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by Lemony Snicket
HarperTrophy, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 29th 2001

The Bad BeginningThis first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events introduces the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. How unlucky they are! First, their parents are killed when their house burns down. Then they are taken to live with their distant relative Count Olaf, who turns out to be a very nasty character who wants to get his hands on the children's fortune. It takes all the children's intelligence to evade his wicked plans.

This is a wonderful book for children, because it is clever, funny, entertaining, imaginative, educational, and even has insights into grief and children's resilience. The narrator of the book uses plenty of difficult words, but he takes the trouble to explain their meaning as he goes along. The children are very sympathetic characters; Violet likes inventing things, Klaus likes reading, especially about the wildlife of North America, and little Sonny likes picture books and biting things.

One very appealing feature of this book is that the bad people are truly evil, and the good people are really good, even if they have their faults. Count Olaf, the wart-faced man, the hook-handed man, and his other accomplices are scheming and devious. When the children are at the mercy of the Count, as they often are in this story, their lives are awful. They never stop trying to find ways out of their predicaments, but often there's not much they can do. Even the adults who are meant to be helping the children turn out to be no match for Count Olaf. The story takes disturbing and unhappy turns, and readers with a nervous disposition may become very anxious at crucial points. The only assurance I can provide readers is that the children survive, and readers can work that out that much for themselves because the book series by Lemony Snicket currently has nine volumes.

Although when the children first are told the terrible news about the death of their parents they do not weep and wail, there are several times in the story when it is clear that they feel their loss very sharply, and they can at least take some comfort in being together when they are enduring unpleasant experiences. They also take great pleasure in books and educating themselves; their refusal to stop looking for ways to solve their problems is admirable and shows their own strength. This story acknowledges the existence of terrible events and does not pretend that everything always turns out for the best in the end; that is both refreshing, and might even make this book good for the moral education of children. Children who have themselves suffered the loss of parents might especially find some comfort in the story of the Baudelaire children. Adults whose imaginations have not become completely shriveled should also take great pleasure in this book.

I strongly recommend the audiobook read by Tim Curry. Curry is a marvelous reader who brings the characters alive with his reading - especially effective is his portrayal of Count Olaf and the coughing Mr. Poe. The audiobook contains an interview with Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket's "personal assistant," in which it is revealed that his favorite book as a child was The Bear's Famous Invasion of Sicily, a book of which there is no record on the Internet.

Link:

Lemony Snicket Web Site

© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health. He also believes that it is important to have a secret, or not so secret, life of fun if you spend most of your time thinking about serious matters.