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Ask-a-Librarian: Lemony Snicket and Literary Worldview

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Ask-a-Librarian is an occasional feature in which we answer a reader’s email query.

“Dear RR: What are your thoughts on Lemony Snicket?”

A reader recently asked our opinion on the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket that was published about fifteen years ago. It’s been a while since I read them, but my overall impression of the series is still strong. [Warning: spoilers]

Quite simply, it’s a story of three orphans who are given into the care of the vile Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to get his hands on their fortune. No matter where they go, they cannot avoid him, and each guardian who cares for them meets a dreadful demise.

When The Bad Beginning first came out, I was a children’s librarian and enjoyed the quirky humor, so I recommended them to just about everyone. My husband and I read them to each other after we got married, and they fueled our newlywed literary discussions.

As the series progressed, they started to feel more formulaic, and we mostly kept reading because we HAD to know why the sugar bowl was so significant and what would finally happen to the orphans. Although the author repeatedly warns the reader that things will not go well, we Christians are hopeful beings, and thought that surely there must be some satisfaction at the end.

Hah. We were fooled. The last book was a postmodern disappointment. The sugar bowl was never explained, and everyone went off into a big question mark. The pessimistic premise was clever and unique at the time, but in short, it all led to emptiness and nothing and even made a mockery of God.

No truth, no heroism, no redemption.

Is your child asking to read the Series of Unfortunate Events? Consider reading the first one with him or her. Then you will have some basis for discussion and teaching discernment, and you can decide whether or not it is appropriate to continue. In our postmodern, secular culture, books like these can provide good ground for redemptive reading.

8 questions

Here are a few general questions parents may use to open discussion with kids about these books, or any others, to discuss worldview in literature:

  1. What can you tell me about the story?
  2. Which characters do you like the best?
  3. Which don’t you like?
  4. What can you tell me about them?
  5. How do the characters treat one another?
  6. Does the book mention anything about God? If so, is it respectful or critical?
  7. Is there anything in the story that reflects the gospel or is contrary to it?
  8. Does the ending give you hope? Is there any redemption in the story?

cover image from goodreads.

2 Comments

  1. Izzy says

    When I was little I was really afraid that the stories were real, and the poor orphans were out there somewhere. Over time I’ve become… slightly disappointed with the books and their author, much in the same way that a rose garden becomes slightly full of roses. I’m still looking for a series with a similar voice that’s not so flat-flat-out depressing.

  2. Megan says

    Interesting analogy about the rose garden…I’ll have to encourage Betsy to review the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place to see if they will fit the bill. (I only read the first.) Perhaps something like Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase?

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