On a lark, I bought Book 1, “The Bad Beginning.” I found it depressing, gruesome and generally unappealing. So I took it to my fourth graders, summarized the plot for them, and said, “I don’t like this book. I think it’s disgusting. But if YOU read it and like it, I’ll go ahead and buy #2.”
Some of them agreed with me that it was disgusting (particularly the incestuous and pedophilic implications of a legal guardian marrying a 14-year-old girl), but some of them wanted to borrow it and then some of them took it out from the library. “These are bad books,” said one girl gleefully, her arms full of Books #1, 2 and 3.
Despite not receiving a clear mandate, I felt compelled to buy and read #2. Same depressing s**t. I didn’t really feel like making the author any richer, so I read #3 at the library. Yuck.
Not only do these books paint a totally negative portrait of adult humankind, they are SO formulaic. Count Olaf shows up in another crappy disguise, the kids recognize him immediately but nobody believes the little Cassandras, the Count bumps off another family member, the kids finally expose the Count to Mr. Poe (who at long last totally believes them despite being mind-numbingly dense for most of the book, and despite having been wrong in every previous book), Mr. Poe makes a lame yet fearless effort to arrest the Count (somehow never feeling physically intimidated by this known murderer), and the Count (who somehow feels the need to escape from dense Mr. Poe instead of just knifing him) escapes again, fleeing more easily each time. Oh, and no one ever calls the cops at any point until after the villain’s escape. I’m going to be sick to my stomach if Books #4 through #9 turn out to be exactly the same. These books may be a harmful influence, teaching kids not to confide in adults about abuse or whatever.
I asked the salesgirls at Vroman’s, “Do kids really like these books?” and they said yes, they’re currently outselling Harry Potter. Incredible.
Well, I think I may have hit on the explanation. This isn’t really a children’s book series at all. Instead, it’s a giant put-on, a thinly disguised swipe at Harry Potter! Clearly, Klaus resembles Harry Potter as envisioned by Edward Gorey, and the formula is clearly a lampoon of the Harry Potter formula: orphaned kids, same old villain shows up in every book, foiled but not defeated by three adorably clever children, and wise old Dumbledore/stupid old Poe dispenses wisdom/crappy judgment at the end.
Yup, it’s just a big joke, and clearly a good one that has fooled a lot of people. At least, I hope so. Otherwise, I’m in for a rough ride.