A Series of Unfortunate Events, The End By Anise Hollingshead, August 2006
Alas, A Series of Unfortunate Events is winding to a close, with the thirteenth book - aptly and simply titled The End - due to be released shortly. Since the first volume, The Bad Beginning, was issued in 1999, Lemony Snicket's books have enjoyed tremendous success, and many will be saddened by the series' inevitable end. The books detail the tragic lives of the Baudelaire children, orphaned by a fire that killed their parents. They are Violet (aged 14), Klaus (aged 12), and Sunny, a toddler. A large fortune awaits the youngsters' coming of age, and varied dastardly relatives would love to take charge of the kids and their cash. The main villain, though, is Cousin Olaf, who will stop at nothing to gain control of the inheritance.
The books are wildly humorous in tone throughout, even though they deal with violence and a multitude of gloomy happenings. Though good things do sometimes happen to the Baudelaire children, these events are short-lived and they're always returned to the tragedy of their daily lives. The narrator leaves readers no illusion that these kids will ever have the chance to be truly happy.
The books are written as broad satire which, although aimed primarily at children, also incorporates many ideas and concepts that only adults will appreciate - relating to, for example politics, journalism and fashion. Later episodes in the series even begin to delve into relative morality. The books constantly poke fun at the rigid rules under which adults labor, when it's action that is demanded. Inevitably, in every book, it is this adult intransigence that enables Cousin Olaf to escape again and again, only to reappear later in the Baudelaire siblings' lives.
There are twelve books currently, with the thirteenth and last slated for release in October 2006. The first five all follow basically the same plot, in which the Baudelaire children enter yet another guardianship, which never works out. They always have to leave, and each book opens as they travel to a new location under the direction of their financial advisor, Mr. Poe. He means well, but is lousy at picking guardians. While the basic premise is the same, each locale is vastly different from the others. The kids find themselves living in a house full of reptiles, a dormitory in a factory, and a boarding school. Later books have them in a hotel, a ship and a caravan. The descriptions of these places add much humorous detail to the stories.
Throughout the books, the author is present. As narrator, he constantly interjects asides and explanations of either current or upcoming events, as he warns readers about the next horrible thing that is getting ready to happen to the children. This dear reader approach is amusing and is one of the main reasons for the series' continued success.
While these books are truly funny, they are also dark and macabre. Violence is not only threatened, it is carried out. People die, and often. In one episode, the kids themselves cause a death by accident. However, the descriptions of these happenings are never graphic, and basically just state that he/she/they died.
The series can be divided into two distinct groups of books. The first seven chronicle the ever-changing living arrangements of the Baudelaire children, constantly threatened by Cousin Olaf, who manages to keep menacing them by disguising himself in order to get close to them. At the end of the eighth book, however, the children find themselves running off into the wide world after being falsely accused - they are left without Mr. Poe or a new guardian. All subsequent books follow this same plot of the children running from the official Law, while they try to outwit Cousin Olaf. Tying all the books together is the tantalizing mystery of the V.F.D., three initials that have something to do with their parents' lives and also their deaths. Introduced in Book Five, this mystery leads the children all around the world as they try to discover what the letters mean. They soon find out there is a whole underground group of people connected with the V.F.D..
While the earlier books appear to focus more on the satire itself in each story, these later volumes deal more with deeper issues of good and evil. The children are constantly having to do things like steal and lie in order to survive, and in the last episodes, some of the things they do inadvertently cause people to die. The question is always whether good intentions excuse bad behavior.
These are all great books for middle level readers, ages ten to fourteen (while younger children are capable of reading the books, the material may be too intense for them). The uniqueness of the author's regularly telling readers to stop reading if they don't want to hear about all the horrible things looming on the Baudelaires' horizon, combines with wildly crazy descriptions and deft plotting into a very satisfying reading experience. Though the later volumes aren't quite as funny and tend to belabor the ethical question of relative morality, young readers will still enjoy them, drawn to discover more about the V.F.D.. And the moral questions can lead to discussions between children and parents, always a good thing.
It will be interesting to see how the last book will wrap up this series! Will the Baudelaire children find out what really happened to their parents? Will they end up as villains, or noble people? I, for one, can't wait to find out! Bring on The End!Find out more about the series of bitter books, its agitated author, Lemony Snicket, and the fateful film - if you dare - at the very unpleasant site, LemonySnicket.com. And don't miss the Vile Videos - the first gives a sizzling summary (12 Books in 120 Seconds) of the entire series!
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