Learn­ing to read

The Compass - - SPORTS -

Be­tween the ages of 10 and 14, I cut my read­ing teeth on the ven­er­a­ble Hardy Boys mys­tery sto­ries, writ­ten by Franklin W. Dixon, the pen name used by a va­ri­ety of authors.

In my mind, I can still see the front cover of Book 41, “The Clue of the Screech­ing Owl.” What a look of fear on the faces of broth­ers Joe and Frank Hardy! The book blurb states: “When dogs and men sud­denly dis­ap­pear, and strange screams fill the night, fan­tas­tic sto­ries of venge­ful ghosts are al­most be­liev­able.” Dra­matic cap­tions such as this one iden­ti­fied the ter­ri­fy­ing il­lus­tra­tions: “At that mo­ment, two ven­omous snakes slith­ered out of the cave.” Heady stuff for a re­pressed teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Be­cause I was raised in a con­ser­va­tive home, where so-called worldly lit­er­a­ture was frowned upon, I had to de­vise an un­der­cover method of read­ing the Hardy Boys.

Ev­ery day, I would take one mys­tery home from the school li­brary. Af­ter my home­work was done, I would re­main on the daybed in my fa­ther’s study, hide my “worldly” book be­hind a scrib­bler, binder, or text­book larger than the novel it­self, and breath­lessly de­vour it. I con­tin­ued this prac­tice un­til I had read all 66 books in the se­ries, then turned to Nancy Drew.

One night while read­ing, I lis­tened with glee to a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween my par­ents.

“Eric, Bur­ton’s a very boy, isn’t he?”

“Why do you say that, Ag­gie?” Ha­gar was Mom’s name, but she went by Ag­gie.

“Well, haven’t you no­ticed how he stays on the daybed and stud­ies till bed­time ev­ery night?”

I guess Dad hadn’t no­ticed.

Mys­tery and in­trigue


I of­ten won­der about what Will Ox­ford calls “the mys­tery of the im­mor­tal de­tec­tives.” He says, “the pri­mary in­gre­di­ent in the Hardy recipe is ad­ven­ture,” fol­lowed by “a healthy dose of mys­tery and in­trigue.”

An­other in­gre­di­ent is hu­mour. The Hardy boys’ best friend, Chet Mor­ton, can al­ways be re­lied on for a hearty laugh, and Aunt Gertrude drops the oc­ca­sional colourful re­mark. “Hu­mour such as this gives read­ers a much-needed breather from the books’ break­neck pace.” Fi­nally, the sto­ry­line fol­lows a pre­dictable pat­tern, in­clud­ing a brief ref­er­ence at the end to the next ti­tle in the se­ries.

But none of this ex­plains the books’ longevity. Ox­ford fo­cuses on the boys who read the books.

“To a young boy, Frank and Joe Hardy are or­di­nary enough to iden­tify with. Like all boys, they go to the soda shop with friends and they chafe un­der parental re­stric­tions. Frank and Joe do the same things nor­mal boys do, but un­like nor­mal boys, Frank and Joe al­ways ex­cel … Who could blame a young boy … who is strug­gling with in­se­cu­ri­ties about school, about girls, and about him­self, for want­ing to es­cape into the pages of a book and fol­low along with the ad­ven­tures of two boys–boys just like him­self ! — in a world where truth is al­ways re­warded, where good al­ways tri­umphs, and where evil is al­ways pun­ished? Young boys need to es­cape from the pres­sures that, at this for­ma­tive time in their lives, can be un­bear­able. The Hardy Boys books pro­vide an av­enue for this es­cape.”

Will Ox­ford doesn’t know me, but he de­scribes me to a tee.

Last week, I picked up a Hardy Boy book for the first time in more than 40 years. The ninth book in the se­ries, “The Great Air­port Mys­tery,” is de­scribed this way: “Valu­able elec­tronic parts con­tain­ing plat­inum are be­ing stolen from ship­ments made by Stan­wide Min­ing Equip­ment Com­pany’s cargo planes, and Frank and Joe Hardy are called upon to as­sist their worl­drenowned de­tec­tive fa­ther solve the baf­fling case.

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