On original ideas becoming unoriginal

lemony snicket - whole seriesThere are 13 books in Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, and I’m almost halfway there having finished Book 6. Book 1 and Book 7 are on the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up, and I felt that I wouldn’t be able to really appreciate the seventh book unless I read all the books between one and seven, so, that’s what I’ve been doing (sporadically).

lemony snicket - book 5I read up to book 5 when I was younger – I think that maybe book 5 was the last book that was out when I was about 12, or maybe I got bored, I’m not sure, but I never finished the series. I love collecting series, and reading all the books in the series, even if it means buying the final books when I am a grown up. But, for some reason, I didn’t pursue the series after book 5. And I think I know why, having read the first few six books recently.

lemony snicket - book sevenBook One (‘A Bad Beginning’) is really very original. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, it doesn’t have a happy ending, it’s gothic, it’s got humour, it explains the meaning of words to its readers. Reading the first book is fun because it is unexpected. The second book is fun too, as it builds on the originality of the first book. The third book onwards, however, doesn’t really introduce anything different, anything new, anything… original. It’s actually a bit formulaic. By Book Six (‘The Ersatz Elevator’) I was getting irritated by the author telling me, for the sixth time, that Violet ties up her hair when she was inventing something, and Klaus loves reading books, and Sunny loves biting hard objects. I don’t know if there has been any growth between the first book and the sixth book.

The problem with originality is that ideas don’t stay original for very long. We grow used to ideas very quickly, and as a reader I was looking for new ideas scattered throughout the series, and I felt that Lemony Snicket was relying on the original aspects of the original book in following novels rather than bringing new things to the stories. If the seven remaining books follow the same formula, I don’t know if I could read many more. However, I have in the back of my mind that one of the boys I worked with at my old bookshop read from Book One to Thirteen, and loved them. He promised me, when I said to him that I had only got to Book Five because I got a bit bored, that if I persevered, as the mystery behind Count Olaf, his strange ankle tattoo, and the Baudelaire’s parent’s deaths started unravelling very soon. So, I will read Book Seven (of course, since it is on the 1001 Children’s Books List) but try and keep going in the series, with the hope that the formulaic way the story is unfolding will change.

I will keep you posted.

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4 comments

  1. I so agree with this! I got so frustrated that the Baudelaire’s NEVER caught a break, and the same thing happens to them. Several of my students blazed through the whole series this year, and I would ask my students if they felt like the same problems kept occurring, or if they felt cheated by the ending in the last book. They all loved it, so maybe it is an age thing. I teach 4th grade/10 year olds. I applaud you for sticking it out. I couldn’t.

  2. I kind of agree with you, but we read the whole series and enjoyed it. What i see lately is that a lot of authors have picked up on Mr Snickets formula. There are all kinds of books now that start with “Don’t read this book”. And then they have kids with special talents that get them out of messes. I even see books using big words and telling the reader what they mean. All of this was fun with Mr Snicket’s books, but I get tired of seeing it in other books.

  3. I’ve read them all and your work friend is right. Once you get past book 6, the series becomes a lot darker and there are more adult mystery elements. While I agree 13 books is a bit much and it does become a bit repetitive, I adore Snicket’s writing style and feel these books are greatly under appreciated.
    Perseverance is key to this series and it is a shame that many readers do not get to the final books because the first half of the series is more child friendly.

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