A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of those book series that I always remembered reading as a kid, but actually remembered very little about. If you had asked me to recall the plot of them a month ago I probably would have shrugged and said it was about an evil guy who keeps disguising himself to get these three orphans’ fortune… and there’s a secret organization thing thrown in there too, somewhere.
The truth is, after finally rereading all thirteen books for the first time in over ten years, that A Series of Unfortunate Events is so much more than that. It’s so much more than silly kids’ books or a pulpy mystery series.
Okay, it is both those things, but it’s also a series that frequently spouts surprisingly wise statements about the world’s gray morality and leaves readers with a sense of adventure; wanting to go out and solve every mystery in the universe.
These books wouldn’t be what they are without Lemony Snicket (sometimes known as his stage name Daniel Handler) ; a narrator who switches between pathos – a word which here means “Really sad stuff” – to genuinely funny diatribes – a word which here means “Semi-related humorous stories about himself” – with the flip of a switch. Snicket hardly knows what the fourth wall is, frequently demolishing it and letting readers know how much braver the Baudelaire orphans are than him, or how the Baudelaires’ situation resembles a conversation he had with a waiter about an extraordinarily smelly chef’s salad.
Snicket’s bizarre narrative voice is what makes these books so genuinely enjoyable to read. Despite his silly tangents, he keeps readers hanging on every word and on the lookout for even the smallest clue to the answer to our – and the Baudelaires’ – many questions.
At some point in your life you’ve probably gotten to the end of a book or movie or TV show and thought, “Well, that didn’t answer any of my questions!” And you probably felt ripped off in some way, like the creators had pulled the rug out from under you or tripped you as you walked down the aisle of a public bus. Lemony Snicket is perhaps the only author to ever get away with answering almost no questions by the end of his series.
Nearly every character’s fate is left up in the air and very few mysteries are actually solved. Snicket pulls this off by convincing the reader that none of them matter. That the end of every story is the beginning of someone else’s and the middle of another person’s. Perhaps the only way to solve every mystery is to learn every story, to somehow put together every piece of an unbelievably enormous puzzle and look at it from afar.
This is why A Series of Unfortunate Events is so good. It’s not just because the main characters are three-dimensional and likable, or that the main villain is the embodiment of a character you love to hate, or that every chapter may make you laugh out loud at least once, or that the compelling mysteries will keep you hooked for hundreds upon hundreds of pages.
No, these books are amazing because they secretly teach you philosophical and critical thinking without you knowing it. They teach you to question everything and everyone. How to be cynical yet trusting, spontaneous yet rational. They show you how nothing and everything matters at the same time and how the woman who tripped you on the bus has a life story and it may be just as heartbreaking as your own.
Even though Snicket himself would attempt to persuade you otherwise, reading A Series of Unfortunate Events may just be the most fortunate thing you ever do.
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with a minor in creative writing. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver. Follow him on Twitter @SuperNerdJoel.