A Series of Unfortunate Events: Books vs. Netflix Series

(This post contains spoilers of the book series, film and TV series, so if you would like to avoid these, please read on only after watching/reading A Series of Unfortunate Events.)

Who ever imagined Barney Stinson (played by Neil Patrick Harris) from HIMYM as a middle aged evil uncle, their dreams have come true in the Netflix original series A Series of Unfortunate Events. The first episode aired on 13 January 2017 and went on for 8 episodes, where each two episodes portrayed one book, thus covering the first four books written by Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler). The series has been adapted before in the 2004 film starring Jim Carrey. There were plans for a sequel but in the end the actors playing Violet, Klaus and Sunny (the three young orphans who are protagonists of the storyline) grew too old, so the continuation of the franchise in the form of films was out of question.

The Netflix series is ranked 8.0 on imdb.com (as of 27.4.2017) and although Neil Patrick Harris has been criticized for his portrayal of Count Olaf in the first two episodes (showing the plot of A Bad Beginning), the series has been massively successful and season 2 is to be aired in 2018. To set Harris’ performance on the right note, it is incredibly hard to represent the evilness Count Olaf represents, while being seemingly harmless. In my opinion Harris plays it masterfully, at times being creepy, but flamboyant at the same time, in any of the disguises he later puts on to fool the children, which are of course never fooled. Later into the series, Harris literally shines in the various disguises.

A Series of Unfortunate Events deals with the loss of children’s innocence and children fears that in real life seem petty and without any substantial evidence, but for Violet, Klaus and Sunny they are on their everyday menu and none of the adults believe them, which is something that most children can relate to, even if they are not being hunted by their evil uncles, who makes them clean the bathroom with their own toothbrush. Violet and Klaus are also very bright and solve all the problems to various levels of success themselves. The adults in the book are either evil (Count Olaf and his theatre troupe)  or quite blind to the children’s strife (some would even say the adults in the series are a babbling, bumbling band of baboons) . The books often evoke a dark Victorian Gothic setting and deal with the absurd, which is very obvious in the TV adaptation, whereas in the books you pick up on the atmosphere but don’t quite visualize the superbly dreary but Mary Poppins artificially perfect kind of settings.

(Big spoiler for the Netflix adaptation in the next paragraph. I warned you. Keep reading at your own risk.)

There are some extra elements in the Netflix adaptation that haven’t appeared in the books. The most noticeable one is the false hope the reader gets in the short scenes showing the Mother and Father. All the clues the spectator gets (frequent mentions of Peru, tickets bought to go there and meet up with someone, the big fancy yellow door at the Mill, etc.), all of these lead the audience to think that the children’s parents are alive and well and have just been detained by circumstance. These are in fact the Mother and Father of Isadora, Duncan and Quigley Quagmire. The bubble of hope, that a spectator who is not aware of the events of the books, feels about the parents of the unfortunate trio of orphans bursts in the seventh episode ‘The Miserable Mill: Part 1’. The Quagmire children will appear later in the series in the second season in The Austere Academy adaptations.

So just to sum it up, can the Netflix series substitute reading the books? As much as it pains me to say, yes. They portray the mood of the books, don’t add any nonsense that doesn’t have anything to do with the books (the extra stuff makes sense and I actually love the extra suspense it creates), and follow the storyline in great detail, at times the TV series quotes the book dialogues word by word. The settings and atmosphere are developed even better than in the books as you see the visual and the characters are rounded and develop naturally, following the same learning curve as in the books. As an adult I think I might prefer the series to the books, as the episodes are more convenient  to watch (1 episode = approx. 40 minutes). The acting is superb (even Sunny’s), the music is amazing (the theme song “Look Away” performed by Harris is in a playlist on my phone titled ‘Best’), and just overall the series is great and I’d recommend it to everyone. The books however have a certain magic about them. In today’s world it is important to lead children to reading and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a great series of books. I’d recommend reading it before watching the series, as in my opinion the books pale a bit under the pressure of the series. Should you give this to your children to read or just let them see the Netflix adaptation? I’d say get your offspring the first book A Bad Beginning and if they like it progress on throughout the series up till the last 13th book The End. Reading is reading after all, and no film or adaptation can substitute the value of a printed book. And as I read these books as a child and loved every single page of them, I’d recommend for children to read first, and then watch the series. Maybe make a family Netflix evening out of it every week. The children will love it. And you will too.


The number 13 plays an important role in the series:

  • There are 13 books in the series, with each book having 13 chapters (the last book has an additional chapter that acts as an epilogue)
  • The title “A Series of Unfortunate Events” has 26 letters (13*2)
  • The series released on the 13th of January.
  • The series released in 2017, 13 years after the 2004 film.

(imdb.com, 27 Apr 2017)

For more trivia and information: imdb.com.

Picture: screenshot from the first episode of the Netflix Original A Series of Unfortunate Events ‘A Bad Beginning: Part 1’.


A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017). [Online] [Accessed on 3 Feb 2017] https://www.netflix.com/title/80050008

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017). [Online] [Accessed on 23 Mar 2017] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4834206/?ref_=tttr_tr_tt

Butt, B. (2003). ‘He’s behind you!: Reflections on Repetitions and Predictability in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’. Children’s Literature in Education. [Online] [Accessed on 7 Feb 2017] http://download.springer.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/static/pdf/339/art%253A10.1023%252FB%253ACLID.0000004895.65809.71.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Flink.springer.com%2Farticle%2F10.1023%2FB%3ACLID.0000004895.65809.71&token2=exp=1486755509~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F339%2Fart%25253A10.1023%25252FB%25253ACLID.0000004895.65809.71.pdf%3ForiginUrl%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Flink.springer.com%252Farticle%252F10.1023%252FB%253ACLID.0000004895.65809.71*~hmac=9de50394c7a11b72db9f2416ef21e3416b54b075e83ab05f63fa900a6511ba86

Cruz, L. (2017). ‘There Are No Happy Endings in A Series of Unfortunate Events’. [Online] [Accessed on 24 Apr 2017] https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/01/a-series-of-unfortunate-events-netflix-review/512498/

Magnusson, K. (2012). ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: Daniel Handler and Marketing the Author.’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly. [Online] [Accessed on 7 Feb 2017] http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/article/468414

Pugh, T. (2008). ‘What, Then, Does Beatrice Mean? Hermaphroditic Gender, Predatory Sexuality, and Promiscuous Allusion in Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’. Children’s Literature. [Online] [Accessed on 2 Feb 2017] http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/article/237809

Snicket, L. (2006). The Bad Beginning. [Online] [Accessed on 30 Jan 2017] http://aaa3rd.weebly.com/uploads/5/2/4/6/52460811/the_bad_beginning.pdf

Saraiya, S. (2017). ‘TV Review: Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ on Netflix’. [Online] [Accessed on 26 Apr 2017] http://variety.com/2017/tv/reviews/review-series-of-unfortunate-events-netflix-lemony-snicket-1201953483/




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