YOUNG WORLD

Snicket tells a tale

GEETA PADMANABHAN

Snicket tells a tale

Lemony Snicket, the author of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" (eight books so far) is a strange man. He is highly secretive ("cops, actors and well organised housewives are mad at me!") — he hides his real name (Daniel Handler), appears as his own secretary and his photographs show only his back. He considers himself an investigator whose sacred duty is to research what happened to the three Baudelaire children (Violet 14, Klaus 12 and Sunny a baby). He has to write them down because "nowhere could he find any books that contained the sort of misery and dread that the Baudelaire case contains."

The story begins with the Baudelaire siblings being informed that their parents had perished in a terrible fire that burnt their house down. Mr. Poe, the banker becomes their guardian. A series of unfortunate events befall the children. Book after book you read about the scrapes the siblings get into and just when you think everything is lost (or solved) there is a twist and the Baudelaires move onto the next pitfall.

In the first book they come across a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune. In the second they endure a car accident, a terrible smell, a deadly serpent, a long knife and the children read, think, invent something and manage to get away. These incidents by themselves are enough to enthral anyone who loves `danger and escape' stories. But what makes them absolutely delightful is the author's wacky sense of humour. Snicket's books are all about style. They are based on the principle that what is forbidden is what is most attractive. So the author goes on, "The book is extremely unpleasant," "This is not a simple and cheery tale," "Choose something else to read," "You may want to throw the book down?" No reader will want to miss the books after that.

The books are not just fun. They are a fun way to learn. Violet and Klaus find their solutions through research in a library. Whatever peril they find themselves in, it is in reading that they hope to find their escape. And Violet has an inventive mind. Her knowledge is constantly translated into action. Without sounding like a dictionary, Snicket explains the meaning of a number of words as he goes along. Snicket uses the star-crossed lives of the siblings to present a fresh view of children's immediate world. He shows how rigid and unreasonable rules and regulations that govern children are, how rules that are meant to protect often cause misery and despair, how in following them adults lose sight of their emotional needs, how children are never taken seriously even in matters that concern them. Snicket may be putting the Baudelaire children through a bumper-to-bumper series of disasters but he is definitely a child's friend.

The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket; published by Scholastic.

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