A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Wouldn't you rather read a story about a happy little elf?
PLEASE READ SOMETHING ELSE.
—Lemony Snicket

A series of darkly humorous children's books by Daniel Handler, under the nom de plume Lemony Snicket.

After their parents die in a fire at the family mansion, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are left in the care of Count Olaf, a sinister distant relative who wants his hands on the Baudelaire family fortune, which Violet will inherit when she turns 18.

Throughout the first few books in the series, the children are sent from one caretaker to another, each one more eccentric and troubled than the last. Count Olaf is following them in a series of Paper Thin Disguises that only the children immediately see through. Eventually, the children must strike out on their own to discover their family's dark secret - their parents' connection to a mysterious organization. And all the while, bizarre and improbable disasters strike the children and everyone around them for no discernible reason.

Lemony Snicket narrates throughout, providing commentary, anecdotes, and advice - usually against reading any more of his history of the Baudelaire orphans.

For a guide to the copious amounts of literary/historical allusions present in the books, see here

A four-part prequel series, concerning a young Lemony Snicket joining VFD, has been announced. The first installment will be out October 23rd 2012.

A Series of Unfortunate Events:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Book the First: The Bad Beginning
  • Book the Second: The Reptile Room
  • Book the Third: The Wide Window
  • Book the Fourth: The Miserable Mill
  • Book the Fifth: The Austere Academy
  • Book the Sixth: The Ersatz Elevator
  • Book the Seventh: The Vile Village
  • Book the Eighth: The Hostile Hospital
  • Book the Ninth: The Carnivorous Carnival
  • Book the Tenth: The Slippery Slope
  • Book the Eleventh: The Grim Grotto
  • Book the Twelfth: The Penultimate Peril
  • Book the Thirteenth: The End Book the Last: Chapter Fourteen

Supplementary materials:[edit | hide]


A Series of Unfortunate Events is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in A Series of Unfortunate Events include:
  • Abusive Parents: Not parents, strictly speaking, but many guardians are thoroughly unsuitable. Count Olaf worst of all.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: While their appearance outside of illustrations are never really detailed in the books, the movie makes them appear much more "pretty", making Klaus look much older than he probably should, and making him no longer need glasses, which would be a vital plot point in the fourth book.
    • Aside for Violet who has been repeatedly noted as being pretty in the books.
  • Alliteration: All but the thirteenth book have an alliterative title.
  • Adults Are Useless: By the eighth book, the three principles (by now ages fifteen, thirteen, and not-quite-two) take care of themselves, because just about every adult they've met is stupid, evil, cowardly, or some combination thereof. On rare occasions they encounter a decent, intelligent, competent adult -- who promptly winds up dead.
  • Adventure Towns: Each book is in a different town (or island or mountain or ...). Except the first, sixth, and twelfth, which are set in the same nameless city.
  • Affectionate Parody: Handler started off trying to write the sort of gothic, bloodthirsty children's stories he wanted to read when he was a child, and most of the books take off one genre or another, occasionally straying into Deconstruction territory)

Handler (At a Book Reading at Washington College): "Is it so wrong that I wanted to read books where terrible things happened to small children over and over?"

  • Alliterative Name: The Odd Name Out in both sets of triplets: Quigley Quagmire and Dewey Denouement. Beatrice and Bertrand Baudelaire. Actually, both Beatrice Baudelaires. The titles of the first twelve books are alliterative, as well as many, many locations mentioned throughout the books (Lousy Lane, Lake Lachrymose, Finite Forest, Heimlich Hospital, etc.).
  • All There in the Manual: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters.
  • Alpha Bitch: Carmelita Spats.[context?]
  • Alter Ego Acting: Daniel Handler and Lemony Snicket -- separate characters in the books themselves.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: There actually is a hotel in New York City organized by the Dewey Decimal System.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The Person of Indeterminate Gender, a.k.a. the enormous person who looked like neither a man or a woman. In the movie the character isn't morbidly obese, but just very androgynous looking, either looking like a very feminine man, or a very manly woman.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The author has noted that his characters are Jewish by default, and he unconsciously inserts Jewish themes and ideas into his books. In the final book, the Baudelaires mention that it is their family's tradition to name babies after deceased relatives. This is a Jewish tradition. [1]
  • Anachronism Stew: The film, deliberately. The characters, environments, and vehicles seem to be early 20th century, but fax machines and reel-to-reel car tape decks and carphones seem to be 80s, and Olaf mentions a cell phone in a deleted scene. Given that Poe actually has to feel himself to check, one assumes that giant 80s-style cell phones aren't common at the time.
    • The books keep the time period as vague as possible, easily taking place any time in the 20th century, and the only real definite is that it takes place in the past but whether it's a hundred years ago or last month, it's never certain.
    • What with the computer in "The Austere Academy" being small and able to display a picture and may or may not be able to fake photographs, it definitely takes place sometime after the fifties, or at least at a point when computers did not fill an entire room.
    • Handler has way too much fun with this. At one point a location (a train station, if I remember correctly) is mentioned to have three shops - one is a computer repair shop. Another is a blacksmith shop. Have fun figuring out what time period those two establishments could coexist in.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Olaf tries to force Violet to marry him in Book the First, despite being her legal guardian. The creepiness of this is actually played up, culminating in the hilarious and horrifying line "You may not be my wife, but you are still my daughter, and--"
  • Anti-Love Song: Several of The Gothic Archies' accompanying songs on the audiobooks and The Tragic Treasury, including Smile!, Shipwrecked and Walking My Gargoyle.
  • Anti-Villain: Arguably the Baudelaires themselves in later books, and among actual antagonists, Fernald seems to fall into this category at times.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Apathetic Citizens: Most of society is unwilling and/or unable to fight injustice, and many would prefer to gawk at violence for entertainment than attempt to stop it, unless it actually threatens them.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 3a as it's subtly implied that the world is wiped out by the Medusoid Mycelium.
  • Arc Number: 13. It makes sense, since...well, look at the title.
    • Every book even has thirteen chapters. Averted in the final installment, however, thanks to the additional "Chapter Fourteen" which is treated as a seperate book despite consisting of a single chapter. This also causes the series as a whole to avert the arc number; until then, it would have had 169 (13 times 13) chapters, but it now has one chapter more than that.
  • Arc Initials: V.F.D., and later J.S.
    • There are also some actual Arc Words, especially in the later books and in the "supplementary materials." For example, "The world is quiet here."
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Count Olaf, anyone?
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Lots and lots of examples.
    • The Hostile Hospital the Baudelaires are accused of being "murderers, arsonists, and spurious doctors.".
    • The back covers list five or more of the "unfortunate events" found within, generally 2 or 3 serious ones and then something quite harmless -- or at least that sounds that way.
  • Attractive Bent Gender: Plausibly a parody, as the person who finds the Crossdresser Olaf attractive is himself an unpleasant semi-villain.
  • Author Appeal: Approximated in-universe by Carmelita Spats's ridiculous "tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian" and "ballplaying cowboy superhero soldier pirate" outfits.
  • Author Catchphrase: "A word/phrase which here means..."
  • Back for the Dead: You can make an argument for all the returning characters in Book the Twelfth.
  • Bait and Switch Credits: Chapter 170, a.k.a. Chapter Fourteen.
  • Banned in China: Daniel Handler was actually hoping for some of this, and was disappointed in how little it happened. His one real "victory" was that the books were banned from a school in Georgia due to Olaf's plan to marry his distant relative Violet in book one, to which he responded "I'm at a loss as to how to write a villain who doesn't do villainous things."
  • Bilingual Bonus: some of Sunny's comments, such as her arigato in the Slippery Slope, or her saying Aubergine to mean that she is making a plot with this eggplant. Others are a mishmash of English ("Kicbucit?" for "Is he dead?") and a couple are plain old Hebrew ("Yomhuledet!" which is translated as "Surprise" but literally means "birthday" and "Yomhashoah" which is translated as "Never again" but literally means "Holocaust Memorial Day"). The children also make pasta Puttanesca, an Italian dish translating as "whore's sauce."
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Klaus spends his thirteenth in a jail cell.
  • A Boy, a Girl, and a Baby Family
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The narrator and his comrades imply that V.F.D. dates back to Ancient Greece, that Martin Luther King, Edith Wharton, and Thomas Malthus were involved with it -- although Malthus was on the evil side of the schism -- and that Shakespeare may be alive. However, these may be the result of revisionism in accordance with V.F.D.'s own views.
  • Belated Backstory: Although it takes a while, this is exactly what happens to Fernald.
  • Big Bad: Count Olaf.
  • Bigger Bad Duumvirate: the man with a beard but no hair, and the woman with hair but no beard
  • Bildungsroman: Lampshaded in The Penultimate Peril by Sunny.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending of the movie, that closes the story in an ambiguous but optimistic way:"...the Baudelaires were very fortunate indeed."
  • Bizarrchitecture: Doctor Orwell's eye-shaped building, the "thumb" shaped buildings at Prufrock Prep and to a certain extent, the Eye decor of Olaf's house.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Especially from Book the Eighth and on.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Prufrock Preparatory School in Book the Fifth.
  • Body Motifs: The eye that first appears in Count Olaf's ankle tattoo, and later in many other places.
  • Bookworm: Klaus, the Researcher.
  • Boring but Practical: One chapter taught kids a useful trick when eating foods you don't like to spread the food around on the plate so as to make it appear like there's less left.
    • Also the trick the kids use in the elevator that their dad taught them, where they press every single button in order to cause a large delay.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Klaus in Book the Fourth; he even appears to have Mind Control Eyes on the cover.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Some members of V.F.D.
  • Burger Fool / Suck E. Cheese's: The Anxious Clown, With clown-costumed waiters, balloons, and food with names like "Surprising Chicken Salad".
  • Bus Crash: Hector; the Quagmire triplets; Captain Widdershins; Fernald; Fiona, in some interpretations: the human race. Maybe.
  • Busman's Holiday: Lampshaded -- and defined, in trademark Snicket style -- in The Penultimate Peril, in which Sir, the lumbermill boss, has come to a hotel to do some business at a cocktail party and attends a sauna so he can enjoy the smell of hot wood.
  • But Not Too Evil
    • Actually, subverted pretty harshly. Even though this is a children's book series, Count Olaf and the other villains do some absolutely heinous things like burning down a hospital in an attempt to kill a group of children. Even though they fail in killing the children, they likely succeed in killing everyone else. Some of them could hold their own against the villains in a Stephen King novel.
    • Handler likes playing this one. On one hand, you have people like Count Olaf, who subvert this hard. On the other, it's entirely played straight.
  • Butt Monkey: Pretty much the entire cast.
  • Camp Unsafe Isn't Safe Anymore: about the Hotel Denouement.
  • Cassandra Truth: Every time the children see through Olaf's disguises, nobody believes them in time except in The End.
  • Cerebus Retcon: As the series develops, it turns out that many of the characters' motivations and activities were tied up with the fraught history of a secret fire-fighting organisation.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The series starts off doing this backwards, moving from darkness and Grimm-style misery into comedy and wackiness, but then slides back into darkness again in the later books.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Reading The Bad Beginning the first time, a reader might be confused as to why Snicket is so specific in which hand Violet uses to hold her spoon, or throw the grappling hook. Snicket makes sure the reader knows Violet is right-handed. At the end, Violet foils Olaf's plot by signing her name with her left hand, thus not fulfilling the marriage requirement that a bride sign her name "in her own hand"
  • Cinderella Circumstances: The first book, in which the Baudelaire siblings live with the bossy and horrible Count Olaf who treats them like servants. In the tenth book, "The Slippery Slope", Sunny resides with Count Olaf and his henchmen after being captured by them. She ends up becoming a servant for the whole group, including cooking meals in freezing temperatures, cleaning, and sleeping in a casserole dish and having to clear a car floor of potato chips by blowing them out. . The narrator even references Cinderella.
  • Circus of Fear: Caligari Carnival, in Book the Ninth.
  • City with No Name Although many fictional place names are mentioned, the main city where the Baudelaires used to live is never named. (The film identifies it as Boston, but this never occurs in the books).
  • Clark Kenting: Numerous characters at various points, with the minor characters being better at it than the main ones.
  • Common Meter: "The Little Snicket Lad"
  • Competence Zone: In the eighth book, babies up to by-then-fifteen-year-old Violet. Even the Paper-Thin Disguise-wearing villains are unable to see through the children's Paper-Thin Disguise in Book the Eighth.
  • Contemptible Cover: Many non-English-language covers are awful and do the series no justice.
  • Continuity Nod: Tons of these, especially in "An Unauthorized Biography". Lampshaded and Subverted in "The End"
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Well, technically "Radiation Schmadiation." In the Film of the Book, Klaus uses Olaf's sunlight-refracting weapon to incinerate the wedding contract. The instant the sunlight hits the paper, it catches on fire. That means the thing was heated to about 400 degrees Farenheit just like that. Never mind the fact that Klaus perfectly lined up the device to hit such a small target, how come Olaf's hand didn't get singed? Or, you know, the stage didn't catch fire? There should at least have been smoke, considering how easily the paper went up.
  • Conveyor Belt O' Doom: Occurs in Book the Fourth -- with an absurdly huge circular saw.
  • Cool Car: The Tatra 603 and 1959 Chrysler Imperial in The Film of the Book.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Closer to this than Corrupt Hick is Sir, the amoral, cigar-smoking lumbermill owner who pays his workers in coupons and gives them gum for lunch; in a later appearance, business is bad, as nearby lumber source the Finite Forest is running out of trees.
  • Covers Always Lie: The twelfth book features several sinister-looking figures whom fans thought would be important -- or even specific characters from previous books -- but no corresponding characters appear in the text. Inverted by the British edition of the sixth book, on which the cover gives away the main plot twist.
  • Media Research Failure: A website identified goth-girl fashion icons Emily the Strange and Ruby Gloom as characters; not to mention the numerous pages -- including at least one on this very wiki -- which refer to Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography as something like "The Unofficial Biography". A preview of The Beatrice Letters claimed that the punch-out letters in the book spelled out the "real" title of the thirteenth book ... Nope. Similarly, just about every preview of The Beatrice Letters claimed that the punch-out letters would spell out two different secret messages, but if there is a second one, it's nothing more than a Red Herring.
  • Crapsack World: Invoked.
  • Curse of the Ancients: "Blasted furnaces of Hell!"
  • Cut Short: Or more precisely, No Ending.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Most adults have this due to their involvement from an early age with V.F.D.
  • Dark Messiah: Ishmael is a mild example.
  • Daydream Believer: The combination of Literary Agent Hypothesis and Paranoia Fuel really makes an impact on some impressionable young readers.
  • Day of the Week Name: Book the Thirteenth features Friday Caliban, and alludes to a Thursday Caliban and a Monday.
  • Dead Guy, Junior: Beatrice Baudelaire
  • Death by Childbirth: Subverted. Kit Snicket dies not as a result of childbirth, but because of the Medusoid Mycelium, the cure for which she refuses to consume because of its effects on unborn children.
  • Deathbringer the Adorable: The Incredibly Deadly Viper, which is not poisonous and is actually really friendly.
  • Deconstruction: Most of the books deconstruct one genre or another (although sometimes this is closer to an Affectionate Parody). The second half of the series deconstructs the first half of the series. Arguably the last three books start deconstructing their immediate predecessors, too.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Frequently used for humour in the narration throughout the series, mostly as part of the "defining words" and "translate Sunny's speech" gags:

But even so, the three children were eager to leave the Anxious Clown, and not just because the garish restaurant - the word "garish" here means "filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters" - was filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters.

    • In the ninth book, one chapter starts out with a description of deja vu. The second page of the chapter is almost exactly the same as the first page (including the picture and the chapter heading). Several chapters later, the exact same passage describing deja vu is repeated again.
    • In The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket attempts to put the reader to sleep by giving a very repetitive description of evaporation.
    • He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over.
    • Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (repeat until the word stops looking like a word), mess with electricity. Unless you're Violet Baudelaire.
  • Deserted Island: The nameless island in The End.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Pretty much the point of the series.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Lampshaded and discussed in Book the Seventh.
  • Dirty Coward: It isn't Aunt Josephine's numerous, crippling, irrational phobias that qualify her for this title, but rather the way she instantly and shamelessly promises not to reveal Olaf's disguise and even offers for him to take the children when she is threatened. The narrator and the Beaudelaires agree that she was a horrible guardian. To be fair to her, she's widowed, terrified of everything and got no support in life. Can you blame her for what she did?
  • Distant Finale: Seven-thirteenths of The Beatrice Letters. Ostensibly they're just supplementary reading, but there's no such thing as "optional," is there?
  • Don't Try This At Home: In Book the Second, Snicket tells the reader to "never ever ever" do something, and the "ever"s continue for two whole pages.
  • Downer Ending: Optional in some books, in which the author suggests to stop reading and imagine an ending better than the real one.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The Baudelaires unintentionally do this in The Hostile Hospital when they disguise themselves as doctors and are mistaken by Olaf's associates for the two powder-faced women who are also disguised as doctors.
  • Drowning Pit: Lemony in an Italian restaurant.
  • Dumb Is Good: Inverted Trope: "Well-read people are less likely to be evil."
    • Then the inversion is subverted, when the Lemony Narrator later directly tells the reader this is not always the case.
  • DVD Commentary: Two, one that comes in the regular "actors and director" flavor and one that features the director and Daniel Handler in character as Lemony Snicket himself, who is obviously very disturbed at the director's insistence on introducing count Olaf into the plot at all, let alone (supposedly) As Himself.
  • Every Episode Ending: Every book ends with exactly the same formula: There's a full-page picture containing a clue to the plot of the next book; comical bios for the author and illustrator, with a obscured picture of the former and a themed illustration of the latter; and a letter from Lemony Snicket to his editor explaining where to pick up the manuscript for the next book, along with several items related to it.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Quite a few characters went to school together, but this is somewhat justified by the fact that they were all members of a secret organisation and this was their training; also, several of these characters are The Ghost.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Parodied with Carmelita Spats's "tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian" costume from the eleventh book.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Fiona, when joining Olaf's side, exchanges a uniform with a portrait of Herman Melville for one with a portrait of notoriously bad poet Edgar Guest.
  • Evil Laugh: Olaf's actually indicates Character Development
  • Evil Tastes Good: Esmé. "I'm going to flatten you! Olaf and I are going to have a romantic breakfast of Baudelaire pancakes!"
  • Evil Teacher: Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass aren't evil per se, just obnoxious. Vice Principal Nero is another story.
  • External Retcon: In explaining the difference between "denouement" and "end", Snicket "reveals" the distant endings of several Fairy Tales, involving the rather non-fantastical deaths of the heroes.
  • Faceless Eye: One of the distinguishing marks of the series.
  • Fake American: Australian Emily Browning in The Film of the Book. Mind you, she's American in accent only.
  • Fake-Out Opening: In The Film of the Book.
    • Bonus points for giving it its own opening credits, and then not even putting the real title on the screen afterwards. It only appears in the end credits.
  • Fauxreigner: Gunther and Lulu, who are indefinitely foreign because it's actually a disguise.
  • Fictional Document: Snicket's letters at the end of each book, leading his editor to the manuscript of the following book and several props borrowed from it; also, numerous diaries and newspapers are quoted within the narrative, while the supplementary books are each a full-blown Scrapbook Story.
  • The Film of the Book: The series was well-received by critics, made a lot of money, and the sequel has been in Development Hell for years. In fact, the director said that they may have to make the sequel animated, and claim the Literary Agent Hypothesis for the first movie.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The intros to many of the books tell you that the story will NOT have a happy ending, and Lemony Snicket will also casually reveal which characters will have bad things happen to them throughout the book.
  • Fun with Acronyms: V.F.D.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Based on guesswork about word frequency, Snicket translates "cul-de-sac" as "At the end of a dark hallway, the Baudelaire orphans found an assortment of mysterious circumstances."
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Violet.
  • Genre Savvy: The Count Olaf in The Film of the Book seems to have read the books, because he knows to make sure Violet signs her name using her right hand.
  • Geographic Flexibility: The spatial as well as temporal milieu of the Series is best described as "everywhere and nowhere", as it's apparently far from most known continents, and the large city the Baudelaires lived in doesn't even have a name.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: There's a chapter from one of the books that starts out with a discussion of French phrases. One of the phrases Snicket gives as an example is "la petite mort" which he translates, quite literally, as "the feeling you have when a small part of you has died." He neglects to give the more common usage of the term- slang for having an orgasm.
  • The Ghost: The series has a wide backstory and several characters are only ever referred to. The most notable example is probably R., the Duchess of Winnipeg.
  • Glove Snap: Jim Carrey's Count Olaf does this in his herpetologist disguise.
  • Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: Plays out in dialogue -- and thus ends up averted -- in Book the Twelfth: "I suppose I'll have to add the force of gravity to my list of enemies."
  • Half-Identical Twins: The Quagmire triplets are "absolutely identical," so how the Baudelaires tell whether they're talking to male Duncan or female Isadora is a mystery -- although Isadora is illustrated with subtly longer hair. But at least the two brothers Duncan and Quigley never share a scene. Jacques and Kit are an aversion, as the book does not mention any similarity. At all. If anything, there's more similarity between Jacques and Olaf.
  • Hanlon's Razor: The line between willful villainy and pure incompetence is rather thin, especially since some incompetent and stupid characters become pawns in what seems like a massive Gambit Roulette.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Or rather, Hannibal Gloat, in the movie. Olaf reveals to the audience that he has just legally married Violet and played everyone for a sap. When Mr. Poe demands that the Chief of Police arrest him, Olaf calls Poe and everyone out on how the kids had repeatedly tried to warn the adults and asked for help, but they wouldn't listen to them. "No one ever listens to children".
  • Henpecked Husband: Jerome Squalor. And how.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: Played with, a few times. (Only a villainous person places his cup on the table without using a coaster or enjoys the works of Edgar Guest.)
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Count Olaf dies of a wound he sustained from having his own harpoon gun fired at him by Ishmael.
    • The Adults Are Useless mentality of pretty much everyone the kids meet probably made most of them Too Dumb to Live when they refuse to believe the building they're in is on fire. YMMV on whether the (potentially lethal) negligence displayed by characters who were otherwise good people made this Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Hostage for McGuffin: A Subverted Trope: in Book the Tenth, where for once it's proposed by the heroes, neither they nor the villain are capable of carrying out their side of the bargain.
  • How Do You Like Them Apples?: The End.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Captain Sham (Count Olaf) says, "There ain't nothin' better than good grammar!"
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Alliterated "The <adjective> <noun>", e.g., The Miserable Mill, The Wide Window, for nearly all the books.
  • The Illuminati: Hinted at with Fiona Widdershins, who seems to prefer triangular eyeglasses.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The Film of the Book is titled Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, perhaps to emphasize the Lemony Narrator.
  • Incest Subtext: Violet and Klaus, obviously. The Film of the Book actually does sport a bit of chemistry though.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Subverted. Mr. Poe's cough is his defining character quirk (other than being woefully incompetent), and serves only to show what a weak and annoying person he is rather than mark him for death.
  • Infant Immortality: Despite all the terrible things that happen in the books, no children are killed during the course of the series. In fact, even though one of the Quagmire triplets was thought to be killed in a fire before the Baudelaires met them, it turns out that he survived.
    • However, several of the Baudelaires' friends who were about their age are taken by "The Great Unknown" in the last book. While the books make it clear that this is probably a very bad thing, it is never outright stated to be fatal.
    • There's also the case of Friday... She's under ten years of age and breathed the spores of the mushroom, so she had but a few hours left to live when we last saw her. It's never confirmed she took the antidote, and thanks to mob psychology, it's highly unlikely she did. It is later confirmed, by the Beatrice Letters, that Friday did survive due to the Viper's attempts to get an apple to her.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Book the Eighth's accompanying song, Smile! No One Cares How You Feel; Book the Twelfth's Things Are Not What They Appear feels like this as well. The Film of the Book plays music-box tunes and the saccharine "Littlest Elf" song during tragic scenes.
    • Also, The World Is A Very Scary Place. The lyrics could be threatening, to an extent, but the music is just so upbeat.
  • Issue Drift: Not the most Egregious issues ever, but undeniably a drift.
  • It Runs in The Family: An Inverted Trope, in that the members of the Baudelaire family are just about the least insane people they encounter.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Real Life example: Daniel Handler thought the series was an awful idea, and when his editor said she liked it, he thought she was drunk.
  • Joker Jury. A Subverted Trope, in that the Baudelaires actually killed someone, albeit accidentally, and it turns out two figures of unfathomable evil apparently run the official courts.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Characters trying to be "foreign" use broken English with clumsy syntax (like "I am loving of the children") and frequent interjections of "Please", and apparently everyone falls for it.
  • Karma Houdini: Lampshaded and justified
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: When Count Olaf violently pushes Carmelita Spats to the ground.
  • Kill All Humans: While not particularly harmful, the insects called snow gnats sting humans just for the fun of it.
  • Kill'Em All: Maybe.
  • Kill It with Fire: In the Village of Fowl Devotees, burning at the stake is the designated punishment for breaking any of the towns numerous rules (which includes the biggies like murder, but also trivial and ridiculous offenses like using mechanical devices, reading certain books, and talking out of turn in town meetings).
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: A very rare literary version. In The Slippery Slope, it's extremely obvious that there is some chemistry between Violet and Quigley, but the moment the two get alone and one starts with the Longing Looks, Snicket goes off on one of his signature spiels about how since the series started Violet has had little to no privacy, and that he will take this chance to give them a little. The readers were not amused.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: See Hoist by His Own Petard above.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Snicket does this to the readers in The Slippery Slope.
  • Lemony Narrator: The Trope Namer.
  • Limited Special Collectors' Ultimate Edition: Numerous rereleases of The Bad Beginning, including one priced higher than the thirteen-book box set. Also, the box sets, which have exclusive artwork. The new paperbacks are aversions because they're much better for about half the price.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard
  • The Long List: The Snow Scouts Alphabet Pledge in the tenth book, along with lists of food, disguise items, and books seen elsewhere. Also, the long list of rules they had to follow at the Village of Fowl Devotees.
    • Don't forget Esme Squallor's personal library full of books cataloging what was in and out in various months, years, etc.
  • Lost Aesop: Parodied. The series starts off meandering fairly aimlessly through satires of various unfortunate literary settings, with Book the Third Lampshade Hanging its lack of a meaningful Aesop, but the later books begin to diverge wildly with mixed messages about what is justifiable in conflict; Book the Tenth resolves this, then Book the Twelfth forgets it was resolved, and Book the Thirteenth (and Last) concerns the impossibility of finding answers to the big questions in life, while ignoring most of the big questions in the series.
  • Lovable Coward: Lemony Snicket himself. In nearly every book, while narrating some terrifying situation, he comments that, had he been in the Beaudelaire's place, he would have been unable to go on and would have instead run away in terror, dissolved into helpless tears, etc.
  • MacGuffin: The sugar bowl. The Baudelaire fortune. Also, a Discussed Trope, as the word "MacGuffin" is spoken in the final book.
  • MacGyvering: Violet does this at least once per book.
    • And Klaus gets his turn in The Miserable Mill.
  • Manchurian Agent: A secret command word does this to Klaus.
  • Masquerade
  • Meaningful Name: Most character and place names are literary or historical allusions, some of them clearly relevant (such Dr. Orwell the hypnotist and Dewey the librarian), others more like a secular version of What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: this series isn't keen on giving clear answers, but VFD seems to be nothing more than the Volunteer Fire Department.
  • Mind Screw: The eleventh and thirteen books featured an incarnation of Mystery and Death, shaped like an enormous question mark, that stalked the seas, its motives unfathomable; the existence and activities of V.F.D. get very close to this in the twelfth book, too.
  • Mister Seahorse: Sent up in The End, where Count Olaf tries to disguise himself as a pregnant woman. The Lemony Narrator states that "pregnancy occurs very rarely in males," noting actual seahorses as an exception.
  • Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Orwell.
  • Mysterious Past: Nearly every character has a mysterious past, and none are ever fully revealed. For example, Emse reveals that Beatrice stole the sugar bowl, but Lemony later states that he was involved too. Just HOW he was involved, we do not know.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Tons and tons of characters. A few examples: the main characters are named Baudelaire; their banker is named Poe. See also Odd Name Out, below.
  • Necromantic: In Book the Eighth, Lemony wishes.
  • Never Say "Die": Notable for averting this trope, and hard.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: An official website that revealed the only details about the highly secretive twelfth book made numerous updates implying an elevator-centric plotline which never actually materialised, going so far as to reveal a chapter picture which actually referred to a single inconsequential offhand sentence; Snicket's "On the Next..." mislead by giving away random details as though they were equally important, and later obscure themselves to become even more incomprehensible; one promised a prop in the following book that never actually appeared.
  • Nice Hat: The Council of Elders in the seventh book wear hats shaped like crows.
  • Noodle Incident: It's implied that a lot of the backstory is too tragic to even mention, and Snicket himself alludes to downright absurd situations such as being trapped in a flooded Italian restaurant, which may or may not be hypothetical)
    • Open any of the books, turn to a page, read one of Snicket's monologues. Guaranteed you'll find at at least one.
  • Not So Different: Attempted -- or perhaps spoofed -- with the Baudelaires and Olaf from Book the Eighth onward.
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor: Damocles Docks in the third book.
  • Number of the Beast: Close: 667 Dark Avenue, with its sixty-six floors.
  • Numerological Motif: Canon, text, paratexts ... the number thirteen is everywhere. It was once the number of search results for this page on the wiki.
    • The main series consists of thirteen books, each with thirteen chapters. The thirteenth book has a "hidden" fourteenth chapter which serves as an epilogue, bringing the main series total to one hundred seventy chapters rather than one hundred sixty-nine.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: An Alternate Character Interpretation of movie!Olaf. He's portrayed as very goofy and melodramatic by Jim Carrey (surprise, surprise), but he's still able to come up cunning plans to steal the Baudelaire fortune.
  • Odd Name Out:
    • Sunny, Klaus, and Violet Baudelaire
      • Violet was actually the name of Claus von Bulow's lawyer.
    • Isadora, Duncan, and Quigley Quagmire
    • Frank, Ernest, and Dewey Denouement.
    • While the names of the first 12 books are alliterative, the last book is simply called "The End."
  • Oh, and X Dies: In The Reptile Room
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: V.F.D.
  • Onion Tears: Discussed in The End.
  • Only Sane Man: Frequently the Baudelaires are this, as are other well-read volunteers. During an interview, Liam Aiken (who played Klaus in The Movie of the Book) himself described the siblings as "the only sane people."
  • "On the Next...": Lemony's letters to his Kind Editor, which include the title of the next book and a few random details from it. As the series goes on, these letters become increasingly obscured, such as by tearing and water-stains, and so the information is increasingly elusive. In the case of the eleventh book, only half the title was known; the twelfth book's title was completely lost; the letter about the thirteenth book was just a single sentence written on a napkin -- with the title included, but nobody realized at the time as it deviated from the usual title pattern.
  • Painting the Medium: In The Ersatz Elevator, the three children are thrown down an elevator shaft, and rather than try to describe it, Lemony just prints two pages solid black.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Count Olaf, over and over again.
    • In the eighth, ninth, and twelfth books, the Baudelaires get disguises of their own. Their disguises in the eighth book are particularly ridiculous: thirteen year old Klaus and baby Sunny just don face masks and ill-fitting doctor uniforms and are mistaken as the pale-faced women, by the women's own cohorts! In the ninth book, their disguises are a bit less paper thin, but Count Olaf still probably should have recognized them since he's been following them so long (though he does mention that they look familiar).
    • Subverted with Olaf's henchmen. When one of them is in disguise, the Baudelaires "meet" them before Olaf, and never recognize them.
  • Parental Abandonment: Happens to at least eleven characters.
  • Parental Substitute: Dr. Montgomery is a good substitute. In The Penultimate Peril, volunteers Kit Snicket and Dewey Denouement answer some of the Baudelaires' questions and the latter offers to become their guardian. All three of them die, of course.
  • Perky Goth: Violet's character design changes from a rather innocent 50's girl style, to a lolita-style goth.
  • Persona Non Grata: Snicket mentions that he is banned from a certain town, not so far from where you live.
  • Plot Based Photograph Obfuscation: Lemony Snicket never shows his face in photographs, but there are several possible explanations for why this is, and most such photographs are only seen by the audience in his author bio rather than by the characters. The nearest thing we get to an actual image of him is the elusive taxi driver, which is rumoured, and hinted in the series, to actually be him.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: In every book the children are in situations that require inventing skills, research skills, and sharp teeth (or cooking, from the 10th book on); also true to some degree of the Quagmire triplets, although Duncan's journalism interest is rarely useful.
  • Precision F-Strike: In The Reptile Room

Count Olaf/Stefano: Get in the damn jeep!

    • This has actually gotten some controversy over being in a children's book series. Word of God says this was meant to have him Kick the Dog.
  • The Problem with Licensed Games
  • Properly Paranoid: The Baudelaires, about Count Olaf's many attempts to infiltrate their lives and snatch them for their fortune; V.F.D., a secret organisation which has split into two opposing sides, one noble and one murderous; and Aunt Josephine in The Film of the Book, for the scene where all her crazy fears come true (although she's not around to see it). It makes us realise that maybe, just maybe, she's not as crazy as she seems. Then she sells the orphans out to Count Olaf to save her life, and we realise she is truly crazy to think he'll spare someone who could, albietly unlikely, speek out against him and reveal that Captain Sham is actually Count Olaf.
  • Public Execution: Fortunately averted in The Vile Village, but more or less straight in The Carnivorous Carnival.
  • Put on a Bus: Hector with Duncan and Isadora Quagmire; Fernald and Fiona were Put on a Bus offscreen, no less.
  • Pyromaniac: Count Olaf really likes to burn houses down and enjoys it even more if there is someone inside
    • He also doesn't mind the occasional hospital full of children.
  • Ravens and Crows: The Village of Fowl Devotees is full of crows, and was founded to marvel at them.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted Trope
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Uncle Monty was this (at least in the film).... for as long as he lasted.
  • Recursive Canon: Apparently Snicket's books are published within the world of the Series, but it's not clear if they're different versions.
  • Reference Overdosed: If you made a list of every time Snicket makes a Shout-Out to literature and history in one of the later books (especially through Sunny's dialogue), it would be almost as long as the book itself.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Averted very hard. The Baudelaires' herpetologist uncle he's actually the brother of the wife of the cousin of the father of the baudelaires is kind and well-educated. He allows the children to fearlessly indulge their curiosity. The dangerous snakes are properly caged. And he only assigns the harmless and friendly but fearsome-looking Incredibly Deadly Viper that name as a joke and is even quite helpful to the Baudelaires.
  • Retcon: So heavy that a number of companion books had to be written to fully explain them; these were themselves retconned. Handler originally thought the series would only last a few books, not the intended 13, and hence the first four books were essentially unconnected; V.F.D. was created as an ongoing plotline when it became clear the series could run 13 books, and details from the first four books were retconned to be part of the V.F.D. backstory to bring the entire series together.
  • Rule of Symbolism : The Incredible Deadly Viper offering the Baudelaires an apple to cure the medusoid mycelium in The End.
  • The Sadistic Choice: A variant of this occurs in Book the Seventh, in which Olaf offers the Baudelaires the choice of which one of the three of them won't be burned at the stake the next day; a lampshaded Deus Ex Machina lets them Take a Third Option.
  • Sarcastic Confession: In a column included in the Harper Collins paperback edition of the series, Lemony Snicket says that the best way to keep a secret is to tell it to everyone, but pretend you are lying.
  • Scenery Gorn: The ruins of the Baudelaire mansion, and Olaf's house in The Film of the Book.
  • Scenery Porn: All other scenery in the above.
  • Scrapbook Story: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The white-faced women fall victim to this in Book the Tenth. Apparently, so do Fernald and Fiona in Book the Twelfth (albeit off-screen).
  • Self-Induced Allergic Reaction: The Baudelaire siblings eat peppermints so they have an excuse to escape from dinner and decode a secret message.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Often seen in books which Klaus has to read because only he can make sense of them.
  • Shaming the Mob: Done by Olaf of all people to the audience of the play in the film.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous allusions to literature, history, and mythology, among other things; many are listed here.
    • Why will no-one call me Ish?
  • Show Within a Show: The theme song from The Littlest Elf is heard on two characters' car stereos, and Olaf has a bobblehead of the character in his car, implying it's a film within the world of the story. This ties in perfectly with the conceit that Snicket's intended audience is also part of that world, when he recommends ditching out and seeing that movie instead.
  • Shrug of God: The fans can't get anything out of Daniel Handler.
  • Significant Anagram: Count Olaf's henchmen use anagrams of "Count Olaf" as pseudonyms. In the eighth book, Violet is given an anagrammed name on a hospital patient list One of the anagrams in the list, when unravelled, reads "Beatrice Baudelaire". Whether this was done deliberately, to state that she IS actually alive at least until the hospital burned down, or not, is unknown. It may just be a red herring.
  • Signature Style: And how.
    • Also discussed in-universe when the Beaudelaires recognize a mysterious couplet as Isadora Quagmire's by her "distinctive literary style".
  • Slasher Smile: Count Olaf.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Largely toward the "cynical" end of the scale; many characters seem like they would prefer to be idealistic but have had the optimism crushed out of them, and those who are consistently optimistic come across as foolish.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: For the most part, very silly.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist
  • Something They Would Never Say
  • Snicket Warning Label: The Trope Namer.
  • Spoof Aesop: Snicket's narration is peppered with comments like "The moral of World War I is 'Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand'"; the Spin-Off Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid compiles a lot of these, some from the main series and some entirely new.
  • Spy Speak: V.F.D., being a secret organisation, naturally uses copious quantities of this, so much so that there have been disputes among readers over whether certain phrases are in code or not.

"The world is quiet here."
"I didn't realize this was a sad occasion."

  • Stealth Pun: The Baudelaire children's first guardian after Olaf is called Uncle Monty, And he owns Pythons. You figure it out.
  • Steampunk: For the most part. A touch of Clock Punk in the movie as Lemony Snicket is show inside a Clock Tower with all the wonderful gears.
  • Stop Copying Me: Vice Principal Nero in The Austere Academy.
  • Strictly Formula: Books 2-7 are all of the same basic pattern of the Baudelaires being sent to a new guardian and Olaf arriving in disguise to try and steal their money. Surprisingly, the formula is broken halfway through the series after the VFD subplot takes over.
  • Sub Story: The Grim Grotto
  • Synchronized Swarming: The swarm of "snow gnats"can take on forms like hoops and arrows when attacking people.
  • Take That: Lemony Snicket takes some not-so-subtle jabs at various political figures via Sunny's "baby talk": There's "busheney" for "You're an evil man" in The Slippery Slope and "scalia" in The Penultimate Peril, both of which have somewhat unkind translations).
    • Then there's his association of poet Edgar Guest with the villains in The Grim Grotto, even stating outright that it's because his poetry sucked in a Tastes Like Diabetes way. Kind of jarring in a series so focused on Black and Gray Morality.
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: Invoked with the first few minutes of The Film of the Book, which is quickly and mercilessly subverted by a Record Needle Scratch.
  • Temporary Platform: In the video game of the movie.
  • Theme Initials: V.F.D.
  • Theme Naming: The teachers at Prufrock Preparatory School are named after fish, and later we discover some families of siblings with alphabetically sequential names.
  • Themed Aliases: Count Olaf and his henchman often use aliases that are anagrams of Count Olaf, such as Al Funcoot or O. Lucafont. The Baudelaires finally pick up on this in the eighth book.
  • There Are No Therapists: So many children are orphaned in this series, but instead of counseling they get sent to abusive foster homes -- or worse.
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky: Thirteen books in the series. Each book except the thirteenth has thirteen chapters. The series has other examples as well.
  • Throw It In: In The Film of the Book, "Let me try that again, quickly, while it's fresh in my mind." The dialog was supposed to end after Klaus says "Our parents just died", but Carrey felt he didn't get the reaction right. Silberman just kept the cameras rolling and Carrey ad-libbed from there.
  • Totem Pole Trench: An interesting variant: Violet and Klaus put on the same oversized outfit to disguise themselves as a two-headed person.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Well, torches anyway. In The Vile Village, the townspeople go after the Beaudelaires this way when the children are accused of murder.
  • Translation: "Yes": Judging by the translations in-text, almost everything Sunny says carries a lot of meaning per sound. Complete sentences aren't more than two syllables long until she starts learning a little English in the later books, and even then, she seems to get a lot more across with her babytalk.
  • Trigger Phrase: "Lucky!" "Inordinate!"
  • The Trope Without a Title: The white-faced women, the man with a beard but no hair ... pretty much any accomplice of Olaf's.
  • Two-Teacher School: Prufrock Prep has three teachers, a Vice Principal, and no other visible staff, excepting the lunch ladies who are Olaf's white-faced women who wear masks.
  • Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: Olaf's poor hygiene and dirty house, played up even more in The Movie-- there are not only roaches and rats in the kitchen, but bats living in the cupboards.
  • The Unintelligible: Sunny (whose speech is a mixture of gibberish, semi-relevant words and phrases (some of them literary or cultural allusions), and sentence fragments), though her older siblings can understand her.
  • The Unpronounceable: Sir's real name -- which is why he makes people call him Sir.
  • The Un-Reveal: When Sir is in a sauna, he puts down the cigar whose smoke usually covers his face, but he is covered up again by the steam.
    • In the illustration at the end of the book, we can kind-of see the back of his head, so he may be bald.
  • Unusual Euphemism: On two occasions, flustered or frightened characters blaspheme the names of divine entities from about five different religions, concluding with "Charles Darwin!" or "Nathaniel Hawthorne!"
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: A mild example: Ishmael's Dystopic Utopia on a Deserted Island suppresses its inhabitants via peer pressure, technological deprivation and druggings.
  • Verbal Tic (Fauxreigners "Gunther" and "Madame Lulu" say "please" in almost every sentence.
  • Viewers are Morons: In a parody of the way children's books try to be educational, Lemony constantly defines words such as alcove, brummagem, cower, denouement, ersatz etc. Ironically many viewers didn't realize this is supposed to be a joke, even though he uses the most bizarre and snarky definitions, and much of the humor comes from assuming the reader already knows the standard definition of the word.
  • Villain Exit Stage Left
  • The Walrus Was Paul: Let's face it, the entire series was a deliberate Mind Screw.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Sort of. The children are more like weirdness iron filings, drawn to bizarre people and places. On the other hand, that might just be because there aren't any normal people in Snicketland.
  • We Sell Everything: Last Chance General Store.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Phil. Arguably a lot of minor characters who weren't brought back, in the last couple of books when many one-shot characters returned).
    • In the first book an assistant of Olaf's is mentioned who has warts all over his face. We never hear of him again.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue Chapter Fourteen; arguably a Subverted Trope because they haven't gone anywhere, although their views have moved on. The Beatrice Letters form part of an epilogue themselves. Even though the scrambled letters reveal that " BEATRICE SANK", the Baudelaires are apparently living out their lives doing what they love. Beatrice (that's the Beatrice born in Book 13) is currently trying to find Lemony Snicket, presumebly to ask him what the hell is happening.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Every setting, from "the city", to fictional locations with alliterative names, to an island not on any map; we don't even know where half of them are in relation to each other.
    • Complicated further in The Film of the Book, which mixes American and British accents.
    • If examined closely, the package the children receive at the end of the film is postmarked to Boston. The film is of course, non-canon, and even if Boston were the location, it'd be a highly fictionalized version of the city.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Aunt Josephine, for nearly everything, including realtors Why the heck she hid inside a cave that Lemony says is 'Phantasmagorical, a word which here means "every scary word you can think of mashed together with horror' is only because before the husband Ike died, she was ever so slightly less overscared and loved swimming in the leech-filled lake (luckily, on that hurricane-spawning lake they only attack if you have eaten recently).
    • The movie and an offhand line in a later book justify some of her fears.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Most characters' disguises involve some combination of these or similar items, and the three stages of V.F.D.'s disguise training-- Veiled Facial Disguises, Various Finery Disguises, and Voice Fakery Disguises -- resemble this trope.
  • Word of Gay: Sir and Charles, in a very brilliantly downplayed example. In The Miserable Mill, we are led to believe that they are simply business partners with an extremely lopsided distribution of power, with Charles being too meek to put his foot down to the more domineering Sir's cruel actions. They show up again in The Penultimate Peril, and the conversation the Baudelaires overhear is a lot more tender, with Charles timidly telling Sir that he cares about him, and trying to get Sir to reciprocate. When the hotel burns down, they're holding hands "so they don't lose each other in the blinding smoke". Then this (paraphrased) line from one of Lemony Snicket's love letters in The Beatrice Letters seals the deal: "I will love [Beatrice] until C realizes that S is unworthy of his love."
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: The Baudelaires, particularly Klaus. Also, most members of the VFD.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: "'Heimlich Hospital Almost Forgets Paperwork!' Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!" One of many examples courtesy of Geraldine Julienne, star reporter.
  • You Fail Biology Forever: The menacing pair of villains in the tenth book identify eagles as mammals. Lampshaded by the well-read protagonists.

Notes

  1. (Jews aren't supposed to name babies after still living relatives, as this is considered tantamount to putting a death sentence on the older party. Please note that this is an an Ashkenazi custom and may not apply to other groups of Jews.)