Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fortnightly Book, November 29

The world is quiet here.

Enbrethiliel picked the Fortnightly Book for this time around, and it is Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning. Lemony Snicket is the pen-name of Daniel Handler (who often calls himself 'Lemony Snicket's handler'). I will actually be re-reading the entire children's series, the thirteen books of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I will focus particularly on how it starts.

The books in the series have a number of shared gimmicks. There is always a letter (often on the back cover) from Lemony Snicket to the reader, giving reasons why they should not read such an unpleasant book. Thus The Bad Beginning warns us:

In this short book alone, the three youngster encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

(Incongruous lists is a Snicket staple.) Each book has a melancholy dedication to Beatrice. That of The Bad Beginning is:

To Beatrice---
darling, dearest, dead.

The works end with a letter to Snicket's editor, which typically includes some entirely fantastic plan for getting further manuscripts, and proof of Snicket's story, into the editor's hands. Each book is filled with acronyms, anagrams, cryptic messages, and literary allusions.

And, of course, the works are entirely about an endless series of disasters that strike the three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, beginning with the death of their parents and the villainy of Count Olaf, which they somehow manage to overcome. But much of the strength of the overall story arc, I think, lies in the negative space, the constant hints of the disasters that preceded the Baudelaire children, which only ever come partially into view -- the death of Beatrice, Lemony's cryptic comments about his own misfortunes, the furor and fury over Esmé Squalor's sugar bowl, the VFD, and the like. For it is not an accident that the Baudelaire children suffer so much. They have, through no fault of their own, entered a long, grueling, perplexing war, between those who fight fires (literally and figuratively) and those who start them, between those who value reading books and those who value burning them....

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