The following is a guest post by Mark F. Hall, a research specialist in the Library of Congress’s Researcher and Reference Services Division.
In today’s rapidly and constantly changing culture, we like to think that some things are the same generation after generation. The books we read, for example. It’s comforting to know that our children and grandchildren read Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys series and Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew books just like we, our parents, and our grandparents did.
So it may come as a surprise to many, then, to learn that many of the familiar Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew titles still available today are substantially different from the works they remember from years past. Nor are these revisions the work of Dixon or Keene themselves. They couldn’t be, as neither of these authors ever lived.
To unravel these mysteries we must go back to the dawn of the twentieth century, to a man named Edward Stratemeyer. Born in 1862, Stratemeyer began writing children’s fiction in the 1890s. Over his career he wrote under many pseudonyms and wrote hundreds of books and stories. He created his first series, the Rover Boys, in 1899, followed by the Bobbsey Twins in 1904. By 1905 he had set up the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which mass-produced children’s fiction novels. Some of the stories were written by Stratemeyer himself, many others were based on characters invented by Stratemeyer but were written by ghostwriters under pseudonyms—such as Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene. The Tom Swift series (written under the pseudonym Victor Appleton) debuted in 1910 and became the Syndicate’s most successful series of Stratemeyer’s lifetime. Perhaps the best known to modern readers were two series created shortly before Stratemeyer’s death in 1930: the first Hardy Boys adventure, The Tower Treasure, was published in 1927 and Nancy Drew first appeared in The Secret of the Old Clock in 1930. In all, the Stratemeyer Syndicate developed more than one hundred series and published more than a thousand books. The Syndicate’s books have accounted for tens of millions of book sales over the past century.
While these books have remained popular for decades for many reasons, the fact that they don’t seem as dated as many other works from their era is part of careful planning on the part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Beginning in 1959 the Syndicate, aware of the changes taking place in American society, began to revise and modernize aspects of the books in those series that were still popular. For the most part, their emphasis was on the hugely successful Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Bobbsey Twins series. For some books, all that was needed was a minor facelift such as the removal of words that could be considered racial slurs or changing characters who could be seen as offensive stereotypes. Other changes included updating the technology to be in line with the expectations of modern readers (e.g. Nancy Drew’s roadster had become a convertible) and transforming the personalities of the main characters to seem more wholesome and less rebellious.
A few books, however, had plots that were no longer adequate and had to be completely rewritten. For example, The Flickering Torch Mystery, first published in 1943, originally concerned an investigation of the disappearance of rare silkworms from a scientific research facility that expanded into a case involving stolen government building materials. When republished in 1971, the Hardy Boys were now investigating mysterious airplane crashes when they discovered a plot to smuggle radioactive material. A comparison of the Table of Contents for the two editions shows that even the chapter titles were all changed.
Additionally, as can be seen in a comparison of the first page from each edition, the text is entirely new and Joe Hardy now played an electric guitar! Throughout the revised books, violence and gunplay is reduced, the books are shortened in terms of overall length and number of chapters, and supporting characters are changed to fit contemporary social circumstances.
By the end of the twentieth century, many of the Stratemeyer Syndicate series characters had appeared in other media, such as television and cartoon shows, and comic books. Publication of new Stratemeyer works moved from Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster in 1979, and the new publishers took the series in new directions, publishing paperback editions for the first time, and creating spin-off series with older, more mature versions of the main characters. The characters’ popularity has remained constant in spite of, and in part because of, the many changes they’ve endured.