Book Review: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

By Angela Maria Hart

The Bad Beginning introduces the reader to the three Baudelaire children, who will later be known as the Baudelaire orphans throughout the rest of the series. Violet was the inventor of the group. She was the eldest Baudelaire child and had a tendency to tie her hair up in a ribbon when she was considering new inventions and thinking intently. Klaus was the middle Baudelaire child. He loved reading and tended to use intellectual words when speaking. Lastly, Sunny Baudelaire was the youngest. Sunny was an infant who loved chewing and biting items with her four sharp teeth.

The story began when the Baudelaire children were informed by Mr. Poe that their house burned down and their parents died in a fire. The three children stayed briefly with Mr. Poe and his family before moving in with their official guardian. The Baudelaire’s parents wanted them to live with a relative, but the Baudelaires do not have family in the typical sense. They do not have any aunts, uncles, close cousins, or relatives in the area. They are taken to live with a distant family member who was introduced as Count Olaf.

When Mr. Poe has the three Baudelaire children in the car and drives them to their new home, he stops in front of a clean, well-lit house with a garden in front. The house has a warm exterior. Within seconds, the children learn that this is not their new home and they turn to see a dilapidated old house that was falling apart at the seams with loose bricks and dirt paired with an unkempt yard.

This is one of the first instances in which the children’s expectations are thwarted and they are forced into a scenario that is not what they were anticipating. The entire series pertains to what one sees, expectations are not reality, and the scenarios tend to be reversed. Throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events, the children are the ones who are intelligent and capable, while the adults are uncaring and unable to assist them in the proper manner. Every story is topsy-turvy. Expectations and reality are two different instances.

The villain of the story is the evil Count Olaf. He was described as tall, thin, rather menacing looking with one long eyebrow and a tattoo of an eye on his ankle. His features are really important to note as the reader because they are referenced again and again throughout the other stores in the series.

The Bad Beginning introduces the key characters and initial problem as well as several themes and symbols that persist throughout the remainder of the narrative. For instance, libraries are representative of knowledge. Whenever the children enter a library, it tends to yield useful information. Books are not only informative but crucial to the plot. The texts within the books informs the children about the misdeeds of the adults and how to right the wrongs going on around them.

On page eighty, Snicket wrote,Klaus took off his glasses which he often did when he was thinking hard. “How could we find out about the law without Olaf’s knowledge?” “Book!” Sunny shouted suddenly. She probably meant something like, “Would somebody please wipe my face?” But it made Violet and Klaus look at each other. The book. They were both thinking the same thing. Surely, Justice Strauss would have a book on Inheritance Law.

Libraries are a place of solace filled with information the children need. On the other hand, wine is representative of evil and ignorance. Count Olaf and his theater troupe are always drinking wine at meals and throughout the series whenever wine is involved, it is indicative of an evil character. These items are introduced in the first novel and maintain their significance throughout the duration of the series.

Count Olaf had the children cook, clean, and do odd jobs that were not necessarily needed around the house. At one point, he has the children chop firewood, yet never utilized the chopped wood. He left the wood where the children placed it, as if he never had any intention of using the wood. Olaf also asked the children to cook for him and his theater troupe on very short notice and did not leave proper instructions. This task was unmanageable for children.

In addition to the awful and unreasonable requests, Olaf did not provide the necessary home life any child would require. Violet and Klaus had to alternate sleeping on the one bed Olaf provided. Their younger sister, Sunny, slept on the curtains that Violet folded for her to form a sort of bed. Olaf was a thoughtless uncaring man whose intentions become worse and worse after this novel.

Spoilers!

Count Olaf wrote a play with the intention of marrying Violet (who was only fourteen), so that he could access the Baudelaire fortune. The Baudelaires figured out his evil plan inspiring Count Olaf to abduct Sunny and threaten her if Violet did not go through with the marriage. The Baudelaires are one step ahead of the adults in this story trying to thwart Count Olaf’s evil deeds and escape his clutches.

In the end, Violet signed the marriage license with her left hand when she, in fact, was right-handed. Lemony Snicket mentioned Violet being right-handed several times throughout the novel so that the readers were aware of the discrepancy.

This simple act caused the marriage to be invalid. In a rather simple manner, Olaf escaped the proper authorities by turning the theater lights off. While this should not present too much of a difficult scenario for the adults, he was able to slip through their grasp and escape. Then, Mr. Poe told the children that he was taking them to find another guardian.