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This month featuring Hardy Boys articles that previously appeared in other publications, new collectible discoveries, letters, the Mike Humbert Department and more!
The End Of The Hardy Boys?
Smithmark Books has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will not be releasing any more books. The second volumes of both their Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew omnibus editions.were printed but nobody can pay the printers.
On a more positive note, in addition to the September release of TheSpy That Never Lies (#163), Simon & Schuster announced two more Hardy Boys Digests: SkinAnd Bones (#164) for November 2000 and CrimeIn The Cards (#165) for January 2001.
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The Hardy Boys detective stories may not be in line to become official classics in the category of Shakespeare and Dickens. Butthere is a surprising endurance to this series of books. Launched in 1927, they still sell well. If current trends are any indicator, the Hardy Boys may last a century. The basic story line has appealed to several generations of readers. Two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, solve crimes with occasional help from their father, Fenton Hardy, a private detective and retired New York City cop.
What has changed is technology and techniques. In recent years, the Hardy brothers have used computers to track criminals and fly overseas to deal with terrorists and bomb threats.
But the emphasis on traditional values and good character qualities remains and does not seem to be changing to keep up with the times. The Hardy Boys are no pushovers, but they are polite and know right from wrong. They have girlfriends, but they keep their hands off them and generally chase criminals more eagerly than the opposite sex. Sales of new books in the old series continue, now through Amazon.com, along with a competing series called Hardy Boys Casefiles. The pace of the action has picked up over the years. The Hardy Boys seem to get whacked over the head quicker in the casefiles series to get the story moving faster.
Given the sales numbers, it is not surprising that so many people have read at least a couple of the books. Web sites abound on the subject. Television shows have been launched and are sold on videocassettes. In another series of recent books, the Hardy Boys have joined forces with Nancy Drew, their popular female counterpart, to fight crime.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, is certainly a well-educated man, with an MBA from Harvard University, plenty of years in business in Noblesville and a leadership role in the General Assembly.
At least some of that success he attributes to reading Hardy Boys stories when he was growing up in Noblesville. He remembers the librarian, Helen Couch, who introduced him to the series and other books.
"I was a voracious reader. She started piling books on me," here calls. He looks back on the Hardy Boys series as similar to John Wayne movies. "I think all of us have a thirst for the simple story in which the guy with the white hat does the right thing." But the voracious reading paid off beyond enjoyment of a good story or a moral lesson. He now see show the reading built his communication skills.
"It helped my vocabulary," he says. "I was always a good speller. I won spelling bees and all. I was a good test-taker. The reading was just what pushed me ahead of others." The first 59 books were published in a bluehard back version. The paperbacks, started in 1979, now run up to No. 157,with more to come.
In a 1995 book, Sidetracked to Danger, the Hardy Boys visit Indianapolis to see Hamilton Harte's multimillion-dollar complex of model trains. Meanwhile, Vincent Buonnarti wants to build a downtown mall, and Harte won't sell his remaining piece of property to let the mall go forward. The train collection is stolen, the Hardy Boys go to work and wind up trapped under Union Station behind steel doors.
Like many of the other stories, much of the plot is improbable in terms of real life. But it's still great fun to see what fiction writers can do with the Hardy Boys in downtown Indianapolis. The author, Franklin W. Dixon, is a fictional name for various ghost-writers. The original idea for the series came from Edward Stratemeyer, a writer and associate of Horatio Alger, whose novels had sold so well in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Stratemeyer enlisted a Springfield, Ill., Republican newspaper writer, Leslie McFarlane, for the original Hardy Boys series, which was revised in the 1950s and republished for a new generation.
Some futurists claim that books and literacy are on the way out, victims of television, the Internet and computers. If the endurance of the Hardy Boys is any indicator, though, there is still a market for action-packed stories based on traditional morality.
Russ Pulliam is associate editor of The Star.
It's exhausting to try to recall events from forty years ago. No matter how hard I try, the past remains a slippery, unreliable place, difficult to conjure up, especially with the faulty synapses of middle-age. At best I can bring back quick video snippets of this or that moment when I was ten years old. Playing with my rubber army men in the sandbox, gluing together model cars in the basement. The traumatic events, few as they were, are far more vivid. That afternoon our dog was hit by a car and dragged itself into a drainage pipe at the end of our long driveway. And I was elected to crawl into that narrow pipe to haul the half-dead, snapping dog out into the light.
The town where I grew up has changed dramatically. So has my boyhood house. The grade school my parents attended and where I followed decades later no longer exists. It was bulldozed years ago, the bricks and mortar hauled away, the oak floors and tall windows and musty cloakrooms lie rotting in the landfill of history. In some ways that makes revisiting those places easier, because there are no messy contradictions between memory and present tense reality.
One of my most precise memories from forty years ago is that of stretching out on my bed, the pillow wedged against the wall, a book of fiction spread open on my belly. No doubt I spent more hours in my youth playing sports than I did reading. But it is the reading I remember now with exquisite clarity. Not the books themselves, though some of them are still clear, but the act of reading itself is what I most remember. The quiet, inward hours when I was transported from those Kentucky hills, enjoying the secret thrills of my first encounters with danger, heroism, romantic love, sin and redemption and a hundred other adult emotions that I had yet to face in real experience.
I would like to claim that I was immediately drawn to the kind of book that I now teach, literary novels of depth and scope and complexity. Dickens or Hardy or Bronte. And yes, it's true, I did read those authors eventually, and came to love them too, but at ten or eleven what addicted me to a lifelong habit of reading was nothing so lofty as Thomas Hardy, but rather a series of adventure stories written by Franklin W. Dixon that featured two brothers, one fifteen years old and one sixteen. Their names were Frank and Joe. The Hardy Boys.
Recently, I decided to take another look at these heroes of my youth. Sure I would be disappointed, I set aside the two or three other books I was reading at the moment, and took down from the shelves an ancient copy of "The Missing Chums."
On the cover of the book is what appears to be a rendering of an oil painting. The Hardy boys are posed together in the cockpit of a wooden speedboat. It is night time and they are steering their boat through a stormy sea, their spotlight illuminating another boat in the distance. The boys are dressed in sweaters and caps and heavy trousers, clothes so classic they might be found in the latest Eddie Bauer catalog. Though this book was published over seventy years ago, there's an eerie timelessness about these two kids, from their clothes to their haircuts. These boys who were once my idols, mature teenage young men, could now easily be my sons.
I cracked open the book and stepped into that timewarp world.
The boys' father Fenton Hardy is a detective and in this adventure he has left the boys and their long-suffering mother to go off to Chicago in pursuit of a very dangerous bad guy named Baldy Turk. Shortly after he's gone, two of the Hardy boys' closest chums, Chet Morton and Biff Hooper set out on a boating trip and promptly disappear. It is up to the Hardy boys to find them.
In addition to their speedboat, Frank and Joe Hardy both owned motorcycles. They were upperclass kids, one of many things I had forgotten about them. But there's nothing namby-pamby about these two. In the next 200 pages they steer their craft expertly through a vicious storm, they bravely board a suspicious sailing ship in pitch dark and are chased overboard with guns blazing behind them. They explore an island that's slithering with dangerous snakes and they fight hand to hand against a group of rogues and rascals who have captured their friends and are holding them hostage. They are chained together in a dank cave yet somehow manage to break free of their metal handcuffs and outwit their guards. Finally, they execute an ingenious plan to trap their captors on the island of lethal snakes, hauling away the bad guys' boats, leaving them stranded until the Hardy boys can bring back adult reinforcements.
An hour or two in that ageless world and I was feeling again the pulse quickening excitement of long ago, and an admiration for these two resourceful brothers, their good sense, their mannerly bravery.
But there was something else beyond the story that was working on me while I lay with that book open on my chest. Some whiff of that long departed time with its innocence and yearning. I wasn't simply reading a book I'd read forty years ago. I was reading a book then and now, simultaneously in both those times at once.
Experts tell us that of all the senses, it is the sense of smell which has the greatest power to stir the memory. And surely that is partly why I felt myself suddenly straddling the forty year divide. The musty scent of that book, its dry crumbling texture was filling the air with a halo of particles, clones of the particles I had inhaled while reading the book almost half a century before. The experience was so startling, so utterly out-of-body that I had to set the book aside and remind myself of where I was and who I had become.
By the end of the novel, the missing chums were missing no more and the Hardy boys had once more earned their names. And I was reminded again of the magical, transforming power of books, their ability to transport us beyond our puny lives and to shape the very texture of our personalities. But unlike so many other formative influences in our lives, books don't change over the years. No wrecking ball or bulldozer can demolish their place in the world. They lie waiting for us, constant, neatly arranged on the shelves, all their marvels intact, their stories and characters as supple and energetic as they were forty years ago. A voice that stirred us once, whispered dreams to our younger selves, is still there waiting, ready to whisper once again.
I've always wanted to meet Franklin W. Dixon.
But I never will, chiefly because he doesn't exist. Dixon is the pen name for various writers who, over the years, have churned out more than 100 books featuring the adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy --better known as the Hardy Boys.
I've always been a voracious reader. As a boy, I read every book I could find about the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift and, yes, even Nancy Drew. For those who never picked up one of these books, they were all about teen-agers -- usually helping out famous fathers -- who always managed to foil bands of criminals.
Looking back, I can see the formulaic approach those books had. That's probably because so many of those books sprang from the mind of one man -- Edward Stratemeyer, who used a stable of writers to produce the books under various pen names. He was too busy thinking of the ideas to write the books himself.
The original Franklin W. Dixon was Leslie McFarlane, a Canadian journalist whose first Hardy Boys novel, "The Tower Treasure," was published in 1927.
More than 130 novels about the original Hardy boys have been published since then, and many of them have been revised and modernized in the years since their original publication. Frank and Joe also are featured in 100-plus books called the "Hardy Boys Files,"designed to appeal to older readers, and a series called "Frank and Joe Hardy: The Clues Brothers," aimed at very young readers. In the "Clues Brothers" series, Joe is 8 and Frank is 9. Not old enough to drive a roadster.
Publisher's Weekly magazine in 1996listed the all-time best-selling hardcover children's books. Four on the list were from the Hardy Boys series. The highest on the list was "The Tower Treasure," at No. 52, which has sold 1.7 million copies since it was first published in 1927.
Many of the Hardy Boys books I read were picked up from bins of used book stores, some of them first editions, and the language and racial attitudes were long out of date by the time I began to read them in the late '60s.
The books have undergone substantial revisions over the years. Here, for example, is a passage from the opening page of "The Tower Treasure," as published in 1927:
"Two bright-eyed boys on motorcycles were speeding along on a shore road in the sunshine of a morning in spring. It was Saturday and they were enjoying a holiday from the Bayport high school. The day was ideal for a motorcycle trip and the lads were combining business with pleasure by going on an errand to a nearby village for their father."
Slowly, over the next couple of pages, the readers are introduced to the Hardy boys, and learn of the danger facing the brothers.
But here's how the 1959 version of the same book opens:
"Frank and Joe Hardy clutched the grips of their motorcycles and stared in horror at the oncoming car. It was careening from side to side on the narrow road."
The revised book throws you right into the action, but I don't think it's a better story. The same story has been revised since, but I haven't the heart to chase down a copy and see what else has been changed.
According to a note on the frontispiece of the 1959 book, "In this new story, based on the original of the same title, Mr. Dixon has incorporated the most up-to-date methods used by police and private investigators."
The reason I've been thinking about the Hardy Boys lately is because of the exhibit recently put together by the Denver Public Library. Celebrities, local and national, jotted down memories of favorite childhood books. But not one that I saw mentioned any of the Hardy Boys books..
I turned to the Internet to see if the Hardy Boys had passed everyone else by. Evidently not, judging by the number of Web sites I saw devoted to the duo.
On one of the Web sites, people jotted their impressions of what they had imagined Franklin W. Dixon looked like. According to one posting: "I pictured a distinguished looking fellow, with white hair and mustache and a pair of bifocals on. He would be poised at an old typewriter in a very formal study, preparing his next book."
I don't recall ever thinking much about what Dixon looked like, just that I would like to meet him. My overwhelming impressions of reading the Hardy Boys books were how great it would be to live in a place like Bayport, Frank and Joe's hometown, where snow fell and roadsters raced along the cliffs outside town. Growing up as a Florida flat lander, both were foreign concepts to me.
I wouldn't say the Hardy Boys books were literature -- great or otherwise -- but they did have merits. They were great for whiling away an afternoon sitting beneath a pine tree and dreaming of faraway adventures.
Of course, now that I'm living in Denver, I don't have to daydream about snow or mountains. But there are times, usually when I'm shoveling snow from my driveway, that I think about sitting beneath a tree in Florida, reading a book.
L.Wayne Hicks is managing editor of The Denver Business Journal.
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