(Photo: Michael Huang/Flickr)
Lemony Snicket is the pen name of Daniel Handler, pictured above playing the accordion and singing his heart out. The dilemma I face in writing this post is who to write about – Lemony Snicket or Daniel Handler?
Daniel Handler is the creative mind behind his stories, particularly A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I read hungrily as a child. Lemony Snicket is a character he has created – The Afflicted Author. This man has a backstory as tragic as that of the Baudelaires, and is said to “communicate with the general public through his representative, Daniel Handler.”
A Series of Unfortunate Events seems like a parody of gothic literature aimed at children and ‘young adults’. There are lots of small allusions throughout the books that support this claim; allusions that Handler himself might hold disdain towards, given that his novel The Basic Eight mocks high school English classes. The child reader becomes hooked on this entirely new concept to them – the unhappy ending. As adults, we can feel unimpressed because there are countless stories we encounter (both real and fictional) that end badly. Children remain relatively sheltered though. Whether it’s because we personally tell them that their pet ran away to a better place or whether it’s because the media only sells them heartwarming stories of happiness, by and large, children don’t have the intuition that a story can end in any way other than ‘happily ever after’.
From The Bad Beginning onwards, children learn otherwise. When three children are orphaned in a horrific house fire and forced to live with their awful uncle, it sounds like an atypical fairytale. Unfortunately, while the children rescue themselves with their wit and will, fate flings them from one nasty situation to another. Part of the appeal (and cynically, perhaps this is excellent marketing) is driving forward, reading on, just to see whether the Baudelaire children get their happy ending. Frustratingly but effectively, Lemony Snicket informs us that while his research on the Baudelaires has been extensive, he does not know of their fate after The End. This could be a way to leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks, to project the ending that they want onto the story. For me though, it’s unsettling, and raises a lot of uncomfortable questions.
The tone of voice employed by Lemony Snicket (allow me to indulge in a suspension of belief) is a fun one to experience, particularly as a child. It was probably my first encounter with a self-deprecating kind of humour, and I appreciated the small asides. Most notably, it was great to have a writer teach me new words – I would frequently come across a new, more than likely overly complicated way of saying something, and then it would be patiently explained to me. It was a fun and interesting way to learn new words, and I always appreciated not needing to have a dictionary to hand. It reflected a kind of teacher-student relationship, one who cared deeply for both the reader and the Baudelaires, albeit awkwardly, distantly.
I sometimes wondered whether Lemony Snicket might have been a good carer for the Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. But like many things in A Series of Unfortunate Events, I never found out.