Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Perfect Story For Imperfect Moments

I'm past half done with the forth book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I am thoroughly enjoying them. Which must sound like a strange thing to say of a series of books that tout themselves as depressing and sad and miserable. And yes one depressing, sad, miserable thing after another happens to the three protagonist orphans and you are forewarned repeatedly that things are never going to reach the 'happy ever after' place. And yet, the story is uplifting. And I am mystified.

As a storyteller who likes to figure out why stories that work work, I am curiously playing with explanations for this all the while I keep on reading. You would think that I would have been better off choosing a more pleasant story to occupy myself with during these days I am feeling rather picked on by events in my own life. But, oddly, I rather doubt that would have helped. I even doubt a pleasant story could have captured and kept my attention. Maybe it has something to do with helping to put things in perspective. Just a thought.

Should it be embarrassing to admit to being enthralled by a story written for grade-school children when one is old enough to have grand-children old enough to read them? I think not. These stories are living proof that stories can be told for children and still have enough depth, complexity, and substance to not only capture an adults attention but keep it occupied long past the moment the last page is turned.

I love the way this author does not talk down to kids. I love the way the kids are so self-reliant, inquisitive, persistent, brave, brainy, kind.... all in spite of terrible hardship and little to no support from the adults in their lives who run from the extreme nastiness of Count Olaf the evil plotter of their doom to the incompetent, the selfish, the clueless, the distracted, the helpless.... One of the most frequently recurring unfortunate things that happen to the three siblings is the refusal of adults in their lives to listen to them, take them seriously as people, to believe them, to advocate for them... and that goes doubly for those who think they have the children's best interest at heart. All of the well-intentioned adults are sticklers for rules and manners and etiquette while seeming unable to see the actual life-threatening dangers right in front of them.

Another thing I love about these books is the vocabulary. The author inserts big words into the story and includes their definitions. Sometimes it is the narrator himself--Lemony Snicket. But just as often it is the character who uses the word and then patronizingly defines it for the children, in the case of an adult, or Klaus the middle child who is a widely read twelve year old and can define most words his sister's don't know and many the adults don't know and gets extremely irritated when the adults define words he knows quite well thank you. One might think this tactic would be intrusive and become irritating after a few uses but it continues to entertain me and I love that there is someone out there writing for children 9 and up who thinks they have a perfect right to know such words and does not doubt their ability to learn them.

I think one reason these stories are having such a positive impact on me this week is that they are speaking to my sense of their being a great bias of injustice and unfairness in life but that there remains our duty to persevere.

1 tell me a story:

Jamie 4/21/2007 9:35 PM  

I have not read tthe Lemony Snicket series yet. It sounds good. I have seen the movie and I believe that Jim Carrey does an excellent job of playing Count Olaf. NO, it is not bad that you enjoy childrens books. I enjoy childrens movies, books, and cartoons on occassion. And we never really grow up and we are all kids at heart. I also loved the fact that all three children were smart, brave, clever, creative in their ways of getting out and adapting to their situations.

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