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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

January 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW

The Hardy Boys are back!

It’s down memory lane with the sleuthing brothers for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom

The first Hardy Boys mystery.
Okay, this is off the top of my head. No Google, no Archive, no Wikipedia...

Chet Morton, Biff Hooper, Phil Cohen, Tony Prito, and Jerry Gilroy are friends of Frank and Joe Hardy, teenage brothers and amateur detectives of Bayport, a fictional town in the US. They assist their father, private investigator Fenton Hardy, solve many of his cases, though most of the time they are sniffing out their own mysteries and doing a good job cracking them, often with the help of their friends.

In the books I read, then, Frank is 18 and Joe is 17 and their girlfriends are Callie Shaw and Iola Morton. Iola is best friend Chet’s younger sister. Fat Chet is to Frank and Joe what skinny Jughead is to Archie, loyal and always hungry. Like Jug, he loves food. He usually carries a weighty snack and is acutely nervous when he tags along with the brothers to find out whodunit. The boys stick their necks out and get into trouble. They always solve their cases and make their father and the Bayport police department proud.
 

Fenton Hardy wears a felt hat and a suit. He is a devoted husband and a caring father. I picture Raymond Burr, in his younger days, or Humphrey Bogart in the sleuth’s role. His wife, Laura Hardy, is a housewife and has a supportive role in the mystery stories. Frank and Joe have to take their permission to work on cases during school days, and even on holidays. Their cases frequently take them away from home. There is talk of finishing homework too. They are obedient boys. You really can’t miss the morals behind the stories.

I read the Hardy Boys in school, from the age of nine onward. I read over a hundred of the thick blue-spine hardbacks that had readable titles like The Twisted Claw, The Phantom Freighter, The Wailing Siren Mystery, The Sting of the Scorpion, and The Infinity Clue. The big typeface against the stark white page was easy on the eyes. The covers had striking colour illustrations usually depicting one of the key scenes from the story within. There were other early editions too but I don't remember reading any.

We were a bunch of friends who borrowed a Hardy Boys mystery a day from the local circulating library and took turns reading it, each having an hour or so before passing it on to the next impatient boy in the queue. We used a similar modus operandi to read Commando comics.

The Hardy Boys series were highly appealing to young and impressionable readers. Frank and Joe Hardy inspired young boys like me to become detectives when we grew up. For some reason, the army was another thrilling option. Neither came true in my case.

For years I thought Franklin W. Dixon was a real writer. He turned out to be one ghostwriter too many. Like the group of writers behind Carolyn Keene who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries. The boys and the girl were created by Edward Stratemeyer who founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book-packaging enterprise (now that little bit I got from Wiki).

Since the 1980s both the YA series went through a lot of changes. The Hardy Boys were reinvented as the Hardy Boys Casefiles which, I suspect, might have been kept away from young teens because of their “adult” content, meaning a fair dose of murder and violence. Later, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were brought together in a combined series. By then, however, the series had lost its originality, and I, my interest. There were some film adaptations too. I haven’t seen any.

Now the original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series are back, in small, compact, hardback reprints with their original cover design intact. They adorn the YA shelves in new bookstores in Mumbai. I scan the familiar titles and hold a few of the books, for old times’ sake, and I am happy that they still hold. One of these days, I am going to read a few of the books that first cultivated my reading habit.


30 comments:

  1. The 1970s US TV series was briefly popular (it, too, eventually combined Drew and the Boys), and there was an actually good late 1990s US (and possibly Canadian coproduction) TV series devoted to Drew that might've included the Hardys peripherally. I never managed to get to far with the HB book or two I tried as a youth.

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    1. Todd, I am not familiar with the film and television adaptations of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and it might be worth having a look and comparing them to the books. I read HB largely in the pre-television days so the books are the only memories I have.

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  2. I think Hardy Boys is for boys what Mallory Towers and Famous Five were for girls! lots of memories.

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    1. Mystica, you are right. A lot of kids, then, read Enid Blyton including the two series you mentioned. We still have a pile of Blytons around the house, part of a collection that belongs to my wife and daughter, MALLORY TOWERS and FAMOUS FIVE included. I also used to read the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS mysteries in paperback and for some reason one particular title, THE MYSTERY OF THE GREEN GHOST, is still fresh in my mind. I read it over three decades ago!

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  3. I've read the one at top. Have that copy. I've not read that many of them, probably 6 or so. I'd have to count. I would have read many more I'm sure if they had been available in my small home town library.

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    1. Charles, most of the books I read in my childhood and teens were borrowed from the local circulating library located in a small town where I grew up. The library owner used to stock up on many YA books that were in demand then. I don't own any Hardy Boys now. Never liked the books in paperback, though.

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  4. Great reminiscence, Prashant. I have more memories of reading the Three Investigators, but I liked collecting (and reselling!) the older Hardy Boys books ('30s and '40s editions) with the cool artwork on the DJs. Some of those very early boks can fetch some hefty prices if they're in good condition. They're getting very hard to find now.

    If you do ever re-read any of these you may find several things are differnet. Many titles from the 1930s were rewritten and updated to make them appeal more to modern younger audiences.

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    1. Thank you, John. The only editions of Hardy Boys I ever read, and had access to, were the ones I mentioned in my post, and a few paperbacks that I didn't like very much. I have seen online the cover art on some of early editions you are referring to and they are pretty good. I don't remember seeing any of those in used bookstores out here. Also, I never knew that the HB stories were rewritten at any point. Now, of course, I doubt I'll know which ones were rewritten even if I re-read some of them. I read them such a long time ago.

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  5. I've read nearly all of them. I have about ten reproduction copies of the early, original versions, and the complete set of the blue-spined books you read, which were "updated" in the mid to late 1950s and slightly after. The two are very different.

    What I wish for now is a reprint of the Tom Swift Jr. books!

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    1. Richard, that's a fantastic collection. I am assuming the "ten reproduction copies of the early, original versions" are more than just reprints and possibly have something new in each of them. It would be interesting to read the updated stories in some of the books. I don't have memories of Tom Swift Jr. books except for the fact that they are available online, I think.

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  6. I was a huge Hardy Boy fan, reading mainly the original books rather than the ones "updated" to eliminate the non-PC parts.

    I've read a few of the series that were published in 80s and 90s and either 1) the books had devolved, or 2) I had grown up. **sigh**

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    1. Jerry, the more I hear of the "original books" the more I am determined to read some of them. John and Richard have already mentioned the earlier versions of HB and it has already got my antenna up. I haven't outgrown comic-books, so I doubt I'll outgrow Hardy Boys.

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  7. I read a lot of the Hardy Boys when I was young and when my son was young, I tried to get him to read it as well but he just didn't get into it as much.

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    1. Clarissa, I have told my teenage son of the Hardy Boys I used to read when I was his age but so far he hasn't shown interest. I probably read HB in my time because everyone, including my friends, read them. Now the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews have been replaced with new-age YA fiction like Harry Potter. Well, I have read some of those too!

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  8. I had every one of the hardbacks, which went up to something like #58, and I had the paperbacks up through #80 or so. Back then, with no Amazon or eBay, finding missing numbers could be a chore. I still remember how happy I was when I found "The Secret Panel" (or something like that).

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    1. Graham, back in school I had a few of the HB hardbacks and a couple of paperbacks I never got used to unlike, say, an Enid Blyton paperback. My little library stocked up all the 80 titles that I read back then. It was only years later that I found that the HB number had crossed a hundred and the series had changed a fair bit. "The Secret Panel" is No.25 in the original HB series so you were right about that. Some memories always stay.

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  9. It boggles my mind that you remembered all of this without any aids. I may have read Nancy Drew, I just don't remember any specifics. Don't think I read Hardy Boys. This inspires me to try one or two of each series. Just to see what I am missing.

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    1. Tracy, I guess that shows how very immersed I was into Hardy Boys. I don't think I read anything else save for a few Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton. I read a lot of comics in those days, devoured them by the dozens every week. There is little difference in the writing styles of HB and ND and, I suspect, both were ghostwritten by the same writers. If you read (and liked) Nancy Drew, chances are you'll like Hardy Boys too.

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  10. Oh Prashant, you brought back so many memories. Of school days, of discussing the books with friends, of discussing who was better: Frank or Joe?, of ticking off the titles read, of the frantic search for a title called 'Bombay Boomerang'.

    I preferred the Three Investigators but Hardy Boys too were pretty good. I lost interest when the case file series started. The only casefile book that held my interest was 'Brother against Brother' in which Joe loses his memory and thinks of Frank as a rival.

    Thanks for the post.

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    1. You are welcome, Neer. I am glad I took you down memory lane with me. I was among the lucky few who had access to a good number of Hardy Boys titles including "The Bombay Boomerang" — I loved all the titles which, I think, may have prompted me to read the books. I recall reading a few of "The Three Investigators" as well as "The Secret Seven" but I wasn't into them as much as I was into HB. I'll have to read the HB casefile story you mentioned. I felt even then that it was time the publishers injected fresh blood into the HB stories which were beginning to sound alike.

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  11. Although Nancy was my first love, I read more than a few of these.

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    1. Patti, put it that way I read quite a few Nancy Drew mysteries myself but they didn't hold as well as Hardy Boys did. I might have also read a combo though I can't say for sure.

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  12. Great post, Prashant, which brought back many memories of fun childhood library readings of this series when I was a kid. I remember the Three Investigator series also but it's the Hardy Boys that really stuck in my mind. I enjoyed the series (and some Nancy Drew, too) in elementary school, but quickly moved on to Doc Savage when I had the good fortune to find a Bantam copy in 7th grade.

    Good to know the original hardbacks are being reprinted...wouldn't mind reading one of these again someday.

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    1. Thank you, Jeff. I associate Hardy Boys not just with my reading as a kid, but also with time spent with my childhood friends. These were books we shared and read together. I have some memories of "The Three Investigators" that I didn't read in a big way. Thinking back, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew could have made excellent reading in English class. The new hardbacks are replicas of the original hardbacks, only more compact and with a glossy cover-look.

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  13. I used to love these Prashant, along with Nancy Drew and Alfred Hitchcock and the 3 Investigators. i remember even as a child being slightly confuse over the authorship. It was an early case of the brand being more important than the author. Thanks for the memories!

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    1. Sarah, you are welcome. Looks like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Three Investigators win the polls for YA fiction of our childhood. I didn't get the authorship right till I was well out of college and working. In those days I read books without realising someone wrote them! I agree, the brand, Hardy Boys, for instance, was more important than the author. They were great fun, though!

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  14. Great nostalgia piece Prashant. I think these books were very important in cultivating my early love of reading, and reading mysteries in particular. I used to borrow these from the library as a kid and also collected as many as I could, or could afford to. They remain an important part of my childhood to this day.

    I guess I was more into The Three Investigators - I preferred the spookiness of the plotting, and I grew up the son of a scrap dealer so could easily identify with Jupiter Jones - but I was very fond of The Hardy Boys too.

    In the UK, both series were published in lovely hardback editions by Collins and I tried to collect as many as possible, filling the gaps with the less attractive Armada paperbacks. That collection is still boxed away somewhere in my parents' place - almost all the hardback 3I series, probably 20+ hardback Hardy Boys stories and the rest in paperbacks.

    Colin

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    1. Thanks very much, Colin. I agree, Hardy Boys were an important part of my childhood too, reading little else in those days besides Enid Blyton, especially The Secret Seven, Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators too, and lots of comic-books including pocket-sized war and western. I never liked Hardy Boys in paperbacks as their covers were never as appealing as th dust-jackets of the hardback editions. I tried collecting them for a while but then we moved house and I had to start all over again, though not with HB. It's nice that you are still holding on to your collection.

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  15. Great reading, the posts above. And they brought memories flooding back.

    The first HB, in fact the first full length book, I read was one with a picture of the two boys on a derelict raft with a shark grinning at them from the water. I still have the copy somewhere amongst my boxes and trunks but I can't recollect the name at the moment. And then I read the Three Investirgators, the Silver Spider Mystery, in which a missing silver spider locket, essential for the king to retain his throne or the prince to succeed him, was at last finally found secreted in a crack of a wall in a seedy East European palace.

    Some folks above have referred to some books being rewritten to bring them up to date. Rewriting for today means bringing in internet, mobile phones and GPS, which at once change the flavour of these quaint stories. You know what I mean - easy situational awareness and access to unlimited information changes the nature of crime-fighting (as also war-fighting, which is my job in the army) of the Hardy Boys type ...

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  16. I also remember seeing some HB and NDs of the 'if you want the swan to die, move to page 373' type.

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