I've been making my way thru A Series of Unfortunate Events, listening on the drive back and forth to work. My most recent listen was to The Carnivorous Carnival. I followed Jill's advice to then read Lemony Snicket: An Unauthorized Autobiography before continuing on to the rest of the series.
Can I just say Wow? I am so blown away by these books. Daniel Handler is brilliant, on so many levels. First, of course, is the way he plays with language; next, is the wonderful plotting as the story unravels, book by book; and finally, by capturing the imagination of so many readers.
I'm making my way thru the series, expecting certain things to happen (children in peril; children thwart Count Olaf; children save themselves, Olaf runs away, Poe shows up.) And then I get to the Vile Village -- and it changes. And suddenly, the kids are on their own, and the series keeps sliding from its original black (evil Count Olaf) and white (poor innocent Baudelaires) to gray. And the illusion of safety is ripped away. And the ending of Book 9 -- well, the only reason I didn't plunge into the next book is Jill said I had to read the unauthorized autobiography first, and I trust Jill.
And now, I'm thinking, what the hell is Handler doing?
And then they took him,
They took him far away,
They took him in the dead of night,
Beneath a moon of gray.
They took him from the kitchen,
Like you'd take a midnight snack,
The VFD, they took him
And the never brought him back.
And that's from when the VFD were good guys. The Unauthorized Autobiography plunges deeper into gray areas, yet continues with the fun language and writing. This story is a puzzle, that keeps getting more complex; yet not in a way that turns off young readers. This is sophisticated storytelling, with some very mature themes being introduced. Plus, it's so smart, with little details that you may miss if you're in a hurry. Following the "see" in the index leads to the following: Quagmire triplets, see abductions; abductions, see last minute escapes; last minute escapes, see running for one's life; running for one's life, see Snicket, Lemony.
There's all the Internet chat about whether or not Harry will die. Cutting to the chase, I find it highly unlikely that Harry will die because frankly, it's not that type of series. However, as ASOUE proceeds, it appears to me that there will be some startling revelations that will be just as shocking, if not more so, than a dead Harry. What have the Baudelaire parents done, as members of VFD, an organization that uses disguises and takes children? Is their mother a Snicket? And I don't want to begin with some of my other questions, because I still have more books (10, 11, 12, not to mention the Beatrice book and 13) left to read.
Hey - just left a loooong comment here, but it seems to have vanished. If it doesn't reappear in a bit, I'll try again later...
HHHmm....or blogger is acting up....or its part of the whole VFD conspiracy, as your comment appeared under a different post -- the one about the contest at a Readable Feast!
Did I mention that the library copy of Unauthorized Biography was falling apart? I think it was missing a few pages, but it felt very authentic because of the poor conditin.
Let this be a lesson to me that when I write something I really like, I should ALWAYS save it externally somewhere. Anyway, to try to reconstruct:
I think your post really captures why I adore Snicket, and why others possibly don't. Just as the appearance of the daemonless boy near the end of The Golden Compass wouldn't carry nearly so much horror if we hadn't been so entrenched in daemon-hood up until that point, I think that the formulaic content of the first six Snicket books - a major point of criticism - is absolutely essential to the disorienting effect of watching the formula, bit by bit, dissolve in later books.
LSUA is not an easy book; as I've just been reading in the new Henry Jenkins book, the fragmented storytelling requires the reader to become an active participant in the act of meaning-making. And the more background the reader brings to the interaction, the more there is to pull out; those who read music, for example, can laugh at the notation to "The Little Snicket Lad", a total mismatch for its lyrics.
And you've discovered the index! :)
The only point I'd add to your analysis is the edge-of-a-knife balance Snicket maintains between writing in the gothic form and writing a parody of the gothic form. My experience is that kids tend to see the parody, whereas adults tend to think that Snicket is hopelessly gloomy.
Oh, and on the audience participation thing: as you might expect, there's piles of websites out there that speculate on the true meaning of V.F.D., on family trees, etc, and also that explain every single literary/pop culture allusion. The Unofficial Lemony Snicket FAQ is one of the best.
I'm completely with you on the ending to TCC (Book 9) - it's the only ending up until that point (ha, no spoilers here!) that I really, viscerally felt. Especially with the echoed wordplay there...anyway, if you're taking my recommendations :), I'd also recommend listening to the audio book versions. Each one starts with a song, and the song for TSS (Book 10) is actually about the end of TCC - brilliant! I'm not usually an audio book fan, but these are really excellent stories read aloud, especially by Tim Curry.
Now you're inspiring me to do my own Snicket post, when I'm supposed to be putting together a Harry Potter idea to submit to that upcoming conference...
Ah, that would explain it - most likely I mis-clicked. Well, now you, like the readers of LSUA, have two different versions of a document to compare - maybe there's a secret hidden in the differences? ;)
You're consuming SUE at the right time. I started reading and listening to it after there were only about 2 or 3 books out (I've listened to and read them all -- I love sitting and pouring over them, but I also LOVE those recordings), and I've been dying waiting for the next installment in between releases. The ending of book 12 was particularly maddening.
We're doing a whole SUE party thing at the library to celebrate the release of the 13th novel on Friday, Oct. 13th because we all love those books so much. (How brilliant is it that it wound up being Friday the 13th in October? Someone deserves a raise for that one.) Of course, looking at the description, I realize that we should probably rewrite it in a more Snicket-y way....
Reading your post, and having been reading Jill's two Blogs, I'm starting to think I should get around to reading Lemony Snicket myself... After my deadline is passed, maybe !
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