The mysterious machine behind the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew

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I thought the Mystery Machine was a Scooby-Doo thing?


my son is 8. We read a chapter a night, OLD Hardy Boys. the early stuff. Shore Road Mystery.

Guess what? - it still holds up. it does not feel dated, weird, or old

as a bonus? the language stretches his vocabulary and leads us to discussions on what words mean.

I think ghostwriting a modern version of such a timeless book? would not be easy. (great article too)


… and a whole bunch of writers made their own decision to churn out a quick book for $100. No one forced them to write; we’re not talking about Nepalese migrants having their passports stolen being forced to build soccer stadiums for no pay. They made their own, free-will decision that this was how they wanted to earn $100.

Also, $100 seems like a decent sum of money in 1905.


It was and probably better than a lot of the pulp writers got, yet Lester Dent did well enough to own an airplane, travel the world, for simply putting out the majority of the Doc Savage novels, plus whatever else he would put out for short stories. There are a few Shadow stories to his credit as well.

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My childhood is a lie…

Seriously, I had no idea that these series were ghostwritten. I can’t really remember the feeling, but I suspect I felt the same way when I found out that there was no Santa…


That varies by title and edition. The series went through some major revisions beginning in 1959, largely to remove some rather unfortunate racial stereotypes and otherwise modernize the characters.

I distinctly remember reading an old copy of a story that was published before those postwar-era revisions. At one point the Hardy Boys were eavesdropping on some Japanese antagonists—who were conspiring together in badly stilted English rather than just addressing each other in their native tongue.


There’s no what?!


When I hear it described as a “mysterious machine” I think of Roald Dahl’s short story The Great Automatic Grammatizator about a young man who invents a machine that can churn out stories and novels.

Actual human beings paid $100 a book…not even close to what Dahl described. That particular story always struck me as entertaining but more than a bit unhinged. Kind of like Dahl himself.

yes, I make a point of searching garage sales, vintage book shops and the like, to get ORIGINALS!

Not the modified tripe they slough off on kids nowadays

I feel you. It took about two years of late 20s mental distortion proceeding my personal journey of discovery into the phalanx of writers known as Franklin W.D. to get myself back in order.

I’ve got them for my kids now. sigh I read them all and they didn’t catch on. Horrid Henry rules the day.

I snagged our local library’s copy of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her when it first came out in 2005, which is where I first learned the details of this story. I loved reading it, and borrowed it again a few years later to reread it.

I also enjoy playing the Nancy Drew mystery/adventure games from HER Interactive, though my wife and grown son might think I’m goofy for doing so.

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We did this, too (I have a son who’s 9) – we’ve got my dad’s copies (which he read to me); he in turn got them from his older cousins. I think Cabin Island was published in the 20s; don’t know when ours was actually printed but the paper in that one is very brown and brittle.

As far as kids’ chapter books go, I think Beverly Cleary’s books held up very well. The new copies have different illustrations, but the stories themselves are better than I remember.

EDIT: When I was 7 or 8, someone explained to me that Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were all ghostwritten. (Bobbsey Twins, too – though that’s a series I did not feel like passing on to my kids.) But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I knew about the actual Syndicate.

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