I have heard mixed reviews about the movie version of this story with Jim Carrey. Having not seen it I cannot share any opinions on the film myself. Instead, I decided to read the tale in its original form.
The author goes under the name of Lemony Snicket, who supposedly possesses documents about the Baudelaire orphans, using these papers he decided to write their story. This is a nice touch, as it provides a story within a story. However, this is only part of the tale; as the author’s real name is actually Daniel Handler.
Snicket/Handler states that, if you are looking for a happy story with a happy ending, don’t read this book. A comment that makes one want to read it all the more. But he is right; this is not a happy tale. Still, there’s a certain amount of charm, and there is a somewhat satisfying ending. Just enough to make the reader want to check out the next book.
Violet (fourteen-year-old girl,) Klaus (twelve-year-old boy), and Sunny (infant-girl,) are playing on a beach one day when a man walks up and tells them that their parents just died in a house fire.
To add to their good news, they are forced to live with a man named Count Olaf, who is a distant relative (and happens to be an actor.) It becomes obvious that Olaf only wants the children in order to find a way to get at their parent’s fortune. He treats them very poorly, giving them unrealistic chores, terrible sleeping arrangements, and even goes so far as to strike Klaus in the face. Making them call him father, Olaf himself refers to the children as orphans.
One day Olaf shows an odd act of kindness, and talks the Baudelaire orphans into taking part of a play called “The Marvelous Marriage.” Klaus finds out that Olaf’s plan is to use a real judge, give guardian consent, and have Violet say “I do.” The play is intended to be a real wedding, which would give Olaf access to the fortune that Violet is too young to access herself. Appalled, both children do what they can to prevent the tragedy while taking care to not let Olaf kill Sunny, who he had taken hostage.
I liked the occasional explanation of words, as they are often provided with a twist. Such as, “… money is an incentive – the word ‘incentive’ here means ‘an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do.’” The writing is easy to read, the book not very long, and the personality of the characters is enjoyable to follow.
Things to consider:
This book is good for younger children, probably six and older, and for both girls and boys. There are no sexual references, or foul language to speak of, and violence is at a minimum, but the situations may be a little disturbing to some children. Such as Klaus being hit in the face and Sunny being hung out the window in a bird cage. All these things are used to show us how evil the count is.
Opportunities for discussion:
One of the lessons here is that life isn’t always what we want it to be, but we should try and make the best of our situation regardless. Another lesson is that it is an evil act to do ill to others for your own sake, and if someone is being treated unfairly we should do what we can to help them. Finally, one of the themes here is how adults tend to not listen very well to the concerns that children face. If only the adults in this story would have listened, the fate of the Baudelaire orphans could have been avoided. It’s nice to see lessons for parents too, even if they are within a children’s tale.