- "... the Baudelaire orphans have a fear of Count Olaf, which makes perfect sense, because he is an evil man who wants to destroy them."
- —Lemony Snicket
Count Olaf is the primary villain of the children's book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by author Daniel Handler under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket.
He is a stage and film actor as well as an impresario. One of the leaders of the Schism (a split in the secret organization of V.F.D.), Olaf was a former suitor of Kit Snicket. Having gained notoriety for numerous counts of arson, Olaf may have caused the Baudelaire fire (although he convincingly denies it).
Count Olaf is a distant relative of the Baudelaires and was once their adoptive father. He holds an unexplained fixation with the Baudelaires' inheritance in particular, and has followed them with a dogged obsession, employing his acting skills and V.F.D. training to don numerous disguises. While his disguises are convincing enough to most, the Baudelaires always recognize certain physical traits — a "wheezy" voice, shiny eyes, and perhaps Olaf's two most striking characteristics, a unibrow and a tattoo of the V.F.D. eye on his ankle.
Count Olaf is guilty of arson, first degree murder, second degree murder, attempted murder, frameup, identity theft, kidnapping, forced marriage, false imprisonment, theft, attempted theft, fraud, falsification of evidence, harassment, criminal facilitation, conspiracy, numerous counts of aiding and abetting and according to Snicket, poor hygiene.
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 Omar (a name that many confuse with Olaf throughout the series). "Omar". "Omar".
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", 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.
In The Bad Beginning, Count Olaf says that when he was a child he loved raspberries. Violet remarks that she cannot picture Olaf as a child — all his features seem to be those of an adult.
At the end of The Carnivorous Carnival, 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.
Another mysterious reference to Count Olaf's childhood is mentioned in The Penultimate Peril. In Chapter One, 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.
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 heavily implied in the last book that Olaf had once loved Kit Snicket, Lemony Snicket's sister, and had told her he'd kiss her one last time before his and her death.
It is hinted throughout the series that Olaf had something to do with the schism that separated V.F.D. He was involved with the organization for many years and knows many, if not all, the secrets surrounding the organization that the Bauldelaire children seek to know. He is also responsible for numerous fires and deaths of V.F.D. 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.
Caring for the Baudelaires
In the beginning of the series, the Baudelaire orphans are sent to live with Count Olaf, their closest living relative, after a mysterious fire destroys their home and kills their parents. Olaf's involvement in the fire was long suspected by the Baudelaires. When they finally confronted him and accused of 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 saw 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 hit Klaus hard for talking back to him, and picked up and dangled Sunny for saying "No".
Later, 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 Olaf promised to Violet that he would get his hands on her fortune no matter what. The children were sent to different relatives, 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. Olaf's plans always were for the goal of abducting the children through elaborate methods.
In each of books two through eight and 13, Olaf wears a new disguise that usually fools everyone but the Baudelaires. The following is a list his primary disguises.
Stephano, an assistant herpetologist with a long beard 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 receptionist. Coach Genghis, a gym teacher with a turban, covering his one eyebrow, and expensive looking running shoes, covering his tattoo of an eye on his ankle.
Gunther, a pinstripe suit-wearing auctioneer. He pretends to come from another country so people believe that he doesn't speak fluent English. Olaf constantly says "please" after and in the middle of every sentence. 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 one eyebrow.
Mattathias, Heimlich Hospital's new Human Resources director. His presence is only known from a voice over the intercom. This is the last of his disguises
In the earlier books, Olaf only showed that he wanted the children's fortune, but later on, it is revealed that he sought the Quagmire sapphires. As the books progress, Olaf's plans extend further as he seeks the Snicket file, and the sugar bowl, although is repeatedly shown to have a greater interest in the Baudelaire's 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 their parents, like the "Spats fortune" he talks about in "The Slippery Slope". 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.
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.
Later, the island's leader, Ishmael, fires a harpoon at Olaf only for it to hit the encased Mycelium against his stomach and causing it to burst so that its deadly spores are released into the air, contaminating all of the islanders as well as Olaf himself.
Too depressed to go on living, Olaf at first refuses to take a specially produced apple (which is mixed with horseradish, the cure for the Mycelium), saying that he has lost everything important to him. 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 relationshp between the two).
Despite being cured of the lethal Mycelium fungus, Olaf is revealed to have been more severely injured by the harpoon than originally assumed. Lying down on the beach without medical assistance from the Baudelaires who are helping Kit to give birth, Count Olaf dies. It is heavily implied in the last book that Olaf had previously loved Kit, and had told her he'd kiss her one last time before his death. His 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." Along with Kit, he is buried on the island and his grave is occasionally visited by the Baudelaires.