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Lycos Entertainment/Reuters

Harry Potter faces bitter Lemony fight

2001-12-17 08:12:29
By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Move over Harry Potter. Lemony Snicket is casting a new spell over young readers with tales of misery and woe that linger long after the lights go out.

The elusive writer has already entranced fellow Americans with his macabre tales of the Baudelaire orphans -- now he hopes to wave a grim spell over Europe too.

The series begins on a beach with death. Then things get worse.

"I was bored with happy endings when I was 10 years old," said Snicket, who calls himself Daniel Handler in the real world. "However, I was taught the power of the written word and the importance of exposing evil wherever I found it."

Snicket sees evil everywhere and young readers around the world cannot get enough of his "Series of Unfortunate Events", hardback books that eschew happy endings, middles or beginnings.

"If my books make a few children nervous when the lights go out, I don't think that's the greatest tragedy in the world," Snicket said in a statement.

"It would be nice to see more misery and woe."

Snicket's wish might well come true if the hype surrounding his old-fashioned hardbacks keeps up, with the latest instalment hitting British stores this month.

"The Miserable Mill" follows the Baudelaires' bid to protect their dead parents' fortune from an evil, alcoholic uncle.

Set against a sinister Gothic backdrop, Snicket's heroes -- Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire -- are imprisoned, narrowly escape death and are roundly maltreated by Uncle Olaf.

Snicket's British publishers Egmont Books say the series could be the next hit after J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

"They touch upon the darker side of life with humour and originality," said Egmont managing director Susannah McFarlane.

"Let the reader beware: there is no happy ending."

The dark and addictive tales about a gang of abused orphans became an unlikely hit in the United States and are credited, like Potter, with ensnaring the most reluctant of readers.

Snicket may wonder why book seller stock his "wretched tales" -- the answer is clear. He sold 2.2 million copies in the United States and that is before the TV version emerges.

The "burdensome books" can be read in 20 languages, from Hebrew to Icelandic, and U.S. television company Nickelodeon has bought both film and TV rights for an undisclosed sum.

The first four books of the planned 13 have so far sold 250,000 copies in Britain: a drop in the ocean next to Rowling, who has chalked up 100 million in global sales.

But word of mouth is spreading fast -- www.lemonysnicket.com/books offers a virtual taste of "the afflicted author" -- and book shops smell a phenomenon.

Waterstones, one Britain's biggest high street book chains, said children enjoy fear.