A Series of Unfortunate Events – Supplementary Material

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

1-3 | 4-6 | 7-9 | 10-12

A Series of Unfortunate Events was a massively successful series for middle grade readers. The thirteen instalments were written by Lemony Snicket and published between 1999 and 2006. They follow the tragic and often dangerous adventures of the orphaned Baudelaire siblings as they attempt to discover more about a mysterious organisation known as the VFD and avoid the evil Count Olaf, who is determined to kill them and steal their fortune. But that is not what I intend to talk about in this review.

As I only have one book left to review in the main series, today I’m going to be looking at some of the supplementary material. The Unauthorized Autobiography (2002) and The Beatrice Letters (2006) were published alongside the main series and contain hints, codes and answers that help to further flesh out Snicket’s world.

The Unauthorized Autobiography is a collection of materials that were unearthed following the reported “death” of Lemony Snicket. Its aim is to answer some of the questions that plague those who have been following the mystery of the Baudelaire children, though those questions may not be quite what they thought to ask. The Beatrice Letters collects two sets of correspondence. The first of these are letters written by a young Lemony Snicket to the love of his life, Beatrice Baudelaire. The second are a series of letters written to Snicket long after Beatrice’s death, desperately trying to arrange a meeting with him. The strange thing is that these letters are also signed with Beatrice’s name…

This is likely to be a very short review, but it didn’t seem right to plunge into The End before I had read absolutely everything that came before. However, it should be noted that there is no point in picking up either of these books unless you are already familiar with the main series. The Unauthorized Autobiography is designed to be read after The Carnivorous Carnival (book nine) and The Beatrice Letters was published after The Penultimate Peril (book twelve), by which point in the series you will have already become acquainted with the VFD, the Schism and the elusive sugar bowl. Without this, the supplementary material will not make a lick of sense.

I guess that I should really take a look at these books in the order that they were written.

While the concept of an “unauthorised” autobiography does tickle me, it’s hard to judge exactly who this book will appeal to as it’s probably not what you would expect. It’s not really a biography of Snicket, though it does contain a few references to his childhood. It’s more of a collection of different articles, photographs, maps, ticket stubs, letters and other assorted (and often coded) extracts from different publications that give a few brief glimpses into the workings of the VFD.

While the book’s contents page teases the reader with answers to the most obvious questions, such as the identity of Lemony Snicket and whether or not the Baudelaire parents are actually dead, the book slyly avoids answering all these. Instead “someone” has doctored each entry to answer the questions that you did not know that you had. You will learn how the VFD choose their members. You will learn what became of Uncle Monty’s snakes after his unfortunate demise. You will learn exactly what secret message was hidden within the bizarre dialogue of Zombies in the Snow. You will even get a few brief glimpses of what the VFD operatives have been doing behind the scenes to protect the Baudelaire children from Count Olaf.

While this may sound interesting and is certainly a fun idea, I did find that the book was sometimes a chore to read. It’s easily as long as the early instalments of the series and some of the articles were a little dry. I think it can be argued that Snicket was a little too clever with this book as it doesn’t really have any focus. There is no story and it is unlikely to capture a ten-year-old’s imagination in the same way that the main series does. While it does provide a little food for thought, as well as some early hints about the nature of the VFD, its more of a curio and will only really appeal to die-hard fans of Snicket’s work.

The Beatrice Letters, on the other hand, is a lot more accessible. While it is not as well known as The Unauthorized Autobiography and is presently out of print, it is certainly worth trying to get your hands on if you are a fan of the series. While the volume is only short, it is certainly more heartfelt than the biography, as it allows the reader to get a glimpse of Snicket’s tragic, unrequited love.

While the letters from Beatrice are a little confusing at first, especially as they are intended to be read before The End, it is pretty to guess the true identity of the writer from the things that she says. Because of this, the book really tells two stories. The letters penned by Snicket help to shine a light on his character, detailing a love that began in the third grade and ended in tragedy, cutting off just before Violet was born. The ones written by Beatrice paint a slightly more hopeful tale and contain a few clues as to how the series will ultimately end. Naturally, both are filled with the wordplay and hidden codes that you would expect from Snicket’s work.

The presentation of The Beatrice Letters is also lovely, as the paperback book comes contained with a hard-backed portfolio. Tucked inside this is also an ominous poster that gives a worrying glimpse of what will come in the final book. It also has enough space in its compartments to store the seemingly random letters of the alphabet that can be punched out of the book, which makes it convenient for all those who are trying to solve the anagrams that are mentioned in the text.

These letters are my only real flaw with the book. They are printed on glossy paper and have to be removed with great care to avoid tearing the book itself. They are also a bit on the flimsy side and certainly will not stand up to a lot of rough treatment. I personally think that it would have been better if the publisher had printed these on thicker “punch board” stock. As it stands, readers may want to consider backing them on card first if they wish to play around with them.

While The Beatrice Letters looks fantastic on a shelf, it should probably be noted that it once again does not answer a lot of the reader’s burning questions. While it gives a bit of insight into the personality and motives of Lemony Snicket himself, don’t both picking this up if you’re hoping to learn more about the things that are untold in the main series. There are no clues as to the true significance of the sugar bowl here.

So, I think that covers just about everything. While The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters provide curious additions to any collection, they are probably not worth purchasing unless you are a die-hard fan. They do not resolve any of the mysteries that plague readers of A Series of Unfortunate Events but they do contain a few titbits that you may not have considered before and, like the main series, are often rather amusing to flip through.

Still, I am glad that I had a chance to read through them. Now I feel that I am finally ready to see what becomes of the Baudelaires in The End

The Unauthorized Autobiography can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

The Beatrice Letters is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A Series of Unfortunate Events 13 | Arkham Reviews

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