I finished a Series of Unfortunate Events 13: the End (Young Adult 339 pages) by Lemony Snicket a while ago, but hadn’t done up my review until now.
“Dear Reader, You are presumably looking at the back of this book, or the end of THE END. The end of THE END is the best place to begin THE END, because if you read THE END from the beginning of the beginning of THE END to the end of the end of THE END, you will arrive at the end of the end of your rope. This book is the last in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even if you braved the previous twelve volumes, you probably can’t stand such unpleasantries as a fearsome storm, a suspicious beverage, a herd of wild sheep, an enormous bird cage, and a truly haunting secret about the Baudelaire parents. It has been my solemn occupation to complete the history of the Baudelaire orphans, and at last I am finished. You likely have some other occupation, so if I were you I would drop this book at once, so THE END does not finish you. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket.”
I think it’s safe to say that there will be spoilers and a whole bunch of plot details about the entire series here, so if you haven’t read this book or you haven’t read the rest of the series and you don’t want to know how everything turns out, I suggest you stop reading this particular review.
Around the fifth book in this series, I started to think that maybe the book titles would spell something out in code because this series definitely likes using codes and implying the use of codes. I did a bare amount of research about the series and found this great article which sums up a lot of my thoughts and feeling about the series pretty nicely. To the best of my knowledge, the letters used for each book don’t spell anything out. I am not good at anagrams, but the letters, in order, are: B, R, W, M, A, E, V, H, C, S, G, and P. I didn’t include The End or Chapter Fourteen in my list of initials and it looks like it should spell something like “Charms Web GPV” or “Ms Grave B Chep” or something else that makes absolutely no sense. There’s even an anagram thing on the Lemony Snicket wiki website that discusses the anagrams used throughout the series, but I couldn’t find any indication that the book titles were supposed to create some sort of anagram on their own. So if anyone reads this and can find a fun or meaningful anagram from the letters used in creating the titles for a Series of Unfortunate Events, please let me know. (And if you’re bored, Lemony Snicket’s actual website has anagram games and other distractions.
This book has a lot of really good final points about life in general, such as on page 95: “All day long, everyone in the world is succumbing to peer pressure, whether it is the pressure of their fourth grade peers to play dodge ball during recess or the pressure of their fellow circus performers to balance rubber balls on their noses, and if you try to avoid every instance of peer pressure you will end up without any peers whatsoever, and the trick is to succumb to enough pressure that you do not drive your peers away, but not so much that you end up in a situation in which you are dead or otherwise uncomfortable.” At this part of the novel, the Baudelaires have found themselves stranded on an island with some people who are friendly and helpful, but also not exactly free to do as they wish. The main leader, Ishmael, makes so many comments about how he’s not going to force anyone to do anything but that he really doesn’t think people should rock the boat that it made me frustrated. The way this portion of the story was written clearly showed that people can have the best of intentions, such as keeping all the colonists safe, but that the methods are often not ideal. I think that’s one of the other key themes from this book and this series – no one will ever be truly safe, so would you rather be in a world where you can be yourself and make a positive difference in the world or would you rather live in a world with so many rules and restrictions that you might be safe, but deeply unfulfilled?
The Baudelaire interactions with the rest of the islanders is a fairly accurate representation of our current modern world in that there are a lot of times when no one is forcing you to do anything but they actually kind of are forcing you to fit into certain molds so that their own lives are not inconvenienced by pesky things like the truth or trying to make the world a better place. How many times do we overlook homelessness, unemployment, sexism, racism, etc., so that we are not the ones who are rocking the boat? How many times do the people around us take the easy route of stuffing our heads in the sand so that we aren’t faced with hurt and disappointment from the people we care about or trust? There are so many quotes and motivational sayings throughout history about how all it takes for villains in the world to succeed is for good people to do nothing and sayings of those sorts. This book really shows how peer pressure works in situations where there really isn’t anything genuinely evil going on, but things just aren’t quite right, either. It’s very easy for Ishmael to lie to the islanders and keep them doped up so that they don’t care about what’s going on in their lives. If left to his care alone, the islanders would all die and he wouldn’t even think about it. In a lot of ways, Ishmael is like Count Olaf, in that he’s only really looking after himself and he uses other people to do his work for him.
I’m thinking that the Snicket family, the Baudelaire family, and Count Olaf’s family are all linked somehow and I finished this book with a powerful desire to actually try and map out the connections between all the people. I didn’t do that because I’m not sure I actually cared that much at this exact second and I certainly don’t have time for that kind of endeavor right now. I get the feeling that all three of these families are actually related families in a much broader sense. We know from the beginning the Count Olaf is actually one of their Uncles, as is Uncle Montgomery. And it’s late and I didn’t have the energy to actually look up any of the ties that bind between all the people in these books. But I do think that it’s all connected and it shows how people can bring others together or all fall apart, even if they are connected.
I think as some final notes about this series that I’ll mention that I’m not entirely certain I’m satisfied with the ending of this book and the series as a whole. There were a lot of mysteries that remained unresolved for the duration of this series. The one that I think about the most, oddly, is whatever became of the Baudelaire fortune that everyone was so keen on throughout so many of the books? Count Olaf spends a lot of his time attempting to corner the Baudelaire orphans so he can get his hands on their fortune and by the end of the book, Count Olaf is deceased and Violet might actually be old enough to be considered a legal adult, though the Baudelaires are now fugitives from the law. Would they have had access to their fortune and if so, would they be able to use it to pursue noble deeds? Would Mr. Poe have somehow managed to remain in charge of their fortune, especially since it’s being in charge of the Baudelaire fortune that earned him most of his promotions and extra money at the bank where he works? Did the Baudelaires ever link back up with the Quagmires and build their dreams of journalism, inventions, researching, cooking, libraries, and poetry?
The Quagmire story is incomplete by the end of this particular book and at the end of the official series, though it appears as though there are other books set in the same world that might shed some more light on some of the other people and mysteries found throughout a Series of Unfortunate Events. I’d be curious to see how everything worked out for the Quagmires, but I suspect that they did not have a pleasant ending, since this series was not about them and didn’t really seem to end well for anyone.
While I may not have been particularly satisfied with the ending of this book and the series in general because I’m not entirely certain that anything was resolved, I would say that this book and series had the most realistic outcome I’ve probably seen in a long, long time. When a very pregnant and broken Kit Snicket shows up on the island, she eventually dies during childbirth, which is completely realistic for a woman on a small island with three young adults having to deliver a baby in very primitive conditions. While in our modern world of idealistic happy endings, Kit would have been able to give birth without complications and everyone would have lived happily ever after, the reality is that reading a bunch of books or being able to invent something to make life a little bit easier is not going to do anything in a situation where you would have to help someone give birth in austere conditions if you had no practical skills in that task. Which is also the same for Count Olaf. He gets shot in the stomach with the same harpoon gun he attempts to use to convince others to do his bidding, and he’s shot through a glass diving helmet, which means he likely also got glass shards inside him from that shot. He also dies because there is no treatment for him on the island.
It was realistic that the story didn’t really have a happily ever after style ending because the truth is that life is really confusing and filled with a lot of people who may or may not impact our lives and we never really know how. We don’t know if those people will help us, betray our trust, or stick their heads in the sand so they don’t have to worry about rocking the boat. We are all of us human and each one of us is living our own stories. I might be the main character in my own story, but I could only be a non-player character, a villain, or a person who interacts with you to deliver side quests in your life. You never really know. All you can do is the best you can with the options you’re given. Sometimes your situation will have people who will tell you that you are “noble enough” and sometimes your situation will have someone who will kidnap and cajole others into getting their own way to try and steal everything from everyone and not do any actual work themselves. Real life doesn’t have a happily ever after because the story keeps going. Real life is a bunch of chapters compiled together that may or may not make sense but that you have to keep moving through anyway.
That’s what makes these books unique. These books don’t show the world the way we wish it was, they show the confusion and uncertainty of the world the way it is. But for all that there’s villains, there’s also people who want to be noble, and there’s redemption for anyone, if you just take the time to look. These books really showed a lot about how there’s more than just good and evil and sometimes good people can do things that have bad outcomes. These books have a lot of bigger picture things that I think would benefit readers of all ages in order to be more understanding of other people’s plights as well as to encourage support for allowing people to grow up with the things that interest them the most.
Overall, I’d say this book is probably a solid three on my rating scale. It didn’t have the ideal ending, but it is definitely something that I will probably think about and ponder for a very long time to come. The writing style is solid and a lot of fun and the characters are human and believable. The villain in the form of Count Olaf is over-the-top and ridiculous, he is only the most obvious villain. This whole series gave me a lot of really deep thoughts and for that I’m partially glad and partially annoyed because I don’t think my questions are answered now, nor do I feel as though most of the mysteries would ever be resolved.
Works cited: Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: the End. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006.