The Series of Unfortunate Events is an incredible story told over 13 books that isn’t just for children. I can attest to this fact since I read this series as a child and as an adult. This series follows three children as they are thrown into a world of treachery, scheming, and mystery after their parents are killed in a fire at their home. Follow their year long journey as they uncover hidden mysteries and truths and mature as human beings along the way.
One of the first criticisms these books receive is their receptiveness. The first five books follow almost the same plot. The children are given to a new guardian, Count Olaf shows up in disguise, no one believes the children about Olaf, and at the end the children thwart his plan. It isn’t until the fifth book, The Austere Academy, that the book reveals a bigger picture and introduces some new characters. From here on out, each book adds to this bigger picture in subtle ways that you may or may not have picked up on as a child (I know I didn’t).
Another criticism is that the story doesn’t conclude in a nicely, wrapped up present with all the answers laid out plainly for the reader. And to this I say what the author probably would say: life isn’t about everything being wrapped up to your liking and rarely ever is. As the story progresses, it becomes darker and more self-aware in subtle ways. The children are left to care for themselves, figure out the mysteries for themselves, and what to do with their future.
The writing style is one of the best things about this series. It’s witty, funny, sarcastic, and engaging. The author uses a more advanced vocabulary than the intended age group would use, so he often defines words and expressions. However, these definitions are not always correct making some moments funny or sarcastic (another aspect you might not have caught on to as a child). As with any good writer of middle grade fiction, the author doesn’t talk down to the reader. Things aren’t explained in painstaking detail to make sure the reader understands what’s going on or what was just revealed. Instead, the author leaves hints and clues in the text and the reader is left on their own to put the pieces of the puzzle together. These pieces are scattered throughout the books, so it’s best to read the series in close succession.
By structuring the mystery in this fashion, the author creates room for him to comment on story telling and narration in general. By not giving the reader all the pieces to the picture and by not laying it on plainly he’s commenting that not all mysteries can be solved. There are too many variables to account for. For example, to solve your own mystery you have to solve that of your parents and their friends and parents and so forth.
Overall, The Series of Unfortunate Events is a beautiful written and constructed story that makes you think and is worthy of rereading as an adult.