Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Gospel According to Lemony Snicket

Dear Lemony Snicket,

You say, "The world is an awful, dangerous place and the sooner kids learn that, the better."

Oh dear. How true is this? The world is dangerous, without and within. Perhaps, if only the world were dangerous and awful beyond our own selves, then there would be one last safe place, a final safe house to which we could retreat and find our own internal noble selves, and respite. But, dear oh dear, however much we would like, we are not "noble enough" it seems.

Fortunately, as a child, I did not stand on a beach and receive the news that my home had been destroyed in a conflagration. (Used here the word conflagration means "house fire.") And I feel, sometimes, the worse for this, because I ended up naive. (See picture of Pollyanna here.) My education in some ways started way too late. Lemony, you are helping me come to some hard, cold, realizations! As your sister Kit warned at the beginning of the accounting of the 12th unfortunate event, "In every other place on Earth, nobility and integrity are vanishing quickly. If we're not careful, they'll vanish completely. Can you imagine," she asked, "a world in which wickedness and deception were running rampant?" Of course, the Baudelaire children, because of their wide experience in the wicked ways of the world, each nodded affirmatively (used here that means they answered "yes".)

But as I thought about your crusade to rid the world of the ignorance of evil that I had experienced as a child growing to curious adulthood, I was reminded of some preachers I had heard in the Baptist church that I haunted growing up. And I think I cannot fault them for my naivete, for they certainly gave strong and gloomy warnings. And more than a house conflagration, those traveling ministerial bards warned of an eternal burning lake designed for the devil and his angels, but wide enough to consume any number of wicked others.

As a child I did so want the same nobility that the Baudelaire children strive for. And, mind you, I did not wish for posthumous, eternal phlogiston. Phlogiston used in this case refers to rapid oxidation like that which takes place at a girl scout campfire only much bigger and lasting much longer. But I have discovered, like the Baudelaire bunch that the path to nobility is a windy one and peppered with. . . accidents. We become responsible for some of the very destructions we are trying to avoid or prevent. Sigh. And we wonder, if we, after all, are quite as dreadful and wicked as any. I can certainly chorus with Klaus Baudelaire, "I'm not sure we are noble." And hope with all of them that I am, we are, "noble enough." Perhaps that is all we can ask for in this world.

Cultural theorist, which is an expression that means someone who like to sit around and think about why people in groups do such and such a thing, Jean Baudrillard argued that in late Twentieth Century 'global' society the excess of signs and of meaning has caused a (quite paradoxical) effacement of reality. In this world neither liberal or Marxist utopias are any longer believed in. We live, he argued, not in a 'global village,' but rather in a world that is ever more easily petrified by even the smallest event. I don't suppose Baudrillard is related to the Baudelaire children, but he would probably agree that one unfortunate event is like a pebble dropped in a pool that causes ripples across the whole pond. Or as you so pertinently quote the famous unfathomable question from Native Son by Richard Wright, an American novelist of the realist school in The Penultimate Peril, "Who knows when some slight shock, disturbing the delicate balance between social order and thirsty aspiration, shall send the skyscrapers in our cities toppling?" And I suppose that whether the pebbly event has the power to petrify or to cause wholesale collapse really doesn't make much difference. The end is quite nasty either way.

Hm.m.m.m what was my point here? I think that I'm thinking that the gospel according to Lemony Snicket and that of some blustery evangelists is not very gospelesque when you consider that the meaning of the word gospel is good news, and that, oh dear, the idea that the world is a very dangerous place and after that the judgment, is quite bad news indeed.

Perhaps, we need a better gospel. And though, it's true, that we are very rarely noble enough to be saved from the fires of earth and hell, there does seem to be more to life, after all, than just unfortunate events.

With harrowing regards,



Dan Trabue said...

Nicely done! I found myself almost - but not quite - liking LS for the reasons you've spoofed here. I rather liked the locquacious - which here means...well, I'm not entirely certain I've spelled or used the word correctly - asides. At first.

I tired of them after a while, though. And I thought perhaps the glumminess was satire, but remain unconvinced that it is.

Well done, indeed. And nice comparison with many "gospel" preachers (with good news like that, who needs bad news?!)

brd said...

My husband has tired of Lemony quickly also, but we did consider The Penultimate Peril to be philosophically a cut above, which is an expression meaning better, than some of the other books. I haven't read all of the series, but want to read a couple more before I stop. I'd like to read the best ones, but am not sure which they are. Got any thoughts?

Have you read any of his adult fiction?

Dan Trabue said...

I believe I read the first two or three and then stopped. And, no, I've not read any of his adult work.

brd said...

"People aren't either wicked or noble. They're like chef salad."
--Lemony Snicket in The Grim Grotto