November 13, 2003

Open Media

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Murder, kidnapping, arson, secret societies, raw toast: these crucial elements make up Lemony Snicket’s new novel The Slippery Slope. In this, the tenth installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny must once again attempt to outwit the evil Count Olaf and his less-than-friendly henchmen. In this highly rated juvenile series, the Baudelaires have spent most of their time trying to bring Count Olaf to justice while he picks off their appointed guardians. As you may be able to infer from the topics both this book and the entire series covers, this is not your typical book for youngsters, and that is what makes these books both incredibly interesting and wonderfully special.

When author Lemony Snicket (sometimes operating through representative Daniel Handler) was first approached about writing a book for kids, he was a little less than excited about the prospect since he thought that most kids books were absolute rubbish. However, when it soon became clear that his kids book could be about whatever material he desired, Snicket got to writing and has been churning out marvelously morose tales ever since. In fact, he writes two or three books a year, a wonderful boon to his fans who can’t wait to get their hands on the next installment in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans. Not that his writing has suffered in any way from his prodigious output; on the contrary, his books are as full of barbed and crackling prose as ever, and still immensely entertaining, as exemplified by The Slippery Slope.

At the beginning of the book, we find Violet and Klaus trapped on a runaway camper previously inhabited by circus freaks from the Caligari Carnival. If they don’t stop the camper, the poor kids will fly right off one of the edges of the dangerous Mortmain Mountains and become so much orphan jam at the bottom. Thankfully, these kids aren’t pushovers: they stop the camper, climb out, and continue on their adventures from there, finding a little happiness and a lot of sorrow on the way.

Now, anyone who has ever read anything about poetry is familiar with the name of Baudelaire, the French poet who was famous for both his shocking subject matter (ever had a rotting corpse turn you on?) and his amazing skill as a poet. This might seem to be a strange poet to emulate in a children’s book, but it’s really rather ingenious. Snicket gets to pay homage to a poet he obviously adores, kids reading the book get a cool name that doesn’t mean anything in particular to them, and adults reading the book get a kick out of having it mean something. Obviously, Mr. Snicket is a well-read and well-cultured person, slipping in literary references. These continue with a snippet of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem The Garden of Proserpine used in the book as a clue to the last safe place the orphans can go, which turns out to be the Hotel D