• “Purr” Gold: The Hardy Boys & Childhood Pride in Reading

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 67 comments
    Jul
    7

    It’s no mystery why Hardy Boys books are almost unreadable: lame plots, terribly stilted dialogue, flat characters who remain wholly undeveloped, even after nearly sixty books. Not to mention the lack of verisimilitude of two characters who are eternally eighteen and seventeen and seemingly never attend school.

    But boy did I love those books as a kid. I don’t think I read all fifty-eight of the original series, but I gave it the ol’ Frank and Joe Hardy high school try.

    I read plenty of ABC and Dr. Seuss-level books, but the Hardys are what first grabbed me and made me curious about the world. Those guys went everywhere, man, and I read at a fever pace just to keep up with them.

    But not only were these books fun and adventure-filled, they also gave me my first feelings of pride as a reader. Whenever I’d hit a landmark page, I’d run to the other room to tell my mother. “Mom, I’m on page 50!” I’d brag, nearly shouting. Or sometimes I’d just shout it out from my bedroom, not wanting to take a break other than to yell, “I’m on page 100, Mom!”

     

    Your turn: What were your most formative early books? The ones, or one, that made you realize you wanted to be a lifelong reader? When you picture yourself as a child being engrossed in a book, what is that book?

     

    I took those Hardy books to school to read in the bathroom; I used them for show-and-tell; I played Hardy Boys with my friend Jason Meyers — we’d hatch a mystery and then run around the house with our toy guns trying to capture the bad guys.

    Jason Meyers. I once read aloud from Hardy Boys No. 5, Hunting For Hidden Gold. This must’ve been first grade, maybe second, and our assignment was to bring in a book we like and read some of it. When I got to a passage about pure gold, I pronounced it “purr gold,” like something a cat would mine for. Jason laughed, raised his snotty hand and said “It’s pure gold.” From then on, if there was a mystery in my house, I’d have to solve it myself. The Case of the Broken Friendship wasn’t much of a stumper.

    If the Hardy Boys hadn’t grabbed me when they did, and held on, I’m not sure my life would be what it is now. I suppose it’s possible that another book or series of books would’ve filled that space. But I think it’s also possible that I wouldn’t have turned into as much of a reader. The Hardys were a springboard to other things, to more and more reading.

     

    Your turn: Did you read the Hardy Boys? Let’s dish about them. Did you read Nancy Drew? Did you read both?

     

    I didn’t learn until years later that the versions I read were the so-called scrubbed editions. The original Hardy Boys books were twenty-five chapters long and were full of detail and description and (by comparison) intricate plots. They were also quickly outdated, not to mention full of racial stereotypes, at best, and outright racism at worst. The boys didn’t have a ton of money (though they did have boats, motorcycles, and all sorts of detective kits), and they had a healthy disregard for authority, law enforcement in particular.

    In the ’50s and ’60s, all of these books were revised, and some of them totally rewritten. They were shortened to twenty chapters, much of the good (and relevant!) exposition was cut, the stereotyped characters became (only marginally) less stereotypical, the boys are sycophantic with the police, and they have a lot more money.

    I’m presently rereading some of these books, which is why it’s top of mind. When my work life — which involves reading and writing and editing — spins out of control, I tend to choose books for pleasure reading that require less attention and investment. And so, for reasons that I won’t get into because, boring, when I went looking recently for mindless reading, I thought of the Hardys.

    So I’ve read a couple of scrubbed versions and a couple of originals, and my goodness, the originals are so much better. Plenty flawed, sure — in the most recent, a total stranger invites the Hardy Boys to take a vacation with him, and they’re like “Yeah, awesome, let’s go,” which I can’t imagine was a good idea even in 1939; plus anyone suspicious is described as “swarthy” — but they’re much better written, more entertaining, and make a lot more sense.

    I’ve read two or three scrubbed versions, and they’re torture.

    If I can trace my life as a heavy reader back to these horrible later editions, imagine what might’ve happened if I’d had access to the original ones!

     

    Your turn: Well, duh: tell me about your childhood reading!

     

    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.

     

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Subscribe
    Notify of
    guest
    67 Comments
    Oldest
    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Bea

    The Bobbsey Twins!! These are the first books I remember my mom reading to me before bed, and the stories I remember reading to myself. I adored Nan and Bert, and Freddie and Flossie. I can’t remember their housekeeper’s name now, but she always made sure they had a great picnic lunch – including a big chocolate cake – for every adventure. That was pretty impressive to this little kid; never mind each neatly-resolved mystery. So much fun reading!

    Joanne

    I loved ‘Little Women’ and the ‘Twins’, but isn’t it odd that, even tho they were supposed to be poor families, they could still afford housekeepers? :D

    John Liebling

    I started reading at a very early age. Exactly as you did David. Dr. Suess and then Hardy Boys. Primarily because my dad was reading Hardy Boys – but I was never a big mystery reader, writer – nor watch mysteries on the big or small screen. Not my cup of tainted tea. By the age of seven I was an expert on Abraham Lincoln. Read every book I could find. And that sparked my interest in history. As you know I’ll be starting my 34th and most likely last year, as a secondary history teacher, this August. As a… Read more »

    Barb

    I read Nancy Drew prett religiously. The ones that included the Hardy Boys were my only Hardy Boys experiences, but those were some of the worst! They were all bad, the writing at least, so whenever they tried to jam those three characters together it spread even thinner. I can’t imagine reading them again and getting any pleasure from it, but they were a gateway drug for sure, like David says.

    Joanne

    So true. ‘Nancy Drew’ books so much better!

    Dan

    I’m right there with you, David. For me and my formative years – it was the Hardy Boys, all the way. I started buying them when I was 7, with my allowance money. I too discovered later that I was lucky enough to get the originals. They were rich with detail, completely outdated, and lots of fun. I remember the boys in the boxing gym out behind the house, pulling some prank on Chet. Then there were the references to hiding in the rumble seat of a car to catch the car thieves. I had to ask my Dad what… Read more »

    Dan

    Hey David, Great to chat with you as well. I didn’t see the Applewood versions. Interesting that they went back to the original texts. I got lucky at the used bookstores, and found about 22, starting with The Tower Treasure. It was like a treasure hunt with a fun payoff when I would find one. I guess it signified how important those books were to me!

    It’s really cool to find that the Hardy Boys meant a lot to someone else!

    Dan

    Thanks David! I’m curious to see what you think.

    Dan Hays

    Wonderful to hear, David! Mine have the old tan covers, so yours probably match that? They do have a great look!

    I’m glad you’re getting to the original stories, because yes, the stories are much better. I just started on The Missing Chums, and it was the old “hijinks in the gym” that I so fondly remembered.

    Kenneth Harris

    Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan of the Apes” did it for me. Read Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew too, compliments of an older cousin’s largesse. And devoured them as fast as I could. Granted, these books were aimed at a wide-eyed young cohort swinging a Roy Rogers lunchbox to school. The credibility-free plots were as antiseptic as they were unlikely. But they did introduce to young readers that hard-to-define-but-requisite-to-adrenaline-junkies character trait called “pluck.” It oozed from Frank, Joe and Nancy’s every pore. In fact, their BPL (blood pluck level) was such that they felt not the first qualm about inserting themselves… Read more »

    Carol B

    Kenneth, I love the way you put this!

    ”What did local media make of the fact that a teenaged girl armed with no more than a convertible, head scarf and pluck could routinely solve ‘crimes’ that had left a fully staffed police department…baffled.”

    Well said!

    Kenneth Harris

    Thank you so much, Carol!

    Susan

    “Unlikely their shirts even came untucked.” Great line. LOL. Same with Nancy–always perfect. That was part of the appeal and probably part of what ruined my self esteem is that Nancy always looked absolutely fabulous–in rain, snow, a cave, a dusty labyrinth, and she always had a boyfriend.

    Susan

    …I think his name was Ned Nickerson??? But I don’t remember much about him, so it probably was much the same… not too explicit

    Laura Izen

    I have read the Hardy Boys myself recently, partly as you say to read something that does not require thought and because my son had to read a book for school and I read it with him. As a child I see myself reading, ‘The Boxcar Children’ or ‘Little House on The Prairie.’

    Barbara Mealer

    I learned to read with the Golden Books but my favorites were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Judy Barton and the Hardy Boys (All originals). I felt so dumb when I couldn’t solve the mysteries. I then moved on to Ann of Green Gables and the Little Women’s series. I learned to read early because I couldn’t see to play a lot of the games (I was virtually blind but no one caught it as I hid it so well) By the time I was six I had read most of the Grimm fairy Tales and most of the above… Read more »

    Lisa

    Bobbsey Twins!!! And I remember reading (and re-reading!) biographies of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in 2nd grade. Oh, and Ellen Tebbits. I can’t count the number of times I read that one. My father recently gave me a copy of it for Christmas.

    Lisa

    Yes, I did read it again. And yes, it held up to my memories of how good it was. I’ve never read the Ramona books or anything else by Beverly Cleary though.

    Joanne

    Oh, yeah, she’s awesome. ‘Johnny Tremain’ was a TV movie, possibly on the Walt Disney Sunday nite program. Something else I really loved!

    Carol B

    Johnny Tremain and My Side of the Mountain.

    Elissa Malcohn

    The earliest stories that affected me were two translated by Lafcadio Hearn: “The Boy who Drew Cats” and “The Gratitude of the Samebito.” They were in a lavishly illustrated book of Japanese tales. My favorite early childhood book was On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss, which featured a completely new alphabet and fanciful creatures to go with it. But when I picture myself reading as a child, I am the embodiment of Peter Graham’s adage, “The golden age of science fiction is 12.” I started with anthologies. The Alpha series, edited by Robert Silverberg. The Orbit series (ed. Damon Knight).… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Yousers! I read some of the Hardy Boys stories, but I didn’t really pursue them. My first love was “Scuppers the Sailor Dog.” I was five when it was published, and my mother read it to me over and over. Two years later, I was heavily into science fiction. My mother had gotten permission for me to take out “adult” books, and I stumbled on a fat anthology of science fiction. Although I only remember one story, I know that book formed my taste. It was the Tom Corbett series that made me want to be a space cadet, but… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and a flashback to my first visit to a library, some of the details are coming back. That anthology was “Big Book of Science Fiction,” and the story was “Dear Devil” by Eric Frank Russell.

    “Lancelot Biggs: Spaceman,” by Nelson Bond, was the other book that set me on my course. All I remember about it is that it had a yellow cover and it made me laugh out loud.

    So here I am, 60+ years later, still on the hunt for laugh-inducing science fiction.

    Carol B

    Around 3rd grade, maybe 4th, I signed up for the Weekly Reader Book Club. (Anyone here old enough to remember ‘My Weekly Reader’?) I received a book in the mail once a month – and they were the best books EVER! ‘Follow My Leader’ about a kid who was blinded by a firecracker and was sent to a blind school where he got a seeing eye dog upon graduation. Other books were David and the Phoenix, T.V. Humphrey, and Ride Like an Indian (which had kind of a Spin and Marty flavor to it). I LOVED these books! I’ve since… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I remember.

    Joanne

    Oh, my, I’ve read all of those, too. With the 4th of July being last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘Follow My Leader’. As I recall, that was based on a true story.

    Carol B

    Joanne: I read Follow My Leader to my kids and they loved it too. T.V. Humphrey was a little outdated for them, but I thought it was hilarious still.

    Joanne

    I looked up info about the author. He was a great guy who worked up into his 90’s to help other blind people. He went from tunnel vision to full blindness as he aged. Apparently, this wasn’t really a true story. Altho, I’m guessing he used incidents from his life and others. Don’t all we writers do that? :)

    Loved T.V. Humphrey! Couldn’t find it on Amazon, unfortunately.

    And I just remembered Encyclopedia Brown.

    Would love to reread all these books!

    Carol B

    Thanks for sharing that info, Joanne. And yes, I too have borrowed bits and pieces from my own life experience to use in my books.

    You might also try eBay to find these books. I found Ride Like an Indian there. Also try Abe’s books.

    Carol

    Elissa Malcohn

    Did you mean Follow My Leader: The Boys of Templeton? That and other Talbot Baines Reed books are free to download from Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Talbot+Baines+Reed. Amazon has a “Tee Vee Humphrey” by John Lewellen: https://www.amazon.com/Tee-Humphrey-John-Bryan-Lewellen/dp/B0007E4Q86.

    Joanne

    No to the first question. But TY so much for the info about TEE VEE Humphrey. Found it on Amazon; 76 cents plus S&H for a used copy.

    Carol B

    No. It was Follow My Leader by James Garfield, Elissa. Different book.

    Joanne

    Yes, ur right. Don’t think I ever solved a mystery before EB did, but I still enjoyed the books. Helped readers to learn to think logically, IMO. Also, there were historical facts given in some of his conclusions. I particularly remember a story about a sword and the battles of Bull Run.

    Lisa

    Yes, I loved Weekly Reader!!!

    Kenneth Harris

    Spin and Marty! Oh my. In all my days (and I remember the moon landing) only time I ever came across a guy named “Spin” was on Disney’s YA soap back in the day. Were those two privelrged or what?

    Joanne

    I prefer to remember ‘Nancy Drew’ and the ‘Little House’ books. However, sometimes I remember–with a shudder–the ‘Dick and Jane’ readers. ‘See Spot run.’ I’d like to see every last copy of that nonsense burned.

    Carol B

    I know what you mean, Joanne. I’ve thought that too. Not very P.C. Sigh.

    Joanne

    Actually, Carol B, I was just thinking that was a terrible way for kids to learn to read. Boring and repetitive. Condescending to kids, IMO. I don’t remember much beyond ‘See Spot run.’ ‘See Dick run.” ‘See Jane …’ Probably sweep or cook.

    Carol B

    It was the 50s.

    Sometimes I feel like the current ‘rules’ of writing have regressed back to Dick and Jane and their “See Spot run” – the minimalist thinking of getting right to the point using as few words as possible, no descriptions or embellishments. Sure, “See Spot run” gets right to the point, but, as you say, it doesn’t make for very interesting reading!

    Lisa

    And that’s why I often prefer to pick up my worn out copy of Return of the Native. Thomas Hardy sure knew how to use landscape as character. Such brilliant descriptive powers…

    Joanne

    Don’t read TH, but his books have made great movies over the years. I particularly love the original version of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, with Julie Christie.

    Jerry Schwartz

    Right — no adverbs. Heaven forfend that Spot should run fast.

    Barbara Mealer

    I agree but then again, I don’t follow the rules well. I love description when it adds to the story. How can you have a person walking through the leaves without describing the rustling of leaves as their feet shuffle through them sending the unique smell of fall up to tickle their nose.

    Jerry Schwartz

    I remember being baffled by many of the references in the “Dick and Jane” books. I remember asking my father what was hidden up in my grandmother’s attic. “Insulation,” he said

    Barbara Mealer

    I hated that book. A whole year on one book! I read it in the first week and was bored stiff for the rest of the year in reading time. “See Dick, Jane and Spot run.” Horrid book!

    Susan

    I was lucky to have a sister and we read the House at Pooh Corner aloud to each other (as adults too); Nancy Drew for sure, and then graduated to Agatha Christie mysteries–my sis and I always read the same ones and would try to solve them before the end. Catholic School–I do understand why people feel oppressed by Catholicism–but I loved going in the library there when I was 9 or 10 and they had a blue series of lives of the saints, and I read every one. Series really appeal to kids. Still love those saints. That was… Read more »

    Eleanor

    Books by Jean Stratton Porter, especially The Yearling.Too many years since reading it to remember exactly what story though.

    David Duhr

    I liked that one. I think we read it for school and watched the movie.

    It’s good to hear from you, Eleanor!




    Find WBN on Twitter


    67
    0
    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
    ()
    x