When I first decided that I was going to pick The Hardy Boys for this weeks feature, I wasn't sure what direction I was going to go in. At first I thought I would be all intellectual about it. I was going to delve into the hidden meanings and racial controversies that have sprung up over the years. I was going to examine, in minute detail, the cultural significance they have come to symbolize. Then I realized I have no frickin clue about any of that, most of which I think is dreamed up by people who have nothing better to do with their time. So instead I'm just going to explain why I liked, and still do, them so much.
I don't quite remember in what grade I first discovered The Hardy Boys series. I'm going to assume, for the sake of argument, that it was around the same time I first came across Nancy Drew. And while I loved the Nancy Drew books, I fell in love with Frank and Joe Hardy. You could probably say that as a little kid, I had my first literary crush on them.
Here were these two young men who not only had a great family life, but got to live out these amazing adventures that most of us could (and still do) dream about. They have a world famous detective for a father. A father that encourages them in their capers, and always seems to need their help. Because of that the boys kinda get the best of both worlds. They get to show their father up a bit and earn his approval at the same time. Their mother is that paragon of virtue, the content housewife and mother. She stays home and makes sure that all three of the men in her life are taken care of and supported in whatever fashion they need. She has no problem packing a picnic lunch for her boys to take out on a case and will even throw in extra food for their friends. It would be impossible to not love a mother like that.
But it's those adventures, some of which take them far from home, that makes Frank and Joe Hardy childhood icons. They get to do things that and visit places that I could only experience through their eyes. Now of course, as I've gotten older, I've come to understand a few things about those adventures. For starters, the boys never seemed to be in school, despite attending Bayport High School. So I'm not sure if their principal was that understanding or that they were such excellent students, that they always made their work up. The other aspect I've come to understand is that I can't imagine the money it would have taken for these two young men to do what they do. So the only assumption you can come away with is that Fenton Hardy was such a world class detective, that he made killer money. It's either that or they just got everything for free.
The major realization, the one I actually understood to an extent at the time, was that no matter what their adventures, the two boys were going to come out of it just find. No matter how scary or unpredictable the situations they found themselves in, no real danger was going to land on their doorsteps. They were never going to be shot through the end by the thief they were trying to expose. They were never going to have their dead bodies dropped into the river because they got to close to solving a case. It's that almost sterile sense of "danger" that made the books so hospitable to my young mind. I don't think I would have enjoyed them as much if these adventures were really that dangerous. Even in the world of fantasy, my young mind needed massive safety nets.
As an adult, I still value the cleanness of it all. There are time, as a mystery lover, that I don't want to read something dark and somber. I need that little bit of lightness to bring me out of that funk that a truly dark book can put you into. As a father, I rejoice in the idea that there are still fun books out there for younger readers that don't explore the seedier sides of life. I love the fact that I can turn these books over to my son and know that he will get just as much enjoyment out of them that I did, without his psyche being traumatized.