“You are not afraid of heights, are you?”
The series follows the adventures of three siblings: the Baudelaire orphans. The narrator explains that very few positive things happen to the children, but much misfortune befalls them. Violet Baudelaire, the eldest, is fourteen when the series begins and is an inventor. Klaus Baudelaire, the middle child, is twelve when the books begin; he loves books and is an extraordinary reader. Sunny Baudelaire is a baby in the beginning of the series, and enjoys biting things; she develops a love for cooking later on in the series. In the early books, Sunny speaks in single word utterances which are often a variety of incomplete sentences or short word sentences. She has four very sharp teeth and loves to bite things. She speaks mostly through random words which only her siblings understand, although her English improves as the series goes on.
The children become orphans after their parents are killed in a fire at the family mansion. In The Bad Beginning, they are sent to live with a distant relative named Count Olaf after briefly living with Mr. Poe, a banker in charge of the orphans’ affairs. The siblings discover that Count Olaf intends to get his hands on the enormous Baudelaire fortune, which Violet is to inherit when she reaches 18 years of age. In the first book, he attempts to marry Violet, pretending it is the storyline for his latest play, but the plan falls through when Violet uses her left hand to sign the marriage document.
In the following six books, Olaf disguises himself, finds the children and, with help from his many accomplices, tries to steal their fortune, committing arson, murder, and many other crimes. Their roles switch in the eighth through twelfth books, in which the orphans adopt disguises while on the run from the police, after Count Olaf frames them for his own murder. The Baudelaires routinely try to get help from Mr. Poe, but he, like many of the adults in the series, is oblivious to the dangerous reality of the children’s situation.
As the books continue, the three children uncover more and more of the mystery surrounding their parents’ deaths and soon find that their parents were in a secret organization, V.F.D., along with several other adults they meet. After the acronym first appears at the end of The Austere Academy, the siblings find several red herrings which share the initials. They then start to meet “volunteers” and gradually learn about the organization, although they discover several mysteries which are never explained. In The Penultimate Peril, the children act as flaneurs, attempting make observations to aid V.F.D. In The End, the children find a diary written by their parents which answers many of their questions, but also raises many more. The narrator does not know what happened to the children after the end of the series.