Author Daniel Handler ’92 enjoys a prolific career as a celebrated novelist, best known for using the pseudonym Lemony Snicket to publish A Series of Unfortunate Events. This 13-book series about three orphaned children and their increasingly tumultuous lives—which has been adapted for film, video games and, most recently, a Netflix series—established Handler as an appealingly sinister storyteller, a writer with a penchant for narratives without happy endings. The first episode of Articulate on PBS delves into some of Handler’s inspirations and how he came to develop his dark approach to children’s writing.
In the clip, titled “The Very Fortunate Daniel Handler,” he points out that one goal of his writing is to create worlds more exciting than the one we are offered. But while his stories teeter on the absurd and fantastical, they largely operate by exploring the tragic realities of the world we already inhabit—the kind of grim truths that children are already catching onto and, Handler argues, deserve to have addressed. As a young kid, with a father who had escaped Nazi Germany and a family that discussed war as a standard topic of conversation, it was made clear that the human experience could be dark and disastrous. A reflection of his upbringing, Handler refuses to sugarcoat misfortune or grief for his readers, regardless of their age.
As for how Wesleyan played into his journey as a writer, Handler gives the school a special shout-out in the video:
“I think I just had a fantasy in my head of what a college education was, which was a New England old college with beautiful buildings and big lawns…” he noted. “When I visited Wesleyan they let me sit in on this class that was studying poetry all around a table … which was very much what I pictured studying literature would be like. And so I ate that right up and then I actually took that class when I was at Wesleyan, and every day two or three people visited. It was clearly the class that they sent people to who liked literature. So that was really hypnotic to me.”
Watch Daniel Handler’s episode of Articulate here: