Lemony Snicket Still Has No Idea Why He's So Popular
Author Daniel Handler reveals how his beloved Snicket books were adapted for television.
This Friday, Netflix will release all eight episodes of the first season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. These episodes will adapt the first four volumes of the popular children’s series, which is a meta narrative ostensibly “authored” by a narrator named “Lemony Snicket.” In real life, the man behind Lemony Snicket is Daniel Handler, the author of not only all thirteen original installments of the Unfortunate Events, but also ten additional books under his Snicket nom de plume, plus numerous novels under his own name including Adverbs and the YA book Why We Broke Up. Handler’s entire oeuvre proves that in and out of his guise as Snicket, his dry and evasive wit is constant. Even in interviews.
Unlike the 2004 film adaptation of the same name, Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is using scripts written by Handler himself. As his most beloved creation debuts anew, Inverse caught up with Daniel Handler to discuss the very fortunate event of the exploits of Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and Count Olaf being reinvented for a whole new audience.
When Netflix wanted to change things from your books, did you get veto power?
I had no veto power whatsoever, but I did have the privilege of regularly pleading to those in charge. I also wrote a bunch of scripts.
What can you say about the changes?
The changes are minor but the additions are sizable. The idea was to bring forward certain events and ideas lurking in the background of the books.
Why are your books so coveted as source material for TV and film?
I have never been able to account for the success of the Snicket books. I am continually bewildered.
Will the we meet Lemony’s siblings, Jacques Snicket and Kit Snicket, in the Netflix series?
I am answering these questions whilst deep in the writing of Season 2, so it’s especially painful not to be able to reveal certain juicy secrets.
In adapting the books, has Count Olaf taken over the story?
One of the pleasures of working with Mr. Harris is that his eye is on the story, not just his own performance. Of course, one has no control over the perceptions of an audience, but all of us were concerned with telling the story of the Baudelaires and their pursuit by Count Olaf, not using the story as a vehicle for anything else.
How will the TV show address the question of the identities of Beatrice?
I realize it may sound silly given the books’ long and large readership, but I’d prefer not to discuss the Beatrice question at present.
Will any references to Lemony Snicket’s younger days from the All The Wrong Questions books be mentioned in the Netflix show?
Fans of All The Wrong Questions may catch a few allusions if they look quick and listen carefully.
Which came first? The a slyly downbeat children’s book or the meta-fictional, narrator-in-the-story concept?
What came first was the troubling sense that the world is unreliable from start to finish, and that the haunting questions of childhood might never be answered. All my books, and indeed my entire life, have come from there.
Is the Netflix show for longtime readers? Or new fans?
Netflix has razor-sharp strategies concerning the potential audiences for this adaptation, and I try hard as I can to keep up when they talk about such things. But I’ve always seen children’s literature as a genre, not as a prescription for the age of the reader, the same way you don’t have to be a detective to read a mystery. The Netflix adaptation is for people who might be interested in such a thing.
Is the story of the Baudelaire orphans actually all that dark?
“Dark” is a comparative term. On the scale from Angelina Ballerina to Anne Frank, I’d place the Snicket books with Muriel Spark.
Is A Series of Unfortunate Events being adapted into a Netflix TV series a little antithetical to the more bookish roots of the stories?
A commitment to literature is always a challenge.
Will the stories of the Snickets and Baudelaires continue beyond the existing books and planned Netflix seasons?
If the Snicket books have a theme, it is that you never know what is going to happen.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.