Friday, April 6, 2012

Don't Panic, It's A Series of Unfortunate Events

I started reading A Series of Unfortunate Events last spring, and I got through the first four books very quickly.

The Bad Beginning
The Reptile Room
The Wide Window

I enjoyed the first three. The first two in particular had some profound thoughts about life, suffering, and human nature.

The fourth book, The Miserable Mill, was a formulaic repeat of the first three*, and although I read it in one afternoon, I was not entertained at all. It was the same plot and outcome with a different setting. I was annoyed. So I put down the series for a year.

*You would be right to point out that books 2 and 3 are basically formulaic repeats . . . perhaps I was just tired of it by book 4.

I finally picked up the series again, and this week I read books 5 and 6, The Austere Academy and The Ersatz Elevator.

Both of them were entertaining, and I finished each in two sittings. There's also a crucial plot twist in The Austere Academy that changes the pace and direction of the series. In a very (very) small way, it's comparable to the change that the Harry Potter series takes in The Goblet of Fire.

However, I was reminded of how frustrating Lemony Snicket’s writing can be. The things that charm me about his writing are often the same things that annoy me.

The plots and the characters (with a few exceptions, like the Beaudelaires and the Quagmires) are absurd, unrealistic, and farcical. The humor (and despair) of the series lies in the incompetence and stupidity of the characters, and particularly in authority figures. However, many of the events are so unbelievable that I almost felt insulted as I read them.

But then again, like Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we read these books for the absurdity and dark humor.

(I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the first time last month. I was greatly depressed and highly entertained.)

So if you’re caught up in a series of unfortunate events or you’re reading absurd fiction that destroys your suspension, just remember: DON’T PANIC.

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