The Bad Beginning

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The Bad Beginning
Author Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler)
Illustrator Brett Helquist
Cover artist Brett Helquist
Country United States
Language English
Series A Series of Unfortunate Events
Genre Gothic fiction
Absurdist fiction
Publisher Scholastic Inc.
Publication date
September 30, 1999
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 162
ISBN 0-06-440766-7
OCLC 41070636
Fic 21
LC Class PZ7.S6795 Bad 1999
Followed by The Reptile Room

The Bad Beginning is the first novel of the children's novel series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The novel tells the story of three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who become orphans following a fire and are sent to live with Count Olaf, who attempts to steal their inheritance.

The book was published on September 30, 1999, by Scholastic Inc. and illustrated by Brett Helquist. An audiobook was released in 2003, several special editions of the book have been made and the book has been translated into many different languages. The novel has received positive reviews.


Violet Baudelaire is aged fourteen and has a love for inventions; Klaus Baudelaire is twelve and an avid reader; Sunny Baudelaire is a baby who uses words only her siblings and parents understand, and enjoys biting. The children are told that their parents died in a fire which also destroyed their house. Mr. Poe, who gives them this news, is a banker whose job it becomes to find a guardian for the Baudelaires. He is also in charge of the large Baudelaire fortune, which Violet will inherit when she turns eighteen. He places them into the care of Count Olaf. Olaf's house is filthy and covered in disconcerting eye images; it has a tower which the Baudelaires are forbidden from entering. Count Olaf is unpleasant, easily angered and forces the children to perform many laborious chores.

One day, the Baudelaires are set the task of making dinner for Olaf and his theatre troupe. They make puttanesca, but when Olaf arrives he demands roast beef. The children remind him that he never asked them to make roast beef and Olaf becomes enraged, striking Klaus across the face.

Olaf gives the children roles in his new play, in which Violet will marry Olaf. The children realize something is amiss and use Justice Strauss' library to research law. Klaus learns that the marriage in the play will be legally binding and that Olaf can inherit their fortune from it. He confronts Olaf, who gets one of his associates to put Sunny in a bird cage, dangling from outside the window of his tower. He threatens to kill her if Klaus and Violet do not follow his plan. Violet constructs a makeshift grappling hook and uses it to climb up the tower. She finds the hook-handed man waiting to capture her. Klaus is brought up to the tower and they are locked together in the room until the play begins.

After Violet signs the marriage document, Olaf interrupts to tell the audience that their wedding was legally binding. Justice Strauss and Mr. Poe both object, but concede that the law requires them to hand over the Baudelaire fortune to Olaf. Violet interrupts to proclaim that the marriage was not legally binding, as she signed with her left hand despite being right-handed. Justice Strauss agrees that this invalidates the marriage. Before Olaf can be arrested for locking up Sunny, one of his associates turns the lights in the theatre off and he is able to escape. Justice Strauss tells the Baudelaires that she is willing to adopt them; however, Mr. Poe says that this would go against their parents' will and takes them back to his household until he can find another guardian for them.

Critical reception[edit]

In 2012, School Library Journal named it the 48th best children's novel.[1] Publishers Weekly praised Snicket's prose, observing, "The author uses formal, Latinate language and intrusive commentary to hilarious effect, even for readers unfamiliar with the literary conventions he parodies."[2] The review went on to laud Helquist for his "exquisitely detailed" and "elegantly designed" artwork.[2] The trade publication Library Journal praised both Snicket's narrative and prose: "While the misfortunes hover on the edge of being ridiculous, Snicket's energetic blend of humor, dramatic irony, and literary flair makes it all perfectly believable."[3] Kirkus Reviews noted the uncomfortably macabre tone of the novel, warning that because "the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters", the novel is "not for the squeamish".[4] Catherine Pelosi of Kids' Book Review responded positively to The Bad Beginning, describing it as "exciting, humorous and appropriately dark".[5]

Special editions[edit]

The Bad Beginning: Rare Edition[edit]

The Bad Beginning: Rare Edition (ISBN 0-06-051828-6) was published by HarperCollins on September 23, 2003. In addition to a box, new cover, and additional illustrations, this edition contains a fourteenth chapter filled with author's notes, many of which foreshadow later events in the series or provide excessive detailed information about the events in The Bad Beginning itself.

The Bad Beginning; or, Orphans![edit]

The Bad Beginning: or, Orphans! is a paperback edition of The Bad Beginning designed to mimic a Victorian penny dreadful.[6][7] It was released on May 8, 2007.[7] The book features a new full-color cover, seven new illustrations, and the first part of a serial supplement entitled The Cornucopian Cavalcade, which in this edition includes the first of 13-part comic entitled The Spoily Brats along with a page of Victorian-era false advertisements, both produced by Michael Kupperman; an advice column written by Lemony Snicket along with a page listing every entry in A Series of Unfortunate Events (some of which are fictional); the first part of a story entitled Q: A Psychic pstory of the psupernatural by Stephen Leacock;[8][9] and a guide by Morley Adams on paper folding.

Other special editions[edit]

Two more editions of The Bad Beginning were published by Egmont Publishing on October 1, 2003—The Bad Beginning: Special Edition (ISBN 1-4052-0725-6) and The Bad Beginning: Limited Edition (ISBN 1-4052-0726-4). They come in a larger format and contain three plates of color artwork that are redrawn from the original edition of the book and two plates of new color artwork. The Limited Edition is bound in leather and contained within a box, similar to the Rare Edition, and each copy was signed by Daniel Handler. There is also a new "Short-Lived Edition", released for general sale on June 14, 2012.


Two audiobook versions of this novel were released. The first version was released in September 2003. It was read by Tim Curry and featured Daniel Handler, under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, who read a portion entitled "A Conversation Between the Author and Leonard S. Marcus." It won an "Earphones Award" on AudioFile, which described the audiobook as "fabulously funny" and complimented the conversation involving Handler.[10]

The second version was released in October 2004, after the release of the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. This multi-voice cast audio book was narrated by Tim Curry and featured Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, and Jude Law. This version also included sound effects and a soundtrack. This edition of The Bad Beginning was an Audie Awards finalist for Children's Titles for Ages 8+ in 2005,[11] and a Grammy Award Nominee for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2005.[12] AudioFile gave the audiobook a positive review, although stated that "the cast of seven at first sound self-consciously formal until one realizes that the acting is supposed to be as mannered as the clever writing".[13]


Most foreign editions have borne titles which are direct translations of the phrase "the bad beginning", including:

However, the Indonesian version, Mula Malapetaka, translates to "The First Catastrophe" (ISBN 979-22-0301-X); the French Tout commence mal…, "All Begins Badly", translated by Rose-Marie Vassallo (Éditions Nathan, 2002: ISBN 2-09-282353-1); and the Quebec French Nés sous une mauvaise étoile, "Born Under a Bad Star", apparently also translated by Rose-Marie Vassallo (Éditions Heritage, 2007: ISBN 2-7625-2942-5), the Korean version 눈동자의 집 translates to "The House of the Eye" (ISBN 89-546-0834-5), and the Japanese version 最悪のはじまり translates to "The Worst Beginning" (Soshisha, 2001: ISBN 4-7942-1070-1).

See also[edit]

Quotations related to The Bad Beginning' at Wikiquote


  1. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (May 28, 2012). "Top 100 Children's Novels #48: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket". School Library Journal. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Review from Publishers Weekly". Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Review from Library Journal". Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Review from Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. July 15, 1999. Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  5. ^ Pelosi, Catherine (August 9, 2011). "Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning". Kids' Book Review. Retrieved July 18, 2015. 
  6. ^ The Star (Toronto) Retrieved May 25, 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  7. ^ a b A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning, By Lemony Snicket , Illustrated by Brett Helquist: Harper-Collins Children's Books
  8. ^ Mitchell-Marell, Gabrielle. "Now for the Unfortunate Paperbacks...". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 11, 2007. 
  9. ^ A Series of Unfortunate Events ::: NOW IN PAPERBACK![dead link]
  10. ^ "A Series of Unfortunate Events #1". AudioFile. August 2001. Retrieved July 18, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Audies Gala 2005 Winners and Nominees". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  12. ^ "Complete list of Grammy Award nominations". February 8, 2006. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  13. ^ "A Series of Unfortunate Events #1". AudioFile. December 2004. Retrieved July 18, 2015.