the world is quiet here.

7:00 AM


Hefty subject today, but hey. I'll try my best.

oh look a thing i made myself. #arts
I don't remember much about Small Aimee's life, but I do seem to remember tearing through every single Lemony Snicket book I could find multiple times. I hadn't read books before that treated nine-year-old-me like I was smart enough to enjoy something because it was good, not just entertaining. I hadn't read something written for someone around my age -- in a way -- that was also written with great care. I had found something that treated me like I was smart enough to understand inside jokes and big words and complex plots and conspiracies and excellent writing/storytelling. I also hadn't read something that so perfectly summed up my...excessively morbid sense of humor at the same time.

If you've never read A Series of Unfortunate Events, maybe you should still stick around. I think I'll make a case as to why you should read these terribly unfortunate books, no matter how old you are or what kinds of books you normally enjoy reading.

This isn't just about A Series of Unfortunate Events -- or anything else Mr Snicket has written, for that matter. This is about all the things that have been in my head lately. Some of them, at least. Because I spend far too much time thinking about philosophy and concepts when I should be doing schoolwork or paying attention at work. shhhh.

I've been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events again, and I've been thinking a lot about heroism. 

I've been thinking a lot about hope.

I've been thinking a lot about human goodness, and the need for volunteers. 

Volunteer is a weird word. If I think about it at all it usually means that I'm thinking about something I'm trying to avoid, because I don't care that much, really. It means helping without getting paid. (yes, yes, i know. let me be.) It can also mean a nice thing for a person to do. Lemony Snicket, on the other hand, presents us with another idea, something that carries a lot more weight. 

Snicket books are full of volunteers. But here, volunteer is a word with meaning. It's a word with responsibility. It's a word applied to people who are good and noble and admirable and hard-working, and suffer because of it. The picture of volunteer that Snicket gives us is a person who chooses to do right and to do it even at great cost to themselves, for the simple fact that it's right. Again and again and again his volunteers take one step in front of the other and do everything they can. They sacrifice themselves, their happiness, and sometimes immediate results. They work behind the scenes, moving where they can. Most of the time, you don't notice them. Most of the time, it seems like they're failing. 


At first glance, you could write this series/show/story off as something amusing and whimsical and pretty depressing, but fun if you like morbid humor. You could laugh at the morbidness and see it as a joke. To a certain extent it might be. It's certainly a parody in some ways. But in other ways, it's a deeply tragic story -- and a deeply hopeful one. 

Most importantly: it's honest.

In the words of the author himself: The sad truth is that the truth is sad. Our world is broken, and twisted, and corrupted. More often than not the people around us are either out to get us or too afraid to interfere if it breaks them out of their comfort. More often than not, it seems like evil wins. The good guys die, the apathetic people continue to be so, and you're thrown into unfortunate event after unfortunate event, spiraling around in a dark and confusing world until it feels like you'll never break free. Even the good moments or the heroic volunteers stepping in don't seem to last long. We don't get an inspirational message. (If anything, we get warnings.) We aren't told that we can do anything if we keep trying, or that true love wins out in the end. This isn't a Disney movie. We're confronted with the bare, raw, teary truth of it. And the truth of it is that most of the time we end up tired and crying and starting the cycle all over again. 

There's something about that brutal honesty that's more comforting than horrible. It aches, sometimes deeply, but we like to know we're not alone, and the feeling of being understood and having your struggles acknowledged out loud is so much better than pretending it doesn't exist. Lemony Snicket doesn't give us the luxury of not knowing. If you choose to read his books, you're going to find all the harsh and tragic truths of it. and you're probably going to weep for hours because his words are lovely, too.

However.  

If you're being honest about people, humanity, and the world, totally honest, you'll come across hope, too. Hope is woven so deeply into our beings that it's always going to be there. No matter how many times it seems like evil is winning, there are always other things working behind the scenes. We might be the Baudelaire kids -- we might not see or be aware of these things -- but they're there, working tirelessly. 

In a cruel and tired world, there are always volunteers, no matter how small their numbers are at the moment. 
you can't say he didn't warn you.
The older I get, I find different things in this series. (I found things in the show, too. It's an excellent show. A+ agony would recommend.) I found understanding when I was younger. I found conspiracy and the layers to every story when I started growing up. Now, I'm finding a pretty uncomfortable call to action. Volunteering. 

You see, our world doesn't get much better if we're apathetic. It doesn't get much better if we pretend it doesn't exist, or if we sit around and talk about how miserable it is all the time. It doesn't get better overnight: you can't march in an army of people and fix everything and defeat all evil in one afternoon. The path is slow, and dangerous, and discouraging. 

But don't we win in the end? 

Goodness for the sake of goodness is valuable, y'all. The right thing is always worth it, even it doesn't seem big. All we need is for people to sacrifice and, one step at a time, do what they can. Moving parts in the background that might not get much recognition in the background. It will require sacrifice. It will look like you're losing most of the time, I think. 

But without volunteers, we're not going to get anywhere. So maybe there's something to the idea of volunteering, something heroic. Maybe there's something to doing good quietly and doing it steadfastly and reading lots of books. 

And maybe you should definitely read some Lemony Snicket sometime, and then watch the flawless Netflix series and bawl your eyes out.


5 comments

  1. I honestly can't remember a time in my life where I hadn't read A Series Of Unfortunate Events and had it be a big part of my standards. There are some books that change you, and there are some that shape you, and I am very happy to say that ASOUE was one that shaped me.

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  2. I loved this series as a kid for many of the reasons you listed. I spent a lot of time feeling alone and afraid (though there was no real reason for it), and the little I managed to read of Snicket's books gave me so much hope and comfort. My mom didn't really get it; she couldn't see past the dark humor and themes, so she discouraged me from reading them, but I managed to sneak in a few chapters here and there, and I'm about to go back and read the whole series (I've waited long enough, lol). Anyway, I think you really nailed it with this post. I think the same things that draw people to this series are what draw them to things like Rogue One; honesty about the darkness and hardship of the world, hope, and (above all) characters who fight on because of that hope, even when everything is terrible and they fail over and over.

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    1. Oh yeah, I just started the Rogue One novel! It's amazing already.

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  3. I think Snicket understands that the best jokes are the jokes that tell the truth. His morbid humor makes the message easier to swallow. And the message that I might have to volunteer in ways that hurt me is not pleasant, is not welcoming, when all I want is to never be hurt again. Which is why this series is so important. We have to see that choosing not to volunteer has consequences for others, and that failing to do good is the same as doing wrong.

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  4. I've never read Lemony Snicket, but you'd better believe that as soon as I finish typing this comment, I'm heading over to the library website to place a hold.

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