My relationship with the Hardy Boys began at Ethan Allen Air Force Base in Vermont, when the son of the base commander came over to the house with a collection of books that he was was leaving behind, now that he off to college.
Among the books were some of the adventures of the Hardy Boys, the teenaged detectives who have often been imitated, but rarely been equaled.
We’re not talking about the dumbed-down Hardy Boys one so often finds on the shelves these days, who are sort of like the simple cousins of the original detecting duo, but novels from the 1930s and 1940s.
Okay, it wasn’t Travis McGee, but when you are nine years old, they are pretty damned close.
Two teenage sons of a famous detective, they often (okay, make that every day) solved cases on their own, when they weren’t assisting Dad on one of his. Of course, when you are nine years old, it never occurs to you to ask why, if their father, Fenton Hardy, is so damn famous, why he lives in Bayport, this small town. Maybe he had a shady past? He was thrown off the force? He once killed man, just to watch him die?
Anyway, potential shady past aside, Dad taught his sons all the latest scientific techniques when it came to fighting crime. They were like Sherlock Holmes with a hot rod. And they played high school football!
At any rate, dark-haired Frank is a year older than blond-haired Joe, and not only are they smart, they are tough as nails. They can fight the toughest hood down to the ground.
Once they wrestled an entire bunkhouse of angry, violent, sweaty cowboys into submission - wow, what was on the writer’s mind when he wrote this?
Reading some of the fight scenes made me think that something was a little off with the Handsome Hardys. They kept hitting guys in the solar plexus, whereupon they would gasp with pain and be out of action.
Now, as a young man goimg through puberty, I didn’t know much about the human body - I think the technical term for me was “not very bright”- but I knew all about getting hit (soccer balls, basket balls) in a certain part of the body and feeling tremedous pain and gasping for air. Yes, in my feeble mind I actually thought that Frank and Joe were literally hitting their opponents “beneath the belt.”
There was, I was thinking, a real Dark Side to my heroes, and I liked it.
I have never shared this particular ignorance with my wife, who in addition to having an MFA in Modern Dance is also an occupational therapist. I’ve always been afraid she might take a really good look at me, throw me out of the house and change the locks.
I loved the Hardy Boys for a long time, even after I discovered Sherlock Holmes, Travis McGee, Miss Marple and other detectives with more complex cases.
The original stories, though, not the dumbed-down ones. Even though they are simplistic fare, they can still be fun to read if you are in the right mood. Some of the ones from 30s skirt the edge of racism, and that’s more than a little uncomfortable.
There have been several Hardy Boys incarnations on TV. Lots of folks remember the series from the 1970s, but Walt Disney also serialized one of the novels on in the 50s, casting the boys as pre-teens.
And, there is the rarely seen 1967 pilot based on The Mystery of the Chinese Junk.
Wearing ear-plugs in the Hardy household
There was this alarming tendency on the part of Frank and Joe to practically shout all of their sentences, or at least exclaim everything in an exited manner.
“We’ve got you now!”
“Let’s go to town!”
“Great breakfast, Mom!”
No wonder it always takes so long for help to come; who can tell the difference between screams of anguish and these kids ordering lunch at House of Pancakes?
And then there’s my favorite scientist, Tom Swift, Jr.
As a kid I also discovered Tom Swift Jr., son of a famous scientist/inventor, who was now following in his father’s footsteps. These were some of the first science fiction books I read as a child, outside of A Wrinkle in Time and Have Spacesuit will Travel, and my Tom Swift collection rivaled my Hardy Boys collection.
I reread a couple a few years ago, and I’m afraid that they don’t travel quite as well as the Hardy Boys books do. The situations seem hackneyed, and characters are just walking cliches.
The cook who travels with them always wears “loud” shirts. Tom’s sister is “vivacious.” What the hell does that mean? She’s super-friendly? She won’t stop talking?
Along the way, they are occasionally assisted by mysterious aliens, who send them messages like, “The guys who want to skin you alive are five minutes away.”
Well, if you know something about it, do something! This whole “We just gift wrap, we don’t deliver” crap wears a little thin in science fiction after a while, especially when guys are coming to skin our heroes alive.
There has long been talk of a Tom Swift TV series or movie, but based on his Dad, from the early part of the 20th Century.
I want my Tom Swift in a movie! Around 1968 there were plans for Burt Ward of Batman to star in a Tom Swift TV pilot (not sure what part he would have played, Tom or his best friend) but it seems to never have been produced.
You spend your time thinking about this stuff?
No, sometimes I spend my time wishing they would make a real Matt Helm movie.
Quote of the Day
If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires. - Abigail Van Buren