Topic: Of which author do you own the most books?
After all these deep, soul-searching topics the Meme has presented recently, it’s refreshing to have one that is simple math. Just count up the volumes, compare final tallies, and include a few thoughts on the why and wherefore.
Smiling to myself, I sidled over to my bookshelves, confident that a narrow victory would be found among three of my favorite authors.
Tick, tally, tick, tally, etcetera and so on…that’s ten for Tolkien! Good show, Professor.
Uno, due, tre, quattro, etcetera and so forth…why, exactly ten for ol’ Brian Jacques! And only one of those unread. A tie, so far, but the game isn’t up yet.
Eins, zwo, drei, vier…aha-ha! Twelve for jolly C.S. Lewis. Excellent form, good master, excellent form. And that’s not even counting his Space Trilogy, which technically belongs to my church library and not to me (though I am the church librarian…).
So easy! Yet before I could step away with my triumphant (if rather predictable) answer to this topic, my eyes dropped to a lower shelf that I don’t frequent as often as I once did.
Oh, wow. This changes things. Terribly sorry to have forgotten about you guys. It’s been awhile, you see? Yes, yes, of course I’ll tally you, even though your victory is evident.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen…(Sheesh, I really collected these books, didn’t I?)…fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen…twenty!
Twenty books from The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon.
Now it’s true that Franklin W. Dixon is a pen name first used by Leslie McFarlane and later applied to many such ghoswriters under the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Edward Stratemeyer created Frank and Joe Hardy and developed many of their basic storylines, and then farmed them out to the ghostwriters, who would fill in the smaller details and put everything in actual prose. They had strict guidelines, with little wiggle-room for personal style or artistic flair. These books are designed to be reasonably exciting mysteries aimed at young boys, but they are very “safe.” The heroes are morally upright, unusually bright and resourceful. They have a list of character traits to distinguish themselves from each other, but not much personality otherwise. The plots range from clichéd and simplistic to clichéd and fun. And to be fair, as an elementary and middle-schooler, this was the first exposure I had to many of the classic mystery tropes.
And I loved them. I probably haven’t read one in ten years, but when I was the target age, I lapped these books up, and twenty of them still sit patiently on my shelf.
See, while these books weren’t written to be art, to be challenging, to break new ground, or to introduce you to new worlds or fascinating characters—in short, they didn’t try to do most of the things I now look for in a book—they had a certain innocent appeal, a comfortable familiarity that kept me coming back.
This is mostly because of Frank and Joe, who are best friends as well as brothers. They’re good, decent boys, essentially kind-hearted, conservative in their values, and desirous of helping others. Brave, honest, and gentlemanly, while still down-to-earth, they are almost symbols of home-made American masculine youth. Their flaws—often getting in over their head, hot-headedness in Joe, some pride in Frank—are ticked off a list to make them a bit more relatable, but never really get in the way of their lives or happiness. It’s not enough to make them profound or truly delightful characters, but enough to make them likable. You’d like Frank and Joe in real life. While some might call them goody-two-shoes, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty, and they relish adventure. In this way, they are a kind of wish-fulfillment for the young boys reading their mysteries. My best childhood friend and I would sometimes call each other Frank and Joe, and try to take up amateur sleuthing in our neighborhood (neighbors didn’t always like this). And you know what? It’s not so bad to have characters like Frank and Joe as role models. They taught me to always carry a heavy metal tool, preferably a crowbar, in the trunk of your vehicle, and to always take a flashlight when you travel. They introduced me to the world of competitive fencing, to the Iditarod sled race in Alaska, to the rare beauty of snow leopards (and the heinous crime of stealing one from a zoo!), and to Secret Sinister Clues to the Mysterious Twisted Marks on the Treasure Towers in Viking Skull Pirate Mountain At Midnight and other such descriptor-filled titles that practically shouted Thrills! Suspense! Mystery! Ah, the good ol’ days!
Actually, the original series, as I remember most of it, had mostly the same, safe formulas. The crimes were usually theft, forgery, intimidation, kidnapping, etcetera – no one ever got seriously hurt, and no one died. I suppose readers got tired of that after awhile. So, sometime in the 1980s, they started the Hardy Boys’ Casefiles, which finally featured more serious topics like murder and international espionage. I remember being shocked when the first Casefiles book killed off Joe’s long-time girlfriend in a car bomb. But even though the spinoff series lost some of the franchise’s innocence, Frank and Joe were still essentially the same solid, decent guys you could trust in and root for. So I read the Casefiles, too, and enjoyed the more varied plots.
There are hundreds of Hardy Boys books, all under the pen name of Franklin W. Dixon. Of the twenty I own, maybe four I never got around to reading. I don’t know if I ever will. But I’ll keep the books around. My nephews have some of the series, and Matthew is just getting to the age where he can start to follow a simple novel, if he works at it. When I have children of my own, I’ll probably read them some of the Hardy Boys.