A Series of Unfortunate Events Series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village
Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler),1999-2004, Harper Collins Publisher.
The Lemony Snicket books have an amusing premise: in an over-the-top, affected voice, we hear of the terrible, horrible privations that befall and the evil, malevolent conspiracies that threaten three peculiarly-talented orphaned siblings. The narrative falls into entertaining repetitive patterns: we quickly learn that Violet ties up her hair before coming up with brilliant inventions, that Klaus will know key facts, no matter how obscure, and that Sunny will crawl into inaccessible places and babble non-nonsense, and together they save the day for a brief moment. We also quickly become accustomed to the voice of our narrator, who happily mis-defines words for us, who advises us to read happier books, and who laments vaguely-defined tragic events in his own story.
Repetition is a powerful tool in all literature — but in “kidlit” it’s nothing short of a juggernaut. Kids can watch Aladdin five hundred times, and tend to enjoy it more each time. Other kids want the same story read to them each night, and will correct you if you misread a single word. Clearly, the power of repetition and playing to a successful theme fuels these books. Yet, even with a good formula, familiarity breeds contempt. As the books progress, the problems and the solutions to the problems get less and less plausible (not that they were ever realistic to begin with). Yet we know in advance how the problems will be solved, more or less, and the steps that be taken to get there. Maybe because my brain has gotten older and less pliable, the repetition in this series started to get tiresome. I found myself wanting something new to happen, something unexpected. Well, maybe in the next book…