Jewish Themes in Lemony Snicket’s novels

Count OlafI stole this idea from a friend who may have taken it from another friend.

Just as Jewish music is often written in minor key, so A Series of Unfortunate Events is often on the down side. Compare it to other children’s fantasy adventure novels. Frodo of the Lord of the Rings encounters many dangers and completes his quest. Lyra of His Dark Materials lies her way into saving the children. Harry Potter and friends conquer the Dark Lord. But those Baudelaire children may still be on the run…

A sample of Daniel Handler’s miserable prose (Lemony Snicket’s real name):

Dear Reader,

If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale. I’m afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether. The story may seem cheery at first, when the Baudelaire children spend time in the company of some interesting reptiles and a giddy uncle, but don’t be fooled. If you know anything at all about the unlucky Baudelaire children, you already know that even pleasant events lead down the same road to misery.

So here’s the Jewish nimshal to the books: the Baudelaire children are B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) and Count Olaf is anti-semitism, who follows them everywhere. They find a new guardian (some new country that treats them OK, for a while, say, Spain or Poland), but then Olaf rears his ugly head again.

So, does it work for you?

4 thoughts on “Jewish Themes in Lemony Snicket’s novels

  • Yes, very much so. I am not Jewish myself, but very interested in the literature and customs of the Jewish people. When I started reading the series, I was struck immediately by the many motifs, themes and concepts from Jewish mythology, history and philosophy that Handler incorporates.

  • Handler himself says so in an interview in Moment magazine:
    Has the series been influenced by Jewish history?
    I think there is something naturally Jewish about unending misery, yes. I mean, I guess naturally but not exclusively Jewish. I’m Jewish so, by default, the characters I create are Jewish, I think. Then I think I have something of a Jewish sensibility shaped by having a Jewish upbringing and so, therefore, books that I produce would be somewhat Jewish in tone.

  • Yes, you’re absolutely right. Snicket is himself Jewish. And the story is also reflecting his idea about Jewish story. You can see “The Eye”, completely fulfilled Olaf’s house, and the bitter darkness of his surround. And in the last series, 13th book, you can find the main idea. That the snake gives the eternal apple to the children, for saving them from Olaf.
    Thanks for the news.

  • Ethmarillea, thanks for writing in your comment! I didn’t pick up on the snake and apple thing. Which means Daniel Handler can’t be “too Jewish” (whatever that means), otherwise he’d know that the “pri etz” is probably not an apple; that idea seems to be Christian in its roots. Grapes or figs seems like a more “Jewish” response for what the fruit of Gan Eden was.

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