Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tom Swift

The Stratemeyer Syndicate published books for the children's market. Their book series were mostly published under pseudonyms—the writers would receive an outline from the syndicate and be paid a set fee. The series were very successful including The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys (1927—), supposedly written by "Franklin W. Dixon," and the Nancy Drew (1930—) books by "Carolyn Keene." So far as I know they continue to be published today, updated to make contemporary the technology, slang, etc. At one point I think I owned all of one of the later incarnations of the Hardy Boys mysteries, including a volume instructing—among many other useful detecting skills—how to go about writing secret messages and how to tail a suspect undetected (although I have no doubt our practice of the latter looked strange on the empty sidewalks of Milton, Wisconsin).

A good friend of mine who was more interested in science fiction than I was had many of the Tom Swift books by "Victor Appleton." That series began earlier — in 1910 — and titles have continued to appear into this century. Some of the originals are now available free, as ebooks, from manybooks.net.

Wikipedia describes the books thus:
In his various incarnations, Tom Swift, usually in his teens, is inventive and science-minded, "Swift by name and swift by nature." Tom is portrayed as a natural genius. In the earlier series, he is said to have had little formal education, the character originally modeled after such figures as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. In most of the five series, each book focuses on Tom's latest invention, and its role either in solving a problem or mystery, or in assisting Tom in feats of exploration or rescue. Often Tom must protect his new invention from villains "intent on stealing Tom's thunder or preventing his success," but Tom is always successful in the end.
I am sometimes in the mood for something entirely undemanding and, if it also instructs about what entertained kids in another time, that interests the historian in me. I haven't read one of these yet, but the cover pictures alone tempt me.