The Bad Beginning & The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

I have to wonder what it is that makes these stories so fascinating and enjoyable. These children’s books are more enjoyable than many fiction titles targeted at adults and certainly better than Harry Potter. Have you read any of the books in this series? I watched the movie which covers the first three books and was intrigued by the story, so I decided to listen to the unabridged audio. (The audio books are read by Tim Curry – an enjoyable experience in itself.) These first two volumes are short stories; each audio book is just over three hours and that makes them great for exercising or short trips.

If you haven’t delved into this series, then let me recommend it to you. The story follows the history of the three Baudelaire orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. In every book, only the worst possible things happen to the children. Lemony Snicket records that woeful tale of these orphans as they are pursued by the evil Count Olaf. Olaf will do anything to get his hands on the children’s fortune and of course, no adults believe the children when they attempt to get help, so the three orphans have to defend themselves against their arch-nemesis.

As depressing as this might sound, the truth is that this story isn’t very depressing. I can’t explain why the story is this way. Somehow, Snicket has managed to weave various elements together and keep the tone light-hearted (mostly). I suspect the key ingredient to making the story successful is the “over-the-top” approach. The “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day” syndrome seems to abstract the reader from feeling to much pain. The lively, unique and enjoyable characters have emotions with which everyone can identify.

The Bad Beginning tells of how the children were orphaned and introduces the main characters of the series. Mr. Poe, the coughing banker, is in charge of the large fortune that the children will inherit as soon as Violet becomes of age. Until that time, the children are supposed to live with a relative. The first relative that Mr. Poe puts them with is the thesbian Count Olaf. Olaf is a horrid man that will do anything including murder to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune…. The orphans must outwit Olaf’s diabolical scheme to save themselves. (Of course, Olaf escapes the clutches of the law to become the children’s arch-nemesis.)

In The Reptile Room, Snicket introduces one of the more enjoyable characters of the series. Uncle Monty is a bit of an oddity, but loveable all the same. He is a great herpetologist and he keeps a great collection of reptiles around the hosue (i.e. the reptile room). Olaf is not content to the let the children escape his clutches quite so easily, and so he prepares a dastardly plan to gain control of the fortune.

Overall, I would recommend these stories with little reservation to any teenager or adult. The situational ethics and the swear word in The Reptile Room would cause me to hesitate giving the book to a child. Still, with a parent reading alongside or even reading them to a child (with on the fly editing of the swear word), these would make great stories. I really enjoy how Snicket attempts to explain big or unusual words to the children as well as his effort to encourage reading in children. These books must be read to understand just how good they are.

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