Dark Humour Lit for Life

In conversation with Daniel Handler

Puttering about: ‘My technique changes with every project’

Puttering about: ‘My technique changes with every project’  

‘You never love a book the way you love a book when you are 10,’ says Lemony Snicket’s creator, Daniel Handler

Lemony Snicket, the enigmatic children’s author, took the world by storm when he revealed himself to be a Californian gentleman named Daniel Handler who also writes adult fiction with equally dark themes. The 13 novels in his series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, have been adapted by Netflix to wide acclaim, testifying to their appeal. Handler’s solemn reverence for literature is poorly camouflaged by his propensity for whimsy. And don’t even get him started on Nabokov.

How does your own worldview differ, if at all, from Mr. Snicket’s? Did the pen name have some ulterior literary intent?

“Lemony Snicket” has never felt quite like a pen name to me; I simply thought it would be interesting to have the books published under the name of the narrator rather than the name of the author, so that the mystery — particularly in pre-Internet days — might remain intact. Mr. Snicket and I share many qualities, but he has the lonely luxury of living entirely in a world governed by books, whereas I occasionally have to putter about in what we call actuality.

Are you hinting at a discrepancy between ‘actuality’ and the alternative worlds of literature? Can learnings from fiction, however fascinating, ever be viably imported and applied to the real world?

I can only refer to my (unmet) mentor Nabokov, who says, “Reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art.”

I’m not sure what “viably imported” quite means, but I credit most of my emotional and philosophical upbringing to literature.

Do you prefer to be read by children or by adults?

You never love a book the way you love a book when you are 10.

What do you think of the adaptations of your work for film and television?

Film and television are collaborations, and I’ve been asked to collaborate on these adaptations of my work, although my contribution has largely been limited to working on the scripts. Collaborations are tricky, especially if one is used to working alone in a room, and as with anything I’ve worked on, it’s easier for me to dwell on what I wish was different rather than what brings me satisfaction.

Could you tell us a little about your relationship with music?

My relationship to music is that I am a big fan of it. I had quite a strict and voluminous musical education growing up, so I have the ear and the enthusiasm, though no particular skill. The nice thing about playing the accordion is that you are probably the best accordion player anyone knows, so I’ve managed to tag along with various musical projects just due to my novelty. Thus what I like about my own musical participation is that it is almost entirely in someone else’s hands. I spend so much time frowning over pieces of paper of which I am supposedly in charge, it’s nice to have someone say, “Play something light and angry on the second verse.”

Have modern-day changes in literature consumption forced you to recalibrate any aspects of your approach to writing?

Not in the way you are asking, I think — my technique changes with every project, and surely the way the world is moving must have an effect on that, in the way the torture scenes in The Grim Grotto would not likely have occurred to me were it not being revealed right then that the U.S. was engaging in torture. I try not to close off the world, if only because it’s impossible. But I believe literature makes its own case for reading, so I try to write some, just about every day.

mihir.b@thehindu.co.in

Daniel Handler will be speaking at The Hindu Lit for Life 2019. To be held on January 12, 13 & 14 at Lady Andal School premises, Harrington Road, Chennai. Visit www.thehindul .com to register

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 4:10:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/lit-for-life/in-conversation-with-daniel-handler/article25910219.ece

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