1. The Hospital
The lower one pictured is the 1927 edition, the middle the 1959 revised book, and the top, which I just had to have after rereading 1927 and 1959, is the most recent May 2016 version. I’m not going to supply the endless images of covers over the years found on the Internet; see the links at the end if you’re interested. You can get lost in investigating editions, authors ghostwriting as Franklin W. Dixon (Leslie McFarlane being the author of 1927, and Harriet Adams being the author of 1959), covers, British editions, “canon” volumes 1-58, “digest’ volumes 59 on, etc.
The lower edition, copyrighted 1927, is actually from around 1945, as it lists the series up through The Short Wave Mystery (1945). There is also a wondrous ad for “Air Combat Stories,” including one titled Spitfire Pilot, which takes us to World War II. The 1959 by definition has to be between the book’s publication date of 6/1/59 (if the list of titles in June 1959 could include, as my copy does, the projected 12/1/59 The Mystery of the Chinese Junk) and early 1960.
But I’ve not only just reread–for the first time since 1960–the first chapter book I ever read, but I also read the same physical copy of that book! It’s just that I don’t know which one it was.
In January 1960 seven-year-old Mickey Smith managed to dart from between parked cars onto surging River Road in Fair Haven, New Jersey, was struck by a late fifties monster chrome bumper, and spent the next two months in the hospital with a fractured skull. These days I probably would have been released after two or three days, but at the time it was mandated that I stay in bed so long I had to be retrained how to walk. The smell of ammonia used to scrub the rooms wars with the two horrifying shots in the ass every night as the worst part of the experience.
Nevertheless, it all just sort of happened to me and I can’t recall feeling afraid, just horribly constrained, during my initial hospitalization to March. Fear didn’t kick in until the second operation a few months later in July 1960 where, being wheeled to the operating room, I considered the possibility that I could die. See below for when I started to write, though.
The feeling of being a prisoner with no options was central to the hospital experience. I have a memory of being told to wave at my brother Doug and sister Tricia in the parking lot below my hospital room window one evening, as for some reason they weren’t allowed into my room–maybe just for that day, I don’t know. But my brother Doug did manage to smuggle me his copy of The Tower Treasure–could it have been that same night? I was intensely grateful that he entrusted it to me, but I was also unsure if I could handle it. I had never read a real book before. Okay, Make Way for Ducklings–I’m still unsure how long before 1960 I read that picture book, but it must have been a significant amount of time–and a host of similar picture books counted, but not really–the novel, the chapter book, a phrase I didn’t encounter until adulthood, was the real test.
So, in my bed by the window to the parking lot, in deep night, under a circle of light from the lamp over my right shoulder, I read Book One of the Hardy Boys. As opposed to the difficult concentrating to make sense of Make Way for Ducklings, to my surprise I found I could absorb this novel easily. It fueled my confidence in reading from then on.
The circle of light on the book, the deep night fascination, the confidence, was sanctuary amid the dull horrors of the hospital. It occurred to me recently that not only was this moment the first time I felt at ease during that hospital stay, it was probably the first time in my life I’d ever consciously experienced that sense of timeless ease. Sure, kids can have joyous moods from age zero on, but these aren’t usually self-reflective. Reading The Tower Treasure, I was granted some rest and relief at a way station on a difficult journey.
So, as I said, I either read a 1927 (1945-era reprint) or a 1959-60 book. I agree with most commentators that the 1959 edition is a poor revision of the 1927. But to my mind neither book really gets into satisfying descriptions of the Tower Mansion or its old and new towers, though 1927 does better in this regard. It’s for this reason I wonder if I really hadn’t read the 1927/1945 reprint, as my memory of the 1960 reading is mostly that of the awesome, mysterious Tower itself. But this may just be wishful thinking. Though it’s possible that it was some 1945-ish family copy Doug got to me, it seems more likely that he lent his newer version. I could easily be conflating the richness of the experience of the circle of light and sanctuary with the fact that 1927 is a richer book in itself.
Disclaimer: Decades of distance certainly alter one’s perceptions. It has to be said that both versions are pretty mediocre as novels. But that didn’t stop me as a child from reading Hardy Boys straight through to book forty or forty-one. I still have a box with all of the series up to that point, and recall as a child looking at 1920’s or 1930’s copyright dates and marveling to be holding such old books.
2. 1927 and 1959
I first read the 1959 version earlier this month, assuming that of course the novel would be slightly updated from the 1927 version. But I was startled at how different the two books were, and decided to read 1927 as well. 1927 is not only a more rewarding experience, but seems written at a higher reading level. The 1959 Harriet Adams revision is a sadly workmanlike attempt to modernize and clean up the original, but it leeches the life out of the book. I do give her credit for adhering to the time-honored trick of exciting first paragraph:
Frank and Joe Hardy clutched the grips of their motorcycles and stared in horror at the oncoming car. It was careening from side to side on the narrow road.
Contrast that with the first two paragraphs of 1927, which unfortunately continues to forcefeed us bad exposition for the first few pages until it mercifully settles down into being decent storytelling:
“After the help we gave dad on that forgery case I guess he’ll begin to think we could be detectives when we grow up.”
“Why shouldn’t we? Isn’t he one of the most famous detectives in the country? And aren’t we his sons? If the profession was good enough for him to follow it should be good enough for us.”
I was unable to check the 1987 edition at the library where I work. Before I could embark on that task, a boy approached me at the reference desk asking whether we had any “Frank Dixon” books, and thus I found myself obligated to place The Tower Treasure of 1987 into his hand. I’d assumed that the book must have been revised numerous times after 1959–c’mon, Frank and Joe would have iPhones by now!–but my impulse purchase of the May 2016 edition answered this question. As far as I can tell 2016 is identical, page for page, to 1959, with the exception of two juxtaposed lines on 1959’s page five that baffled me in my latest rereading, but which have been corrected by 2016. I’ll leave the exact date of correction to serious Hardy Boy scholars.
In 1927, The Hardys’ friend Chet Morton is a confident jokester and gets a lot more space than in 1959, where he comes off as a one-dimensional fat boy coward.
Frank’s girlfriend Callie is virtually characterless in 1959, but in the 1927 edition she has more lines and is sketched out better, though still not fully. She has a certain force about her completely lacking in 1959.
In 1927, some chapters are written from father Fenton Hardy’s point of view. The boys aren’t present for some major aspects of the case; in contrast 1959 includes Frank and Joe in all scenes and all description is from their point of view.
In 1927, Fenton hotly disputes with the Bayport police chief and his idiot sidekick Detective Smuff; the police are seen are incompetent fools, and the 1927 Chief Collig actually starts a rumor to discredit and humiliate the Hardys. To rectify 1927’s literary calumny against the law enforcement profession, the 1959 edition elevates Chief Collig to a state of impeccable authority but, to keep at least one buffoon in the picture, demotes Oscar Smuff to luckless independent private investigator not employed by the police department.
Intriguingly, 1927 also builds on moods of frustration, despair, and anxiety as the case refuses to cohere–not just on Frank and Joe’s part but also, significantly, on that of father/authority figure Fenton. Such introspection is absent in 1959.
Our Tower Mansion-dwelling obstacles Hurd Applegate and sister Adelia are more fleshed out and believable in 1927. The 1959 explanation that it was Adelia who lent money to her servant is preposterous, as she then would have known all along there was no servant motive for the tower theft. The 1927 version of a third party involved makes much more sense.
1927 treats the boys more as neophytes beginning to understand what detective work will involve. Fenton’s long, insightful explanation of how to minutely observe people is instructive to the boys and was inexplicably cut from 1959. 1959 tries to show the boys more grown up and aware of their work. In 1959 Frank is eighteen and Joe seventeen. In 1927, Frank is sixteen and Joe fifteen.
1959 added some jazzed-up action, including the Old Tower’s broken trap door and Joe’s plunge over the tower railing, along with an encounter with a devilish hobo in the railroad tower, but overall, this book wasn’t supposed to be an action novel but an investigation into how the boys begin to learn their craft by observation and analysis. Such modernization as presented, for example the use of airplanes instead of trains, doesn’t really accomplish much.
The strangest difference is the revision of the diversion Frank, Joe, and several of their high school friends use to delay the incompetent Oscar Smuff from catching his train (1927) or plane (1959). The 1959 version has the boys exaggerate a trash fire behind the Italian fruit seller’s shop into a crisis demanding Smuff’s attention. But in 1927, one of the boys actually puts a ticking clock in a box under the fruits seller’s stand and leaves everyone to guess that a time bomb is about to explode! The fruit seller is convinced that the bomb is from The Black Hand, which apparently was, according to Wikipedia, “an extortion racket practised by the Camorra and Mafia members in Italy and the United States.” The resulting cowardice displayed by Chief of Police Collig, Detective Smuff, and patrolman Con Riley as they argue about who is to defuse the bomb is way over the top. Its slapstick humor is almost out of place in the book, but does serve to indicate how feckless the Bayport Police Department is compared to the brilliant Hardy family.
From page 96 of 1927–not all the diction is this convoluted, but I’m not certain a boy in 1959 could have made sense of the second paragraph:
“We’ll just have to be patient, I guess,” said Frank. “No news is good news.”
And with this philosophic reflection the Hardy boys were obliged to comfort themselves against the impatience that possessed them to learn what progress their father was making in the city toward following up the clues they had given him.
The endpapers of 1927 show a single drawing of the boys spying with binoculars at something suspicious across a river. The 1959 shows numerous images from the series. Both have the same logo on the cover. (I don’t have dust jackets so don’t ask! But see the URL’s below for likely candidates). Both editions promise the second book, The House on the Cliff, in a suspension-of-disbelief-wrecking paragraph near the end. So branding began right from the beginning and has been maintained full throttle ever since.
3. When Did I Begin Writing?
Four months later, July 1960, probably after the second operation. Some Air Force pilot loses his oxygen mask and dire consequences result. See The Gore Book.
A couple years later, in the fifth grade (as mentioned elsewhere on this blog) we were to make stories out of the current week’s list of ten or so new vocabulary words. I hated writing my first story for that class, a dull rip off of the Hardy Boys, and could barely force myself to finish it. But maybe some lesson from the circle of light way station was still with me, maybe something in that experience was pointing me beyond this first chapter book into new visions of my own, because the next week I came up with Jack Commer and “Voyage to Venus” and never looked back, never tried to create anything so parasitic again.
And the Dickensian Oscar Smuff, the blustering amateur failure mode detective who always gets his comeuppance, may have inspired my evil Sam Hergs from the original eighth grade version of The Martian Marauders. From that unfinished 1966 effort, which also includes older brother Jack and younger brother Joe:
Half an hour later all were situated in their positions when Jack remarked: “Joe, the data that the officials sent in before we left; well, they also included a little summary of that Sam guy. I’ll read off what it says:
“Real name‑‑Samuel Jay Hergs.
“Born on April 19, 1999 in Maine‑‑specific town not known.
“Had a police record‑‑started at fourteen.
“At age of twenty‑one organized an anti‑space riot‑‑said exploring space was foolish.
“In the same year he denounced his country in Socialism at Work, a book he wrote in 2020.
“In 2033, on the policy of evacuation, he said it was ‘stupid.’ He organized a spy route and infiltrated many of the U.S.S.F. spaceships and sabotaged them, killing hundreds of people.
“Lately has been known to work with the Martians‑‑is extremely dangerous.”
Jack stopped. Joe whistled. “He sure is a tough customer.”
“I’ll say,” said Jack. “But I think his madness may foul him up. I hope he is at the Mercury base.”
“I agree. He should be killed off soon.”
copyright 2016 (also copyright 1966!) by Michael D. Smith, with shameless promotion of Jack Commer Book Four, Collapse and Delusion, thrown in–after all, The Tower Treasure had to have influenced the Jack Commer series somehow!
Some URL’s found along the way: