I am the editor of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, books that chronicle the lives of three resourceful, charming siblings who are extremely unlucky. After their parents perish in a terrible fire, the orphans are shuffled from one inadequate guardian to the next, with an evil count in constant pursuit of their inheritance. “If you like stories with happy endings,” Lemony Snicket warns, “you would be better off reading some other book.” judging by the series’ success—more than 5 million copies have sold in under three years—it appears that there are readers who do not prefer stories with happy endings after all. Instead, perhaps the series’ success is linked to a desire for fiction that reflects the way life works. Fiction that doesn’t pretend that bad things only happen to bad people, and that good behavior will be rewarded with good luck.
Daniel Handler, the author who writes as Lemony Snicket, encountered this reality when in grade school, he shared with his class the story of his father’s escape from Nazi Germany. The teacher was impressed and complimented Daniel on having a very brave father Daniel’s father is an accountant and isn’t often called “brave,” so Daniel was eager to pass along the compliment. His father, though, was not flattered. Instead he asked, “Do you believe that I am braver than those who didn’t make it?”
Lemony Snicket’s books are sought after, maybe because they are comforting even without a happy ending. Here is a series of children’s books that admit that even if you are good, bad things may happen—but you ought to behave well anyway. Maybe, even when truths are unpleasant, truth is in itself soothing.
Susan Rich is an Executive Editor at Harper Collins Children’s Books.