Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

This is the tale of the Baudelaire children: Violet, aged 14, Klaus, aged 12 and Sunny, the baby, who liked to chew things. One day while they are at the sea shore, their parents are killed in a fire and their house burned down. Mr. Poe, the banker, brings them the bad news and takes them to stay with the nearest of only distant relatives, Count Olaf. The Count is an evil actor who only wants the children’s fortune.


The film (based on the first three of the wildly popular series of books of the same title) is the story of how one unfortunate event leads to another in the lives of the Baudelaire children.


To prepare for the film, I started reading the books and have made it almost through the second. I like the style because it encourages the reader to engage on many levels, especially focusing on reading and imagination.<o:p></o:p>


The problem for me is the darkness in the books, and in the film. We could call Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events a fantasy-myth tale of three heroes who overcome great odds to triumph over evil. The problem is that in children’s literature this genre would be “assisted by a protective figure” ( see Children’s Literature, Briefly by Jacobs & Tunnell, 2004, Prentice Hall) – and there is none. What the film does is reinforce the popular culture notion that kids have to take care of themselves and that grown-ups are evil, inept or just plain stupid, trust no one and bad things are going to happen no matter what. The end of the film tries to make the outlook hopeful for the Baudelaire children, but a voice over does not balance out the drama and visuals that have come before.


The film is an excellent visual reproduction of the books, though it mixes up the sequence of unfortunate events somewhat. Jim Carrey is good as Jim Carrey (oops! Count Olaf), Billy Connolly as Montgomery Montgomery and  Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine fulfill their roles well enough and the art direction is more than adequate. The problem is: there is no benevolent figure in the film (or so far in the books) that comforts and cares for children. Thus, the film to me fits the horror-fantasy genre more than any other. And I think kids who can identify with loneliness, abandonment, abuse and evil, inept and just plain stupid adults (or social system) may find a kind of strength or catharsis in the film. They go because they are already scared and need to figure out a way to survive.


If this is the case, then we as a society (and faith communities) need to reflect seriously on why these books appeal to kids, and what we are doing about the lost children in our country and world. A friend told me that he knew a ten year-old child of divorce who loved the books and could not get enough of them. Perhaps the books transported the child to a place where he could figure things out and exorcise his experiences.


A series of unfortunate events is one thing; imagine a lifetime. Pretty depressing on the one hand; on the other it can help us open our eyes and act for the good of our children


Is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the books or the film, just harmless literature? Seems to me it is coming from someone’s experience, transformed by imagination.


Although the film had a beginning and a middle, the ending was unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. Like it was tacked on. I just didn’t like the film all that much.


  1. Thanks for the review.  My son started to read the books and is begging to go see the movie.  

    Much Love,

  2. > They go because they are already scared and need
    > to figure out a way to survive.

    Do you really think so? That sounds much too conscious to me. I think they go because they're attracted by a really cool trailer, or because a friend has read the books. Their parents allow them to see it because they're told its from a book, and any film adaptation of a book must be Really Good and Might Get The Kid To Read.  Never mind what the book says, reading is good in itself.

    > What the film does is reinforce the popular culture notion that
    > kids have to take care of themselves and that grown-ups are evil,
    > inept or just plain stupid, trust no one and bad things are going to
    > happen no matter what.

    Which is a kids' version of the notion that adults can expect no assistance outside a quaint Western, that anyone claiming authority is evil and not to be trusted, and there is no point to life because the universe is one big Series of Random Events, the fortunateness of which is entirely subjective.  Its the Protestant Revolt and the so-called Enlightenment operationalized.


  3. Thanks for your comment.

    No, I don’t think audiences in general are conscious necessarily of why they are attracted to horror films or dark fantasy films, or books for that matter. But there must be some pull or they would not go.

    Sure, I think kids hear about films and books from their friends – but what accounts for the fact that they follow through with reading the books and going to the film? What’s the attreaction? This is what I was trying to address.

    I once heard Wes Craven, who made A Nightmare on Elm Street, explain the attraction of horror films for people: watching a film that addresses the unnamed fears, a film that has a beginning, a middle and an end, gives the audience a sense of control over “unfortunate events”, if you will. This seems like a plausible explanation for the phenomon of kids and the Lemony Snicket books and movie.

    But this is a subjective view….

    Perhaps LS is more for adults than kids anyway.

    Thanks again.

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