'Unhappily Ever After'

Young readers, already worried about Harry Potter, now face a new threat. Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler, 36) says at least two characters will die in his 13th and final "A Series of Unfortunate Events" book, "The End." The fate of the Baudelaire orphans and their nemesis, Count Olaf, will be revealed when 2.5 million copies go on sale at 12:01 a.m. on the appropriately unlucky day of Friday, Oct. 13. The first dozen "Unfortunate" books have sold more than 50 million copies.

Booksellers applaud the timing. Mary McCarthy of Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, hates to see the series end, but says "certainly 13 is the way to go." In a Potter-less year, "this will fill sort of a void," says Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson's Bookshops in Illinois. On Oct. 13, her stores will hold trivia contests with "unfortunate prizes" like moldy cheese and socks with holes. And Barnes & Noble will raffle off 797 autographed copies (one at each of its stores). "The books have a Dickensian charm," says Josalyn Moran, B&N's VP of children's books. Readers' lives "are a piece of cake compared to the poor orphans."

On Sept. 5, HarperCollins is releasing "The Beatrice Letters," a book with clues to how the "Unfortunate" series will end. Paramount/Nickelodeon has the rights to more movies. As for "The End," the book's editor, Susan Rich, promises that it delivers an "unhappily ever after" finish.

As for Handler, he's hardly kicking back. He may write another series--but not if he is "attacked by scorpions tomorrow," he says. He's leaving his San Francisco home in October for a book tour to promote "The End" and the "The Complete Wreck," a boxed set of all 13 books. Until Oct. 13, fans like Michael George, 14, who runs the Snicket fan site thequietworld.com from his home in Malaysia, must make do with rereading the old books. George, who has read "The Bad Beginning" more than a dozen times, says he'd like the last book to end with "something not too happy, but not downright depressing either." Maybe just unfortunate.