Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: The Tower Treasure (1927) and The Tower Treasure (1959) by Franklin W. Dixon

Until this month, I had never read any of the original Hardy Boys books. In the interest of fully educating myself about this series, I decided to read and compare the two versions of the first book of the series, The Tower Treasure: the original, published in 1927, and the revised edition, released in 1959. The plot in both books is essentially the same. Frank and Joe Hardy are brothers and the son of Fenton Hardy, an accomplished detective. While out doing an errand for their father one day, they witness a man driving recklessly, and then discover his abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. They then learn that their friend Chet's car has been stolen. After they recover the stolen car, they hear news of a jewel theft at the Tower Mansion, owned by Hurd Applegate. When they realize that the accused is the father of a classmate, they become invested in the case and work to prove that the car theft and the tower robbery are connected.

Though the plot of this story remains mostly unchanged from the original edition to the revised edition, the way the story is told changes quite a bit. The first thing I noticed was how much the slang changed from 1927 to 1959. While the word "chum" is used in both books, many other phrases used in the 1927 edition fall out of favor by 1959. For instance, whereas Chet's car is a "roadster" in 1927, and other cars are called "coupes" or "touring cars," the automotive language in 1959 talks about Chet's "jalopy" and how to "soup up" a "hot rod" or "sedan." The 1959 book also introduces terms like "moon rocket," "super duper," and "hot shot" which are completely absent from the original, while the 1927 book throws around phrases like "bad medicine" and "chaps." Both versions sound laughably outdated now, of course, and newer Hardy Boys iterations probably include their own contemporary slang, but it is interesting to consider how many of these changes seemed necessary after just 30 years, and how many of the 1950s phrases would already sound funny again by the time I was a child in the 1980s.

Another major change which is very noticeable is the role of female characters in the story. In 1927, the only women mentioned in the entire book are Callie, a classmate of Frank and Joe, Adelia Applegate, the shrewish sister of tower owner Hurd Applegate, and Mrs. Robinson, the wife of the man accused of stealing the tower treasure. The number of female characters increases by at least two in 1959, as both Mrs. Hardy and Chet's sister Iola are added to the cast. Adelia Applegate is also given a much larger role which makes her come across as more sympathetic and gives the revised story a slightly stronger ending than the original.

The biggest alteration of all, however, is in the collection of evidence toward solving the case. In the 1927 book, clues are found in a meandering way, and it takes Frank and Joe quite a while to recognize the importance of wigs to the overall narrative of the crime. When they do get a big break in the case, their father goes to New York on his own to investigate while the brothers mostly sit around home and wait for news. In 1959, the clues are all basically the same as those the boys collect in 1927, but the aspiring detectives are much quicker about figuring out how wigs are involved, and they are permitted to tag along with Fenton on his New York trip. Since the purpose of revising the book was partly to shorten it, it makes sense that some of the investigating would be condensed, but beyond that, I think it had become a convention of children's books by the 1950s that the child characters actually need to be involved in the action, not just sitting home waiting for their smart dad to bring them the information they want. Interestingly, though, it also seems that the 1950s editor was more concerned about the safety of child characters than the original 1927 author. Whereas the boys build a bomb to delay a rival investigator from catching a train to New York in 1927, by 1959, they only decide to set a fire.

Reading two versions of the same book side-by-side made for a very interesting reading experience. I'm not sure I fully understand the appeal of these older Hardy Boys books, as they are very much a product of their time, but I found it interesting to look at what changes and what remains the same as one generation outgrows the series and another generation grows into it. It's been a while since I've read a Nancy Drew book, but I had the distinct feeling throughout my readings of The Tower Treasure that the Hardy Boys series is not as well-written. While I might consider owning some vintage Nancy Drew, I can't really think of a reason to buy any Hardy Boys books. I'd have no problem with my kids reading them, as they are perfectly acceptable mystery stories, but I don't see them as particularly great works of literature. The Tower Treasure left me feeling like I'd just watched a Saturday morning cartoon, but not as though I had nourished my mind with much of a story.

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