Bridgette Redman's Reviews > The Beatrice Letters

The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket
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's review
Feb 08, 2012

really liked it
Read in January, 2006

I suppose that when an author has sold millions of books in a very short amount of time, it becomes possible for him to convince a publisher to produce a most unconventional book. It’s certainly what Daniel Handler, pardon me—Lemony Snicket, has done with the Beatrice Letters.

Perhaps “book” isn’t the correct word. It’s far closer to a puzzle or a bookshelf game than a mere book of black and white pages.

Released on Sept. 6, 2006, the Beatrice Letters are said to contain clues to the Oct. 13th release of The End, book the thirteenth in the Series of Unfortunate Events. After reading it through three times last night, playing with all of the letters and going through all sorts of possible puzzle mixes and anagrams, I must confess that I’m completely befuddled. Maybe I’m too old to figure it out?

Feat of Creative Publishing

The Beatrice Letters are the most expensive book in the series yet at $19.99, but given the high quality and the difficult print requirements, I find it amazing that they were able to keep the price so low. What makes this different from a standard book?

First, it’s set up as a hard cover accordion file with punched out letters. Inside are two folders, one for letters and the other for letters. (Yes, I know, but that’s what it is. There are letters and there are letters you see, and all of them have their places and their orders.) The book is then bound with a rubber band-type latch. Inside the first pocket is a two-sided poster filled, supposedly, with clues. Certainly it is an ominous picture with items from many of the main characters.

The second pocket contains a tape-bound book of letters and letters. There are punch-out letters on full-color pages that coordinate with the poster and there are letters from Lemony Snicket to Beatrice (I shan’t reveal her last name just yet. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for you.) and from Beatrice to Lemony Snicket. There is also some communication between Lemony Snicket and his publisher.

This tape-bound book is truly a feat of creative publishing and some editor and production artist is to be truly commended. Not only are there punch-out letters on most of the verso pages, but there are “exhibits” that are taped to recto pages. There is one letter that folds out to multiple pages. There are folded notes that open. There is a multitude of typefaces. There is a telegram that is sideways. All of this printed in glorious, glossy, full color.

But here I am going on about the physical shape of the book. It’s just that what they’ve done is so notable and (dare I say) unique that it would be criminal to not mention it.

Puzzling puzzles

Now, were I a more clever reviewer, I would try to give you this review as a puzzle or in a code. But I’m far too humbled by the skills of Daniel Handler, I mean, Lemony Snicket to risk being a pale, pale shadow in comparison to his genius. For this book is quite the puzzle and one that has me mostly stymied. I spent a couple hours moving the letters around, scouring for clues, and writing out possibilities and I’m still mostly stymied. I thought a few times I had the puzzle figured out, but the solution my methods generated were useless. I finally ended up with one clue that might make sense once I start reading book the thirteenth.

It’s almost like a junior DaVinci Code where the knowledge needed must be taken from the dozen books that have come before. It’s a motherlode of fun for people who have studied each of the books and read them over multiple times, paying attention to off-the-cuff hints and one-time mentions.

The book itself gives no instructions for what to do. In fact, it isn’t a book that would in any way standalone as it would leave the reader even more confused.

The Code, or Who is Beatrice?

The Beatrice Letters does reveal some secrets, though in a rather circular sort of fashion. I still don’t know exactly who Beatrice is for even as the letters revealed more about her, it cloaked her further in secrecy. Quite the accomplishment! Lemony Snicket has you thinking things are in code which turn out not to be. He also made it quite difficult to figure out when in a timeline things occurred, though I was left desperately trying to figure it out. In fact, at one point I wondered whether Lemony Snicket was planning to sneak a teenage pregnancy in on us.

I encourage you to stick with the letters—there aren’t very many of them—even if you feel completely confused or if the letters seem to make no sense. Eventually at least a little bit is clear and you can go back and read the letters again for them to make more sense.

Now, it may be possible that the Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket would reveal some further clues that would make this book’s code easier to crack. I haven’t read that yet, so I can’t tell you. I do know that I’m going to be going back through the book now that I’ve given up trying to solve the anagram and see whether such codes as grammatical errors and every 11th word reveal anything. Maybe there is some Verbal Fridge Dialogue hidden among the pages?

Lemony Snicket has certainly made sure that his fans will have something to do while waiting for the final book to be released on Friday the 13th. But he may need to go deeper into hiding from those readers who are ready to lynch him for making it so difficult!

P.S. The cover art also contains a clue, but it's far more clever once you've read all the letters.
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