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Monday, January 6, 2014

The Bad Beginning

One of the most Blackly Whimsical series of children's books is A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Here is the first one:

It is called The Bad Beginning and is, I think, the best book of the entire series.

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are 3 happy siblings until one day when their parents perish in a horrible fire.  Then their lives turn catastrophic as they are sent to live with the evil Count Olaf who treats them terribly and desperately wants to get his hands on their fortune.

One bad thing after another happen to these smart, resourceful children and the author, Lemony Snicket, (Who is a character in and of himself) relishes telling their tragic tale.  The real star here, though, is not the plot or the characters but the prose.  Snicket (a pseudonym for the author Daniel Handler) throws in plenty of 4 dollar words and defines them in the most creative ways.  Here's a sample of the writing:

It is very useful, when one is young, to learn the difference between "literally" and "figuratively." If something happens literally, it actually happens; if something happens figuratively, it feels like it's happening.  If you are literally jumping for joy, for instance, it means you are leaping in the air because you are very happy.  If you are figuratively jumping for joy, it means you are so happy that you could jump for joy, but are saving your energy for other matters.  The Baudelaire orphans walked back to Count Olaf's nieghborhood and stopped at the home of Justice Strauss, who welcomed them inside and let them choose books from the library.  Violet chose several about mechanical invetions, Klaus chose several about wolves, and Sunny found a book with many pictures of teeth inside.  They then went to their room and crowded together on the one bed, reading intently and happily.  Figuratively, they escaped from Count Olaf and their miserable existence.  They did not literally escape, because they were still in his house and vulnerable to Olaf's evil in loco parentis ways.  But by immersing themselves in their favorite reading topics, they felt far away from their predicament, as if they had escaped.  In the situation of the orphans, figuratively escaping was not enough, of course, but at the end of a tiring and hopeless day, it would have to do.  Violet, Klaus, and Sunny read their books and, in the back of their minds, hoped that soon their figurative escape would eventually turn into a literal one.
page 68-69

It's the cleverest of writing and a joy to read (although the kids do go through some fairly harrowing circumstances!)

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