The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning the first novel of the children's novel series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The novel tells the story of three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who become orphans following a fire and are sent to live with Count Olaf, who attempts to steal their inheritance.

The Bad Beginning
US Cover of The Bad Beginning
AuthorLemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler)
IllustratorBrett Helquist
Cover artistBrett Helquist
CountryUnited States
SeriesA Series of Unfortunate Events
GenreGothic fiction
Absurdist fiction
Publication date
September 30, 1999
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Fic 21
LC ClassPZ7.S6795 Bad 1999
Followed byThe Reptile Room 

The book was published on September 30, 1999, by Scholastic Inc. and illustrated by Brett Helquist. An audiobook was released in 2003, several special editions of the book have been made and the book has been translated into many different languages.


Violet Baudelaire is fourteen years old and loves creating amazing inventions; Klaus Baudelaire is twelve and an obsessive reader; Sunny Baudelaire is a baby and uses words only her siblings and parents understand and has several surprisingly large and sharp buckteeth. The children are told by a family friend, Mr. Poe, that their parents have died in a fire that destroyed their home. They are placed in the care of Count Olaf, said to be a distant relative although the children had never heard of him before. Olaf's ramshackle house is filthy and covered in disconcerting eye images; it has a tower which the Baudelaires are forbidden from entering. Count Olaf is unpleasant, easily angered, and forces the children to perform odious chores. It becomes clear that Count Olaf is scheming to collect the Baudelaire's fortune.

One day, the Baudelaires are set the task of making dinner for Olaf and his theater troupe. They make puttanesca, but when Olaf arrives, he demands roast beef. The children remind him that he never asked them to make roast beef, and Olaf becomes angry, lifting Sunny into the air and striking Klaus across the face after Klaus tells everyone Count Olaf has given them only one bed.

Olaf demands that the children perform in his new play in which Violet will marry Olaf. The children realize something is amiss and use the library of their friendly but credulous and inept neighbor, Justice Strauss, to research law. Klaus learns that the marriage in the play will be legally binding, meaning Olaf will gain control of their fortune. He confronts Olaf, who gets one of his associates to put Sunny in a birdcage, dangling from outside the window of his tower. He threatens to kill her if Klaus and Violet do not follow his plan. Violet constructs a makeshift grappling hook and uses it to climb the tower. She finds the hook-handed man (a member of Olaf's theater troupe) waiting to capture her. Klaus is brought up to the tower and they are locked together in the room until the play begins.

After Violet signs the marriage document, Olaf interrupts to tell the audience that their wedding was legally binding. Justice Strauss and Mr. Poe both object, but concede that the law requires them to hand over the Baudelaire fortune to Olaf. Violet interrupts to proclaim that the marriage was not legally binding, as she signed with her left hand despite being right-handed. Justice Strauss agrees that this invalidates the marriage. Before Olaf can be arrested for locking up Sunny, one of his associates turns the lights in the theater off and he is able to escape. Justice Strauss tells the Baudelaires that she is willing to adopt them; however, Mr. Poe says that this would go against their parents' will, as Justice Strauss is not their relative. He takes them back to his household until he can find another guardian for them.

Critical reception

In 2012, School Library Journal named The Bad Beginning the 48th best children's novel.[1] 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."[2] The review went on to laud Helquist for his "exquisitely detailed" and "elegantly designed" artwork.[2] 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."[3] 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".[4] Catherine Pelosi of Kids' Book Review responded positively to The Bad Beginning, describing it as "exciting, humorous and appropriately dark".[5]

Special editions

The Bad Beginning: Rare Edition

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 excessively detailed information about the events in The Bad Beginning itself.

The Bad Beginning; or, Orphans!

The Bad Beginning: or, Orphans! is a paperback edition of The Bad Beginning designed to mimic a Victorian penny dreadful.[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]

Other special editions

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. 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, A Conversation Between the Author and Leonard S. Marcus, which won an "Earphones Award" on AudioFile, which described the audiobook as "fabulously funny" and complimented the conversation involving Handler.[8]

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,[9] and a Grammy Award Nominee for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2005.[10] AudioFile gave the audiobook a positive review, although stated that "the cast of seven at first sound self-consciously formal until one realizes that the acting is supposed to be as mannered as the clever writing".[11]



The book was adapted into the first two episodes of the first season of the television series adaptation produced by Netflix.


Elements of The Bad Beginning were featured in the 2004 film adaptation of the first three books in the series, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.


Most foreign editions have borne titles which are direct translations of the phrase "the bad beginning", including:

  • Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian Loš početak (Algoritam, 2001: ISBN 953-6450-77-1);
  • Brazilian Portuguese Mau Começo, translated by Carlos Sussekind (Companhia das Letras, 1999: ISBN 85-359-0094-2);
  • Czech Zlý začátek, translated by Eva Brdičková (Egmont ČR, 2001: ISBN 80-7186-600-8);
  • Dutch Het Bittere Begin, translated by Huberte Vriesendorp (Ploegsma, 2006: ISBN 978-90-216-1520-2);
  • Finnish Ankea alku, translated by Mika Ojakangas (WSOY, 2001: ISBN 952-5418-00-6);
  • Greek: "Η Κακή Αρχή", translated by Χαρά Γιαννακοπούλου (Ελληνικά Γράμματα, 2002:960-406-186-0);
  • Italian Un infausto inizio, translated by Valentina Daniele (Salani, 2003: ISBN 88-7782-951-6);
  • Norwegian En grufull begynnelse, translated by Alexander Melli (Cappelen Damm, 2000: ISBN 9788202189471);
  • Polish Przykry początek (The Unpleasant Beginning), translated by Jolanta Kozak (Wydawnictwo Egmont Polska, 2008: ISBN 83-237-1449-5);
  • Romanian Început îndoliat (Egmont, 2002: ISBN 973-583-363-8); Înneguratul început (Arthur, 2017)
  • Russian Скверное начало (Azbuka-Klassika, 2003: ISBN 5-352-00360-4);
  • Spanish Un mal principio, translated by Néstor Busquets (Montena, 2004: ISBN 0-307-20934-2);
  • Swedish En olustig början (Richters, 2002: ISBN 91-7711-334-9);
  • Turkish Kötü Günler Başlarken (Doğan Egmont, 2002: ISBN 978-975-323-582-2).

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).


  1. Bird, Elizabeth (May 28, 2012). "Top 100 Children's Novels #48: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket". School Library Journal. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  2. "Review from Publishers Weekly". Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  3. "Review from Library Journal". Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  4. "Review from Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. July 15, 1999. Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  5. Pelosi, Catherine (August 9, 2011). "Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning". Kids' Book Review. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  6. A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning, By Lemony Snicket, Illustrated by Brett Helquist: Harper-Collins Children's Books
  7. Mitchell-Marell, Gabrielle. "Now for the Unfortunate Paperbacks..." Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 11, 2007.
  8. "A Series of Unfortunate Events #1". AudioFile. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  9. "Audies Gala 2005 Winners and Nominees". Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  10. "Complete list of Grammy Award nominations". February 8, 2006. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  11. "A Series of Unfortunate Events #1". AudioFile. December 2004. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
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