Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fan-Boy Icon #15

This week's entry gets us not one Icon, but two. Daniel Handler is a novelist and musician, known for his accordion playing. He is also the man behind the pseudonym "Lemony Snicket," author and chronicler of the Baudelaire children in the collection A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Handler quickly became one of my favorite authors. His first novel, The Basic Eight, is about a teenage killer whose personality disorders lead her to kill some of her teachers and friends. The book was panned by critics for its style. It takes the form of journal entries and is written from the teen girl's point-of-view. Apparently he wrote too believably in that character's voice, as the juvenile nature of the text was the critics main complaint. From this point he began work as "Lemony Snicket" which we shall get to shortly. His second novel as Handler was Watch Your Mouth. Here we have the story of a modern Jewish family and a young man who enters their lives. There are a lot of odd things going on with them, including incest, the mother's production of an anti-Semitic play with the local theater troupe, and last, the construction of a golem. His final book, thus far, is Adverbs, a collection of short stories with a confusing twist. Characters in several stories have the same names, but it is often difficult to determine if they are in fact the same character or not.

Unfortunately, Handler's adult themed books are not widely read. There is a touch of perversion to them, particularly in Watch Your Mouth, which is not erotic but touches on sexual explicitness. His real claim to fame, of course is with Lemony Snicket.

Lemony Snicket, according to an interview with Handler, was a name he created while researching The Basic Eight. He was researching various right-wing religious organizations, and did not want them knowing his true identity. He came up with Lemony Snicket. Later he was pitching a dark story to a publisher, and they suggested he turn it into a story for children. Since then, A Series of Unfortunate Events has seen thirteen books in the main series, several related books, and the 2004 movie with Jim Carey as the arch-fiend Count Olaf.

While not reaching the same worldwide appeal of the Harry Potter stories, ASoUE was very popular, considering its competition. It is the story of three children who are orphaned when Count Olaf burns down their home and kills their parents. They find themselves in a string of homes through the first half of the series, and eventually on their own in the second half. Regardless of where they are hidden, Count Olaf always finds them out and attempts to destroy them.

What was most enjoyable, as an adult, is how truly evil Count Olaf is. He is a murderer, and while not graphically told, the truth is plain. The villains in Harry Potter's world are evil and devious, but none are so blunt as Count Olaf. The books typically display the ignorance of adults, and their unwillingness to listen to children. Olaf is the exception. While he appears ignorant in many ways, his cunning is unmatched, and he knows how stupid the other adults are. He uses this to continually harass the Baudelaires, and to avoid prosecution.

If you have not read ASoUE, it is well worth a try. Read The Bad Beginning, and know that the books only get better. There are certain books that I would have left out of the series altogether, but there is a theme of thirteens. There are thirteen books in the series. Each book is thirteen chapters... It all goes toward the bad luck surrounding the heroes.

4 comments:

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

In the last couple of years that I taught full time the 'Lemony Snickets' books were very popular and easy to digest for the kids so I know them well.

I was fearful, as I was with Harry Potter, that the books would somehow not do justice to the books but I found I had nothing to fear. Both movies were terrific in my opinion.

While Potter speaks of BIG issues, the Snicket books have a much easier to relate to premise and therefor the larger majority of kids could get into them, espeically those kids to whom a huge (thousand page) book is frightening.

The movies got the casting right and for once someone reigned in the manic that is Jim Carey to play the count to perfection.

Plus, who didn't have the hugest crush on the actress the got to play Violet???

Darius Whiteplume said...

I forgot to include my favorite anecdote. A woman was complaining that his books taught kids it was ok to lie:

"Can you tell me when it is alright to lie?" she says.

"Of course. That's a lovely sweater."

If you have the movie on DVD, it is fun to watch with the commentary on, as Handler does commentary as Lemony Snicket.

Nathan said...

Excellent books, but I didn't care as much for the movie. Some good parts, but I thought the books portrayed Olaf as sinister with a silly side, while Jim Carrey played him as silly with a sinister side.

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Nathan - I'll buy that. I believe they fired Handler from writing the script, as he was having too much trouble nailing it down. I'm sure they needed Carey to appeal to more people than Olaf would (in Hollywood's eyes).

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