07/30/01
When Bad Things Happen to Good Children
    by Fiona Barnes

In the opening pages of The Bad Beginning, the first book in a projected 13-volume series about the three Baudelaire children -- Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are at Briny Beach, where their extremely wealthy and trusting parents have allowed them to go on an excursion. It's an overcast day, which is what the children like, because then they have the beach to themselves. Violet, who's fourteen, is thinking about a new invetion; the middle child, twelve-year-old Klaus, is exploring tidal pools; and the baby, Sunny, is shrieking "'Gack!' over and over," the narrator tells us, "which probably meant 'Look at that mysterious figure emerging from the fog!'"

The specter turns out to be one Mr. Poe, who has come bearing the sad news to the children that their parents have been killed in a fire that has also destroyed their mansion, and that Mr. Poe is now the executor of the children's substantial fortune and of their fates. Two quick chapters later, he has farmed the children out to a distant relative, the disreputable Cout Olaf, who ``is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.'' The one sure thing certain about him is that he is after the children's legacy, and even though he is foiled in this installment, we know that he shall return -- and he does, in disguise, in the very next book.

There are seven other volumes to date in the continuing saga of the Baudelaire orphans -- slim, inexpensive, and highly readable books with titles like The Reptile Room, The Miserable Mill, The Erzatz Elevator, The Vile Village, and The Hostile Hospital (which is due out this August). All are done, tongue in cheek, in the same playfully serious, almost campy tone, all are filled with enough villains, misfortunes and twists and turns of plot to satisfy a young reader's appetites for surprise and suspense as well as their need for sympathetic child characters, who are bound to get lucky in the end. No one knows who "Lemony Snicket," the author, really is -- that's part of the mystery, and part of the delicious fun of these books.

Copyright 2001 by Fiona Barnes

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:24:27 EDT


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