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. It was later released in paperback under the name The Bad Beginning; or, Orphans! The novel tells the story of three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who are orphaned by an arsonous fire and sent to live with their distant and conniving cousin Count Olaf. The book was published on September 30, 1999, by Scholastic Inc. and illustrated by Brett Helquist.


Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire learn of their parents' death while sitting on a beach. Mr. Poe, a banker, comes to give them the news of their parents' demise and take charge of them. He gives them into the hands of their next nearest relative, Count Olaf. Though the children doubt Olaf's legitimacy as their relative, he becomes their guardian. Olaf and his acting troupe treat the children horribly. They force them to cook and clean the house, which is filthy and falling apart. However, the children find a friend in their next door neighbor, Justice Strauss. She lets them use her library and is generally sympathetic towards the children. The children use her to help think up of a dinner that Olaf has ordered them to cook for his acting troupe. There is no food in the house, and because of the mess the house is in, the kitchen is unfit to cook in. However, using Violet's inventions, Klaus's research skills, and Sunny's teeth, the children cook Pasta Puttanesca, but Count Olaf demands roast beef.

The children seek Mr. Poe for help in the matter of their new guardian. However, Mr. Poe is not the most observant or understanding banker, and tells the children that Olaf is a perfectly fine guardian. However, Count Olaf has devised a plan to steal the Baudelaire fortune left to them after their parents' death. Olaf puts together a play with his troupe, entitled "The Marvelous Marriage" by Al Funcoot. During the play, Olaf will marry Violet, but the marriage will be legally binding and allow Olaf to control her fortune. Klaus uses the library of Justice Strauss to read about nuptial law to find a way to stop Olaf's plan. Olaf puts Sunny in a bird cage and locks her in the highest tower of his house, guarded by the hook-handed man, and threatens to kill her if the children do not follow his plan. Klaus and Violet attempt to rescue Sunny by using the grappling hook invented by Violet. However, Olaf's troupe captures them and locks them in the tower until the play begins.

The play is performed using members of the community and Olaf's troupe. When it reaches the point of Olaf and Violet's marriage, Olaf proudly declares the success of his plan by announcing Violet's marriage. Justice Strauss, who sympathizes with the children, informs Olaf that you cannot marry if you are underage. But, Olaf counters that you may marry with a guardian's permission, and since he is her guardian, she must have permission. But, Violet announces that she has signed the document with her left hand. Being right handed, this voids the marriage. Justice Strauss agrees. Klaus, Violet, and Sunny are reunited, but Olaf escapes, threatening the children by telling them he will continue to pursue them. Because the children have grown close to Justice Strauss, she offers to adopt them. But, Mr. Poe insists that their parents wished for them to be kept by a relative. The book ends as they are taken off to find their next guardian.


The Bad Beginning contains the first references to Beatrice and to the V.F.D. eye insignia, which later become major plot devices. The book also contains the first mention of the High Court, which is one of the primary instruments through which Olaf tracks the Baudelaire orphans' guardianships.

The final illustration in the book shows a snake curled around a lamppost, an allusion to the next book, The Reptile Room.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

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."[1] The review went on to laud Helquist for his "exquisitely detailed" and "elegantly designed" artwork.[1] 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."[2] 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".[3] In 2012, School Library Journal named it the 48th best children's novel.[4]

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.[5][6] It was released on May 8, 2007.[6] 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;[7][8] 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. Contrary to the description on the website,[9] they do not contain any endnotes (as the Rare Edition does). 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."

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,[10] and a Grammy Award Nominee for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2005.[11]


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]