What I Noticed While Re-Reading Lemony Snicket

by Charlotte Ahlin

Netflix's take on A Series of Unfortunate Events is due out on Friday the 13th (of course), and I, like every other diligent Volunteer, have been rereading all thirteen of the original books. And I have to say, they are every bit as distressing as I remember. The jokes hold up. The characters hold up. And the misery most certainly holds up. But when you reread A Series of Unfortunate Events as an awful adult, you pick up on several things that you might have missed as a cheerless child. So here are thirteen unfortunate things you notice while rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events.

To be clear, I have yet to read the prequel book series, All the Wrong Questions, which might answer some of my lingering questions about VFD and its associates (or more likely, leave me with even more questions). I will also set aside Lemony Snicket's Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters, for now, because there is only so much misfortune one can reread in a single sitting.

So, while we all wait to find out if the Tragic Television Series is a better adaptation than the Miserable Movie, here is a list of thankless thoughts on those unfortunate original books:


Sunny speaks in literary allusion

When I was a kid, most of Sunny's baby talk seemed like gibberish, with the occasional reference thrown in. But now, I realize that most of her "words" are actually allusions to literature and history. She says "Orlando" to refer to a gender-ambiguous person, for instance, referencing Virginia Woolf's Orlando. She says "Ackroyd" in The Reptile Room, in reference to Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And she uses the term "Busheney!" a mash-up of "Bush" and "Cheney," to mean "You're an evil man with no concern whatsoever for other people!"


Olaf hits on Violet and it’s very creepy

Violet is fourteen in The Bad Beginning. Fourteen. And Olaf tries to marry her. It might be a villainous plot to seize her fortune... but he also remarks on how pretty she is throughout, and tells her that he can make her life pleasant if she cooperates and goes along with the marriage. Creepy.


Mr. Poe has no business being in charge of children

Reading the books as a kid, he's comically inept. And he coughs all the time. As an adult... why is a banker left in charge of these three orphans? Why does he never, ever believe that their lives are in danger? Why does he continually blame them for their guardians dying/being evil? Hot take: Mr. Poe is the actual arch-villain of the series.


Actually, none of these adults have any business being around children

Seriously. Even the "noble" adults in the books are a disaster at child care. Justice Strauss, Jerome, Uncle Monty, Aunt Josephine, Hector—they might care about the Baudelaires, but all of them are either too inept or too selfish to be of that much help in the end. They usually choose to uphold whatever the "rules" are, rather than believing that Olaf is after the children.


Charles and Sir are definitely dating, right?

Right?? Sir runs Lucky Smells Lumber Mill, and Charles is identified as his "partner." Their relationship is never clarified, but they run out of the burning Hotel Denouement holding hands, so... they're definitely dating.


'The Miserable Mill' is a biting critique of capitalism

All of the books have some level of social commentary, but The Miserable Mill might be the most biting critique. Even beyond all the mind-control, 1984 stuff with Dr. Georgina Orwell. The lumber mill workers are paid in coupons, but they are unable to use the coupons, because they don't make any money. And they have to eat gum for lunch.


And 'The Austere Academy' is a critique of the education system

Actually, why don't they go to school until book five? I guess Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine give them an education in snakes and grammar, but it takes five books for the Baudelaires to arrive in a structured learning environment. And it's terrible. The orphans are all intelligent, driven children, but Prufrock Preparatory School is entirely uninterested in nurturing their passions, choosing instead to teach children only so that they can pass useless tests.


...what year is this? What continent are we on?

The time period is never quite clear... Prufrock Prep has an "advanced computer," but people still communicate by telegram. Real places like Arizona or Winnipeg are mentioned... but fictional royalty like "The King of Arizona" are also mentioned. So I guess we're in a parallel universe of some kind? Whatever. I'm into it.


These children don’t sleep very much

The whole series takes place over about a year or two, and the Baudelaires barely ever get a full night's sleep in that time. If they're not hiding out in Olaf's trunk, they're sleeping in the Orphans' Shack, being woken by crabs in the middle of the night.


There are a lot of earlier hints that Beatrice Baudelaire is the orphans’ mother

Before it's made explicit at the end of The End, there are a few subtle hints throughout. For instance, Snicket mentions at one point that he's witnessed "a woman I loved picked up by an enormous eagle and flown to its high mountain nest." When the kids are living with the Squalors, Jerome starts to tell them the story of how their mother was once attacked by an eagle in the mountains, but he's cut off before he can finish.


Snicket is brilliant at blurring the lines between noble and villainous

It becomes explicit when the orphans can't tell the difference between the twins Frank and Ernest at the Hotel Denouement, even though one is supposed to be a villain and one an ally. But even before that, the Baudelaires are forced into morally gray situations, in which they, themselves, must do things that are borderline villainous.


So… is little Beatrice Olaf’s baby?

No, right? No. Probably not. It seems like he and Kit Snicket finished their affair long ago. Dewey was probably Beatrice's father.

But... what if it was Olaf??


Whether or not the Baudelaires survive is left… quite open to interpretation

I remember being left with a lot of questions... but yikes. Their friends have been swallowed by the "Great Unknown." The Baudelaires may or may not have died at sea. It's all left terribly ambiguous. Although, I don't think we would have wanted it to end any other way.