I first read A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket in high school.
I had an amazing AP English teacher, Ms. Snow. The older I get, the more I realize how incredible all my teachers were at my small high school.
Ms. Snow had come across the book series while listening to NPR. Although we were reading difficult works for AP English, she said I should take a detour and read a couple of these. She appreciate the wordplay and the writing style.
I picked up the first book and was completely in love. I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything quite so witty and certainly never for children. Some of my favorite lines:
“…never, under any circumstances, let the Virginian Wolfsnake near a typewriter.”
“If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.”
The way he playfully teaches language and new words by either inserting “______, a phrase which here means” or by having one of the Baudelaire’s state “we know what _____ means” is brilliant.
It also deals with violence, death, and tragic circumstances that doesn’t pander to children. Lemony Snicket, or rather Daniel Handler, very bluntly and transparently tells the reader what happens. One of my favorite passages:
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
He doesn’t treat his audience as children. In fact, the book revolves around the errors adults make when they treat children like children.
I was incredibly disappointed when Nickelodeon attempted to make A Series of Unfortunate Events into a movie with Jim Carrey. Instead of keeping it’s wit, it diluted it and dumbed down the content for children. The movie just became another showcase of Jim Carrey doing goofy things.
But recently, Netflix just made it into an ongoing series. I have been blown away about how true to the book it has been. How smart the acting, the storytelling, and the approach has been too. It augments the books instead of rewriting them.
We’ve been really enjoying reading a book and then celebrating with an episode. Charlie giggles uncontrollably every time Sunny bites something or says something in her baby talk. Racheal and I giggle every time there is a well placed quip.
This last time reading the books and watching the show, I’ve found it oddly comforting.
Three brilliant orphans are continually shuffled, dismissed, and faced with awful situations. And worst of all, being pursued by the wicked and violent Count Olaf. The adults around them that should be able to see through his disguises and see who he really is, but they don’t. Typically, they don’t because of their own human weaknesses or dismissiveness of the children. But the Baudelaires are resourceful, brave and united in the face of evil. Things don’t ever get better, but your respect for their perseverance grows with every page.
2016 and 2017 have been two years where, politically, things have felt really, truly, deeply out of my control and out of anybody’s control. Revealing to me just how fragile this world we live in is. But I find myself feeling at peace when I see how these three remarkable kids stand up and push forward.
And that’s a lesson I want my kids to learn. Especially now.