Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Hardy Boys and the Search for the Squeaky Baritone

Cheating today: this post originally went a few Augusts ago, but I'm stealing it because I don't have time to write a new one this week.
The Davies Memorial Library in the town where I grew up was and remains a sort of time capsule. It resides in the space above the town offices and post office, the top floor in a smallish old building with creaky wood floors. Most of the time the big green wooden front door that brings you directly into the library is locked, so instead you go in by way of the more or less modernized offices downstairs, past the sounds of printers and phones and people talking, and then up, up into a hushed and dusty space where the years have stopped in their tracks. It smells like fragrant old wood, like an old violin case, and the mustiness of old books. Huge old paneled windows let in slanted sunlight, the disturbed dust floating in the light, making the rays seem like a physical thing. In the main room, there is a fireplace and off-limits horsehair stuffed furniture, and a glass case filled with antiquities. An iron spiral staircase disappears into what I now guess is an attic; when I was little, I used to have nightmares about what was at the top of those stairs, behind the closed door.

Most of the children's section resides in a few built-in wooden bookcases against one wall, with stairs built beneath so even the shortest patrons can reach. There are some new books by now, I suppose, but at least when I was little, they mostly dated back years. Decades. While other kids were reading The Babysitters Club and Judy Blume and whatever else was popular in the late eighties and early nineties, we read boys' adventure stories from early in the century, and the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters, L. Frank Baum, Thornton Burgess, Tom Swift, and the original Hardy Boys books: brown bound volumes with crackly yellowed pages. We'd collect a stack of books, and then Mom or I would write the titles and authors down carefully in the notebook on the desk. There were no punch cards or a full-time librarian or anything like that: the library works on an honor system, and you just write down a list of what you've got, and bring 'em back when you're done.

Although most of us were (and are!) voracious readers in our own right, Mom read many of these books aloud to us. She was a master of reading aloud: all the characters had unique voices, mannerisms; some had quirky accents. Her voice would rise in excitement at some points, or drop to a secretive near-whisper. She made those books come alive. We liked the slang in the Hardy Boys books, and repeated it ourselves. "Good night!" we'd exclaim. "Aww, nuts..." "Gee, that's swell!"

When we later came across the remade versions from the sixties and later, we were appalled and disgusted. In many cases, they shared nothing with the original books but the titles. They were tamer; more PC, I suppose, but not nearly as much fun.

After all these years, I've forgotten almost all details of the books. But there was one in particular I'd been wanting to find again at some point. I had the vague impression that there was diving involved in some way, but that's all. And one of the characters was a fellow named Mr. Perry. Mom gave him a high-pitched, rather querulous voice that stood out from all the others. And then...about halfway through the book, she read something he said, and then stopped short. She blinked, and then read slowly (I paraphrase, and probably confabulate), "he boomed in his hearty baritone voice." And then she cracked up. And we cracked up. Even the younger kids who may not have understood the discrepancy couldn't have helped laughing once Mom started. Her laughter was contagious: she'd laugh until she was breathless, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

I can't actually recall if she changed his voice or just left it--with the mismatched adjectives creeping in here and there, to our amusement. But it inadvertently turned a minor character and a not particularly spectacular book into a memorable one. When my little brother got an orange kitten at around that time, he instantly named it--Mr. Perry.

(As a side note, when Mr. Perry was a few months old, he went after a toad. Toads secrete a poison--it's about their only defense--and it made him foam at the mouth and otherwise sick. He was rushed to the vet, and in the process of examination he was discovered to be a she. Ben renamed her Peri Ozma, Ozma being of course after the princess in L. Frank Baum's Oz books. Meanwhile, many of the little kids got the impression that licking a toad could cause one to change sex. Oh dear....)

I know the Mr. Perry book was nothing special, but I've still been wanting to track it down. Every few years I'd wander around the internet hoping someone had a detailed enough synopsis that I'd be able to figure out it. And it has finally happened. Thanks to various wikis, I've identified it as The Secret Warning. Not only that, but there's a company reprinting the original series, so I can get a new copy. It's on my list. I don't expect much of it, reading it as an adult and without the circumstances surrounding the first reading. But at least I'll have the satisfaction of having solved a long-standing mystery.


Bill M said...

Not only are many modern reprints changed to satisfy the PC gang and other special interest groups -- wait a few years when most are digial and it will be even easier to edit and make books PC.

Your mother must have made the books really interesting.

Ted said...

The Secret Warning?

Ted said...

oh, heh, nevermind, you already found it :D

Little Flower Petals said...

I still appreciate your taking the time to track it down! I haven't gotten my hands on it yet, but now that I've been reminded again....

Anonymous said...

I love the story of your mother reading to you with all the voices and 'drama'. It must be a wonderful memory.

Our local library started up around the Civil War and was housed in an old Victorian house that looked like something out of Dark Shadows. I loved that old building with that smell of books and almost a century of polished wood. It was full of treasure. That was where I first discovered the original Hardy Boys (before they were dumbed down), the early Tom Swift, the Robert Heinlein juveniles and, especially, Treasure Island with the Wyeth illustrations. They were fun and exciting and taught me the value of a good dictionary.

Jeff The Bear

notagain said...

Interesting. So many reader friends had parents that read to them. Mine didn't but they were reading all the time, so it was something everyone was expected to do. I read "the Happy Hollisters" and "Danny Dunn" books, then completely skipped over these classics to Agatha Christie and Fred Hoyle because they were around the house.

notagain said...

As for Bill's PC comment, I really think annotations would serve better. People today need to understand what forms racism took in earlier times and how pervasive it was to recognize how far we've come.

Little Flower Petals said...

Oh, man...mention of the Wyeth illustrations in Treasure Island brings back memories. We had The Boy's King Arthur with N.C. Wyeth's illustrations as well.