A Series of Unfortunate Events: Irony and Learning

A series of catastrophic misfortunes is a series of books published between 1999 and 2006 under the name of the fictional author Lemony Snicket.


A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of books published between 1999 and 2006 under the name of the fictional author Lemony Snicket. Actually, the real author behind these books is the American novelist Daniel Handler. In 2004, a homonymous adaptation took place on the big screen in which the evil Count Olaf was played by Jim Carrey. This first adaptation was well received by the public and critics. However, being a series of 13 books, it was a bit short.

In 2017, a new adaptation in the form of a series was released for the Netflix platform, on this occasion, the role of the villain fell to Neil Patrick Harris who, in turn, is one of the producers of it. Since its premiere, we noticed something unusual in these times, and that the series was going to have only 3 seasons (we deeply appreciate it).

Although the film fell short, the new format allows the series to delve deeper into the tragic history of the Baudelaires. But, surely, to extend it too much would have been a totally unnecessary agony. For the film, they also tried to have Handler as a screenwriter, but he was fired, probably because of his differences with the producer. However, in the Netflix series, Handler participates as a screenwriter and producer.

The series has come to an end recently and, indeed, has not been exhausting. He has not wanted to squeeze his success to infinity making endless seasons, but go through the front door. A series of catastrophic misfortunes is enjoyable and entertaining for any age. At the same time, it has a certain educational component that is very interesting.

Then, we discover the keys to A series of catastrophic misfortunes and his great villain: Count Olaf. But, as Lemony Snicket would say, you still have time to leave this reading, to retire, if you do not want to know the great misery of the Baudelaires.

WARNING: The article may contain spoilers.

A series of catastrophic misfortunes: understanding literature

Taking into account the above, we will focus our attention on the books, but also on the Netflix series for being a fairly faithful version. In this way, we will combine aspects of both versions. As we have anticipated, a series of catastrophic misfortunes is intended for a children’s audience, however, it is full of references that, probably, only the adult public knows.

Thus, it becomes a really interesting fiction to approximate, in a certain way, literature to the younger audience. Just look at the last names of the three orphaned protagonists to realize that Daniel Handler, or Lemony Snicket, borrowed the surname of the famous poet Charles Baudelaire to give it to the young orphans: Klaus, Violet and Sunny. Baudelaire was listed as a cursed poet, his life was dark and tragic; and, somehow, the little orphans are also cursed.

The references to literature are countless, even Mr. Poe takes his last name from Edgar Allan Poe. In addition, the small orphans, especially Klaus, are knowledgeable about the great works of universal literature. For this reason, we are facing a macabre spectacle in which important allusions and quotes from famous literary authors stand out.

Irony is another key to A series of catastrophic misfortunes; From the beginning, we observed that the narrator warns us again and again how terrible is what we are about to see (or read). And it is true that many of the events that are narrated are, without a doubt, misfortunes; but, the way of telling it and the warnings do nothing but awaken our curiosity. In its origin, some people misinterpreted the books without capturing the irony that comes from them. An irony that, on the other hand, is not the most usual in children’s literature.

Another important element is the likelihood. How does Daniel Handler achieve verisimilitude? Getting rid of their identity and presenting a character-narrator-author that exposes the facts as if they were true. This technique is not usual in this type of literature, it is more typical of the adult world.

Snicket explains the meaning of complex words, reflects on the facts and literature itself. Exercises, in a didactic way, this author-character function. In addition, at the end of the story we discovered that Snicket was related to the parents of the Baudelaires. This idea of ​​the author-character, capable of intervening, interrupting or contributing data, has been explored throughout the history of literature and we can find some examples already in medieval works such as Diego de San Pedro’s Prison of Love.

To all this, we must add an interesting game with superstition: 13 books, in turn, divided into 13 episodes. For all these reasons, a series of catastrophic misfortunes is ideal to introduce the youngest in the world of literature and, at the same time, adults can enjoy, reflect and, why not, also learn.

Count Olaf: the disguises of evil

Once exposed, grosso modo, some of the keys of A series of catastrophic misfortunes, it is time to present his terrible villain: Count Olaf. If you do not want to know the atrocity and the evil in its purest state, you still have time to stop and leave the reading here. Note that both Jim Carrey and Neil Patrick Harris were at the height of the character. The characterization, of course, helps enormously, but its interpretations are the most successful.

Count Olaf is the mysterious antagonist of history, a character we know as legal guardian of the Baudelaires after the tragic death of his parents in a fire. Soon, we discovered that he was involved in the VFD (secret organization to which the parents of the Baudelaires also belonged). Olaf, in fact, is an actor, but he lacks all talent. He is unpleasant, greedy, cocky and totally immoral.

Count Olaf is presented as the incarnation of evil, a treacherous and deceptive evil capable of adopting different appearances. In turn, Count Olaf is shown as a rather ignorant character and it is the children themselves who correct some of their linguistic errors. The interesting thing is to see how the question of false appearances is treated and how adults are, at this point, the most blind.

The adults absolutely trust what they see and, when Olaf presents himself in disguise, in spite of his terrible interpretation, everyone blindly trusts that the person in front of them is not Olaf. All, except the children, who seem to be the only ones to realize the reality. Things are not always what they seem and that is precisely what is teaching us A series of catastrophic misfortunes. The world of adults resides in appearances, but children are able to see beyond.

Despite the fantastic, the world that is presented to us is the real one; yes, full of anachronisms and exaggerations. Thus, that real and known framework invites us to think that many of the things we see are related to reality. And this is where the weight of the phrases, criticisms and lessons that a series of catastrophic misfortunes leaves us lies.

In a way, it encourages children to overcome adversity, to trust their ingenuity and to develop all their abilities. Likewise, it tells adults that we should not doubt the children’s words so much and that, perhaps, we should listen to them more often. The duel is presented as tragic, but not as the end. On more than one occasion, Lemony Snicket tells us about death, about what loss means and, at the same time, about destiny, because we do not know when we are going to die.

Far from giving his life finished and sinking into misery, the Baudelaires never stop struggling to get ahead and find, at last, their happy ending. They always try to look for the positive side, even if the negativity takes over the environment; There is always an exit. And it is that, in the face of a loss, however tragic, our life has not yet been finished.

A series of catastrophic miseries combines comedy with the dark, the mysterious and the macabre. Leave a space for fantasy and, at the same time, vindicate survival. That which seems impossible to endure and yet we move forward. An instinct that is in us and that rescues us in desperate situations, like that of the young Baudelaire.

“Destiny is like a strange and unpopular restaurant, full of little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and do not always like.”

-Lemony Snicket-