A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

(Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Unfortunate-Events-Bad-Beginning-ebook/dp/B000VYX8PE?ref_=d6k_applink_bb_dls&dplnkId=68ae35d8-f23b-462f-9cf3-b81832820288)

We are immediately introduced to the three Baudelaire children: from oldest to youngest, they are Violet (14-years-old), Klaus (12), and baby Sunny (almost 2).

(Source: https://thenerdstash.com/a-series-of-unfortunate-events-review/)

They are enjoying a misty day on Briny Beach together when they notice Mr. Poe, their banker, emerging from the fog. He has terrible news for the children...

"Your parents,” Mr. Poe said, “have perished in a terrible fire.”
The children didn’t say anything.
“They perished,” Mr. Poe said, “in a fire that destroyed the entire house. I’m very, very sorry to tell you this, my dears.”

Mr. Poe informs the children that he is now the executor of their parents' estate;
"That means I will be handling their enormous fortune and figuring out where you children will live. When Violet comes of age, the fortune will be yours, but the bank will take charge of it until you are old enough.”

From that moment on, their entire lives have changed. And just like that, the Baudelaire children have become the Baudelaire orphans...

Mr. Poe tells the children that they will be going to live with their Count Olaf, despite the fact the children have never even heard of a Count Olaf. They all arrive at his "humble abode," which everybody notes is absolutely filthy!

(Source: https://snicket.fandom.com/wiki/Count_Olaf%27s_house)

Perhaps a sign of things to come, for the rest of Olaf's home is no more welcoming. The 3 children find themselves with only one bed. There are no curtains for their windows. A cardboard box is the only "furniture" for them to put their few belongings away.

Losing their parents was difficult enough, but losing their home and along with it a sense of familiar, has truly devastated the Baudelaire children. It doesn't seem like they will be feeling any more at home with Count Olaf...

"They could see that Count Olaf had an image of an eye tattooed on his ankle, matching the eye on his front door. They wondered how many other eyes were in Count Olaf’s house, and whether, for the rest of their lives, they would always feel as though Count Olaf were watching them, even when he wasn’t nearby."

Count Olaf is never around the house but he always leaves the children a list of horrendous chores to do, like chopping wood, or painting the walls. One morning the children awake to find that Count Olaf has instructed them to cook dinner for his theatre troupe and himself later that evening -- despite the fact the Baudelaire children have never cooked anything before! Thankfully they are able to implore the help of their neighbor, Justice Strauss, who gives them a cookbook for puttanesca sauce and pasta.

(Fun Fact: puttanesca literally translates to "in the style of the whore" 😂 One interpretation for this is because of how cheap and easy it is to make. Tomatoes, black olives, capers, anchovies, onions, garlic, and herbs -- you've got yourself a fine sauce 👌)

Anyway the children manage to prepare a beautiful meal together, just in time for Count Olaf and his troupe. However Olaf is less than impressed, noting that he had been expecting roast beef! Nevertheless they all eat.

After dinner Count Olaf tells the children that they must clean up then go to bed. Klaus and his guardian quickly get into a dispute, which in turn leads them to the topic of the Baudelaire fortune, where Klaus reminds Olaf:

“That money,” Klaus said, remembering what Mr. Poe said, “is not to be used until Violet is of age.”

Suddenly Count Olaf strikes young Klaus across the face, knocking him down to the floor and leaving a huge red mark on his cheek! Olaf, being the evil man that he is, laughs and leaves the room.

(Source: https://snicket.fandom.com/wiki/Count_Olaf)

The next day Violet and Klaus discuss what they can do about their terrible living situation; they decide to visit Mr. Poe at the bank. However he appears to be even more useless than Olaf!

“Whatever Count Olaf has done, he has acted in loco parentis, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Your money will be well protected by myself and by the bank, but Count Olaf’s parenting techniques are his own business. Now, I have very much work to do.”

With no help from any of the grown-ups thus far, the Baudelaire children return home. In the morning, while they are having breakfast with Count Olaf, he invites the children to be in his play. The play is The Marvelous Marriage, and Violet is meant to play Count Olaf's blushing bride.

“You will,” Olaf said, “participate in this theatrical performance. I would prefer it if you would participate voluntarily, but as I believe Mr. Poe explained to you, I can order you to participate and you must obey.”

The children are suspicious of Count Olaf's "play" -- they know that he is up to something! So they visit their neighbor Justice Strauss once again (who is also cast in the play!), this time to borrow a book on the city's laws. Klaus spends all night reading the book until he finally comes to a grim conclusion...

Klaus encounters Count Olaf the next morning, alone.

“‘The requirements are as follows: the presence of a judge, a statement of 'I do' by both the bride and the groom, and the signing of an explanatory document in the bride’s own hand. If my sister says ‘I do’ and signs a piece of paper while Justice Strauss is in the room, then she is legally married. This play won’t be pretend; it will be real and legally binding.”

The play is all a ruse! Count Olaf intends to literally and legally marry Violet so that he can finally be in control of the Baudelaire fortune!

Once his suspicions are confirmed by Olaf himself, Klaus immediately finds his sisters to tell them the truth. However only Violet is in their room; Sunny is gone! Olaf leads the two older siblings outside...

"Violet followed Count Olaf's gesture and found herself looking at the forbidden tower. It was a birdcage, dangling from the tower window like a flag in the wind, but inside the birdcage she could see a small and frightened Sunny."

(Source: https://historymaniacmegan.com/2018/04/06/a-series-of-unfortunate-events-the-musical-day-before-wedding/)

Count Olaf gives Violet an ultimatum: be in his play and marry him, otherwise Sunny is dropped to her death from the tower. Violet agrees.

But first, not without a fight!

"Violet remembered something her parents had said to her when Klaus was born, and again when they brought Sunny home from the hospital. “You are the eldest Baudelaire child,” they had said, kindly but firmly. “And as the eldest, it will always be your responsibility to look after your younger siblings. Promise us that you will always watch out for them and make sure they don’t get into trouble.” Violet remembered her promise, and thought of Klaus, whose bruised face still looked sore, and Sunny, dangling from the top of the tower like a flag. Even though Count Olaf was of course the cause of all this misery, Violet felt as if she had broken her promise to her parents, and vowed to make it right."

Violet manages to build a grappling hook out of the very few items in the children's room, and uses it to climb the side of the tower. She actually makes it all the way to the top! -- until she is abruptly apprehended by one of Olaf's theater members. He is an awful man, with two hooks for hands! All 3 of the Baudelaires are then kept trapped in the tower until it is time for the play that evening.

Backstage is full of hustle and bustle as everybody continuously prepares for the next act! By the time it is Act III, it is Violet's time to shine. She and Count Olaf say "I do" in front of Justice Strauss...

(Source: https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/a-series-of-unfortunate-events-season-1-recap/)

"Violet’s eyes were wide as she looked down at the document, and her face was pale, and her left hand was trembling as she signed her name."

And with that, Count Olaf concludes the play, revealing his truly horrible intentions.

"There is no reason to continue tonight’s performance, for its purpose has been served. This has not been a scene of fiction. My marriage to Violet Baudelaire is perfectly legal, and now I am in control of her entire fortune.”

Everyone in the audience (including Mr. Poe) and even some of the actors (one of whom is Justice Strauss) are in complete disbelief! They try to apprehend the Count but even Strauss realizes how futile it is; the marriage is legal... But since Violet did go through with the marriage, Count Olaf agrees to finally release Sunny from the tower.

Then Violet reveals a startling reality!

"I did not sign the document in my own hand, as the law states,” Violet said. “Like most people, I am right handed. But I signed the document with my left hand.”

Which is confirmed by Justice Strauss!

"The law clearly states the document must be signed in the bride’s own hand. Therefore, we can conclude that this marriage is invalid. Violet, you are not a countess, and Count Olaf, you are not in control of the Baudelaire fortune.”

Everyone cheers!! 8D

But when authorities attempt to arrest Count Olaf, the lights abruptly go out, and he manages to sneak away during the darkness and confusion.

Justice Strauss volunteers to adopt the Baudelaire children herself, a choice that causes all 3 of the children great joy! However Mr. Poe reminds the children that their parents' will demand that they be raised by a relative of theirs. So with that, the Baudelaire children all climb into Mr. Poe's car once again...

"The Baudelaires bunched up together against the cold night air, and kept waving out the back window. Mr. Poe's car drove farther and farther away, until Justice Strauss was merely a speck in the darkness, and it seemed to the children that they were moving in an aberrant—the word “aberrant” here means 'very, very wrong, and causing much grief'—direction."

(Source: https://snicket.fandom.com/wiki/A_Bad_Beginning:_Part_One)

My review...

I am aware that a Netflix series of A Series Of Unfortunate Events (with Neil Patrick Harris!) was recently released; I have not watched it 😅 No, rather I grew up on the 2004 movie, starring Jim Carrey as Count Olaf!

(Source: https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0339291/)

I find it rather surprising that despite being based off a popular children's book series, and despite having many critically-acclaimed actors in it (Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Catherine O'Hara), the movie was not as well-received as one may have thought. With a budget of $140 million, the movie only brought in $211 million (a profit of $71 million).

Again, regardless of this A Series Of Unfortunate Events was a favorite among my Dad and myself. My Dad has always loved Jim Carrey not only for the fact that he is a uniquely phenomenal actor, but also because Carrey attended high school in Burlington, only a 20-minute drive from our home! As for myself, I experienced a very tumultuous upbringing, so I found a lot of comfort in the Baudelaire children's misfortunes, as strange as that is to say 😅 Comforting in the sense that it was nice to know I wasn't alone.

Anyway the book itself! I understand that this novel is just one of many in the collection. It has definitely been extremely different from the movie (which is to be expected), but this was definitely an interesting approach to draw the reader in. Rich children's parents perish in a fire, leaving behind their enormous fortune, only for the children to live with a ruthless guardian who tries to marry the daughter in order to acquire the fortune? I mean, at that point, what could the second book possibly be about?! 😂

The book did an extremely good job of portraying what it feels like to be a child sometimes; the universal problem of the adults never believing the kids because "children always fib, they have such active imaginations, they cry wolf" etc. Even during moments when the truth is being told, moments of extreme danger and peril.

I experienced this often as a child of divorced parents -- "Oh your father must be telling you lies and that's why you're saying this." Even when I tried seeking help when my grandfather was sexually assaulting me throughout my childhood 😅 Even when my mother kidnapped me from school while living at my father's, and my sister just smiled and laughed the entire time I tried asking for her help (sometimes it isn't just the adults who don't believe you). The trauma from it all has left me so scarred that it has now become a reoccurring theme in my dreams: being a social pariah, an outcast, being falsely accused of something I did not do, yet having nobody believe me no matter who I try to ask for help. My parents, friends, strangers, my husband -- nobody...

And I know that this is a children's series, but there are still many mature themes and situations that make it enjoyable for adult readers as well. After all death -- especially that of a loved one -- is an extremely difficult experience that everyone, even grown-ups, struggle to cope with. Now imagine being a child and experiencing the loss of both of your parents! (And if you have, I do express my deepest condolences) Yet the children are dealing with it the best way that they can, even despite their terrible guardian and living situation, and I believe they are doing it with more grace than most adults are capable of.

I look forward to reading and reviewing the rest! 😃 And thank you, dear reader, for interacting with this post!

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