I have read The End. Lemony Snicket had me hooked from the very first page of The Bad Beginning, the first installment of his novel series about the Baudelaire orphans. Although his series lost some freshness for me in the middle, The Carnivorous Carnival, for example, felt like it was following the Snicket ‘formula,’ they all remain fun to read. I was afraid that the resolution of the conspiracy, in book thirteen, would be a let down. The End does not disappoint, although it is not especially happy.
This is a kid’s book, so I won’t judge it mostly on adult terms, but Snicket’s style offers unique formal elements that are the main part of his appeal for me. I love the faux-gothic atmosphere, metatextual humour, quirky definitions and baby Sunny’s poetic exclamations.
These books are an exercise in style but they also ask philosophical questions at a level children can relate to: Can bad things ever be justified? Can good people do bad things without becoming corrupt? How far should we trust our leaders? Are peace and consensus the most important values? Is community safety worth saving at any price? Is there good and evil in all of us? I could keep going but I’m sure, as an adult reader, these are not new questions for you.
The Baudelaire childrens' guilt for crimes they have committed, in order to survive, becomes an imprtant theme in The End. At the same time the villain, Count Olaf, is humanized by a heroic act before he dies. It is satisfying to read a story for children which challenges a black and white view of ethics. Young people need debates of this kind as an antidote to the simplistic values and “group-think” some social leaders and organizations would have young people embrace.
In a time when no one should feel complacent or completely innocent of the war, terrorism and genocide that makes up our modern reality, it’s nice to see Snicket bring some “shades of grey” into children’s literature. We must acknowledge even our enemies to be our equals as human beings, with rights and motivations just like us. This is the best way to prevent future atrocities, but it is a lesson that must be taught again with each generation and in each community. One day our children will run the world. They will need to make nuanced judgments if they are to understand and, hopefully, improve it.
Labels: Children's literature, Ethics