Lemony Snicket’s 13 books about the Baudelaire orphans—Violet the inventor, Klaus the reader, and Sunny the baby with sharp teeth—have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. Look back on the perils of living with Count Olaf and the mystery of V.F.D. with the following facts about the series.
1. THE MAN BEHIND SNICKET HAS A PRETTY RUN-OF-THE-MILL MONIKER.
Author Daniel Handler first used the pseudonym “Lemony Snicket” when he was researching far-right-wing organizations and didn’t want his name to appear on their mailing list. He and his friends later ordered pizzas under the name, printed business cards for Handler’s fictional identity, and even created a cocktail they dubbed the "Lemony Snicket."
2.THE PROTAGONISTS ARE NAMED FOR A TRAGIC REAL-LIFE FIGURE …
That would be
19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, whose own life was as dark as Violet, Klaus and Sunny’s. He was prosecuted on obscenity and blasphemy charges, suffered a stroke, and dealt with an opium addiction.
3. AND THE BOOKS ARE DEDICATED TO SNICKET'S LOST LOVE.
Every book in the series is dedicated to Beatrice—later revealed to be an ill-fated love interest of Snicket’s, whom he met as a boy, as well as the children's mother. Her name is thought to be inspired by both the poem “La Beatrice” by
Baudelaire and Dante’s Beatrice, another ill-fated love interest who guided him through heaven in the Divine Comedy.
4. HANDLER NEVER THOUGHT HE'D WRITE A KIDS' BOOK.
The author felt that all novels for 10-year-old boys were either fantasy books or books about sports, and thus, had no interest in penning a kids' book himself—that is, until he was talked into it by his editors. “I said I really hate children’s books, that I thought all books for children were crap,” he says in a 2000 Salon article. His editor, Susan Rich, responded, “Isn’t that a good reason for writing the books you wish you had when you were 10?”
After giving it more thought, Handler decided to repurpose 90 pages of an unsuccessful mock-Gothic adult novel he had started years ago.
5. HANDLER MADE EXCUSES FOR SNICKET.
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During book readings Handler would announce that Lemony Snicket wasn’t able to make it, and that Snicket had sent him instead. Sometimes, he would say that Snicket had been bitten in the armpit by a giant bug, show the audience the bug in a box and then spend the rest of the appearance playing the accordion.
6. HIS FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE DIDN'T GO SO WELL.
Handler’s first book reading was attended by two adults, who he later learned worked at a different bookstore, hated his books and really just wanted to see who was behind them.
7. HIS OWN SON REFUSES TO READ HIS WRITING.
Being a parent helped Handler brainstorm all the terrible things that the Baudelaire orphans deal with in the book. Handler’s son is terrified of the books and refuses to read them.
8. BOTH HANDLER AND SNICKET ARE STAUNCHLY ANTI-CENSORSHIP.
In 2001, a group of elementary teachers lobbied to have their school cancel an appearance by Handler on account of a "suggestion of incest in one of the books and Count Olaf's use of the word 'damn,'" according to The Guardian. Handler defended himself to the paper, saying that, "Its use was precipitated by a long discussion of how one should never say this word, since only a villain would do so vile a thing! This is exactly the lily-liveredness of children's books that I can't stand." Thirteen years later, Handler set up a prize in Snicket’s name that would honor librarians who have stood up to anyone seeking to ban books from their collections.
9. HE MAY BE A SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, BUT HIS SCREENWRITING CAREER HASN'T PANNED OUT.
Handler wrote eight drafts of the script for the 2004 A Series of Unfortunate Events movie. Then he got fired. Though he didn't go into detail, Handler called the ordeal "long [and] dramatic," and hinted at tension with a producer in an interview with Wired.
10. NETFLIX IS DEVELOPING THE SERIES INTO A TV SHOW.
Video streaming giant Netflix announced in 2014 that it had acquired the rights to make an original TV series based on the books. A trailer for the series appeared on YouTube in July 2015, but Netflix denies responsibility for it.
11. SNICKET IS A SECRET WARRIOR FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE.
Lemony Snicket doesn’t just write about issues affecting orphaned children. In 2011, the elusive author released his thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement. No word on how Handler himself feels about the protest.
All photos courtesy of Getty unless otherwise noted