The Belvedere Journal
Netflix’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events Is The Closest We’ve Ever Come To A Televised Book
by Emmy P
Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler) penned the nouveau-gothic book sequence A Series Of Unfortunate Events between years 1999 and 2006, amassing over 65 million copies in over 40 languages. The 2017 Netflix adaptation received a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, huge for a series of its kind. Both versions follow three recently orphaned children as they move from place to place, avoiding the threat of Count Olaf whose interests are in the trio’s newly earned fortune. A series of its kind indeed, I believe that A Series Of Unfortunate Events is the closest a programme has ever come to true book-to-screen adaptation, in a more literal sense than usual.
The first character we see on screen is Lemony Snicket himself, so let’s begin there. In a way that is personal to the viewer through the use of camera staredowns and of personal pronouns, Snicket plays himself; the author, the man behind the research into the Baudelaire orphans, the same way he does in the novels, diving into dialogue the way a writer would. Lemony is a constant fourth wall break, he is always in conversation with the watcher and is a person we grow to trust the same way we relax into a novelist and perhaps seek out their other work because of how it brings us a sort of melancholy comfort.
The Baudelaire Orphans:
Sunny, Violet & Claus
Presley Smith, Malina Weissman & Louis Hynes
The three children represent the opinion of a reader rather than a physical characteristic of a book, more specifically the morality, reactions and literacy thought process of one, which parallels the fact that they are the protagonists in their book. Violet being the eldest child is the moral decision of a reader, and guides her siblings when they get into a scrape that leans into their anti-hero tendencies.
Sometimes there is only a choice between wrong and wrong, and Violet takes that eldest sibling role upon herself with dignity and, somehow, with the reader’s moral compass in mind too.
Sunny is a wonderful indicator of the audience feeling, a role she plays so well because of her infancy. Toddlers communicate through cries and facial expressions in a way that mirrors the emotional span felt by a reader when reading in one’s head; often through a silent facial expression rather than an aloud exclamation. To further this theory, Sunny’s lines are often in gibberish because she is so young, and then translated as subtitles which fully conveys to viewers how she feels about things clearly and so that the people around her can understand her.
Klaus’s diligence and booksmarts mimic those of a reader. One of Klaus’s famous quotes is ‘a library is like an island in a vast sea of ignorance,’ making him one of the most unknowingly intelligent people in the series because of his love for those ‘islands’. This coincides with the way a reader has a sixth sense that often goes unnoticed when they are engrossed in a book, that sense being one of the words, the grammar and techniques and how they string together to create sentences that transform into settings and characters rather than staying as words on a page.
K. Todd Freeman
Mr Poe is the banker in charge of the orphans' fortune, and loves to remind everyone that he is very important and up for promotion. When he speaks to the children, he often dumbs down his tone, however he still uses words which some may find uncommon. When he uses words like ‘perish’ or ‘posthaste’ in conversation with the Baudelaires, he stops abruptly and explains to them the definition of this word. In his way, his character draws close to a sort of personified glossary, throwing out definitions here, there and everywhere, sometimes when a definition is not called for desperately. Another fact about Mr Poe is that his wife, Edna, runs a newspaper, which he often mentions to people when he goes on a spiel and when it makes him sound of utmost intelligence and importance when in fact he is a simple banker from a small town and his wife’s newspaper is a local affair. In the same way a glossary is deemed important yet placed in the back of a book, Mr Poe is an afterthought in the hectic and dramatic lives of the Baudelaire orphans.
A common symbol in the entire novel and television series is this eye emblem. We see it embossed into telescopes, stamping buildings, forming mazes and tattooed on ankles. The Eye constitutes to a constant reminder that the children are being watched by a large group of people throughout their perils, but in regards to my analysis topic it instead depicts how a reader would become ensnared in the story of the Baudelaires and constantly be reading and rereading any single line of information given to them by the author to understand the children’s feelings, sympathise with their situations and deduce theories about the plotline.
Cynthia Ann Summers
The adaptation of characters from book-to-screen is something that can make or break a series, and truly serene costuming can create a visual of this world that has only ever been imagined by millions across the nations. Summers did a great job at designing outfits for a range of characters, from Mr Poe who wears the same grey suit and bowler hat everywhere to the children’s humble and honest wardrobe. I think the look she gave to the programme, and also the progression of the costumes throughout the episodes, really served its purpose when catching the attention of a viewer who had previously read the books and thought up these neo-victorian personas.
All in all, the world that A Series Of Unfortunate Events created on screen was one of rich ashen palettes and a whirlwind of intriguing storylines and likeable characters. The Netflix series kept true to the novels and worked closely to the texts to create an enrapturing adaptation that ultimately impressed viewers. If you've not watched the series yet, I’d really recommend it!