Warning: This post includes spoilers for “A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix.
- Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is adapted from the book series of the same name.
- Some of the show’s changes are minor.
- But other changes deviate from the book entirely.
Like all screen adaptations, Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” takes some liberties with the book series.
Fortunately, though, the series is partially written by Daniel Handler, the author of the books. So they’re all at least a part of the original author’s vision.
Many of the changes make sense to grow the universe of the series, keep the plot moving, fill out more character detail, or make the show easier to understand. In many cases, they’re a great opportunity to revisit what’s so special about the books in the first place.
Here are 16 major changes between the books and Netflix’s version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Lemony Snicket’s character is way more involved.
Lemony Snicket is the series’s narrator and pen name for Daniel Handler. He’s also a minor character in the books and a member of V.F.D.
And while he’s a prominent authorial voice in the books, his character is way more important on the Netflix series. He steps in onscreen every few scenes to explain to the audience what’s happening, and to fill in more details and context the Baudelaires might not yet know.
His prominence onscreen raises questions that were largely unaddressed in Handler’s books. Overall, he seems to exist some time after everything happened with the Baudelaires and retracing their steps. On the second season, his brother, Jacques, becomes a character.
Lemony finally interacts with the orphans on the third season after his sister, Kit Snicket, takes the children to the Hotel Denouement. He later meets Beatrice Baudelaire the second, his sister’s daughter, and she starts to recount the story of how the Baudelaires got off the island on “The End.”
You won’t read about the spyglass in the books.
The weird metal V.F.D.-monogrammed spyglass Klaus picks up is a totally new invention on the television show.
On the first season, the spyglass helps decode messages written in Sebald Code, a secret code developed by V.F.D. members to communicate with each other. But in the “Reptile Room” books, the characters just decode messages manually.
On the second season, the spyglass reveals more purposes. It connects with a similar one owned by Duncan and Isadora Quagmore in “The Austere Academy” episodes, suggesting their fates are connected with the Baudelaire orphans. It also helps the Baudelaire orphans escape from an elevator shaft in “The Ersatz Elevator” by creating heat, which Violet fashions into a hot air balloon-like contraption. In the books, they just climb up.
The spyglass returns on the third season.
The inventor of Sebald Code, Gustav Sebald, is mentioned only in passing in the novels.
On the show, though, he’s a fully-fledged character.
Gustav is mentioned as Montgomery Montgomery’s herpetological assistant in “The Reptile Room,” who Count Olaf drowned in The Swarthy Swamp so he could be replaced by Olaf himself, under the guise of “Stephano” (on the show, Gustav drowns in a “reflecting pond.”)
He is also a filmmaker, directing “Zombies in the Snow,” which the children, Uncle Monty, and Count Olaf watch in “The Reptile Room.” In addition, he invented Sebald Code.
On the TV show, he and Jacqueline, another character who isn’t in the books, are both V.F.D. members who try to help out the Baudelaire orphans without bringing attention to themselves.
Jacqueline Scieszka doesn’t appear in the books at all.
Jacqueline (spelled “Jacquelyn” at some points in the series), like Gustav, is working behind-the-scenes to keep the Baudelaires safe. She’s a member of V.F.D. who installs herself as Mr. Poe’s secretary and later disguises herself as a statue in Uncle Monty’s hedge maze.
She confronts Count Olaf near the end of “The Reptile Room” and brandishes a harpoon gun in the skirmish.
In fact, the entire narrative with V.F.D. members is totally new.
The Netflix version of the show basically follows two plot strands: One is about the Baudelaires shuttling from guardian to guardian, evading the capture of Count Olaf. The other is about the V.F.D. members – like Sebald, Scieszka, and Jacques Snicket – trying and failing to foil Olaf’s plans and help the Baudelaires.
The second part isn’t in the books at all, and that’s the biggest change in the series. Although there are some V.F.D. members who explicitly help the Baudelaires, like Kit Snicket, they appear later on the series and are almost entirely off screen.
Barry Sonnenfeld, the showrunner of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” told INSIDER that he had the benefit of having all 13 books already written when the show was being made.
“We, in hindsight, were able to lay in certain characters and give them internal arcs into the season,” Sonnenfeld said. “The books weren’t able to do. So I think that our episodes are actually even more layered in terms of character arcs than his books were.”
Sunny’s speech contains a lot of puns.
On the Netflix series, Sunny Baudelaire, the infant Baudelaire sibling, speaks in baby gibberish. The show gives us subtitles to understand what she’s saying, but only her siblings seem to completely understand her within the world of the show itself.
Handler, in the books, gives her speech several layers of wordplay. She speaks in phonetic English, in Hebrew, and sprinkles in a lot of pop culture references.
For example, she says “Ackroid!” to mean “Roger!” in reference to the Agatha Christie character. In “The Carnivorous Carnival,” she says “Karneez” to refer to the carnies with phonetic English.
And in “The Slippery Slope,” she tells Count Olaf “Busheney.” “Sheney” in Hebrew means “second,” and “Bush” likely refers to a certain former president.” Snicket tells us that “Busheney” means “you’re an evil man with no concern whatsoever for other people.”
The whole twist with the parents at the end of the first season? Not in the book.
Most of the first season leads us on with what might be a huge twist: The Baudelaire parents might be alive after all.
On the seventh episode of the first season, we learn that the cryptic characters “Mother” and “Father” are actually the Quagmire parents, who are killed in circumstances similar to the Baudelaire parents.
There’s no such suspense in the books. It’s made clear from the beginning that the Baudelaire parents are definitely dead, and the sense of hopelessness never lets up.
Their saga does manage to creatively repurpose some of the jokes in the book, though. For instance, as they travel from Peru back to their children, they get in a fight with a refrigerator repairman, which recalls a funny passage in “The Miserable Mill” where Snicket warns against trusting “refrigerator repair-people.”
Madame Lulu’s character is totally different.
The big twist on the second season could have been seen from miles away for readers of the books, but only if you caught a subtle hint.
On the Netflix show, the librarian from Prufrock Preparatory School tries to help the Baudelaires and is recruited by Jacqueline Scieszka and Jacques Snicket into V.F.D. She tells Snicket that her name is Olivia Caliban.
Readers of the books will know that Olivia Caliban is the name of Madame Lulu, the morally ambivalent owner of the Caligari Carnival, who wavers on helping out the Baudelaires or allying with Count Olaf.
On the show, Madame Lulu is a V.F.D. pseudonym with an identity held by different people at different times. Caliban is disguised as Lulu when the Baudelaires arrive and tries to help them and undermine Olaf.
The previous Madame Lulu, before Caliban arrived, is someone else entirely. The show doesn’t name her, but she’s likely Kit Snicket, played by Allison Williams.
There are no musical sequences in the books.
Although Daniel Handler cites Roald Dahl as an influence for “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and references some poetry throughout the books, he doesn’t write any songs. The musical sequences are unique to the TV show.
Mr. Poe’s wife edits The Daily Punctilio.
As the Baudelaires go from place to place, their guardianship is under the loose supervision of Mr. Poe, the banker at Mulctuary Money Management, which contains the Baudelaire fortune until Violet comes of age. Throughout the series, Mr. Poe is useless and easily impressionable. His neglect allows Count Olaf to remain close to the children.
On the Netflix series, what makes Mr. Poe’s behaviour even more horrifying is that his wife, Eleanora, edits The Daily Punctilio, the newspaper that covers the Baudelaires’ affairs and often gets things wrong. It’s The Daily Punctilio, for example, that accuses the Baudelaires of setting fire to Lucky Smells Lumber Mill in “The Miserable Mill” and killing Jacques Snicket in “The Vile Village.” In reality, Count Olaf was guilty of both.
In the book series, Eleanora isn’t much of a character. Instead, it’s Geraldine Julienne who’s a reporter at the Punctilio and gets everything wrong. She follows around Olaf as a sycophantic hanger-on and doesn’t care about the fate of the Baudelaires.
Mr. Poe also has an expanded part on the show, often appearing wherever the orphans are. He meets Kit Snicket on Mount Fraught on “The Slippery Slope.”
The Snicket File is a film.
While in the book series The Snicket File is a 13-page document that presumably has enough evidence to convict Count Olaf and may have proof that one of the Baudelaires’ parents survived. On the show, it’s a film, instead, which works much better with the visual medium.
It’s obvious that Mrs. Bass stole the Baudelaire fortune.
In “The Penultimate Peril” book, it’s suggested that Mrs. Bass – the metric system-obsessed maths teacher at Prufrock Preparatory school – stole the Baudelaire fortune from Mulctuary Money Management without anyone noticing. It’s a dark joke. The Baudelaires are trying to save their skin from Count Olaf, who wants their fortune, when it was stolen months before anyone could get to it.
The Netflix show makes it much more obvious. Mrs. Bass apparently knows everything about the Baudelaires. Just look at the Easter eggs on her blackboard. And in “The Carnivorous Carnival” episodes, Mrs. Bass shows up in the audience in disguise, dragging bags of cash with her.
She is caught stealing the fortune from Mulctuary Money Management on the series. On “The Penultimate Peril: Part One,” Babs, from Heimlich Hospital, mentions that her love is in prison for bank robbery, implying that she is dating Mrs. Bass.
Count Olaf’s troupe members die in the books.
Count Olaf has a few troupe members who help him carry out his villainous deeds. In the book series, he gains a few and lets a few die. The Bald Man, for example, dies after he’s pushed into a pit of lions at the Caligari Carnival and eaten. And the Henchman of Indeterminate Gender dies in the fire at the Heimlich Hospital.
On the Netflix series, none of the bad guys die.
At the end of “The Slippery Slope,” the Bald Man, White-Faced Women, and Henchman of Indeterminate Gender leave Count Olaf after refusing to throw Sunny over the side of the mountain. In the books, Hooky gets caught in the net the eagles fly off with, but on the series, he ends up with his sister.
The Man with a Beard but No Hair and Woman with Hair but No Beard play a larger role on the series.
In the books, The Man with a Beard but No Hair and Woman with Hair but No Beard are terrifying villains but aren’t often mentioned.
On the series, the villains explicitly state that they mentored Count Olaf. They try to stop Kit Snicket from getting the sugar bowl by sending eagles after her. They also burn down all of the Snow Scout’s homes.
The contents of the sugar bowl are revealed.
In the books, the answer to what is in the sugar bowl is never revealed. It’s a mysterious object that many powerful people are after, but that’s it.
But on the series, Kit informs the children that inside the sugar bowl are sugar cubes that are a hybrid that both cures and immunizes people from the killer Medusoid Mycelium.
Everyone’s fates are revealed.
The book leaves essentially every character with an ambiguous fate, but the show clarifies what happens:
- Olaf’s living henchpeople became a famous theatre troupe, except for Hooky, who is with his sister, Fiona. Hooky and Fiona end up finding their father.
- Quigley successfully reunites with his siblings Duncan and Isadora on the Self-Sustaining Hot Air Mobile Home.
- The Incredibly Deadly Viper saves the islanders who sailed away from the island by swimming to them with an apple that holds the cure to the Medusoid Mycelium.
- The Baudelaires successfully sail away from the island and raise Kit’s baby as Beatrice Baudelaire the second.
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