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Snicket, Lemony 1970–

Snicket, Lemony 1970–

(Daniel Handler)

Personal

Born Daniel Handler, February 28, 1970, in San Francisco, CA; married Lisa Brown (an art director); children: Otto. Education: Wesleyan University, graduated, 1992.

Addresses

Home—San Francisco, CA. E-mail—lsnicket@harpercollins.com.

Career

Author, poet, and "studied expert in rhetorical analysis." Comedy writer, The House of Blues Radio Hour, San Francisco, CA; freelance book and movie reviewer.

Awards, Honors

Academy of American Poets Prize, 1990; Olin fellowship, 1992; Quill Award, 2006, for The Penultimate Peril.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN; "A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS" SERIES

The Bad Beginning (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

The Reptile Room (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

The Wide Window (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

The Miserable Mill (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

The Austere Academy (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

A Box of Unfortunate Events: The Trouble Begins (contains The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Ersatz Elevator (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Vile Village (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Hostile Hospital (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

A Box of Unfortunate Events: The Situation Worsens (contains The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, and The Ersatz Elevator), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

The Carnivorous Carnival (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

A Box of Unfortunate Events: The Dilemma Deepens (contains The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, and The Carnivorous Carnival), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

The Slippery Slope (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

The Grim Grotto (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

A Box of Unfortunate Events: The Ominous Omnibus (contains The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

The Penultimate Peril (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

A Box of Unfortunate Events: The Loathsome Library (contains The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, and The Ersatz Elevator), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

A Box of Unfortunate Events: The Gloom Looms (contains The Grim Grotto, The Slippery Slope, and The Penultimate Peril), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

The End (also see below), illustrated by Bret Helquist, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

The Complete Wreck (omnibus), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

The Beatrice Letters, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Author's work (under Snicket pseudonym) has been published in Germany, Italy, Norway, Israel, Japan, and Denmark.

FOR ADULTS; UNDER NAME DANIEL HANDLER

The Basic Eight, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Watch Your Mouth, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Adverbs, Ecco (New York, NY), 2006.

OTHER

Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, HarperTrophy (New York, NY), 2002.

(Author of introduction) Dino Buzzati, The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, HarperTrophy, 2005.

The Puzzling Puzzles: Bothersome Games Which Will Bother Some People (activity book), HarperTrophy (New York, NY), 2006.

The Notorious Notations (blank journal), HarperFestival (New York, NY), 2006.

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, illustrated by Lisa Brown, McSweeney's (New York, NY), 2007.

The Composer Is Dead, illustrated by Carson Ellis, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributor to Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night, by Art Spiegelman, HarperCollins, 2003. Contributor to periodicals, including Voice Literary Supplement, Newsday, Salon, and New York Times.

Adaptations

The Basic Eight was optioned for a film by New Regency; A Series of Unfortunate Events was adapted for film, Paramount Pictures, 2004. The "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books were adapted for audiobook.

Sidelights

Daniel Handler is the author of the wildly popular "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books penned under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. The thirteen-volume series, which features the grim misadventures of the orphaned Baudelaire children, tapped into a youthful readership eager to deal with irony, intelligent silliness, and Goth-like depressing situations in their fiction. "Stories like these aren't cheerful," the author admitted in a New York Times essay, "but they offer a truth—that real trouble cannot be erased, only endured—that is more soothing to me than any determinedly cheerful grin." In the words of London Guardian contributor Tim de Lisle, Handler "has become the Roald Dahl of our day, plying eleven-year-olds with eloquently gleeful nastiness." Other books, including his arch, holiday-themed The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, continue in the Dahl-ian tradition.

Handler was born and raised in San Francisco, the son of an accountant and a college dean. Growing up, he was "a bright and obvious person," as he characterized himself to Sally Lodge in Publishers Weekly. However, the incipient novelist "always wanted to be a dark, mysterious person." In books, he preferred stories "in which mysterious and creepy things happen," he told Lodge, and rejected stories "where everyone joined the softball team and had a grand time or found true love on a picnic." The youthful Handler sought out stories à la Dahl or Edward Gorey, and his fiction for juveniles has often been compared to the works of those two writers. The first book Handler bought with his own money was Gorey's The Blue Aspic.

A student of San Francisco's prestigious and demanding Lowell High School, Handler graduated in 1988, ty-

ing for Best Personality of his graduating class. Eleven years later, he set his first novel at the fictional Roewer High, a barely concealed stand-in for this school, wherein students "pushed to the limit academically, socially and athletically," as Handler wrote. After high school graduation, he attended Wesleyan University, winning a Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1990. His love for poetry soon developed into a passion for novels. Upon graduation, an Olin fellowship provided Handler with the financial support to work on his first novel. Publication of that book, however, would come several years later. Meanwhile, there was a living to be earned. Handler spent a couple of years in the mid-1990s writing comedy sketches for a nationally syndicated radio show based in San Francisco, The House of Blues Radio Hour.

Things began looking up for Handler when he moved to New York City and began his literary career as a freelance movie and book critic. By 1999, his first novel, The Basic Eight, was finally published and earned respectful if not praiseworthy reviews. The Basic Eight, though written for adults, caused some reviewers and booksellers to label it "YA" because it focuses on a cast of high school students in a clique called The Basic Eight.

The Basic Eight, which deals with a teenage murder, hit bookstore shelves a month before the tragic events at Colorado's Columbine High School focused the nation's attention on teen violence. The tale is narrated by Flannery Culp, who recounts the events of her senior year at Roewer High from her prison cell where she is serving time for the murder of a teacher and fellow student. Flan is, as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed, "precocious" and "pretentious." Reviled in the press as a leader of a Satanic cult, she is determined to tell the real truth of the tragicomic events that landed her in prison instead of in some Ivy League school.

At school, Flan, editor of the student paper but having trouble in calculus, relies on her seven friends: "Queen Bee" Kate, lovely Natasha, chef-in-the-making Gabriel, absinthe-fan Douglas, Jennifer Rose Milton, and "V," the last whose name is withheld to spare her wealthy family. These eight form the elitist Basic Eight. Childhood games turn increasingly serious when the group begins experimenting with absinthe, and then Natasha comes to Flan's rescue by poisoning a biology teacher who has been plaguing her friend. There is also Adam State, a love interest of Flan's, and it is her jealousy that ultimately leads to his murder—by croquet mallet—as well. The talk-show circuit quickly picks up on the story, calling this privileged clique a Satanic cult.

Handler's characters ape the adult world of their parents by throwing dinner parties and toting around hip flasks. "The links between teen social life, tabloid culture and serious violence have been explored below and exploited before," noted a Publishers Weekly critic, "but Handler, and Flannery, know that. If they're not the first to use such material, they may well be the coolest." This same reviewer concluded, "Handler's confident satire is not only cheeky but packed with downright lovable characters whose youthful misadventures keep the novel neatly balanced between absurdity and poignancy." In Booklist Stephanie Zvirin called the book "part horror story, part black comedy," noting that The Basic Eight shows what can happen to "smart, privileged, cynical teens with too few rules, too much to drink, too little supervision, and boundless imagination." Library Journal contributor Rebecca Kelm found Handler's writing to be "witty and perceptive," and noted his "clever use of vocabulary and study questions" that poke fun at the conventions of literary criticism in high schools. Kelm's admiration for the book, however, was tempered with the brutal murder at its center. Also with mixed praise, a New Yorker critic wrote that while "Handler is a charming writer with a lovely mastery of voice," The Basic Eight "is weakened by his attempt to turn a clever idea into a social satire."

For his second novel, Watch Your Mouth, Handler chose another coming-of-age crucible: the college years. Joseph is just finishing his junior year at prestigious Mather College. There he has met luscious and lascivious Cynthia Glass, whom he delights in calling Cyn with its intended double meaning. A surfeit of sex has caused Joseph to fall behind in his studies and earn an Incomplete in one class. When Cyn recommends that Joseph spend the summer with her and her family in Pittsburgh, he leaps at the chance to stay close to his lover. There the two will work days as Jewish day-camp counselors, Joseph will finish his incomplete, and their nights will be their own. Once settled in the Glass's home, however, Joseph is filled with an unsettled foreboding. It seems that father Ben pines too much for his daughter, Cyn; that mother Mimi yearns too much for her son, Stephen; and that Stephen, at least, may return his mother's feelings.

Written in the form of an opera, Watch Your Mouth employs realism and surrealism side by side, and steps perilously close to the bounds of good taste, according to some reviewers. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Handler's second novel is so "twisted that even its protagonist can't keep up with the perverse turns of plot." As the critic further observed, "this melodramatic satire of family life trembles between virtuosity and utter collapse." In Library Journal Kelm dubbed the novel "quirky" and "offbeat," while Leventhal concluded his review by calling Watch Your Mouth "clever, witty, and unpredictable."

The birth of Lemony Snicket came about when Handler was offered the chance to pen books he might have enjoyed reading when he was ten. Taking up the Snicket moniker, which he had once devised to avoid getting on unwanted mail lists, he was delighted to revamp the entire notion of what constitutes an appropriate novel for juveniles, repealing the old sports or fantasy categories that were available to him as a youth. The result was The Bad Beginning, the first of thirteen volumes chronicling the adventures of the Baudelaire orphans. As the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books unfold, siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire not only lose their parents, but are then set upon by the vile Count Olaf, whose one goal in life, it seems, is to bilk the children out of their fortune. The Baudelaire brood is led by inventive fourteen-year-old Violet, while her rather bookish brother, twelve-year-old Klaus, follows her lead. Then there is baby Sunny, who has incredibly sharp teeth for an infant and employs a baby argot that speaks volumes. Eschewing magic, Handler imbues these children with survival skills of a more practical nature, enabling them to defend themselves from a cornucopia of hurled knives, falling lamps, storms, snakes, leeches, and just plain rotten folks. And all of this is related in a deadpan, sophisticated text that has its tongue firmly planted in cheek.

As readers meet them in The Bad Beginning, the three Baudelaire children have lost their parents in a fire. Through the oversight of the ineffectual banker, Mr. Poe, they become wards of Count Olaf, a distant cousin. He sets the siblings to labor in his house, meanwhile devising schemes with his theatrical troupe to deprive the orphans of their inheritance. The three survive the count's attacks with spunk, initiative, and, in the case of Sunny, sharp teeth. Handler/Snicket "uses formal, Latinate language and intrusive commentary to hilarious effect," noted a review for Publishers Weekly of the first title in the series. The critic added that the author "paints the satire with such broad strokes that most readers will view it from a safe distance."

In The Reptile Room, it seems the orphans will have a chance for happiness when they go to live with Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, a "very fun, but fatally naïve herpetologist," according to Ron Charles in the Christian Science Monitor. Unfortunately, their safe haven is short-lived, spoiled by the arrival of the oafish Count Olaf. Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing the first two titles in Booklist, thought that the "droll humor, reminiscent of Edward Gorey's, will be lost on some children; others may not enjoy the old-fashioned storytelling style that frequently addresses the reader directly and includes definitions of terms." Lempke went on, however, to conclude that "plenty of children will laugh at the over-the-top satire; hiss at the creepy nefarious villains; and root for the intelligent, courageous, unfortunate Baudelaire orphans." Linda Bindner, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "while the misfortunes hover on the edge of being ridiculous, Snicket's energetic blend of humor, dramatic irony, and literary flair makes it all perfectly believable."

The third book in the series, The Wide Window, finds the orphans with elderly Aunt Josephine who lives on a house on stilts which overlooks Lake Lachrymose. Josephine is a widow as well as a frightful grammarian, and when Olaf finally tracks down the Baudelaires, he fools the aunt for a while into believing he is a sailboat captain. When she finally stumbles onto his true identity, Olaf gets rid of her by pushing the good woman into leech-infested waters and the peripatetic children must find a new protector. Lempke noted that in this installment Snicket adopts "an old-fashioned tone," offering "plenty advice to readers in asides." "The effect is often hilarious as well as edifying," the critic observed, adding that "readers never truly worry that [the Baudelaire orphans] will be defeated in this or their next adventure."

The Miserable Mill finds the three siblings on their way to Paltryville and yet another guardian, this time the owner of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. Here they must work in the mill and survive on gum for lunch and casserole for dinner. Count Olaf, is of course, lurking just offstage and preparing to pounce. "The story is deliciously mock-Victorian and self-mockingly melodramatic," noted Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan, the critic also commenting on Brett Helquist's artwork and on Handler's "many asides to the reader," both which "underscore the droll humor." As Sharon R. Pearce observed in School Library Journal, the book's humor "exaggerates the sour and makes anyone's real life seem sweet in comparison."

The saga continues in The Austere Academy and The Ersatz Elevator. In the former title, the Baudelaire children are consigned to a shack at the Prufrock Preparatory School where they face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus, and the evils of the metric system. In the latter book, they must contend with new guardians Jerome and Esme Squalor while trying to save two friends from the clutches of Count Olaf. "Series fans will enjoy the quick pace, entertaining authorial asides, and over-the-top characterizations, and … Helquist's droll pencil drawings will add to their reading pleasure," Phelan noted of The Ersatz Elevator.

In The Vile Village, the Baudelaires are adopted by the residents of V.F.D., a town run by a strict council of elders whose myriad rules regulate every aspect of villagers' lives. When the children are falsely accused of murder, they must escape from jail to avoid being burned at the stake. "Arch literary allusions enhance the stories for readers on different levels," noted School Library Journal contributor Farida S. Dowler. The Baudelaires volunteer their services at Heimlich Hospital in The Hostile Hospital, "another darkly amusing, nightmarish adventure," as Phelan stated. The trio is once again pursued by Count Olaf and his cohorts, who this time threaten Violet with a cranioectomy. Writing in Entertainment Weekly, Daniel Fierman praised the author's "devilish carnivals of wit, wordplay, and adventure."

The Carnivorous Carnival finds the children disguised as circus freaks in order to investigate Madame Lulu, a fortune teller who uses her crystal ball to fuel Olaf's evil plans. "The humor is as sharp as ever," Heather Dieffenbach commented in School Library Journal. In The Slippery Slope, Violet and Klaus must rescue young Sunny, who has been kidnaped by the count and taken to the Mortmain Mountains. According to Entertainment Weekly reviewer Alynda Wheat, the tenth entry in the series "is as delightfully dark as ever."

While searching for a vitally important sugar bowl in The Grim Grotto, the Baudelaire children make a new ally in submarine captain Widdershins, who helps them battle Olaf and his nefarious colleagues, Esme Squalor and Carmelita Spats. Snicket/Handler's "villains remain deliciously villainous, and the long-suffering Baudelaires still accept struggle without complaint," Zvirin stated. In The Penultimate Peril, the Baudelaires gather at the Hotel Denouement, a venue organized according to the Dewey decimal classification and whose guests include a host of characters from earlier series installments. As Zvirin noted, "this inventive go-round seems more dizzying … than usual."

Snicket concluded "A Series of Unfortunate Events," with the appropriately titled The End. Adrift in the open seas with Count Olaf, the Baudelaires are washed ashore and welcomed by friendly islanders, though their haven does not remain safe for long. Several critics noted that this final installment offers a fitting although somewhat ambiguous ending to the series. In the words of Horn Book reviewer Claire E. Gross, "Where Snicket excels … is in balancing the expectation of happy ending against his own repeated declarations that none exists." Henry Alford, writing in the New York Times Book Review, offered a different assessment, remarking that the novels offer an unconventional reading experience: "Where, in the end … does the ‘Unfortunate Events’ series leave us? It leaves us reminded of what an interesting and offbeat educator Handler is." According to Alford, "the books seem at times like a covert mission to turn their readers into slightly dark-hued sophisticates…. amply prepared for the rocky narrative landscapes of Borges and Eco."

"The Snicket novels are morality tales, albeit twisted ones," observed Amy Benfer in her Salon.com review. "Among other things, Snicket tells children that one should never stay up late on a school night, except to finish a very good book; he insists that there is nothing worse than someone who can't play the violin but insists upon doing so anyway." Through his use of continual authorial intrusions, interjection of definitions, and insertion of stage directions, Handler "was mostly just knocking the heavy-handedness that I remembered from kid's books that I didn't like as a child," as he reported to Benfer. "That sort of mockery seems to really appeal to kids."

Asked by Zvirin if he viewed the end of his series with nostalgia, Handler responded: "A little. It's like watching your baby learn to walk or your child graduate from college … but that doesn't mean I'd want to do it again." However, the author admitted to Bookseller interviewer Caroline Horn that his literary career is far from over. "I plan to keep writing for children and adults," he said. "My problem isn't the search for ideas but how to whittle the ideas down." However, he added, in typically morose fashion, "if no one pays any more attention to me again as a writer, well, that will be exactly what I predicted all along."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Haugen, Hayley Mitchell, Daniel Handler: The Real Lemony Snicket, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.

PERIODICALS

ALAN Review, winter, 2001, Linda Broughton, review of The Miserable Mill, p. 35.

Book, July, 2001, Kathleen Odean, review of The Ersatz Elevator, p. 81.

Booklist, March 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Basic Eight, p. 1289; December 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Bad Beginning, p. 707; February 1, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Wide Window, p. 1024; May 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Miserable Mill, p. 1670; June 1, 2000, Ted Leventhal, review of Watch Your Mouth, p. 1857; October 15, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Austere Academy, p. 439; August, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, reviews of The Ersatz Elevator and The Vile Village, p. 2122; October 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Hostile Hospital, p. 392; June 1, 2002, review of Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, p. 1725; December 15, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Carnivorous Carnival, p. 761; November 15, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Grim Grotto, p. 586; December 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Penultimate Peril, p. 47; February 15, 2006, Allison Block, review of Adverbs, p. 5; October 15, 2006, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The End, p. 48.

Bookseller, May 19, 2006, Caroline Horn, "Lemony Snicket—A Happy Ending?," p. 32.

Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 1999, Ron Charles, review of The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room, p. 21.

Entertainment Weekly, November 2, 2001, Daniel Fierman, review of The Hostile Hospital, p. 70; October 3, 2003, Alynda Wheat, review of The Slippery Slope, p. 79; September 24, 2004, Alynda Wheat, review of The Grim Grotto, p. 112; October 20, 2006, Alynda Wheat, review of The End, p. 86.

Guardian (London, England), June 7, 2006, Tim De Lisle, interview with Handler.

Horn Book, March, 2001, Christine Heppermann, "Angel Wings and Hard Knocks," p. 239; January-February, 2007, Claire E. Gross, review of The End, p. 73.

Library Journal, March 15, 1999, Rebecca Kelm, review of The Basic Eight, p. 108; June 1, 2000, Rebecca Kelm, review of Watch Your Mouth, p. 196.

Newsweek, September 27, 2004, Malcolm Jones, interview with Lemony Snicket, p. 84.

New Yorker, June 21, 1999, review of The Basic Eight.

New York Times, October 20, 2001, Daniel Handler, "Frightening News: The Importance of Scary Stories," p. A17.

New York Times Book Review, October 22, 2006, Henry Alford, reviews of The End and The Beatrice Letters, p. 18.

New York Times Magazine, April 29, 2001, Daphne Merkin, "Lemony Snicket Says, ‘Don't Read My Books!’"

Publishers Weekly, March 1, 1999, review of The Basic Eight, p. 59; September 6, 1999, review of The Bad Beginning, p. 104; May 29, 2000, Sally Lodge, "Oh, Sweet Misery," p. 42; June 19, 2000, review of Watch Your Mouth, p. 60; October 6, 2003, review of The Slippery Slope, p. 86; October 18, 2004, review of The Grim Grotto, p. 66; January 30, 2006, review of Adverbs, p. 36; October 29, 2007, review of The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, p. 56.

School Library Journal, November, 1999, Linda Bindner, review of The Bad Beginning, p. 165; July, 2000, Sharon R. Pearce, review of The Miserable Mill, p. 110; October, 2000, Ann Cook, review of The Austere Academy, p. 171; August, 2001, Farida S. Dowler, reviews of The Ersatz Elevator and The Vile Village, pp. 188-189; November, 2001, Jean Gaffney, review of The Hostile Hospital, p. 164; January, 2003, Heather Dieffenbach, review of The Carnivorous Carnival, p. 144; January, 2004, Krista Tokarz, review of The Slippery Slope, p. 134.

ONLINE

A Series of Unfortunate Events Web site,http://www.lemonysnicket.com (February 1, 2008).

BookBrowser.com, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (July 15, 2000), Jonathan Shipley, review of Watch Your Mouth.

Lowell Online,http://www.thelowell.org/ (February 15, 1999), Philana Woo, "Author Reflects on High School Life."

Salon.com,http://www.salonmag.com/ (August 17, 2000), Amy Benfer, "The Mysterious Mr. Snicket."

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Snicket, Lemony (Daniel Handler)

Snicket, Lemony (Daniel Handler)

1970 San Francisco, California

Author, poet

Many writers publish their work under a pseudonym, or alternate name. But Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, may be the only writer to have three identities. As Catherine Mallette of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram explained, Handler is "an author who is simultaneously a fictional character named Snicket, a representative of a fictional character named Snicket, and a best-selling writer." Under his given name, Daniel Handler, he has published two novels for adults, The Basic Eight and Watch Your Mouth. In addition, he has published eleven of the planned thirteen books in a series for children called A Series of Unfortunate Events under the name Lemony Snicket. Snicket, however, continually misses his public appearances, due to some unforeseen disaster, and Handler must step in and inform the masses of children who have come to see Snicket that they will have to settle for Snicket's representativeHandler.

Preferred dark fiction as a youth

Daniel Handler was born in 1970 in San Francisco, California, the son of an accountant and a college dean. An avid reader, he hated books that were overly happy. "If a book had a syrupy ending, he'd toss it aside," Handler's father, Louis, recalled to James Sullivan of Book. "It drove him crazy." Instead, Handler preferred darker works by such writers as Roald Dahl (19161990) or Edward Gorey (19252000). He attended Lowell High School, a prestigious San Francisco school, graduating in 1988. For college, he selected Wesleyan University. He began writing poetry and won the 1990 Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets. But he soon turned toward the longer form of fiction. After graduating from Wesleyan he won an Olin Fellowship, the funding from which allowed him to write his first novel. Handler spent the mid-1990s working on his novel, and also wrote comedy sketches for a national radio show. He then moved to New York City, where he worked as a freelance book and movie critic.

The Basic Eight was published in 1999. The book takes the form of a diary, written by the character Flannery Culp while she is in prison for the murder of a teacher and fellow high school student. In her journal, she recalls the events of her senior year at Roewer High School that led to the murders. Reviews for Handler's debut novel were mixed. Publishers Weekly noted that the author's "confident satire is not only cheeky but packed with downright lovable characters whose youthful misadventures keep the novel neatly balanced between absurdity and poignancy." The New Yorker, however, noted that "the book is weakened by his [Handler's] attempt to turn a clever idea into social satire."

"What I think has rankled some people about the books is that they show that if you're good, you're not necessarily rewarded."

Handler's next novel, Watch Your Mouth, (2000) was the tale of Joseph, a college junior who lets his studies slide after falling in love. After finishing one class with a grade of incomplete (given when a student does not complete all the requirements of a class), his girlfriend, Cynthia, whom he calls Cyn, invites him to spend the summer with her family in Pittsburgh. Joseph is delighted at the chance to spend this summer with Cyn. But after he meets her family, a dark suspicion builds in his mindthat Cyn's family is involved in incest. Handler's second effort again received mixed reviews. Some critics praised the quirky quality of the book, while others found the story too twisted for their taste.

Lemony Snicket is born

According to the Lemony Snicket Web site, "Lemony Snicket was born before you were, and is likely to die before you as well." Snicket's birth date may be unclear, but he was first conceived as Handler's first novel was being published. Since the novel was set in a high school, it was sometimes mistakenly sent to editors of children's books. Editor Susan Rich saw real potential for Handler as a children's author and approached him about trying to write for a younger audience. At first Handler was resistant, but he then pitched an idea for the kind of story that he would have enjoyed as a kid: a dark tale about three orphans who have lost their parents in a fire and are sent to live with a distant cousin, Count Olaf, who wants nothing more than to steal the children's inheritance. Handler never expected his idea to receive the publisher's support, but Rich loved it and soon Handler was at work on the first of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

A Series of Unfortunate Events : The Series

Below are the first eleven books of the planned thirteen in the series.

The Bad Beginning, 1999.

The Reptile Room, 1999.

The Wide Window, 2000.

The Miserable Mill, 2000.

The Austere Academy, 2000.

The Ersatz Elevator, 2001.

The Vile Village, 2001.

The Hostile Hospital, 2001.

The Carniverous Carnival, 2002.

The Slippery Slope, 2003.

The Grim Grotto, 2004.

The story of the three Baudelaire childrenViolet, Klaus, and Sunnyis told by Lemony Snicket, a name Handler first invented in order to keep himself off of unwanted mailing lists. The biography of Snicket on the Lemony Snicket Web site notes that he was born in a country that is now underwater and has been researching the lives of the Baudelaire orphans for "several eras." Snicket is described on the Web site as "eternally pursued and insatiably inquisitive, a hermit and a nomad." Readers who wish to learn more about the life of Lemony Snicket can turn to Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography. Published in 2002, the autobiography features thirteen chapters of notes, songs, letters, photos, newspaper clippings, and other documents. The book additionally includes more information about the characters in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The book also suggests that there is a connection between the Snicket family and the Baudelaires. Handler, as Snicket's representative, wrote the preface to the book.

A Series of Unfortunate Events starts with The Bad Beginning, published in 1999. On the first page, Snicket lets his readers know what kind of story they are in for: "If you are interested in stories with happy endings," he writes, "you would be better off with another book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning, and very few happy things in the middle." Regardless of the lack of "happy" material, The Bad Beginning and each subsequent installment of the series was embraced by readers of all ages. Handler was dumb-founded by the huge success of the Snicket books. "I thought [Susan Rich and I] were two crazy people," he told Mallette. "Then I thought the publishing house was a bunch of crazy people. Now, it seems everyone's crazy. The books just failed to fail." Indeed, by 2003 the books had sold more than thirteen million copies, had been translated into thirty-seven languages, and had been sold in over forty countries.

Success comes as a surprise

Part of the success of the books is due to the fact that Snicket does not talk down to his young readers. He uses big words, and humorously inserts vocabulary lessons. Some readers, however, have objected to Snicket's books. These critics consider them too dark for children and disapprove of the fact that every adult the children meet is, according to Mallette, "completely clueless and incompetent." The books have even been banned in Decatur, Georgia. But Handler argues that the message of the Snicket books is true to life: good behavior is not automatically rewarded, but you should always try to do the right thing anyway. The Baudelaire children must rely on their wits to escape each disaster, rather than expecting that good things will come their way simply because they are good.

A movie based on the first three books in the series was set for release in December of 2004. The film stars Jim Carrey (1962) as the evil Count Olaf and features Meryl Streep (1949) as Aunt Josephine. Jude Law (1972) narrates the film in the role of Snicket. Fans of the books eagerly awaited the film, but the Lemony Snicket Web site warned, "Unless you have a taste for dark rooms, sticky floors, stale popcorn, and unhappy endings, steer clear of the movie."

Lemony Snicket's Inspiration: Edward Gorey

The first book that Daniel Handler bought with his own money was The Blue Aspic by Edward Gorey. Born in Chicago in 1925, Gorey was a writer and illustrator who published more than one hundred books. Like Handler's books, Gorey's work appeals to a wide age group. His children's books create a dark world where children are not safe from unhappy events. Alison Lurie, writing in New York Times Review of Books, noted that children in Gorey's books "fall victim to natural disasters, are carried off by giant birds, or are eaten by comic monsters.... Yet somehow the overall effect is not tragic but comic."

After graduating from high school, Gorey served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946. He attended Harvard University, earning a degree in French. Gorey then went to work for the publishing company Doubleday in 1953, serving as illustrator for several books. His first book, The Unstrung Harp, was also published that year. He later left Doubleday, forming his own independent press. His first children's book was The Doubtful Guest (1957), in which a family finds themselves housing a most unusual guesta creature that looks like a cross between a penguin and an anteater and wears high-top sneakers and a flowing scarf. One of his most notorious children's books, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, was published in 1962. This alphabet book chronicles the deaths of twenty-six children, all in rhyming order: "A is for AMY who fell down the stairs / B is for BASIL assaulted by bears."

Although many of his books were intended for children as well as adults, they were not all published as children's books. To this day, critics argue if Gorey's work can be considered children's literature, given the dark subject matter and "unfortunate events" that happen to children in these stories. It is this very belief that children need to be protected from unhappy events that the Lemony Snicket books reject. In addition to writing and illustrating, Gorey also designed sets for theatrical productions, beginning with a 1977 version of Dracula for which he received a Tony Award. Gorey, who never married, died of a heart attack in April of 2000.

Daniel Handler is married to Lisa Brown, a graphic artist. The couple has one child. Lemony Snicket dedicates each book to a woman named Beatrice. The details of Beatrice's relationship to Snicket remain a mystery. When asked about Beatrice's identity he responded on the Lemony Snicket Web site, "This answer is so terrible that I cannot even begin to say it without weeping. O Beatrice! My Beatrice!"

For More Information

Books

"Edward Gorey." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 40. Gale Group, 2001.

"Lemony Snicket." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004.

Periodicals

Fierman, Daniel. "Lemony Snicket." Entertainment Weekly (April 23, 2004): p. 58.

Lurie, Alison. "On Edward Gorey (19252000)." New York Times Review of Books (May 25, 2000): p. 20.

Mallette, Catherine. "Tracking Lemony Snicket. The True Story (Well, Mostly) of the Mysterious, Fugitive, Best-Selling Author of A Series of Unfortunate Events." Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) (September 24, 2003).

"Review of The Basic Eight. " Publishers Weekly (March 1, 1999): p. 59.

"Review of The Basic Eight. " New Yorker (June 21, 1999).

Scott, Laura. "Review of Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiograhy. " School Library Journal (July 2002): p. 124.

Sullivan, James. "He's Having a Baby: This Halloween, After Four Years of Torturing Children, Superstar Author Lemony Snicket is Getting Exactly What He Deserves." Book (NovemberDecember 2003).

Web Sites

LemonySnicket.com. http://www.lemonysnicket.com (accessed on August 25, 2004).

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