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The Disappearing Floor (unrevised edition) holds a special infamy among Hardy Boys fans. Ghostwritten by Dr. John Button in 1940, it has all the literary style of a car wreck; and like a car wreck, you want to look away, but somehow just can't.
While admittedly there are Hardys stories that aren't that great, Floor is in a league of its own for sheer weirdness. The plot is almost nonexistent. Bizarre sci-fi gadgetry is prominently featured, along with a Fenton Hardy who seems to appear at will. This is all the more amazing since Mr. Hardy is seriously injured twice during the book. Of course, the oddest thing of all is that this book was ever published in the first place!
It would be easy to put all of the blame on the good Dr. Button, but, in his defense, he apparently closely followed the plot outline provided to him by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Unlike Leslie McFarlane (the first and best "Franklin W. Dixon"), when Button was told to write junk, he replied: "Yes Sir! How junky would you like it?"
So, having said that, let's move on to my highly condensed recap of the story, which reads like a spoof, but isn't; I haven't exaggerated a single plot point, not even the contents of the canvas bag. I have, however, reworked the narration and dialogue to reflect my own take on the story.
Dark-haired Frank Hardy and his blond brother Joe sat around the campfire, along with their chubby friend Chet.
"Enough camping, fellows," groaned Chet. "When do we eat?"
Frank and Joe exchanged amused glances. Chet's tragic eating disorder and the resulting morbid obesity were a reliable source of humor for the two brothers.
"Say, look at this, fellows," Joe interjected." I just found this old envelope with the name 'Harry Tanwick' written on it. And there's a hundred dollar bill inside!"
"I wonder who Harry Tanwick could be," pondered Frank.
"Maybe that's him over there!" shrieked Chet, and the three ran into the darkness after a shadowy figure.
As the trio charged into the pitch-black wilderness, they suddenly fell headlong through a hole into an equally dark cave. They were now trapped!
"Well, this is quite a pickle, I must say," observed Joe.
"Still, we seem remarkably fit for having fallen twenty feet onto solid rock," countered Frank.
"I'm still hungry," grumbled Chet.
"Hello, boys," greeted Fenton Hardy, the boys' famous father. "I figured I might run into you here in this desolate cave in the middle of nowhere at four in the morning. By the way, you haven't seen Duke Beeson, the bank robber, have you?"
"No," replied Frank. "But I just noticed that's there's a canvas bag with $82,000 in coins sitting here at my feet!"
"Well, bring it along," directed Mr. Hardy. "After all, how much could $82,000 in coins weigh? I want you boys to take his bag cross-country to the Wayne County Bank. I realize you have no transportation, and are completely unfamiliar with the area, not to mention the fact that desperate criminals will be tracking you down, but what could go wrong?"
(EDITOR'S NOTE: $82,000 in silver coins weighs almost 4,800 pounds. In silver dollars, it would form a stack about 550 feet tall. If those dollars were laid edge to edge, they would form a line about 2 miles long.)
"Say, Frank," whispered Joe, "isn't this taxi driver driving a bit erratically?"
"I should say so!" confirmed Frank.
Thoroughly familiar with what to do in this situation, Frank suddenly lunged forward and threw a chokehold on the vehicle's driver. Despite this prudent measure, the taxi swerved out of control and plunged into the dark, icy water. Frank, Joe and Chet narrowly escaped a watery death, swimming to the surface, while clutching the canvas bag containing $82,000 in coins.
"You boys did a fine job," congratulated Fenton Hardy, after his sons had once again randomly stumbled upon him. "The whole operation went off without a hitch."
"Except for our sending a taxi off a bridge and almost drowning," added Joe.
"Well, yes," agreed the detective.
"And that crazed mob that attacked us," offered Frank. "And that we had to resort to a railroad handcar for transportation," mentioned Chet. "And then--"
"In any case," interrupted Mr. Hardy, "I want you to return to Beeson's cave hideout yet again."
"But we've recovered the money already," Joe pointed out.
"And Beeson's men have already caught us in there --twice-- and threatened us each time," recounted Frank.
"Yes, boys, but did you realize that one of Beeson's men is named Louie Butt?"
Frank and Joe exchanged meaningful looks. Their father had a good point. Someone with a name like that had to be up to no good. No butts about it.
The next time that the boys randomly bumped into their father, he was moving at high speed, since an escaped tiger was pursuing him. Fortunately, Joe knew well that the surest way to fell a charging tiger was to bounce a sharp rock off its head.
Quickly abandoning their badly mauled father to the medical authorities, Frank and Joe continued to pursue Duke Beeson. Soon they caught up with him, at which point he effortlessly captured the two brothers.
"Where we takin' these two punks, Boss?" inquired the gruff henchman.
"To Eban Adar's house," grunted Beeson, who was now dressed as an Indian prince, for reasons we need not go into.
Frank and Joe exchanged glances again. Eban Adar was Aunt Gertrude's oddball acquaintance from her school days.
"Thank goodness," thought Frank. "We'd gone almost ten minutes without a fantastic coincidence."
"Okay," moaned Frank, rubbing his aching head. "Tell it to me one more time. How did we end up in this rowboat?
"When we arrived at Adar's house," Joe explained, "ice immediately started forming on us. It quickly enveloped us. Then we blacked out. Then we woke up adrift in this rowboat."
"Ice," repeated Frank.
"Yes," Joe mumbled sheepishly." I think we were frozen solid."
"Frozen solid. And now, shortly after, we're fine. Honestly, Joe! You have to admit it's pretty farfetched," commented Frank.
"If you won't like the answer, then don't ask the question," snorted Joe.
"Encased in ice," muttered Frank, shaking his head in bewilderment. "And now we're in a rowboat. Makes perfect sense."
Joe picked up Adar's telephone receiver and engaged the operator.
"Hello, operator? Bayport 6132, please. Hello, Aunt Gertrude? It's Joe. No, we're not dead. No, really. We're up at Eban Adar's house. Right. The strange duck from your school. Always hated his guts, yes, I remember. Listen, Auntie, we've been scrapping with some dangerous criminals, and they're running loose around here somewhere, so we were thinking this would be an ideal time for you to come up here for a visit with Mr. Adar and catch up on old times. What do you say? You'd love to? All right then, we'll see you when you get here. Good bye."
And Joe then replaced the instrument in its cradle.
"So you see," Joe announced triumphantly, "Beeson's cave has a disappearable floor! Just turn that switch and the floor lowers to reveal additional rooms below where the remaining loot is stashed!"
"Amazing!" Frank gushed. "And no one knew about it except Beeson, his gang, the team of engineers who designed and manufactured the hydraulics, the contractors who installed them, the electric company who ran out the high voltage power lines to a cave, miles out in the woods..."
"Yes," Joe chimed in, "it was well-kept secret."
Just then, a grubby-looking man in a dark ragged jacket approached the boys.
"Are you Joe Hardy?" he snarled.
"Why, yes, I am," Joe acknowledged.
Without warning, the stranger delivered a powerful blow to Joe's midsection. Caught unawares, Joe crumpled to the ground in blinding pain, as Frank watched in stunned disbelief.
"I'm Harry Tanwick," spat the shabby man. "Now where's my hundred dollars?"
(Okay, I made up that last bit; Harry Tanwick is still at large after 60 years. Think what the compounded interest on that $100.00 must be by now!)
There you have the plot, such as it is, of the most surreal Hardys episode ever. Inexplicably, Dr. Button was then allowed to helm the next volume: The Mystery of the Flying Express, infamous in its own way for its blatant errors, such as Laura Hardy being called "Mildred." The only possible explanation I can give for Button's continued employment was that perhaps Leslie McFarlane had his leg caught in a bear trap, somewhere in the Canadian wilderness.
Be that as it may, The Disappearing Floor continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Hardy Boys fans, in the same way Plan Nine from Outer Space holds a place in the hearts of sci-fi fans. Sometimes if you go far enough into bad, you reach good.
The plot outline for the original text version of The Disappearing Floor is almost 10 full pages long. Since there isn't room for the entire outline, I am just reproducing the first four chapter outlines exactly from the original obtained from the Stratemeyer archives at the New York Public Library.
Well, there are 21 more chapters of this drivel, none of which make any more sense than do these. While author John Button has been rightfully excoriated for producing this piece of trash, it's clear that he should not have to shoulder the entire blame. Edna Squier, daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, created this outline and surely deserves a fair share of the shame. Even she seemed to know that this outline is a real turkey, belatedly trying to tie up the myriad of loose ends at the very end of the outline by lamely mentioning They never found Harry Tanwick and The "frozen humans" turn out to be a cure for certain diseases, a theory Adar had been working on for some time.
It's interesting to note the villian's name was changed from Al Lapone in the outline to Duke Beeson in the final product (not that it improved the story any!) Furthermore, the original cover art seems to be unfinished along the bottom - very fitting for this bizarre, disjointed story!
When I first read this story as a boy about 40 years ago, it was one of my favorites. The surreal weirdness and strange inventions fascinated me. I've heard from several other middle-aged fans who held the same opinion back in the halcyon days of their youth. Judged by those youthful standards, the story was successful. Nevertheless, as an adult I have to judge this story harshly and condemn it as one of the very worst in the canon.
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