Jun 12, 2015

The Hardy Boys

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I preferred science fiction and jungle adventures, but I didn't mind detectives, if they were Sherlock Holmes and Watson, or the Hardy Boys.  Frank and Joe Hardy, high school aged sons of the famous detective Fenton Hardy, began by butting into their father’s cases in 1927, but soon found trouble enough on their own: they captured smugglers and counterfeiters, thwarted spies, investigated haunted houses that weren’t really haunted after all.

Although they are both in the same year of high school, the Hardys are a year apart in age.  , but their personalities are complementary: the older Frank is reasoned, logical, and serious, while the younger Joe is impetuous, emotional, and something of a jokester.   Since they managed to endure and even prosper while other boys’ book series failed during the 1960s, we may conclude that they provided something hard to find in the movies, tv programs, and comic books of the era.

1. Intensive beefcake.  Frank and Joe share the Herculean physiques and breathtaking good looks of the boys in  British boy annuals and American adventure series, and the covers and interior illustrations (not to mention the 1970s tv series, starring Shaun Cassidy) often show off their physiques.

2. Contemporary boy scientist Tom Swift was girl-crazy, but the Hardys lacked heterosexual interest. Frank has a “favorite among all the girls of his class,” Callie, and Joe has “an attachment” to Iola.   However, Callie and Iola appear in only four of the first ten installments, and never as girlfriends.  No individual boy-girl dates are planned or discussed, no romantic attachment fuels any plot, and the only fade-out embraces occur between siblings.

Callie and Iola dance with the Hardys at parties, invite themselves along on their picnics, and run into them downtown, not so much objects of hetero-romantic desire as emblems of the “ordinary time” that frames the call to adventure.

3. Intensive bonding. In the first six installments, the brothers have particular boy friends, whom they do invite out on dates, to picnics and movies and camping trips.  Frank favors chubby, good-natured Chet, who frets over household chores, befriends girls, and eventually goes to art school.  Joe favors Biff, with “muscles like steel,” who dislikes household chores, dislikes girls, and plays every school sport (he is named after a famous boxer relative).

Later, however, Biff is demoted to a  minor character, and Chet becomes a ubiquitous best friend, confidant, tag-along, and comic relief.  After the mystery is solved and explained, he returns the Hardys to ordinary time by saying something about sitting down to dinner or else “We’ve heard the story.  Now let’s dance!”  He no longer favor either brother.  Instead, the Hardys live for each other.

The Hardys sleuth out clues together, piece together mysteries together, befriend the innocent and excoriate the guilty together, and in ordinary time attend all of the parties and picnics as a pair; one has to read through a great many pages to find a scene where they separate by choice.  They touch wrists and shoulders; they finish each other’s sentences; they express a world with a glance.  At least once per story, one of the brothers is captured, tied up, and threatened with torture or murder, and he is rescued by the other brother.

The two share the intensity, intimacy, and exclusivity of homoromance, and perhaps the permanence, since they never discuss their immanent entry into adulthood, except to vaguely declare that they want to become detectives.  All that separates them from homoromance is the fraternal bond: their passion is the passion of brothers, not of lovers.

Why are Frank and Joe brothers?  By boys’ book convention, they should be strangers who meet for the first time as competitors on a high school gridiron, or else in darkest Africa, when one saves the other from being sacrificed to the Leopard God.

Even the Hardy series must fudge a bit with the back story, alluding vaguely to an “illness” that kept Frank out of school for a year to explain why they are in the same grade.  For that matter, why must they be in the same grade? They are rarely shown in school, so it would make little difference except that to establish that they cannot bear to be apart for even the fifty minutes of an algebra class.  Real brothers sometimes require time alone, or with other friends.  Not the Hardys.
 Men in mass culture are often cast as brothers when the plot requires that they care deeply for each other,  when one will be rescued or have a deathbed scene,  since the fraternal bond allows for an intensity and a intimacy that would otherwise signify romance.

 But the Hardys display none of the easy jocularity, the good-natured ribbing, the posturing and the bullying of real brothers, in mass media or in real life.  They behave precisely as if their bond is romantic rather than fraternal, as if they are in love.


  1. I love the cover to ' wipe out '. Surely disney should make a new version of the Hardy boys starring david henrie and gorgeous gregg sulkin .

  2. and no mother to pester Daddy Fenton, but they do have a spinster aunt who will take on household duties and make sure the young men have sandwiches in their knapsacks. and they introduced me to the expression "you sure pulled a boner!"

  3. I only recently came to realize the double entendre meaning within "Hard-y Boys". I wonder if it was just happenstance or intentional by the original author. It had just flown over my head for 50+ years. Makes me think the Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson TV series was so appropriately named.


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