Jul 28, 2015

Gay Symbolism in the Tom Swift Books

Adults who knew that I liked boys' adventure stories and science fiction sometimes gave me books in the Tom Swift series.  After all, they starred a boy scientist who came up with weird inventions, and they were available in every department store.  But I didn't care for Tom Swift, in spite of the beefcake covers.

There have been four incarnations of the boy scientist.

1. Tom Swift, Senior (40 books, 1910-41) is a young adult, working for his father's construction company and inventing things (a motor-cycle, a motor-boat, an electric rifle). He adventures with a friend, Ned, but while most adventure boys of the era have no interest in girls, Tom practically shoves Ned aside the moment their gyro-copter lands at Shopton Airport in his haste to hold hands with Mary Nestor.

2. Tom Swift, Junior (33 books, 1954-71) is the son of the original Tom, a teenager who uses Dad's vast laboratories to invent things (a space solartron, a triphibian atomicar, a polar-ray dynosphere).  Mostly he uses them to fight the Communists. It's all very mechanical rather than scientific, like shop class.

Tom engages in some buddy-bonding with his friend Bud Barclay, but both have girlfriends -- with relationships much more overtly romantic than those of the Hardy Boys:

Tom grinned. "How about another dance, Phyl?"
As the music struck up again, he squeezed Phyl's hand. Phyl blushed as she returned the squeeze. "You rate with me," she confided shyly.

3. Tom Swift III (13 books, 1981-84) is probably a descendant of the original tom (though his paternity is never fully explained).  In the future,  doesn't really invent anything; he travels through space on a faster-than-light craft, along with two companions, Ben and Anita. I haven't read any of these.

4. Tom Swift IV (15 books, 1991-93) is the son of the original Tom.  He stays on 1990s Earth and invents things, and collaborates with the Hardy Boys.

This Tom has a best friend, a practical joker named Rick, but again, they both have girlfriends, with lots of hand-holding and kisses on cheeks, and discussions of feminine beauty are almost as common as discussion of science.

For whatever reason -- a desire to be "relevant," to attract female readers, to avoid the obvious gay subtexts in the Hardy Boys series -- the ghost-writers introduced an incessant girl-craziness.  There was some buddy bonding, too, but it was drowned out by Tom blushing as he held the hand of some girl.