Misfortune Telling Cards by Lemony Snicket; Illustrated by Brett Helquist
Review by Diane Wilkes

Every now and then, a deck comes into my life that brings me joy and laughter, a joy and laughter made bitter only by the fact that I can't help others who would also enjoy it to get copies of their own. Alas, this is a promotional-only item a friend sent me as a gift. (I hope that's as unfortunate as it gets for me, under the circumstances.)

Still, I can share it with you via review.

Those of you with children (or have an active inner child like myself) probably are all-too-familiar with Lemony Snicket and his series of Unfortunate Event books. I have only read one of them, The Bad Beginning, because it was a bit dark, even for me. But this series of books have become a big hit with children who like the derring-do of Harry Potter, but think Voldemort has his charms, too. I believe there are nine or ten of these books as of this writing (November 2002).

The author describes the series as "a terrible collection of books concerning the lives of the three Baudelaire children," and while the collection may not be terrible, the unfortunate events that befall these children certainly are. In the book I read, their parents die, their guardian tries to starve them, then attempts to trick the oldest (but way-too-young) daughter into marriage in order to get control of the children's money. On the bright side (so to speak), all the Baudelaire children are smart and plucky and manage to escape the worst fates...only to fall into still more horrid ones.

You can see that mere fortune-telling cards would be inappropriate for them. Misfortune is far more fitting, hence the deck's title. Each card, which measures two and a half by four inches, has a pithy fortune (my favorite: "Nine terrible things will happen to you next week, but you will only notice four of them.") and a charming illustration. Backs are not reversible. The cards are simple, with black illustrations on a light tan-colored paper-stock. The cards come in a small manila envelope. Lemony Snicket's instructions are offered after the following caveat: "If you are looking for a fun activity to enjoy with your friends and pass the time, you would be better off polishing your shoes, because this pack of Misfortune Telling Cards is anything but enjoyable. These 26 cards are designed to foretell your miserable fortune, and if I were you, I would put them away and never look at them again." Instructions are simple and amusing, and end with the warning to "Proceed with extreme caution. If rash occurs, discontinue use."

The fortunes themselves come from actual events in the books. "You will find yourself drawn to herpetology" refers to The Reptile Room--at least, that's my guess, as I haven't read it or the other books. But based on (mis)fortunes and images alone, I can guess some of the books from which the cards' phrases are derived.

My kind and generous friend said he got this charming item from Barnes and Noble, but it was a promotional item that went quickly.  I can only suggest you contact your local bookstore and see if they have any available...if you are looking to tell your own misfortune, or the misfortunes of others.

This is a tremendously fun set, though I would only use it on a villain of the first water. I recommend it for collectors and, of course, fans of Lemony Snicket. It might be hard to obtain, though, so in the meantime, you can find out more about the Unfortunate Event books from the Lemony Snicket website...if you dare.

Cards 2002 HarperCollins
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes