In the early 2000s, when I was in fourth grade, a classmate claimed to have found a book that was ripping off Harry Potter. He showed me the first book in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series, titled, The Bad Beginning. He pointed at the young character, Klaus Baudelaire, on the cover and claimed that he looked exactly like the similarly young Potter. I agreed.
Neither of us had read “A Series of Unfortunate Events” at that time and, admittedly, I still haven’t. On top of this, I also remember being a huge Harry Potter fan and my loose recollection is that this classmate was one, too. Especially given our age, we likely had a comically large personal stake in believing the likeness of our favorite wizard was getting unfairly copied.
But still ― despite my clear bias from childhood ― don’t these two characters objectively look way, way, way too similar for debuting just years apart?
A few brief points:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone as I knew it in the United States) debuted in 1997.
The Bad Beginning from the “Unfortunate Events” series debuted in 1999.
Both were young, white, well-dressed characters that donned middle parts.
Both had “unique” circular glasses frames.
Both were orphans in tragic circumstances.
Although the book doesn’t explicitly say this, fans have assumed that The Bad Beginning takes place in London. Harry Potter is British.
The actor who played Baudelaire in the movie adaptation, Liam Aiken, was originally a lead candidate to play Harry Potter before Daniel Radcliffe won the role in the film series.
A reporter for The New York Times Magazine actually had this same question back in 2001, when both series were still in the beginning of their paths to eventual stratospheric popularity. The writer, Daphne Merkin, claims in the piece that when asking “Unfortunate Events” author Daniel Handler (pen name Lemony Snicket) about the resemblance, the series’ author “shoo[ed] away the question.”
All Handler is quoted as saying in response to the suggestion that Baudelaire is a Potter look-alike is, “All bookish white boys with glasses look alike. They both look like the kid in ‘Half Magic.’”
Now that more than 15 years have passed since that interview and the Netflix version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is debuting this Friday, I figured I’d reach out to Handler and the series’ illustrator, Brett Helquist, to see if they’d finally share an explanation for the similarity.
In a series of unfortunate events, both respective publicists did not make the two available for comment, although I was told Handler “sends his regrets.”
Once again, I have not read “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and my understanding is that the actual Baudelaire character is not a wizard and is distinctly different from Potter. It is also my assumption that if you brushed back Baudelaire’s middle-parted brunette hair, you would not find a lightning bolt scar.
But still, I think it is extremely important in this time of previously unimaginable turmoil, to at least sort out this one restless-sleep-inducing mystery that has haunted me for nearly two decades. And look around online ― you’d be hard-pressed to find many people wondering about this very relevant and not-at-all niche question.
Am I really on an island of insanity with only my fourth grade classmate as a companion?
Please tell me, why do these characters look exactly alike?
The state of my similarly brown-haired, glasses-wearing being depends on it.
Hit Backspace for a regular dose of pop culture nostalgia.