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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 6, 2002

Lemony Snicket's books wallow in woe and strife

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Dearest reader,

You have undoubtedly set your eyes upon this article as a result of some regrettable failure of your own discretion or, perhaps, through some sad misfortune completely out of your ability to avoid.

We beseech you: Look away. Turn immediately to the comics page and find more pleasant distraction with "Hagar the Horrible" or "Mutts." Light a candle. Pet your dog.

For to continue with this article will only result in an uneasy mind and a disquieted heart. Truly, no good can come from reading a single word about the miserable scribe known as Lemony Snicket, nor of his series of adolescent books so appropriately titled "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

It simply is not wise to pursue whatever interest you may have in learning about those snakebitten orphans, the Baudelaires, whose relentlessly disastrous adventures Snicket chronicles with such morose wit.

It is doomed love indeed to open your heart to the inventive Violet, the bookish Klaus, or even to baby Sunny, she of the four sharp teeth and profound if unintelligible shrieks.

(And, really, what sort of author would allow his characters to share the same surname as a 19th-century French poet accused of blasphemy and obscenity?)

If Snicket were indeed an artist of noble intent, he surely would put his true name Daniel Handler to his work. He certainly would not have tried for so long to obfuscate his identity with grainy, black-and-white press photos.


Already you have read too far. We are nearly a third of the way through this article and, we assure you, there is no good news on the horizon.

Indeed, Mr. Snicket's series has already persisted for eight books (the author threatens five more, in order to reach the appropriately unlucky No. 13) and not once has the author strayed from his promise of woe and strife.

"Not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle," Snicket himself warns in the first pages of the aptly titled first book, "The Bad Beginning." And yet, how is it that the first three of Mr. Snicket's books are loitering among the New York Times' top 10 best-selling children's books?

How can it be that Borders Books Music and Café in Waikele stocks 15 copies of each book in the series just to keep up with the steady demand of its customers? Or that parents now walk into Waldenbooks at Ala Moana Center and buy all eight books at once?

Linda Nishida, a technician at the Kaimuki Public Library, says the books are perpetually on loan at her branch. She admits to reading four of them, herself, so far.

"They're short, easy books to read," she says. "And they're interesting. The kids are the adults in these books. They're put in bad situations, but they're very ingenious. They find solutions."

Maile Davis, children's librarian at the Hawai'i State Library, tried to read the first book in the series but felt guilty keeping it off the shelf when demand was so high.

Imagine, demand for books like these! Who but Count Olaf, the fiendish uncle out to steal the orphans' fortune, would wish to linger in this gothic world of dreadful humor and travail?

Who could bear to know the workings of a world in which Snicket's poor orphans are upbraided for making puttanesca sauce instead of roast beef. A world in which these same orphans contemplate the merits of Molotov cocktails and polygamy as a way of foiling one of Count Olaf's evil schemes?

Sadly, our earnest attempts notwithstanding, it is inevitable that the world at large will be exposed to these so-called "magnets of misfortune" before long. In the mad prospecting that ensued after the Harry Potter phenomenon broke, Nickelodeon optioned the rights to "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Alas, as Sunny Baudelaire might say: "Gack!"