For my tenth birthday I received two books.
One of them was ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by J. K. Rowling. The other one was ‘The Bad Beginning’ by Lemony Snicket.
I read ‘The Bad Beginning’ back then, but it didn’t quite stick with me. I wasn’t in the right place to meet the orphans Baudelaire. After all, for the ten-year-old me, it was easier to identify with a ten-year-old wizard, than three orphans.
Then a month ago I picked one random book from my library. I started ‘The Bad Beginning’ while waiting to board a plane and didn’t leave it until I landed in Frankfurt. Well, until I finished it, just before touchdown, really.
‘The Bad Beginning’ is the first book of the series ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ and, as Lemony Snicket says right at the beginning, this story has no happy ending.
There’s Violet, who’s 14 and likes to invent things. There’s Klaus, who is 12 years old and reads a lot. There’s Sunny, a toddler who likes to bite.
Then there’s Mr. Poe, a family friend who arrives to tell the children that their parents are dead and they have to go and live with Count Olaf, a third cousin four times removed (or fourth cousin three times removed…) who lives in the city.
Count Olaf is a spiteful man who is very much eager to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune.
Apart from the witty way in which Lemony Snicket sets the story everywhere and nowhere at the same time (the entire book seems to be meant to confuse the reader for what concerns time and location), it’s also a great insight in society and legislation.
Why? Well, because who would send three children to live with a hateful man who mistreats them and uses them as slaves? But Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire’s will says clearly that the orphans have to stay with a relative who lives in the city, so Count Olaf has to be.
Throughout the story, it feels as if the adults are nothing but dummies, slave of an unfair and blind law, which suddenly knows nothing about justice.
More than a tale for children, it sounds like a lesson for grown-ups.