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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)

The Bad Beginning  - Brett Helquist, Lemony Snicket

I first learned of Lemony Snicket (i.e. Daniel Handler)'s A Series of Unfortunate Events in undergrad, of all places. I don't remember the specific class, but whatever English class it was, the instructor and a couple students raved about it for nearly ten minutes. “It's the funniest thing ever,” they assured the class. They were cracking themselves up talking about specific scenes and characters; the rest of the class offered lazy smiles—we were on the outside of something big and we were obviously missing out. Until we read this wonderful book we wouldn't know what was so funny.

I've read the book now. And honestly I don't know what was so funny.

In The Bad Beginning, “Snicket” (I hate calling him that) is traveling a path that has been traversed previously in children's literature—I think specifically of Roald Dahl. This is a story that is dark, never sugarcoated and the humor is rather dry. There seem to be many attempts at wit, but, unlike Dahl's attempts, they fall flat more often than not. The characters don't stand out as much as they probably should. Most of the humor comes from the author's “translations” of Sunny's words, but this gets played out fairly early. At some point, every stab at humor is just a rehash of a joke made earlier in the book. I do like the fact that Snicket Handler incorporates such a heavy dose of metafiction in this work as he may be able to play with it later in the series, but in this particular book it aids little.

My two eldest children, whom I am reading this to, say they love it. If you ask me, they love it because of Sunny; they're able to follow the rest, but they only show excitement when Sunny's on the page. In fact, they proposed an idea for a new series entitled The Adventures of Sunny. I think they may be on to something. So I guess their liking of The Bad Beginning means I'm in it for the long haul. Thirteen books. Here's to hoping "the bad beginning" was a true play on words, and that this series improves