants and he just goes after it like it’s instinct, like he doesn’t know any better. He has chosen to be evil, no question about it. So I would argue that Mr. Poe is worse because Mr. Poe is supposed to be the good guy—he does know better—but he still chooses to do all the wrong things. 

Mr. Poe is supposed to protect the children. He says he will protect them, and maybe on some level he really does believe he’ll do his job. But not only does he fail, he doesn’t even try. Instead, he blames the children for their misfortunes, treats them like they’re responsible for losing each and every home they come to, and acts as though it is their fault that Count Olaf is after them. Later on when the newspapers are spreading lies about the children, Mr. Poe buys into those false reports without even hearing the children’s side of the story. And despite the evidence of his own eyes, he blames the Baudelaires for the death of Dewey Denouement. Through it all, Mr. Poe, the guy who is supposed to be their savior, is the one who always condemns them and always lets them down. Nobody expects Count Olaf to behave, but because they do expect Mr. Poe to be the good guy, his wrongdoings cause more damage in the end. 

The Libraries. Beyond the literary references and the often humorous explanations for more difficult vocabulary words, Snicket features a library of sorts in every book. 

In the BAD BEGINNING, the children find escape and legal help in Justice Strauss’s library. 

In THE REPTILE ROOM, the children find life-saving information in Uncle Monty’s herpetological library. 

In THE WIDE WINDOW Klaus uses Aunt Josephine’s grammatical library to decipher an important note.

In THE MISERABLE MILL, Violet discovers relevant information on hypnosis (just in the nick of time) using the mill’s library. 

In THE AUSTERE ACADEMY, Violet, Klaus, Sunny and the triplets research ways to make their lives more comfortable using the academy’s library. 

In THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR the children use Esme’s library in an effort to save the Quagmire triplets. 

In THE VILE VILLAGE, the children learn about mechanics from Hector’s secret library in order to fix the hot air balloon that is supposed to be their salvation. 

In THE HOSTILE HOSPITAL the children discover information in the hospital’s library of records about the possibility that one of their parents might still be alive. 

In THE CARNIVOROUS CARNIVAL, the children find the location of the second-to-last V.F.D. safe place in Madam LuLu’s archival library. 

In THE SLIPPERY SLOPE Klaus uses the ruined V.F.D. library to decipher an important code. 

In THE GRIM GROTTO Violet and Klaus use Fiona’s mycological library to save Sunny’s life. 

In THE HOTEL DENOUEMENT, the hotel IS a library, so to speak, but more importantly, there is also Dewey’s secret library which temporarily represents hope, freedom, and answers for the children. 

And finally, in THE END, the children find solitude and salvation in Ishmael’s secret library. 

Each library is tied to some sort of positive emotion, whether hope or safety or comfort or anything in-between. But the Baudelaires’ experiences with libraries as the series progresses also tracks their emotional growth and change. Despite their initial suffering, the library is a safe place with all the answers they need. However, as the story continues and they endure more and more, libraries remain wonderful places, but they no longer offer all the solutions to life. That’s one of the sadder parts of growing up. When we are younger, the world seems simpler and safer, something that can be solved by a story or two. But when we grow older, we gradually realize that the world is far more complicated than we could have ever dreamed, and that even though we can escape it and work to make it better, we cannot fix it—not completely. Stories will always be wonderful, and they will always have great impact, but they will never be the full solution. 

In Conclusion. A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS is long and dark and humorous, yes, but it is deep as well. Throughout this five-part series, I have tried to show you just how deep it really is, and as much as I have highlighted, I still feel I have only scratched the surface. Maybe one day, in a year or two, I will revisit the series and try again. But in the meantime, I ask you (please, and thank you) to tell everyone about it—to read it and have your kids read it (if you have kids), to recommend it to your grandparents, your siblings, your friends, your pet hamster and any one else you’d like. I ask you not to get scared away by the darkness in it so you miss out on what Lemony Snicket is saying. I ask you to think deeply. More than anything, this world needs people who think deeply. 

Well, that’s it, little coffee beans. Now it’s time for me to get back to reviewing other stories. But I’d love to know what you think of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. Do you agree/disagree with my thoughts? What are some deep aspects you’ve noticed in the story that I neglected to mention? What are your favorite parts? Have you read any of Lemony Snicket’s other books?


  1. You're right, that stuff is pretty deep! I especially like that it isn't all okay at the end. It's not supposed to be the kind that makes you feel good, and I think that's okay. Sometimes victory isn't sweet. But I also like how they do find refuge, and even when Poe fails them, there are things like libraries and one another that carry them through till the end. I am half-tempted to start rereading all these things again... Because that would be awesome, no?

    1. It really is! I definitely like that it's not supposed to be happy feely. I don't like being handed dishonest emotions for the sake of false closure. I like stories that acknowledge the dark side to victory. And I agree, I like that there's always some sort of safe harbor, some way to escape to a degree all the awful things that happen to them. You should definitely reread the series--you won't regret it, and it would be awesome. *nods*

  2. I can't think of anything to say except that I've loved this series of yours and appreciated that someone else loves this series the way I do and sees all the deep bits of it. The ending has always pleased me, too, because I like messy endings, even if it DOES give me all the feels.

    1. Aww, thank you! I am so glad that there are people out there who love the series as much as I do and see it for what it is. I'm glad you love the ending. I appreciate people who appreciate the ending. :)

  3. Faaantastic review. This has made me want to read the whole series again. =D OMG the feels. They've all come back >.<

    1. Aww, thank you! YOU SHOULD REREAD IT. *happy dance*

    2. I'm pretty sure I will this year. I'll bump it up over the Grisha trilogy and Marie Lu. And that V.E. Schwab book I've been meaning to read for absolutely ages.

    3. *happy dance* :) Have you read the Grisha trilogy before, and have you read any Marie Lu? I've been meaning to read V.E. Schwab forever. :P

  4. Yes, wow. YES. If there's one thing I remember about this series, it's the ending. And how it didn't feel like a real ending, not the one where you get all the answers and the bad guys are defeated and the good guys are happy and everything's okay and they live happily ever after. But like you said, for this series, that would've been dishonest to pretend like everything was okay after Count Olaf's death, because that kind of experience would leave a lot of trauma for anyone, and if you're going to write the story, it's only fair to admit that they'll probably spend their lives dealing with it.

    Also, I don't know if I'd say Mr. Poe is the main villain, but he's definitely right up there with Count Olaf, just as guilty, if not even more.

    Thanks so much for doing this series! It's been so awesome and thought-provoking, and now I will go reread all the books!


    1. Aww, thank you! I remember feeling the same way about it the first time, but not really understanding why. I'm glad I was able to appreciate the ending better this time around. :) I much prefer the honesty. *nods*

      He's definitely up there. :P

      You're welcome, and thanks so much for reading it! Have fun rereading! :D

      Thanks for commenting! :)