With a plot featuring accidental dismemberment, death by leeches, serial arsonists, and rampant child abuse, A Series of Unfortunate Events seemed to descend from the Grimm's Fairy Tales tradition of juvenile fiction. The tragicomic 13-book series, which debuted 15 years ago, chronicled the plight of the three Baudelaire orphans, whose lives become a hamster wheel of misery after their parents die in a mysterious fire. The books sold more than 60 million copies internationally, spawning a video game, fan sites, companion books, and a 2004 film adaptation starring Jim Carrey.
A year after the series began, I received a copy of the first, alliteratively titled novel The Bad Beginning as a Christmas gift. I fell in love—partly because of the absurdist storyline and the likable but unlucky young trio: Violet the inventor, Klaus the reader, and Sunny the baby with sharp teeth.
And yet it was the books’ style, not content, I found most compelling of all. Each installment in the series would begin with some iteration of tortured narrator Lemony Snicket (who I didn’t know was actually author Daniel Handler) urging the reader to put the book down and find some happier way to spend his or her time. Snicket would refer to himself extensively, implying that he existed in the same universe as the Baudelaire children. He would repeatedly interrupt the narrative to rant, tell a story, or relay advice, creating a splintered reading experience. Not only would Snicket use ponderous terms like in loco parentis, but he’d also often spend several sentences defining them. And the endings were, as promised, irredeemably depressing.