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Daniel Handler evokes Lemony Snicket persona during Berkeley Forum talk

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GAVIN SAGASTUME | STAFF

During the event, it was noted that Handler’s work contains content that may be considered dark for children’s literature, such as drug use and suicide.

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NOVEMBER 15, 2022

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” author Daniel Handler made an appearance at UC Berkeley on Nov. 1 for a “fireside chat” hosted by Berkeley Forum. 

While Handler’s work is internationally acclaimed — he received both the Peabody and Writers Guild of America Award — fans of his novels may be unfamiliar with his name. Some of Handler’s most famous works are published under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, a moniker that was first introduced as a means of maintaining anonymity but later evolved into a narrating character in the books themselves, according to Handler. 

Dressed in a gray-collared shirt and suit jacket, rolled up jeans and bright yellow “lemony” Doc Martens — a nod to the character — Handler ensured that the night was full of laughter as he provided insight into what it means to be a modern-day children’s book writer. 

Handler said during the event that his goal is to allow readers a “sacred” and “magical” opportunity to imagine themselves as part of the book. 

Just as a hairbrush can transform into a microphone for a center-stage performer, he noted that this sort of consciousness gets “taken away” from readers the older they get. 

During the event, it was noted that Handler’s work contains content that may be considered dark for children’s literature. Specifically, “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which was eventually adapted into a Netflix television series in 2017, includes some of these more mature themes. 

The series follows a group of orphans who “have terrible things happen to them over and over again,” according to Handler. Drinking, drug use and suicide — among other sensitive topics — appear in the books more than once. 

In response, Handler noted that children’s culture has become more “conservative.” He added that if he were to propose “A Series of Unfortunate Events” now, he is unsure it would be published. 

The author said during the event, however, that he cautions against feeding children “a lie about the world.” Bad things happen even to those who behave, and he added that he hopes his books acknowledge the “chaos of the world.” 

According to Handler, he would make up elaborate stories as to why Lemony Snicket wasn’t in attendance during his appearances at schools and literature functions. 

But throughout his talk it was clear that the curious character was in fact present. From the candor of Handler’s voice, the yellow glow of the shoes and the outpouring of love for “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” it was clear the ways in which Handler’s contributions to the literary world defined and shaped the lives of the people in the room.

Contact Ava Andrews at 

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NOVEMBER 15, 2022