This morning I’d like to share with you the incredibly high-brow book that launched my lifetime love affair with reading when I was just a boy of eight. Yes, I’d really like to do that, but I also feel this burden about always being truthful with my readers. And so I might as well just admit that the book that first made me fall in love with literature was…was (come on Elliot, just spit it out)…The Tower Treasure, the first of the countless Hardy Boys Mystery Series by Franklin W. Dixon.
There—now it’s out in the open, and I don’t feel so bad about it. I don’t know what exactly it was about that series that had me hooked-lined-and sinkered during my impressionable boyhood years from about age eight through eleven. Was it their exciting adventures while capturing diamond smugglers, drug peddlers, and race-horse kidnappers? Or was it the deep and finely-drawn differences in characterization between the brothers Frank and Joe Hardy—which can be summed up neatly as: Frank’s the one with the dark hair; Joe’s was blond. No other individual nuances have ever been detected.
The allure might also have been that they were called the Hardy BOYS so I believed at my young age that I too could become a renowned detective. I was certainly a boy, but with Frank’s age given as seventeen and Joe’s as sixteen, they certainly were not. Let’s face it—the series should have been called “The Hardly Boys.”
Even their hometown village of “Bayport” was delightful to me. Here I was reading about them in boring old Indianapolis which possessed neither” bay” nor “port” My town was definitely “India-No-Place” or “Nap-town” — while theirs overflowed with opportunities to chase a different type of loathsome felon in each book, somehow making their little hamlet of Bayport the international crime hub of the United States.
I guess their identical personalities as well-scrubbed Eagle Scouts were also appealing. Their chivalric behavior in all possible situations would have captured every scouting merit badge imaginable. And their generically attractive girlfriends — Callie for Frank and Iola (who?) for Joe — could even out-wholesome their beaus.
But thank goodness our brothers didn’t have to win a merit badge in performing actual dating practices. Not a trace of sexual attraction is alluded to between these two chaste couples, which, I suppose, was also comforting to my pre-pubescent self. As indicated by their book titles, they were masters at cracking “The Secret of the Old Mill” and “The Secret of the Caves,” but I fear that they would have been utterly stymied by “The Secret of Where Babies Come From.”
I admit to being crestfallen when an older kid informed me that my favorite author—Mr. Franklin W. Dixon, The Hemingway of Young Adult Fiction—did not even exist and was just a pseudonym for a whole staff of hired writers who churned out the various Hardy Boys books. That revelation was this Jewish boy’s “There’s no Santa Claus” moment. And I never told anybody that at that point I’d also been secretly reading my sister’s Nancy Drew books and discovered that their author, Carolyn Keene, was but another scribblers conglomerate. That revelation didn’t much phase me since, honestly, I thought the best thing about the peppy-preppy girl detective was that her last name rhymed with “Clue.”
Perhaps most wonderful of all was the whole exhilarating, hyped-up Hardy Boys world, right down to the way they talked. When I was conversing with family, friends, or fellow students in real life, we tended merely to reply or respond or answer each other. But not Frank and Joe, No Siree Bob! They “cried out”, “panted”, “guffawed”, “gasped”, “glowered”, “roared”, and verbally communicated in every possible histrionic way short of ululating.
And, Lordy, the interjections those two boys loved to use: “Gee, Willikers!”, “Golly, Fellas”, and “Hooray!” Since there was no artistic effort to distinguish one brother from the other, my favorite moments in the books were when Frank and Joe would verbally react with the same interjection at the same moment, as in “‘Yippee!’ the boys chorused.” Only in Bayport were citizens chorusing without benefit of a choir.
Such charged verbal energy in every book was contagious for this particular boy reader, and I suspect that’s why I’ve been trying to effervesce my way through life ever since. I noticed that the Hardy Boys series has now been translated into twenty-eight languages, but I’m ever so grateful that the one language totally absent from these novels is dull, realistic, conversational English. So let us now all chorus “Huzzah!”
Elliot thinks this may be his funniest essay. He really enjoyed writing it. What are your thoughts?