Tamagotchis. SkiFree. Almost every single Disney Channel Original Movie. Unfortunately, some beloved media from childhood doesn’t hold up to the harsh light of the present day.
However, I still respect and look fondly upon many of my favorite books from childhood. These works laid the foundation for my love of reading that continues to this day, and helped steer me away from the vampire-infested abyss that was young adult literature at the time.
I had a veritable holy trinity of children’s fantasy series, which included J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl and Daniel Handler’s, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I even received a signed copy of the final book from “Snicket” reading, “with admiration and dread.” Needless to say, I’m still fangirling over it.
So I was of course excited and highly intrigued when news broke last week that Netflix would be adapting A Series of Unfortunate Events into an original series, with Handler serving as executive producer. This isn’t the first time the series has jumped mediums. The first three books were combined into the 2004 film, which though critically successful, featuring such stars as Meryl Streep, Jude Law and Jim Carrey, failed to inspire future movies.
Handler’s unique blend of dark humor with accessibility for children is a testament to his abilities. One of the greatest aspects of the series is its highly stylistic, seemingly timeless world, which lends a great deal of license and unpredictability to the plot. It’s in this ominous and yet strangely enjoyable setting that the Baudelaire orphans’ narrative unfolds, in what may be best described as a blend of suburban gothic and absurdist fiction. It’s a wonderful, if not sometimes depressing, world for a reader to get lost in.
But my appreciation for the series is tempered by a fair amount of frustration and disappointment over the last installment. After reading the 13th and final book, I was left to puzzle out a plethora of unanswered questions, ambiguous character fates and important plot lines that seemed to go nowhere. What’s particularly maddening is the fact that I do believe Handler had the answers; he just didn’t give them out. The companion books to the series alone prove that he has a well-thought out and complex world of characters and backstories at his disposal.
So is there a greater meaning to his omissions? Perhaps. Do I care about that? No way. Give me closure or give me death.
It’s because of these loose ends that I’m particularly excited about a potential television series, especially with Handler as an executive producer. In adapting and reworking the series for television, perhaps he’ll shed more light, advertently or not, on some of the unanswered questions that have bothered me and other readers since the release of the final book.
I don’t have any nostalgia-fueled misgivings about a potential series. Plenty of television shows have proven that they can hold up to, and even in some ways, improve upon, the original source material. Game of Thrones, Outlander, Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights, the list of popular and critically acclaimed shows based on books stretches on and on. And there’s no reason to think that this trend will be changing anytime soon. With an increasingly volatile television landscape, networks will continue to gravitate toward works with established fan bases.
Though I suspect there will always be talk among the snootiest — and insufferable — of bibliophiles on the possible philistine nature of turning books into television shows; I, for one, see no cause for alarm. While some elements are no doubt lost in translation, the transformation from one media form to another often results in a different understanding of and deeper appreciation for, the original work. Also, we should not undersell the ability of media forms like television to bring new readers to the literary source material. There are benefits for creators in both mediums when television looks to literature for inspiration.
And maybe one day this literary influence will result in a television series in which Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, in an odd couple/bromance vein, travel around solving mysteries, some supernatural in kind, all the while throwing massive shade at transcendentalists. We can only hope that day comes sooner rather than later.