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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
'Unfortunate' series comes to end
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington

Some people just can't take a hint.

Cover of The End (Courtesy of HarperCollins Childrens)
Lemony Snicket says The End means the end
In fact, there seem to be millions of people who cannot take the plainest of advice: Do not read the children's books that go under the collective title A Series of Unfortunate Events.

At least 51 million books in the series have been sold worldwide since the author who calls himself Lemony Snicket first began recording the misfortunes of the Baudelaire orphans - three brave, intelligent siblings whose lives are so miserable that "Snicket" himself advises potential readers to pick up something else instead.

On Friday - Friday the 13th, of course - he will finally put them out of their misery, ending the series that began in 1999 with The Bad Beginning.

The first dozen books all had wickedly alliterative titles, from The Reptile Room to The Penultimate Peril, but the 13th and final book is simply, brutally, called The End.

And Daniel Handler - the author's real name - warns that The End means the end.

"We have seen the last of the Baudelaires," he says definitively.

Conflicting views

That is certain to sadden the millions of people who have followed the adventures of Violet, Klaus and Sunny since they learned in the first book that their wealthy parents had been killed in a fire.

The news set in motion the seemingly endless pursuit of the children and their fortune by the evil Count Olaf, and led them to solve mysteries that only unearthed further puzzles.

Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire in a Brett Helquist illustration (Courtesy of HarperCollins Childrens)
Violet, Klaus and Sunny have to rely on their wits to survive
Not everyone will be sorry to see the end of the Baudelaires - including Catherine Lee, of Newcastle in England.

Her husband and twin daughters are fans of the series, but she is not.

"I find the books unbearable because however they are dressed up, they are about child abuse - locking a baby in a cage, having hope given then snatched away. Too gothic for me," she says.

And that's only the first book.

As the series progresses, the Baudelaires have to contend with everything from man- (and woman-) eating leeches to murderous mushrooms, evil hypnotists and defamatory newspaper reports, not to mention the vaguely buffoonish but terribly tenacious Count Olaf.

That is exactly what Mrs Lee's daughter Alex, 9, likes about them.

"In Lemony Snicket books, if there's ever a happy part, there's always a bad thing following, whereas in other books, it's usually a bad thing followed by a good thing," she says.

Her twin sister Ellie agrees.

"They're a bit like adult books in the sadness and the mysteriousness," she says, adding that it is realistic to have horrible people in books because there are horrible people in real life too.

'A good time'?

Handler says that he wrote a series that he himself would have liked to read as a child.

Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler (Courtesy of HarperCollins Childrens)
Handler claims credit for killing one of his mentors
"Anything threatening or otherwise unearthly was my idea of a good time. Pretty much anything where horrible things happen to children."

He cites the Brothers Grimm, Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey as influences - and claims credit for killing the latter.

"I sent him a copy of the Bad Beginning with a note apologising for stealing his ideas. He died a few weeks later and I like to think that I killed him - that he thought, 'My work is done, there's no more need for me.'"

Like all the best entertainment for children, the Lemony Snicket books have elements that appeal to adults as well as younger readers.

They are as much about language and literature as storytelling, with references to everything from Dante to TS Eliot and JD Salinger (not to mention having protagonists named after a seminal French poet).

The author has a running gag of defining terms - a phrase which here means repeatedly interrupting the story with often slightly inaccurate but usually quite entertaining explanations.

Meghan Williams, 23, who works as a journalist in the suburbs of Washington, DC, became a fan after her 12-year-old brother recommended the series, and has read the first dozen.

"They work on several levels, where there is enough in them for the kids to get them and like them, but there are a lot of in-jokes for the adults."

She cites the example of the youngest Baudelaire, the infant Sunny, speaking in apparent baby talk that often contains roots of real words, either in English or foreign languages. (The Snicket books have been translated into 40 languages.)

'Obvious formula'

Stephen Tavener, 38, of London, has read the first three books, though he says his own children are too young for them.

Count Olaf in a Brett Helquist illustration (Courtesy of HarperCollins Childrens)
Artist Brett Helquist's work is reminiscent of Edward Gorey's
"The books are pitched at both adults and the kids they are reading them to. There is a kind of subversive, self-referential humour running through them."

But he admits that he ran out of steam after reading several of them, and books four to six sit unread on his shelf.

"The formula became pretty obvious, and I got a little frustrated with the stupidity of all the adults involved. I started to mentally wince when the next bit of stupidity got telegraphed."

Jessie Black, 10, of London, has no such reservations. She has read the first 10 books in the series.

"You can kind of feel what the children are going through. You feel really excited when they have solved something," she says.

And she is not put off by the author's warnings against reading on.

"When he writes that it's really miserable, you just want to read more."



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