Count Olaf

Count Olaf
Count Olaf
A Series of Unfortunate Events character
Count Olaf.png
First appearance The Bad Beginning
Last appearance The End
Portrayed by Jim Carrey
Occupation stage actor, confidence man, V.F.D. member

Count Olaf is the primary antagonist of the children's novel series A Series of Unfortunate Events by American author Lemony Snicket. In the series, Olaf is an actor[1] and is known to have committed many crimes as a member of the fire-starting side of V.F.D. prior to the events of the first book in the series.[2][3] Olaf is repeatedly described as having a unibrow, a wheezy voice, and gleaming eyes.[4][5][6] He is often distinguished by the V.F.D. insignia tattooed on his left ankle (as with most V.F.D. members).[4]

Following the death of Bertrand and Beatrice, the Baudelaire orphans are placed under his care, and he proves to be a horrible guardian, only interested in the fortune left behind by their parents. After Olaf loses his guardianship over the children, he begins a series of attempts to steal the fortune by wearing various disguises and murdering Gustav Sebald, Monty Montgomery, Josephine Anwhistle, and Jacques Snicket, as well as attempting to murder Charles.

With the death of Jacques, who is mistakenly identified as the count by The Daily Punctilio, the target of the police manhunt for Olaf shifts to the Baudelaires, who are framed for the murder of Jacques. Olaf uses his newfound immunity to burn down Heimlich Hospital and Caligari Carnival without repercussions. When he and the Baudelaires burn the Hotel Denouement down, however, they are forced to flee the authorities[7] by escaping to sea, where they shipwreck on the island on the coastal shelf. In an attempt to take control of the island, Olaf threatens to release the airborne pathogens of Medusoid Mycelium on the colonists, but is harpooned by Ishmael. Olaf lives long enough to help Kit Snicket safely deliver her child, an event the Baudelaires refer to as the "one good thing" in his life.[1]


Fictional character biography

Early life

Count Olaf's criminal youth is referenced several times over the course of the series, most obviously in The Unauthorized Autobiography, in which a letter written from Sally Sebald contains a picture of the young boy who was to play Young Rölf in Zombies in the Snow, a film directed by her brother Gustav Sebald. She says that she thinks his name might be Count Omar (a name that many confuse with Olaf throughout the series).[8]

In The Bad Beginning, Count Olaf says that when he was a child he loved raspberries.[9] Violet remarks that she cannot picture Olaf as a child — all his features seem to be those of an adult.

In The Austere Academy, Duncan and Isadora Quagmire mention that a man with similar traits as Olaf strangled a bishop and escaped prison in just ten minutes and another article reports of a man throwing a wealthy widow off a cliff. The Baudelaire children agree that it sounds like Olaf and believe him to be the man mentioned in the articles.

In The Carnivorous Carnival Olaf says that his acting career began when he was approached by Gustav Sebald (then a "young director") because he was the "most handsome fellow at school",[10] which would make it a very old movie, since Count Olaf himself (disguised as Stephano) watches the film in theater with the Baudelaires and Dr. Montgomery. At the end, when he notices a map of the Mortmain Mountains in Madame Lulu's tent, Olaf makes reference to a coded stain spilt on the Valley of Four Drafts, stating that he was taught to use such stains to mark secret locations when he was a young boy.[11] This book also reveals that Olaf at one point was also after the Snicket fortune.

In The Slippery Slope, the powdered white face women hint that Olaf may have been responsible for the fire that consumed their home and took the life of one of their siblings and perhaps the lives of their parents.

In The Grim Grotto, Count Olaf mentions that he saw Fiona when she was an infant, which would mean that he saw her fifteen years ago. He goes on to say that he was attempting to throw thumbtacks in her cradle when he saw her.

In The Penultimate Peril, Olaf hints that he burned down the childhood home of Dewey Denouement and murdered almost his entire family.

Another mysterious reference to Count Olaf's childhood is mentioned in The Penultimate Peril. In Chapter 1, Kit mentions that she was able to smuggle a box of poison darts to the Baudelaire parents before Esmé Squalor caught her. Through a few subtle hints, it becomes apparent that Lemony Snicket was present as well. Later in the book, when Olaf is confronting the Baudelaires and Dewey Denouement, he dares the Baudelaires to ask Dewey what happened that night at the theatre, implying that the Baudelaire parents, Dewey, and the Snickets were there for some sort of sinister purpose. Finally, in Chapter 12, Olaf reveals that poison darts were the reason he became an orphan himself, implying that the Baudelaire parents may have murdered his own parents and possibly explaining his hatred for the Baudelaires.

In The Beatrice Letters, a young Snicket writes to Beatrice about someone he only identifies as 'O'; "The only other student in Code Class that I know is O., who is nothing but an annoyance. As I write this he is filling his notebook with anagrams of obscene words. I'm tempted to tell him there is no such thing as 'a wet viper perm' (thought to be an anagram of 'Preemptive War', although this is never confirmed) but after the incident with the bottle of ink and the root beer float, I think its better to spend my time inside 'My Silence Knot' whenever that nitwit raises his ugly, one-eyebrowed head." and "The brightest star cannot shine through a cloud of dark smoke, and O is the darkest of clouds I have seen in our skies. One day the world will know of his treachery and deceit, of his crimes and hygiene, but that's far too late for us."

It is hinted throughout the series that Olaf had something to do with the schism that separated V.F.D. This is hinted the most in The Unauthorized Autobiography in a letter Jacques Snicket wrote to Jerome Squalor. The letter explained that a member which he only referred to as O was acting in such a violent manner that his actions have caused the organization to split in two. As the members of the organization often use the first letter of their names to talk about one and another, it is generally assumed O stands for Olaf. Many members of V.F.D., such as Widdershins, often use Olaf's name immediately when talking about the treachery of the fire starting side of the schism. This hints that Olaf has done a great deal of harm to V.F.D. more than most of the other villains involved have, furthering the concept of him being one of the leaders of the schism.

Olaf was involved with the organization for many years and knows many, if not all, of the secrets surrounding the organization that the Baudelaire children seek to know. He is also responsible for numerous fires and deaths of V.F.D., as mentioned by Lemony Snicket himself, and plans on gaining control of all the fortunes of the members in thirst of revenge and greed. While never directly stated, it is hinted in the last two volumes that Olaf had a very troubling past and this may be the reason for his bitterness at the world.

In an interview on the UK show, " The Entertainment Show", Daniel Handler mentions that Count Olaf's evil is really a product of him being taught and encouraged to act in such a way. While not truly evil as a child initially, Olaf was mauled into a villain throughout his years at V.F.D. training school by an external party, most likely his parents, who have been hinted to being villains as well.[12]

Guardian of the Baudelaires

In the beginning of the series, the Baudelaire orphans were sent to live with Count Olaf, their geographically closest living relative, after a mysterious fire destroyed their home and killed their parents. Olaf's involvement in the fire was long suspected by the Baudelaires. When they finally confronted him and accused him of starting the fire, Olaf did not seem surprised by the accusation but asked them "Is that what you think?" Whether this is a denial of involvement in the event or means something else is unknown.

Olaf was an actor and had an entire group of similarly evil associates who he refers to as his "theatre troupe". He wrote his own plays, under the pseudonym "Al Funcoot" (an anagram of "Count Olaf").

During the time the Baudelaires lived with him, the children immediately recognized Olaf as a short tempered and violent man. Olaf provided them with one filthy room and forced them to do difficult chores (such as making them chop wood solely for his own entertainment) as he schemed to seize control over their fortune. Olaf once slapped Klaus hard enough to leave a large bruise on his face for several days for talking back to him, and picked up and dangled Sunny for saying No! No! No! in response to his demand for roast beef instead of the puttanesca sauce they made.[13]

It soon became obvious that Olaf only ever agreed to become the Baudelaires' guardian in the hopes of getting their vast inheritance. When it transpired that this would not occur, Olaf had the children participate in a play in which Violet plays a woman who gets married to a character played by Olaf. The children learned that Olaf was using the play to disguise the fact that the marriage will be legally binding and that he will have control over the fortune once the wedding ceremony is complete. To insure that the children cooperate with the plan, Olaf kidnapped Sunny and had her tied up, put in a cage, and hung outside his tower window, threatening to murder her if the children refused to cooperate.

The plan to marry Violet Baudelaire to gain the inheritance went awry. Violet managed to thwart Olaf's plan by signing the marriage with her left hand instead of her right, which as she was right-handed, was the required one to make it legally binding. Olaf was exposed as a criminal and fled, but not before promising to Violet that he would get his hands on her fortune no matter what and then murder her and her siblings with his bare hands. The children were sent to a different relative, with Olaf following in pursuit.


Olaf's plans became more dangerous and murderous in nature as the books progressed. Many of them included the murder of the children's guardians, such as Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine. His plans were often complicated and many of the earlier ones involved him attempting to get the orphans legally into his care, after which he would presumably attempt a similar scam to that in The Bad Beginning to obtain their inheritance. In later books, he simply planned to abduct one child, murder the other two, and use the kidnapped one to blackmail Mr. Poe into giving over the fortune. Regardless of his tactics, Olaf's plans were always aimed at the goal of abducting the children through elaborate methods.

In each of books two through eight Olaf wears a new disguise of someone who works under the guardians or works near the area, usually murdering the person who had the occupation previously, that usually fools everyone but the Baudelaires. One or two of his henchmen, also usually disguised, accompany him and aid him in executing his schemes. The following is a list his primary disguises with IPA and AHD pronunciations given.

  • Al Funcoot is an anagram of "Count Olaf". He uses it as his nom de plume when writing The Marvelous Marriage, in addition to The Most Handsome Man in the World, its sequel, Why, I Believe I've Become Even More Handsome!, and One Last Warning to Those Who Try to Stand in My Way, as referenced in The Unauthorized Autobiography.
  • Stephano (IPA: /ˈstɛfənoʊ/, US dict: stĕf′·ə·nō), an assistant herpetologist with a long beard, shaved head, and no eyebrows.
  • Captain Julio Sham, a sailor with an eye-patch and a wooden leg (the real Julio Sham is captain of the Prospero).
  • Shirley T. Sinoit-Pécer, an optometrist's feminine receptionist - T.Sinoit-Pécer is "receptionist" spelled backwards.
  • Coach Genghis, a sweatsuit wearing gym teacher with a turban, covering his one eyebrow, and expensive looking running shoes, covering his ankle's eye tattoo.
  • Gunther (/ˈɡuːntər/, gōōn′·tər),[14] a pinstripe suit-wearing auctioneer. He pretends to come from a foreign country so that people will believe that he doesn't speak fluent English. Olaf constantly says "please" after and in the middle of every sentence in this disguise. This is also done by Madame Lulu in "The Carnivorous Carnival". He wears horse riding boots to cover up his tattoo, and a monocle to distort his eyebrow.
  • Detective Dupin, a 'famous' detective obsessed with what's cool, including ridiculous sunglasses which cover up his eyebrow and green plastic shoes with yellow lightning bolts on them to cover his tattoo. The alias name is a reference to C. Auguste Dupin.
  • Mattathias (IPA: /ˌmætəˈθaɪ.əs/, US dict: măt′·ə·thī′·əs), Heimlich Hospital's new Human Resources director. The only sign of his presence is his voice over the hospital intercom.
  • Kit Snicket In The End, Count Olaf disguises himself as a pregnant Kit Snicket and uses the helmet containing the Medusoid Mycelium as his false baby. The castaways see through his pathetic attempt since, without conventional materials, his disguise consisted just of a seaweed wig, a dress and the helmet containing the Medusoid mycelium beneath the dress. Needless to say, it was less convincing than his previous disguises.[15]

By the end of the seventh book, it is no longer necessary for Olaf to use any disguises as he murders a man, Jacques Snicket, who was believed to be Count Olaf/Omar as he also had one eyebrow and the V.F.D eye tattooed on his ankle. The Daily Punctilio published articles prior to this event that established (wrongly) that the man who committed numerous crimes was Count Omar and not Olaf. This relieved Olaf of the need to disguise himself and use an alias as everyone believed Omar was the villain's name. Even though his need for disguises was minimal, he does so one last time in the Hostile Hospital to gain entry into the area. The eighth book also starts Olaf's open obsession with fire, as he burns down Heimlich Hospital in that book and then Caligari Carnival in the ninth book. Numerous mentions of other fires he started and others he plans to do strengthen the theory that he was the one who burnt the Baudelaire Mansion down and murdered the parents. Other fires he might have set are the Quagmire fires and the Snicket Fires.

Finally, near the end of the thirteenth book, the Baudelaires accuse Count Olaf of making them orphans, a suspicion that all three siblings had kept in their hearts since the start of the series. Count Olaf, however, upon asking the Baudelaires if that's what they really think and receiving Sunny's cold answer, "We know it," retorts that the orphans "know nothing,". What Count Olaf meant by his reply is never clarified, and the question of who was responsible for the deaths of the Baudelaire Parents remains unanswered.

While in the earlier books Olaf only showed that he wanted the children's fortune, it is later revealed that he also desired the Quagmire sapphires, the Snicket file, and the Sugar bowl, although he is repeatedly shown to have a greater interest in the Baudelaire fortune than in any of these other treasures. By the tenth book, Olaf also develops plans to gain control of numerous other fortunes from children whose parents are V.F.D. members by burning down their homes and murdering all of their parents. Olaf then plans to recruit the children as new "associates" or more appropriately, prisoners, and help him destroy what's left of V.F.D. Olaf's other main goal is to destroy V.F.D in order to eliminate the last evidence of his plans so that he may execute any other scheme he wants to without the worry of the authorities. The tenth book also starts the pattern of Olaf no longer using complicated methods to obtain the children's fortune and just intends on capturing them to get the fortune. His plans were from then on usually aimed at the goal of destroying V.F.D., although his obsession with the fortune is still to him, "the greater good."

In The Penultimate Peril, Olaf finally shows signs of hesitation at committing crimes and murder. In this volume, he was about to kill one of the Denouement triplets when the Baudelaires begged him to stop and be a noble person. Olaf whispered, "What else can I do?" This gave rise to speculation that Olaf was not entirely evil, but feels obligated to continue his deeds as he has already gone too far from being noble. He is able to flee the burning Hotel Denouement by boarding the boat (then called the Carmelita) with the three Baudelaires.


In The End, Olaf was rejected (due to his unkind behavior) by Friday, one of the inhabitants of a remote island, which he'd named "Olaf-land" after himself, where he was marooned with the Baudelaire orphans after a vicious storm. After a pregnant Kit Snicket was also stranded in another storm, Olaf attempts to disguise himself as her, using a round diving helmet filled with Medusoid Mycelium (a poisonous fungus whose spores cause death within the hour of exposure) to make his stomach bulge as though he were pregnant, although his disguise fools nobody.

Olaf's personality is significantly different in the final book as he is seen as more timid and depressed. This is probably due to the fact that all of his past methods and tricks fail to work on the islanders, who are not fooled by Olaf's act. Therefore, Olaf realizes that there really is not any room for him on the island. Olaf is also shown to sympathize with the children, telling them that life is unfair and a miserable place. He seems to have gained a reluctant respect for them, calling them his new henchmen and even attempting to convince them to escape with him.

Later, the island's leader, Ishmael, fires a harpoon at Olaf (as Olaf had planned) only for it to hit the encased Mycelium against his stomach, breaking it open so that its deadly spores are released into the air, contaminating all of the islanders as well as Olaf himself. The harpoon also partially impales Olaf in the process. Olaf started laughing, stating that Ishmael has murdered everyone on the island as he has just released a deadly fungus into the air.

Too depressed to go on living, Olaf at first refuses to take a specially produced apple (which is a cross with horseradish, the cure for the Mycelium), saying that he has "lost too much to go on". However, upon finding out that Kit Snicket is going into labor, he eats the healing apple and carries her to where she can better perform childbirth, thus performing what Violet calls the one good deed in his life (during which he surprisingly kisses Kit on the lips, hinting at a past relationship between the two).

Despite being cured of the lethal Mycelium fungus, Olaf is revealed to have been fatally injured by the harpoon. Count Olaf states that he has not apologized for anything that he has done in the past, but looks at his old girlfriend and then the children in sadness and pain. Lying down on the beach without medical assistance from the Baudelaires who are helping Kit to give birth, Count Olaf's last words quote Philip Larkin's short poem "This Be The Verse"—"Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, and don't have any kids yourself." (Hinting that Olaf was a well read person himself at one point before being consumed completely with greed) After quoting the poet, Count Olaf laughs and finally dies. He is buried on the island along with Kit. Olaf's grave is occasionally visited by the Baudelaires, but he is not as embraced as Kit.

Physical appearance

Olaf is described as a tall, thin, unkempt and often dirty man. Lemony makes frequent reference to Olaf's poor hygiene. In The Slippery Slope, Olaf mentions that he often goes ten days without a shower. His lack of personal hygiene worsens as the books progress, although in The Slippery Slope Sunny Baudelaire is shocked to see that Olaf has bathed and changed into a new suit for False Spring.

When not in disguise, Olaf's distinguishing features include shiny eyes and a wheezy voice that frighten the Baudelaires, pale skin, a unibrow, and a tattoo of an eye on his left ankle. In his numerous disguises, Olaf attempts to hide his most distinctive features, but the Baudelaire children are never fooled; however, most of the other characters remain utterly oblivious.

The film

Jim Carrey as Count Olaf in the 2004 film.

Count Olaf was portrayed by actor Jim Carrey in the film adaptation of the books, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Handler states in the DVD commentary that Jim Carrey's physical appearance of Olaf was spot-on.

The darkest areas of Olaf's personality were toned down considerably for the film. Rather than being a sinister, clever and amoral mastermind with a taste for black humor and pain, as in the books, Count Olaf appears as a melodramatic, egotistical buffoon and fool. Nonetheless, Olaf remains a scheming murderer.

In the film there was a strong inference that Olaf had direct responsibility for the Baudelaire fire. At the climax of the film, a giant lens in the shape of an eye possessed by Count Olaf is pointed at the smoking ruins of the Baudelaire mansion, presumably through which it was set alight, thus implicating that the Baudelaires' parents were actually murdered by Olaf, rather than dying in an unexplained freak accident. Also, when Snicket listed some of the orphans' triumphs he states "solving the mystery of the Baudelaire fire", though there is no direct proof in the books that the mystery fire was set by Count Olaf.


See also


  1. ^ a b p. 313, The End
  2. ^ p. 158, The Austere Academy
  3. ^ p. 158, The End
  4. ^ a b p. 9, The Austere Academy
  5. ^ p. 41, The Reptile Room
  6. ^ p. 68, The Austere Academy
  7. ^ p. 303, The Penultimate Peril
  8. ^ When the newspapers make the mistake at the beginning of The Vile Village
  9. ^ Olaf:"I used to love fresh [raspberries] as a child"
  10. ^ p. 32, The Carnivorous Carnival
  11. ^ 267The Carnivorous Carnival, p. 267.
  12. ^
  13. ^ In The Bad Beginning
  14. ^ listen
  15. ^ Castaways know that it is Olaf from the start.

External links

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