Friday, September 08, 2006

Childhood's Books

I wasn’t a “huge” fan of the Hardy Boys when I was growing up but I did enjoy the books. I think I only read half a dozen or so because they weren’t readily available in my small town library. But I did remember them fondly and have been known to remark that I would probably have read them all if I could have gotten my hands on them.

Unfortunately, I decided last night to revisit my childhood. I had a copy of Hunting for Hidden Gold lying around, a Hardy Boys mystery that I picked up a few years back at a library book sale. Feeling the need for a nostalgia fix, I popped it open and sat down for a little time travel. Man, it was bad. The characters--Frank Hardy and his younger, blond brother Joe--were right there on page 1, and for a moment I was transported. Then I actually began to read the thing, and found it horribly written and completely lacking in any suspense or surprise. There’s a little disappointment for you, like opening a Christmas present and finding…socks inside.

I’ve had similar experiences before. I absolutely loved both Edgar Rice Burroughs and Andre Norton when I was a teenager, far more than the Hardy Boys, but when I try to read anything by these two writers now I am generally dissatisfied. The only Burroughs that holds up for me are the John Carter of Mars books. The rest are so full of awkward coincidences that I have to struggle to keep going through them. Andre Norton doesn’t have the coincidences, but her books still seem weak to me now. Yet, I continue, on occasion, to pick up a Burroughs or a Norton and take it for a test read. Why?

I think the answer to my “why” is that I’m forever hopeful of recapturing the sheer joy and excitement of reading that filled my youth. Man, I remember my first Tarzan book, opening with Tarzan lying lazily on the back of Tantor just before all Hell broke loose. Tarzan found a pair of lost cities in the jungle where knights on horseback jousted for the hands of fair maidens. And I remember Norton’s Galactic Derelict, where modern humans traveling through time find an intact alien spaceship and take off in it. Or her Breed to Come, an “uplift” story long before David Brin wrote of it. And I remember The Zero Stone, and Judgment on Janus, and so many others. I wanted it to rain so I could stay in and read those books. Even talking about it puts a lilt of excitement in my voice.

So, that’s why I do it, why I try to recapture my youth. I can picture a book waiting at home for me right now on one of my to-be-read piles. Garan the Eternal by Andre Norton. On the cover is a warrior riding a strange beast with a monstrous sword to hand. God help me, I’m going to give it a go.


Sidney said...

I liked "The Three Investigators" more than the "Hardy Boys." I think really they were better written. I had a Hardy Boys where they spouted prison slang in order to make some guy think they'd once been in jail and that seemed pretty hokey.

I can't get quite the charge out of Tarzan novels these days as I once did either, although there are some fun ones - I always thought "Tarzan and the Lion Man" would make an interesting Tarzan science fiction film.

Charles Gramlich said...

I remember the Three Investigators more fondly, as well. In fact, I have a few of those lying around that I bought at that book sale. Maybe I should try one of those. They also had better titles, it seemed to me.

cs harris said...

I had this same reaction the first time I read one of my daughters a Nancy Drew mystery. I loved those books when I was eight or nine, found them so "grown up" (Nancy being 18) and thrilling; when I read them as an adult, I found them embarrassingly contrived and silly. But my little girls loved them.