15 Mysterious Facts About ‘The Hardy Boys’

Frank and Joe Hardy have been blowing mysteries wide open for almost 90 years, combating ghosts, thieves, monsters, and shifty characters to the delight of several generations of kids. Fans of The Hardy Boys books might have caught a lot of the action along the way, but they may not realize that the series is its own shady case file that involves changing American tastes, furious librarians, and the shadowy, corrupt business of kids’ books. 

1. THE BOYS HAVE SOLVED AROUND 500 CASES. 

Not including graphic novels and planned releases, there have been well over 450 Hardy Boys titles published since their 1927 debut. This rough sum includes 38 titles from the original series that were entirely rewritten after 1959, releases by Grossett & Dunlap and digests from Simon & Schuster publishers, and the spinoff Clues Brothers, Undercover Brothers, Casefiles, Super Mysteries, and Adventures series, among others.  

2. THE BOOKS LET KIDS ENJOY ADULT ENTERTAINMENT. 

Around the beginning of the 20th century, Edward Stratemeyer, who The New York Times called “a prolific hack with a nose for business” and “the Henry Ford of children's fiction,” had a revelation that would change children’s literature forever. Stratemeyer saw that, while most kids’ lit to date focused on moral instruction, kids themselves wanted to experience the same thrills their parents were getting from cheap series books that sold for a nickel to 10 cents a pop. When he started publishing books that delivered this excitement, he realized that children would become attached to certain authors, so it was better for them to be written using a pseudonym that he owned, than by an individual author who could leave. Thus, the high-output children’s series market was born. 

3. THEY ARE ALL GHOST-WRITTEN. 

In the decades that followed, the Stratemeyer Syndicate employed a changing stable of ghostwriters to churn out Hardy Boys titles (under the shared pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon) in as little as three weeks. These writers also filled the pages of Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Tom Swift books at breakneck speed, usually for a flat per-book fee of between $75 and $125 with no royalties involved.

4. STRATEMEYER NAILED THE FORMULA. 

This group of ghost writers enabled Stratemeyer to build his literary empire, and while he sometimes provided bare bones storylines for his writers to work from, his instructions to Hardy Boys writers, the Times notes, “were basic: end each chapter with a cliffhanger, and no murder, guns, or sex.” 

5. IN THE BEGINNING, THOUGH, THEY WERE SHREWD ANTI-AUTHORITARIANS ... 

Like many fiction and comic titles of the era, The Hardy Boys books coming out in the late 1920s and ‘30s showed a gritty, no-nonsense world (or the kids' version of it) where Frank, Joe, and their pals functioned as fearless private eyes, taking the pursuit of justice into their own hands because of authority’s impotence. Bumbling policemen often interfered with their investigations and even briefly jailed them as stuffy retribution for the boys’ ingenious work. In the second-ever Hardy Boys book, The House on the Cliff, Frank finds it necessary to put pressure on the local police chief in order to further real justice:

‘Of course, chief,’ said Frank smoothly, ‘if you're afraid to go up to the Polucca place just because it's supposed to be haunted, don't bother. We can tell the newspapers that we believe our father has met with foul play and that you won't bother to look into the matter [...]’

‘What's that about the newspapers?' demanded the chief, getting up from his chair so suddenly that he upset the checkerboard [...] ‘Don't let this get into the papers.’ The chief was constantly afraid of publicity unless it was of the most favorable nature.

6. ... ALL THANKS TO ONE VERY PROLIFIC CANADIAN GHOSTWRITER. 

Leslie McFarlane wrote 19 of the first 25 Hardy Boys books and, according to many, singlehandedly defined the kind of detailed, moody prose for which the original series is lauded. In his version of Bayport, the simultaneous kid-friendly hamlet/atrocious hotbed of crime the boys call home, the Hardy family isn’t as wealthy as other Syndicate heroes, the boys happily accept monetary rewards, and the town’s rich folk come across as daft and greedy. 

McFarlane clearly didn’t care much for the power structures in early 20th century U.S. culture, cops included. He wrote in his autobiography, Ghost of the Hardy Boys, "I had my own thoughts about teaching youngsters that obedience to authority is somehow sacred [...] Would civilization crumble if kids got the notion that the people who ran the world were sometimes stupid, occasionally wrong and even corrupt at times?”

7. WHILE MCFARLANE DIDN’T LOVE THE STATUS QUO, HE DID LOVE FOOD.

As the Times reflected, McFarlane “breathed originality into the Stratemeyer plots, loading on playful detail” that enthralled a young reader. He paid particular attention to his descriptions of meals, and to the sumptuousness of food from a young boy’s perspective. At the end of 1927’s The Tower Treasure, he included the following bacchanalian scene: 

''For more than half an hour, they indulged in roast chicken, crisp and brown, huge helpings of fluffy mashed potatoes, pickles, vegetable and salads, pies and puddings to suit every taste, and when the last boy sank back in his chair with a happy sigh there was still food to spare.'' 

8. BY 1959, THE SYNDICATE NEEDED TO CLEAN UP THE HARDY BOYS’ ACT. 

As a result of the 1953 United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, many publishers of children’s media worked hard throughout the '50s to get their stories in line with new legal and social standards for kid-appropriate material. Like other Stratemeyer Syndicate series, Hardy Boys books had often contained negative racial and gender stereotyping among its supporting and minor characters, many of which would shock modern audiences, but which were also considered unpalatable by readers in 1959. 

9. BECAUSE OF THIS, IT SCRUBBED THE ORIGINAL RUN OF BOOKS. 

That year, the Syndicate started rewriting 38 of its original Hardy Boys titles to remove objectionable material, including many of the books’ most violent moments. Writers also tried to give the books a more modern feel with fewer tough words, streamlined action plots, and generally updated language. Fans of the original series found the new bowdlerized versions to be downright bland, but Salon explained that some of the changes were reasonable:

“Dropped from The Missing Chums is ‘“I’ll say,’ replied Lola slangily,” as is ‘“So!’ she ejaculated, as the boys appeared.” Chet Morton’s car is referred to in The Tower Treasure as a ‘gay-looking speed-wagon.’ In the revision, the car loses this description but gains a name, ‘The Queen.’ (In this case there appears to be a wit at work, making the change something less than a total loss for literature.)” 

10. IN THE 60S AND 70S, THE BOYS’ POLITICS ALSO CHANGED.

Starting in 1959 and carrying on through today, the boys have seemingly done a 180 regarding their distaste for authority (and, some critics argue, indeed now work to defend The Man). In 1969’s The Arctic Patrol Mystery, for example, Frank appears to have evolved into the kind of conscientious young American that much media of the day promoted: 

“‘Great, Dad!’ Frank said, jumping to his feet. ‘With spring vacation coming up we won't miss any time at school!’

‘Are your passports up to date?’ his father asked.

‘Sure, we always keep them that way.’” 

11. CLEANED UP OR NOT, LIBRARIANS HAVE ALWAYS HATED THEM . 

Since the first Hardy Boys books were published, grown-ups have had trouble understanding their appeal—not just because the books contained violence and racial stereotypes, but because they were seen as literary garbage.

Even after the big cleanup in 1959, librarians continued to take issue with Syndicate works. "In our library traditionally we have never had this kind of mediocre book. Two-to-one my librarians [want to] uphold the superior selections we have," explained Virginia Tashjian, Chief Librarian for Newton, MA, to The Hour in 1978. The Spokane Daily Chronicle also noted in 1980 that the library banned Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys titles "because they 'lacked literary merit'” but still “retained Braille editions of Playboy magazine." 

12. NEVERTHELESS, STRATEMEYER WAS DOING SOMETHING RIGHT.

In 1926 and 1927, the American Library Association surveyed kids in 34 U.S. cities, found that 'series books' were being read by 98% of respondents, and that "the books of one series [presumably the Bobbsey Twins] were unanimously rated trashy by our expert librarians [but] almost unanimously liked by the 900 children who read them."

13. KIDS ARE STILL INTO THEM.

Many of the Stratemeyer Syndicate's records are incomplete or lost, but estimates suggest that by 1975 Nancy Drew book sales had topped 60 million, Hardy Boys sales were over 50 million, and the Bobbsey Twins had hit 30 million. Since then, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series have been steadily selling around one to two million copies per year (including many older titles), putting Hardy Boys all-time sales at over 70 million.

14. IN 2005, THE BOYS BECAME SECRET AGENTS FOR THE GOVERNMENT. 

Since the introduction of the Undercover Brothers series, Frank and Joe have been top agents for American Teens Against Crime (ATAC), a secret government agency co-founded by their father to utilize kid agents when grown-ups won’t do. The agency delivers its orders via special CD-ROM that can only be played for instructions once. After the initial listen, it plays music like any other CD.

15. CRITICS STILL CAN’T QUITE EXPLAIN THE BOYS' POPULARITY.

No one can deny that The Hardy Boys series has stuck around due to popular demand, but decades later, critics still aren’t quite sure why. One idea is that the books are just fantastical, gripping, and vague enough to be relatable to any young reader. As a writer for Salon explained:

“Happily, the Hardy Boys series was unconcerned with reality [and the] boys’ characters basically broke down this way—Frank had dark hair; Joe was blond. [...] Generally, Frank was the thinker while Joe was more impulsive, and perhaps a little more athletic. I was blond, like Joe, and younger, like Joe. I liked Joe best. Franklin W. Dixon played me like a violin.”

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon
iStock
iStock

At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has a used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]

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