Should it be Goodnight for the Hardy Boys?
“Good night!” exclaimed Joe Hardy, the younger brother of Frank. Joe, a high school star in football, wrestling, lacrosse, swimming, distance running, weight lifting, chess, trigonometry, and theatre, looked worried as he hid behind a skull shaped rock while watching the head of the New World Order toss the Holy Grail into a potato sack.
“Golly gee, I think the President’s phone call will have to wait until we deal with this!” replied Frank, who in addition to excelling in all school sports and subjects, was the youngest town councillor in Bayport’s history and a consultant for the State Senator.
“Let’s get em!” roared the impetuous Joe.
Joe knocked out the biggest crook first, with a solid right cross to the chin. Meanwhile Frank, with a flurry of punches to the solar plexus, was immobilizing the head of the New World Order against the skull shaped rock.
Just then another crook, dressed like a tree, attacked Joe with an iron bar! Joe went sprawling to the ground in pain, undoubtedly having suffered his 56th concussion in just 9 months.
Frank whirled around and grabbed the Holy Grail, used it to smash in the crook dressed like a tree, all before finishing off the remaining 12 attackers with the dexterity that won him National Judo Champion.
“Thanks…” mumbled Joe feebly.
“No problem!” replied Frank, before adding a quick tease, “I guess Iola will have to care for you again… with burgers and milkshakes!”
“I guess so,” said Joe with a faint smile. Iola was his favourite date, and leader of the cheer team.
Who can forget The Hardy Boys? The intrepid teenagers from Bayport put the “I can” in “All-American”. Initially written, under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, by Canadian Leslie McFarlane (whose son Brian was a well-known hockey commentator), The Hardy Boys prove that a boy, if he puts his mind to it, can overcome anything, including international syndicates of organized crime. Many generations of boys have grown up adoring these books. I would be one of those boys.
Surprisingly, The Hardy Boys have not always been well received, both in their infancy, and in the present.
When The Hardy Boys first came out (late 1920s), many librarians refused to put the books on the shelf. They believed that the books would destroy the imaginations of young boys. They accused the books of being dumbed down, and that the stories were always the same. Can you believe that?! Golly gee!
I asked my eight-year-old son Joseph if they were all the same. He indignantly responded, “No! Sometimes they’re in the desert, or a city, or on the sea…” So there.
Truthfully, young boys are easy to fool. Of course the stories are very repetitive. And it is true, they are dumbed down. Apparently in the late 1920s, before television, young people would read books written by such authors as Charles Dickens. The Hardy Boys seemed to change that in a hurry.
However, before going on a rampage against Frank and Joe Hardy, permit me a defense of these books. I would argue that even Dickens was a convincing defender of childhood innocence, and that reading stories of wholesome teenagers fighting criminals does appeal to the instinctive nature of boys to fight evil, overcome odds, and do great works. In other words, The Hardy Boys are simplistic, but in a boyish way, accurately stimulating. They will not make boys become men, but they do offer a fraction of time for boys to revel in something they are not permitted to do in our cancerous society: just enjoy being boys.
Now the problem with The Hardy Boys is essentially this: there are simply too many Hardy Boys books. The original series (not the pathetic modern versions) had over 50 books! If you read one, you had to read them all. So while it can be a fun read for a young boy, it can be too much of a good thing as well.
So what do you do? Well, as mentioned earlier, my boy has read (most of) them. I own 33 Hardy Boys books (thankfully not all of them). He started this summer and finished, well, this summer. He loved them! However, he is only eight years old. At this point he’s read them, and that’s that. We have been quick to have him move up in the world of literature. He’s currently with the Chronicles of Narnia, and I’m anxious to have him move on to The Hobbit soon. Who knows, maybe he will be reading Charles Dickens before long?
In other words, I am very happy he read and enjoyed The Hardy Boys, but it is necessary to move him along with books. Reading similar crime stories is stirring for a while, but it can stunt the imagination. A boy’s imagination needs to be nurtured and ultimately expanded. The Hardy Boys was his baby food for adventure. But now he must move on to solids of a healthy nature.
One final note: ironically, one cannot find The Hardy Boys at our local library anymore. You will find graphic novels (essentially comic books) in their place. It is, as Anthony Esolen opines in Nostalgia, a Farenheit 451 situation, except the “firemen” of the books “are called librarians and school superintendents now.” Apparently we cannot have our children read books now where the mom tends the home, hard work triumphs, boys succeed, and being good and wholesome is applauded. Rather, it is once again “goodnight!” for The Hardy Boys, both in the beginning and now, except for very different reasons.
I say that, with a healthy moderation, our boys need The Hardy Boys. Let them be innocent boys. But then, and this is essential, let them learn to become men.
“Right you are,” agreed Frank, before driving off with Joe in their new red convertible, bought with the reward money earned from their last solved case.
The car drove confidently towards the setting sun. Everything was safe and secure… and innocent.