Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events" books-- a big joke or parody, RIGHT??

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.

I don’t know about parody, but there is a certain tongue in cheek tone to the books. As for books four through nine, the formula does break apart and the plot becomes more involved.

How do I love thee, Lemony? Let me count the ways…

His dark humour has me adoring him. It is true that later on in the series, you get to the plot. I worship this genius of a man.

Psst, if your interested on Lemony’s true se–err, his agent, go read “The Basic Eight” by Daniel Handler. You won’t be disappointed.

I’ve read them all, and I think that they’re hilarious. But dark humor isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I know that a lot of people have been made upset by Olaf’s attempt to marry Violet in Book One–but I think the text makes it very obvious that:

(a) Olaf isn’t really a blood relative, only posing as one, so such a relationship isn’t incestuous, and

(b) He’s not interested in Violet romantically, so he isn’t a pedophile.

He just wants to take her money and then kill her. There! Don’t you feel better? :slight_smile:

Well, you were forewarned. I’ve got The Reptile Room in my hands right here. There is a message to the readers on the back of the book written by Lemony himself that starts *If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I’m afraid you have picked up the wrong book althogether.

  • and ends with I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter.

I’m with you on that marraige thing though. Yucky.

I’ve read them all and am also a huge fan.

The books are a parody of children’s literature in general, and are not aimed at any particular book. If you continue reading, they’ve got a beautiful underlying plot. But, as SnugTheJoiner said, dark humor isn’t for everyone.

I sat in a Borders until I had completely read the first one, and the only reason I haven’t bought them is that I’m on a (temporay) sabbatical from buying books. Dark humor, tongue in cheek, and the awareness that kids know a bunch more than we give them credit for understanding. I dont’ think they’re a parody of Harry Potter (which I love) specifically, but all children’s books that are so transparently heading towards a happy ending. If I had kids, I’d happily let them read these books.

They’re great! And cleverly constructed and written too.

My then 8 yo adored them. But if you like nice cheery kids’s books they’re not for you.

If you didn’t like these books, maybe you should read something like The Pony Party. Everybody loves a pony party.

I’ve only read the first four, but I think they’re hilarious. Yes, they’re formulaic, but they’re still funny. I’d agree that they’re a general parody of the children’s books in which adorable orphans prevail over their adversities, but I don’t think they’re a direct parody of Harry Potter.

Notice that there is absolutely nothing supernatural or magical in the Lemony Snicket books. Assuming an absurd world populated by malicious and/or idiotic grownups (which is roughly the world I appear to inhabit), everything in them is possible.

I find them really patronizing. I’m surprised to see Kalessa’s post since I felt the author assumes the kids reading them are morons who need everything explained to them in parentheticals.

But if they encourage kids to read, then it doesn’t really matter what I think of them.

Uh yes, it’s a big joke, but a much better one than you give it credit for.

The “Series of Unfortunate Events” books are not only enjoyable entertainment for children (plenty of kids like stories where horrible things happen!), but an ironic – dare I say postmodern? – swipe at the entire field of children’s literature. Certainly not just the “Harry Potter” series. They are also full of literary references and clever intertextual humor, much of which can only be appreciated by well-read adults. Okay, some children must have got a chuckle out of the fact that Mr. Poe’s sons are named Ed and Allen, but in The Ersatz Elevator there’s a throwaway reference to Lot 49 at an auction…a rare stamp! I doubt many of the kiddies got that one! In The Austere Academy, where the orphans meet a girl who says she’s a poet and baby Sunny burbles what I’m sure many readers mistook for a nonsense word…“Sappho!”

Lemony Snickett is a freakin’ genius.

You’re missing the point. He’s parodying children’s book authors who assume the kids reading are morons who need everything explained to them. I should think that would be obvious, not just because the explanations are often clearly incorrect (see the attempt to define “cul-de-sac” in The Ersatz Elevator) or unneccesary, but because whenever a character like Mr. Poe attempts to do the same thing to the orphans they hate it and feel insulted that someone would not realize that children as big and intelligent as they are wouldn’t know the meanings of fairly common words and expressions.

And I’m still giggling over the fact that two of the main children are named Klaus and Sunny.

There are more than just that one. Sunny has several lines like that. In The Ersatz Elevator, Sunny says “Brioche!” when someone mentions bread. In The Hostile Hospital, when the adrogenous person is chasing them, Sunny shouts “Orlando!” There are more, but those are the only ones I can think of.

I suspect that the majority of Sunny’s lines are jokes instead of actual nonsense, but I know many of them go over my head.

She does say “Blake!” in The Vile Village when the subject of poetry came up again.

Another Sunnyism: in one of the books ( sadly, I forget which), Sunny is asked to do something and replies with “Akroid” instead of the usual “Roger”.

I think the books capture the childhood expierence perfectly.
When I was a child ALL ADULTS SEEMED CRAZY. YES THEY DID. They all seem to blindly obey rules even if the rules didn’t make any sense (to a child) and seem to lead to horrible results. My favorite is when the Count desguises himself as a woman named Shirley.

Mr.Poe ‘You see the nameplate on the desk says Shirley. So she must be Shirley.’
Or like when an adult reads some book and thinks ‘This is not the way life should be lived so therefore the books are a bad influence’. How about the fact that the kids NEVER LOSE HOPE THAT MR. POE WILL HELP THEM. Many times reading the books I think to myself ‘You IDIOTS! Don’t call Mr. Poe. HE WON’T HELP YOU!’ Yet they do, over and over again.

As far as the idea that these books are stealing the Harry Potter formula, well those books follow a pretty well established formula and are not really breaking new ground in childrens books. (except sales)

Perhaps the parodying becomes more evident in the later books. I will confess I didn’t bother to read more than the first one, and skimmed a lot of that one because I found it so uninteresting. It sounds from people’s comments that the later books do become more interesting.

I should say that I don’t find the books offensive, and I’d have no problem buying them for any child if that was what they wanted, I just would rather spend my time reading books I find more engaging.

You’ve misquoted the title. Remember, it’s The Pony Party!

God, I love Lemony Snicket.

Also worth noting is his extensive use of anagrams. He’s got all kinds of weird stuff going on, hidden in scrambled names. I’m particularly impressed by the names which, unscrambled, read “Beatrice Baudelaire”–only because they’re always found in the company of an anagram of “Red Herring.” Hoo hah!

The books are not patronizing or stupid. Read harder, people! There’s brilliance there!