Monday, December 8, 2008
Where it All Started--For Me by Anne Carter
The cover of the book depicted three young men in a motor boat navigating rough waters at the base of a cliff; beyond them, a single figure pilots a row boat, and all seem affected by a house above them on the edge of the cliff.
The book, of course, is The House on the Cliff, the second in the Hardy Boys Mystery series, and I was probably eleven years old when I read it. First published in 1927, this children’s novel sold 1.7 million copies by 2001, and is ranked 72nd on Publishers Weekly’s All Time Bestselling Children’s Book List.
What many find interesting today about these time-honored books is the fact that author of record, Franklin W. Dixon, existed only on the by-line of each novel. Dixon was not just a pen name for some unknown author, it was a name created to veil various ghostwriters who would pen the 190 titles in the series. The first, and the one to define the style and nuances of the characters, was Leslie McFarlane, who later discussed the early books in his autobiography, Ghost of the Hardy Boys. McFarlane hated the stories, despised writing them but desperately needed the paltry fee he was paid per title. Here is an excellent article on McFarlane’s life and stint as Franklin W. Dixon.
Because of the early era in which they were written, and to keep the books appealing to more modern audiences, the first 38 titles were revised beginning in 1959. Racial stereotypes were re-visited, storylines tweaked, minor details updated in a process that took 15 years to accomplish.
It is interesting to note that during the evolution of the series, likely due to the variety of ghostwriters involved, many inconsistencies have been discovered in the storyline details, much to the chagrin (and likely, the delight of some) of its readers. Today’s editors would shudder at the thought of a character’s name (i.e., Mrs. Hardy’s) changing from one book to another (Laura vs. Mildred) or even minor details such as whether Mr. Hardy’s airplane is a single or twin-engine model.
What attracted me to the series was the televised version aired by the Mickey Mouse Club during the late 50’s, where as a youngster I delighted in watching Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk portraying the handsome, youthful sleuths. An animated version followed in the late 60’s, and in 1977 the boys once again debuted on the small screen with Parker Stevenson and teen heartthrob Shaun Cassidy stepping into the roles of Frank and Joe on The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries”.
Hardy Boys aficionados will note that the series was followed by many additional spin-offs, comic books and mini-series of modern titles. Lawsuits have ensued between publishers (see Grosset & Dunlap, Simon & Schuster and Stratemeyer Syndicate, the original creator of the franchise), covers have been changed, and the series’ have been translated into at least 25 different languages.
Despite the updating of the series, the stories are considered outmoded alongside most of today's top-listed children's novels. However, their popularity endures, as children will always enjoy mysteries wherein they can see the possibilities of themselves participating.