One of my favorite discoveries as an adult is that I can love favorite books from my childhood in new ways. In preparation for the Netflix adaptation, I re-read all thirteen books in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Re-reading it with an adult’s perspective, I found myself taking note of how the adults in the series help and hinder the Baudelaire orphans throughout their unfortunate journey. These characters provide a pretty good roadmap for what NOT to do when it comes to interacting with, protecting, and caring for children. Of course, every person makes mistakes and has flaws, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a good guardian or keep children out of danger.
Dismissing what children say
Mr. Poe believes children are inferior in every way to adults, and therefore whatever they say, think, or feel is wrong or doesn’t matter. One of the worst instances of this is in The Bad Beginning when the children visit Poe after Count Olaf has struck Klaus across the face. Mr. Poe barely acknowledges the abuse and instead tells the kids that Count Olaf can treat them however he likes because he is their legal guardian. He also blames the other valid complaints from the children on their flawed perspective due to the privileged upbringing.
Work comes first
Throughout the series, Mr. Poe often talks about his promotions as well as the need to be at the office because he is very busy. This leads to him dropping the kids off at their new place of residence without meeting the new guardian or giving the place a proper look over. In The Miserable Mill, he doesn’t even get off the train, and the children discover they will be living in a mill where they’ll live and work as employees.
Similarly, in The Reptile Room, Uncle Monty is so ecstatic about his upcoming work trip that he can’t spare a moment to listen to the Baudelaires when they try to tell him in private that his new assistant is actually Count Olaf in disguise. While Uncle Monty would have been a great guardian for the children, his enthusiasm for his work ultimately led to neglecting their safety and his own death.
Despite Kit Snicket’s desire for the Baudelaires and her own child to have the best, she repeatedly prioritizes her own work and missions for V.F.D. over the well-being of the children. She leaves the Baudelaires to take care of themselves at Hotel Denouement instead of never letting them near the dangerous circumstances. After she has her own child and dies, she leaves the newborn in the hands of the Baudelaires to raise.
Flattery wins you over easily
Olaf quickly wins Justice Strauss’ favor and attention by asking her to be a part of his theatrical production, and making a lifelong dream come true. He schmoozes further by asking of her to use her law expertise to play a very realistic judge who presides over the wedding in the play. The Baudelaire orphans quickly see through Olaf’s scheme, and try to tell Strauss so that she can stop it, but her excitement over this role causes her to completely ignore the children and allow the scheme to play out.
Aunt Josephine has a long list of phobias and most of them are a little out there. Even when she recognizes the villainy of a disguised Olaf, she can’t manage to push through her anxiety to protect the kids. She’d rather fake her death and hide out in a cave for the rest of her life than pick up a telephone to call the police or Mr. Poe.
In The Vile Village, handyman Hector is too scared to speak around the Council of Elders. Even when the town declares the Baudelaires murderers and wants to burn them at the stake, he can’t summon the bravery to speak up. His silence only aids the villains in this village.
The little details get in the way of the big picture
A lover of grammar, Aunt Josephine tends to get caught up in misplaced commas rather than Count Olaf (disguised as Captain Sham) and what his scheme is this time around. This attention to detail regularly prevents her from keeping abreast of the bigger issues and the greater treachery looming over her and the children (and it’s not just the hurricane).
How it’s said is more important that what is being said
Another foible brought on by her love of grammar, Aunt Josephine is more concerned by the children’s mistakes in their speech then what they’re actually trying to tell her. The orphans struggle and fail to get their messages across to her, and everyone suffers from so much misinformation.
Unwillingness to Escape Unhealthy Relationships
Despite having equal authority and ownership of the mill, Charles lets his partner Sir call all the shots, even when Charles recognizes that the children are not being treated appropriately. The decisions Sir and the other mill workers make without any redirection from Charles lead to the endangerment of the children and multiple accidents at the mill.
Similar to Charles, Jerome never manages to stand up for himself or the needs of the children, even when he knows what’s best for them. Instead, he lets Esmé call the shots as to when they will become the guardians of the orphans, how he will spend his time, and what he will do or not do for the Baudelaires. In fact, he doesn’t manage to escape Esmé until she runs off with Count Olaf. This abusive, imbalanced relationship does no favors for the children.
Censorship and Keeping Secrets
In The Vile Village, the Baudelaires stay in a town where most books, all tools, and many important aspects of the legal system have been outlawed. This censorship strips the Baudelaires of the resources they need to save themselves.
Captain Widdershins has a lot of knowledge about the secret organization, its work, and the schism the children are investigating and trying to understand so they can understand their own family’s history and misfortunes. This form of “protection” ends up keeping important, useful information from the children as they try to escape Olaf’s clutches once more.
Ishmael, the island facilitator, in The End, lies a lot, but he believes it to be a means of protection from truths and knowledge that previously led to mutiny. Like so many adults the Baudelaires have encountered before, his measures to ensure peace and safety fail and lead to danger, death, and misinformation.
Unwavering Authority or Beliefs
Rules don’t necessarily make for a better life. In The Vile Village, the Baudelaires stay in a town governed by over two-thousand (mostly asinine) rules. This legislature and the blind following of them only aid in spreading false information, not giving the children a fair trial, and following the ideas and malicious schemes of a few disguised villains.
Captain Widdershins won’t stand for anyone saying anything that remotely sounds like a command. This authoritarian approach doesn’t help anyone, and prevents the children’s good ideas from ever being put into play. Likewise, the captain’s unwillingness to defer some of his power or approach a problem from a different angle leads to a limited number of options for the kids as they try to preserve their safety. Similar to life in the vile village, these rules prevent the orphans from reaching safety or getting the justice they seek.
Running away instead of staying and putting up a fight
Hector never seems to realize his rights or power as a member of this village. Even before the Baudelaires arrived, he was working on a way to escape with no intentions to express his grievances beforehand or seek other townspeople who feel similarly. In some ways, this village remains vile because he’d rather leave than make any attempts to improve it.
Hal’s adherence to not reading the files stored at the hospital as well as believing everything published in the newspaper, The Daily Punctilio, causes him to never ponder what is true or factual. This leads to him joining in the mob of people who believe the Baudelaires to be murderers, and also blaming them for setting fire to the Library of Records. His disinterest in seeking outside sources or engaging with the abundance of information around him ultimately leads to further endangerment of the children.
Appeasing and aiding everyone
Despite knowing many of her clients are up to no good, Madame Lulu still helps them because it’s easier for her to have everyone be happy and get what they want than to deal with the backlash. Her decisions to help everyone doesn’t save her from death brought on by the bad guys who are always acting selfishly and unfairly, nor does it help the Baudelaires escape safely.
As I examine the flaws of the adults the Baudelaires encounter and are endangered by, they seem like timely messages for adults everywhere who are trying to make the right choices, not only to protect and help themselves, but to also give children a good future. While we strive to do our best by children and not emulate these unfortunate instances of adulting, I think it would be a Very Fitting Decision to take some notes from the Baudelaires who seek knowledge, offer kindness, and practice positivity even in the worst circumstances.
Featured Image: Brett Helquist