wayfarers all

children's literature, childhood and culture (and anything else that strikes my fancy).

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Location: pittsburgh, U.S. Outlying Islands

carbon-based life form: thinking, reading and gardening. New College alum; current grad student writing a dissertation. I specialize in children's literature, media, and culture, and queer/gender studies, with a strong interest in 19th century British literature and culture. I like history, a lot.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

the penultimate peril

i just finished the penultimate peril (book 12 in the series of unfortunate events) and i have to say again that lemony snicket (aka daniel handler) is a genius. it's not very interesting or original to point out how delightfully postmodern the entire series is, but this is one of the things i love best about the books. i also revel in the self-referentiality, the attention to language and the very obvious love of literature the books reveal.

a few years ago, i wrote a not-very-good paper for a children's lit class that tried to talk about the carnivalesque and the series of unfortunate events (and weetzie bat). the main text i ended up looking at was book 9, The Carnivorous Carnival (weirdly coincidental; i wasn't discussing carnivalesque because the book actually features a carnival).

like i say, it wasn't a terribly good paper, although i suspect now I could write a better one. but what intrigued me about the carnivorous carnival is the way that disguise operated, and the way that the lines between good and bad became very, very blurred - which is what is happening (or so it seems) in The Penultimate Peril (and perhaps in the series as a whole?).

poorly defined good vs. evil is often interesting because it does raise extremely relevant questions about human nature. The Penultimate Peril sets up its binaries - noble and wicked, volunteer and villain - but then confuses and confounds these binaries to the point of irrelevance.

this is great. it's fascinating and makes for good reading but i think, just as importantly, it pushes on what's acceptable in children's literature. children's texts - fantasy perhaps most obviously - is often criticized for oversimplifying the struggle of good vs. evil (Harry Potter might be a good example of this). I hear the common remark that acquaintances don't enjoy children's texts because of this perceived simplification, the perceive lack of complexity of human behavior. And though it's cloaked in clever allusions and humor, i think the Series of Unfortunate Events is counteracting this by presenting us with a very complex meditation on the nature of good and evil, of nobility and wickedness - or, if you rather, the line between volunteer and villain.

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