This post includes minor spoilers for ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events.’
Like all screen adaptations, Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” takes some liberties with the book series.
Fortunately, though, each of the first season’s eight episodes were written by Daniel Handler, the author of the books, himself. So they’re all at least a part of the original author’s vision.
Many of the changes make sense to keep the plot moving, or to make the show easier to understand. And in many cases, they’re a great opportunity to revisit what was so special about the books in the first place.
Here are six major changes between the books and Netflix version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
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 prominent in 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. What, exactly, is his involvement with the Baudelaires? Where is he, and when is he speaking from? Will we see him interact with anyone later in the series, or will he remain as just a narrator?
The weird metal V.F.D.-monogrammed spyglass Klaus picks up is a totally new invention in the television show. It helps decode messages written in Sebald Code, a secret code developed by V.F.D. members to communicate with each other. But in the books, the characters just decode messages manually.
In 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' (in 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.
In 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 (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 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.'
Most of the first season leads us on with what might be a huge twist: the Baudelaire parents might be alive after all.
In the seventh episode, 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.'
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