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4 Really, Really Unfortunate Facts About Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket
Lemony Snicket is the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler, who has published several children's books, most notably "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which has sold over 60 million copies and spawned both a 2004 film and a TV series, which ran from 2017 to 2019. Jason Scott/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Your life will be much more enjoyable if you stop reading this immediately. Look away, we implore you, for what follows are a few wretched facts about one of the most unfortunate narrators to ever retell a tale.

"A Series of Unfortunate Events" is a 13-book children's series in which an intrusive narrator known as Lemony Snicket recounts the calamitous lives of the Baudelaire children — Violet, Klaus and Sunny — who are orphaned after a mysterious house fire.

The Baudelaire children are subsequently cared for by several guardians, including a villainous and distant relative named Count Olaf who frequently attempts to steal their fortune. In addition, there is a mysterious organization known as the Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) with machinations affecting the lives of nearly every character in the series.

Throughout the book (and later, Netflix) series, the luckless Lemony Snicket endures a string of events "darker than a pitch-black panther, covered in tar, eating licorice at the very bottom of the deepest part of the Black Sea," some of which we will attempt to document for you.

Still here? Very well. Brace yourself for misery and woe (and perhaps a few spoilers).

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1. He Had An Unfortunate Upbringing

Lemony Snicket's past is peppered into each of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books, as well as a companion series, "All the Wrong Questions," yet readers still don't have a clear picture of his earliest years.

It seems readers learn a new bit of information, but are left with their own assumptions and inferences regarding Lemony Snicket and his past life, as well as his role as the Baudelaire family's amateur historian.

"In the first 'All the Wrong Questions' book, 'Who Could That Be At This Hour,' Lemony is a 13-year-old boy having a meal with his family — which is quickly revealed not to be his real family and also potentially members of an organization that may want to kill him," emails Lauren West, a copywriter and creative from Southern California who has been a fan of the books since childhood. "There's a lot we can imagine or assert here — that maybe he was taken as a baby by this organization, and maybe when he was 13 he decided to take his life back into his own hands."

Whatever the case, be it kidnapping or infant recruitment, Snicket's life is inexorably linked with the Baudelaires and at least one secret organization.

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2. An Unfortunate Sign In the Form of a Tattoo

How to continue with this tale of woe? Perhaps with an unfortunate sign — in the form of an eye-shaped tattoo.

This tattoo of a stylized eye appears on the left ankle of Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) members, a secret organization that is entangled in many of the events that befall Lemony Snicket, and of course, the Baudelaire orphans.

The tattoo, as alert readers have learned, has the initials "VFD" hidden in its design. Consequently, the "eye" tattoo is one of the many secret codes used by this secret society. It also is relied on by the Baudelaire orphans to identify VFD members, including the dastardly Count Olaf who often appears in (poorly executed) disguise.

Near the end of the series, Snicket reveals that he, too, has a VFD eye tattoo on his left ankle just as Count Olaf does. It may be a relief, however, to be reassured that Lemony Snicket is still one of the good guys.

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3. An Indelicate Rift Occurred

So, every VFD member has been outfitted with a permanent "eye" tattoo, and this symbolic ink was in place long before the VFD split into two unfortunate factions. Although little is known about the VFD's mysterious beginnings, it has been revealed that the all-volunteer group was founded to extinguish fires, both of the literal and figurative variety. The aim, so it seems, was to keep the world on an even keel, quietly humming along.

Then an unfortunate argument happened, possibly involving the organization's motives or Count Olaf's greedy nature or the theft of a sugar bowl. Subsequently, the VFD split into two, creating one group that still sought to put out fires and one group that sought to cause them. The two groups remain bitter enemies.

"It would be exciting to see Snicket take on another series about the organization before the great 'schism' that divided people like Count Olaf and Snicket and even the Baudelaires' parents," says West. "But I have a feeling there are some mysteries Lemony Snicket would like to leave best to our own overactive imaginations."

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4. He Is an Unforgettable Narrator

Perhaps one of Snicket's most unforgettable traits, aside from sporting an eye tattoo on his ankle, is his particular style as a narrator. He frequently pauses the story he is telling to define words for young readers in a manner that is both patronizing and parodying of children's books that treat the reader as being supremely dense.

"I liked Lemony himself because he's the classic unreliable narrator," says Karen Dybis, a Detroit, Michigan-based reporter and author of four nonfiction books, who read the series to her children. "The books are intelligently written, full of whimsy and extremely lively. The tales of the Baudelaire orphans are compelling yet silly at the same time. Children can relate to their troubles and parents can enjoy the fantastic storytelling, great wordsmithing and smart vocabulary used throughout."

Not that you'll see Snicket in public anytime soon. He is notoriously absent from book release parties, readings and speaking engagements, largely because of his continued investigation into the Baudelaire family secrets.

"My kids enjoyed the stories more because of his dark tone," Dybis says. "Everyone laughed at the strange tales he tells, yet he has a sensitivity to kids and the challenges they face that makes kids feel understood through these books."

Snicket's youngest fans, who are repeatedly told not to expect a happy ending to these tales of woe, witness characters close to their own ages weather dreadful circumstances and, importantly, rely on their own agency to survive. It's a life lesson worth repeating.

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