Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He's so prolific that his first book was in 1939 and his latest was last year....

A few dollars on Ebay later and I seem to have bought a few lots of Hardy Boys novels.

Which, given this blog is mostly devoted to adult reading material, the works of unappreciated ghost writers needs some recognition from the youngster in me.

Given how long the Boys have been around, I'm fairly certain most of you are familiar with their exploits, or that of their occasional cohort Nancy Drew (or Tom Swift, or Cherry Ames, or The Bobbsey Twins...)(or the TV show, which I watched on DVD a few years back for no real reason) and so I should be able to get by with a fairly short synopsis here.

The basic premise is that the Hardy Boys are brothers, Frank, 18, with dark hair and Joe, 17, with blond hair. Depending on what series you're reading in and what year will bring out a picture of what they look like for that era. Some of the older hardcovers have them in chinos, while the newer paperbacks involve jeans and tee shirts. Frank and Joe are Fenton Hardy's progeny, Fenton being a famous detective. The family lives in Bayport with Mom, Fenton, and Aunt Gertrude. They have a fairly diverse group of friends, like Phil Cohen  (Jewish) and Tony Prito (Italian immigrant). Chet Morton was chubby to fat, and Iola Morton was Joe's girlfriend until she blew up in a car bomb in Casefiles #1, Dead on Target. Frank, on the other hand was dating Cassie. Almost all of these characters got dragged in at one point or another, and usually in some kind of jeopardy by the end of it.

The cases rarely involved murder, although they did seem to wind up breaking up smuggling rings quite frequently. The usual scenario was people would seek Fenton out to solve something, and he'd either ask the boys for help, or being unavailable, the boys would take on the case. And they traveled extensively. I wish I had their travel budget at their age. (Mind you, based on the very few Carolyn Keene books I read about Nancy Drew, she also had a travel budget from hell. The one book of hers I bought involved Nancy and Co. in Venice, Italy.)

I still remember my 1st grade introduction to the boys. My classmate, with the name Sixten Otto (who'd write it out as 610 and a picture of a car and who also taught me to play Canasta) brought in either The Mystery of the Chinese Junk or Night of the Werewolf. Which of course lead to one of my family's visits to Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio, where my brother would buy music at Camelot and my Dad would escort me to B. Daulton, wherein I found shelves and shelves of Hardy Boys books waiting for me to blow my allowance on. (And oh boy, did I blow money on them.) I usually bought the paperbacks, numbered from #59 up, since they were cheaper  than the hardcovers. Well, that and the hardcovers got tripped up in archaic language and the aforementioned chinos. (I kind of thought The Missing Chums would be about stolen shark bait, actually.)

I used to half-joke that Joe was my first crush and a strong indicator early in life that I was gay.  I found out later that I obviously wasn't the only one with feelings like that when I found Mabel Maney's Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys: A Ghost in the Closet at one of the small bookshops near Wright State. I still laugh at that book, what with one modern lesbian trapped with stuck in the 50's Nancy and her "friend Nurse Cherry Aimless and the Hardly Boys... It was a spot on spoof of the genre made even funnier by the straight faces all the principles had.

Some notable titles in the original 190 + a few one offs series include While the Clock Ticked, which featured Joe and Frank tied to chairs while a mas scientist tried to blow them up; Cave-In, where Frank and Joe wound up in California during ski season trying to figure out who the ghost miners were; Sky Sabotage, where Frank and Joe go to Florida to figure out what happened to a missing satellite and a pair of missing dolphins; and The Hardy Boys Ghost Stories, which involved 6 cases of the boys encountering the actual supernatural.

That list title bears mentioning since pretty much every other book in any of the various series  that had supernatural elements ended up being a Scooby Doo mystery, wherein the element was not real, and easily explained during the resolution. In the Ghost Stories, we get real ghosts and phenomena, but they of course do no real harm. Like the Scarecrow that comes to life and chases them out of an abandoned farm house just before lightning hits and burns the place down. (May I add that one gave me nightmares for a few nights.) Or a later tale where the boys wind up on an 18th century Ghost Ship filled with whalers, wherein the ghost on the ghost ship gets them to safety.

I mentioned the Casefiles above, and I suppose I should mention them in passing. In Book 1, Dead on Target, Joe turns 18. His girlfriend blows up in a car bomb. The series was aimed at older kids, and read a bit like Rambo solves mysteries. It was more miss than hit for me, mainly because I got sick of the whining that tended to become vigilantism in Joe following Iola's death.

I guess they have a newer series aimed at millenials and the generation that are kids now, but I haven't bothered, since the updated graphics make the boys look like escapees from 1 Direction.

I still love the boys, even if I long since outgrew them. So many memories of my childhood are tied to them. And I really hope that other kids find as many happy memories in them when they grow up.