- Rewriting the Past in Children's Literature:The Hardy Boys and Other Series
The heart of any discipline is a reliable reference source where primary works are preserved. If this essential bedrock is lost, changed, or falsified, then subsequent work must rely on spurious data, and there is no longer a discipline, a science, but rather chaos and charlatanism. Why then did professional librarians and practitioners in the fields of children's literature and popular culture not arise in outrage at the Stratemeyer Syndicate's publication of altered, revised, and even rewritten versions of their Hardy Boys and other series books as if they were exactly the same as the originals? The originals of these books have been extremely important in developing an interest in reading for hundreds of thousands of children for generations. As such, the study of these books, their characters, idioms, racial and ethnic references, technology, and plots reveals much about the times in which they were written and how society and its values have changed.1 For a scholar to examine these aspects of the evolution of children's literature, the published past must be available and identifiable in its original form.
Yet The Hardy Boys series, one of the most prolific and important since its beginning in 1927, has been published since 1959 under the original titles and author but with the stories, characters, and dialogue of the first 38 volumes substantially changed. There was little or no notice of this in the earlier printings of the revisions, and now the revised stories are even offered as the "originals"! This complete disregard for the integrity of the written past will create at least two problems for scholars. First, some may examine the new stories thinking they are the originals (as has happened already); second, the original stories could become unavailable except from collectors as the old books are replaced in libraries by the new ones.
The story has been told before, but in a scattered literature; the professional journals seem to have paid scant attention.2 Ken Donalson (38-39) briefly discusses the revisions but raises no scholarly arguments against the practice. Strong reaction to the literary mutilation is apparently limited to the popular press and specialty magazines. Ed Zuckerman states that the Syndicate "like Soviet historians [has] been systematically rewriting the past. The extent of this literary sacrilege is overwhelming . . ." (40). Cullen Murphy calls it "The Great Purge" (18); I.R. Ybarra speaks of his "horrified outrage" at the "vandalism" (21); Fred Woodworth (Famous Sleuths) calls it "an almost unbelievably mercenary act" (2).3
For those unfamiliar with the Stratemeyer Syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) achieved great success writing children's books around the turn of the century under his own name and many pseudonyms. In 1906, he founded his Syndicate in order to produce series books more efficiently, and, presumably, to keep the profits closer to home. The Syndicate paid writers a flat fee to fill out plot outlines under a fictitious persona, and it owned the titles, stories, and pseudonyms absolutely; it required the writers to waive all claims to the product. The result was a torrent of books and series: by 1930, tens of millions of books had been published representing over 700 titles. Some of the best-known Syndicate series were Tom Swift, The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew, but their familiar authors, Victor Appleton, Laura Lee Hope, Franklin W. Dixon, and Carolyn Keene, respectively, never existed: they all were collective pseudonyms. After Stratemeyer's death the Syndicate continued, primarily under the guidance of his daughter Harriet S. Adams.4 The Hardy Boys series history is typical of how others were created, produced, and later, debased.
In 1926 Stratemeyer hired a talented Canadian writer, Leslie McFarlane, to write the first three Hardy Boys books under the Franklin W. Dixon pseudonym. The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, and The Secret of the Old Mill, with plot outlines, characters, and settings supplied by Stratemeyer, were published simultaneously in 1927 to test the market. These "breeders" were popular, so McFarlane produced more Hardy Boys volumes throughout the 1930s and 1940s; his last was The...