Dixon, as you will have guessed, is Franklin W. Dixon, the author's name on the cover of the Hardy Boys books. He did not actually exist, at least not as the author of those books, which were a group effort, and not always the same group. Usually there was at minimum an outline written by one person and a manuscript produced from the outline by another. You can read an overview of the various people involved here, and details of who did what in each book here. It was all done at the direction of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Knowing that, you won't be surprised that the same company produced the Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, and other similar books. Goodbye to Carolyn Keene.
All of that suggests something less than a sincere creative effort on the part of a Mr. Dixon, and I'm glad I didn't know that when I was ten or twelve years old and discovered the books.
I used to spend the night sometimes at the home of my maternal grandparents, and the little room I slept in had a bookshelf which held a number of books belonging to my uncle Al. He was the youngest of three, and only a dozen or so years older than me. I had been sleeping in that room for a while but apparently had not thought the grown-up-looking books would be of interest to me until one day I picked up one with the intriguing title of What Happened At Midnight. I was quickly hooked, and eventually read all of the two dozen or so on the shelves in that room. As best I can remember in consultation with a chronological list of the books, I read every title from the first, The Tower Treasure, published in 1927, through The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, published in 1949 (though of course I had no idea of their order of publication, or interest in it, but just picked up another when I finished one).
It seems there were at least two that I took home and never returned: The Disappearing Floor (1940) and The Clue of the Broken Blade (1942). How they managed to stay with me from my late teens until now is a mystery. Perhaps they didn't stay with me; perhaps they just stayed at my parents' house for over thirty years and I appropriated them when they moved in 2000.
A few weeks ago, partly because those two books had surfaced even though most of our books are still in boxes after moving (awaiting final determination of bookshelf placement), and partly with the thought that it might be a pleasant exercise in nostalgia, I decided to read one of them and picked up The Clue of the Broken Blade.
What a disappointment. The book is colorless and lifeless. Frank, Joe, and their father are blanks. The prose is not just wooden but ill-made, like furniture banged together crudely from the pieces of a shipping pallet. The plot seems barely coherent but that may be partly my fault, as I chose to read one chapter a night in bed, when my mind is pretty sluggish at best. I could not find in my reaction any trace of the enjoyment I had at twelve or so, or even a perception of the reasons for it, even though if no longer operative, as might happen with an old episode of Gunsmoke. I must have thought the story was exciting and suspenseful, and I know I liked what Frank and Joe represented, and wanted to be like them. Maybe, just maybe, if I had not been reading when drowsy, I would still have felt some sense of the mere what's-going-to-happen appeal of the plot. But the best I can do is assume that I must have felt it at the time.
The most I can say in favor of the book is that the simplicity, naivete, sincerity (by which I mean the absence of irony), and absence of vulgarity were mildly refreshing in contrast to much or most of what's offered to, or pushed at, young people today. But it's so very unreal--and maybe that sheds some light on what's happened over the past half-century.
At the opposite extreme: two unrelated incidents caused me to watch a 1980 BBC production of The Winter's Tale. First, a recent issue of The New Criterion includes an article on that play by Anthony Daniels. He's always an interesting writer, but although I had read the play some years ago (twenty or so, maybe?) I didn't remember it very clearly, and I didn't want to read the article without better knowledge of the play. And my Shakespeare is still packed away in one of a dozen or so large heavy boxes stacked in a hallway, and I don't know which one.
Second, a comment on some post somewhere online informed me that subscribers to the BBC's streaming service, BritBox, have access to the BBC Television Shakespeare, which includes essentially all the plays--thirty-seven of them, and I say "essentially" because there is apparently still some scholarly disagreement about a couple of them. I had not known that the series even existed, much less that I had access to it.
So I immediately looked for, and found, and watched, The Winter's Tale. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed it. I was almost rapturous. The marvelous Mozart-like flow of language was a non-stop pleasure. It was just as well that I didn't have the text handy, with notes, because I would have been constantly stopping and starting the film to figure out some knotty figure or to explain an unknown or obsolete word or usage. After twenty minutes or so I decided to just let those go by, since I could follow well enough without them, and surrender to the flow.
And the story: this is a late play, and it seems to share with The Tempest a sort of mellowness, neither tragedy nor comedy, and it ends with events described by that term Tolkien gave us, eucatastrophe. The "catastrophe" part of that, as we commonly use the word, is applicable: it could almost be termed violent in its reversal of what came before. And a critic could fairly call it dramatically unconvincing, or worse.
Moreover, the play is oddly constructed, and fairly criticized for that. It's in two parts, and the first part is a sort of mini-Othello story, the second part a sequel which takes place some years later, and redeems the tragic first part. This makes for something of a stitched-together quality, and it can't be considered one of Shakespeare's best. But I was greatly moved by it, and will certainly turn to it again. I guess I'm something of a pushover for a story which has that general arc. I like to think that's because it is fundamentally true to...well, I shouldn't say "true to life," because in general use that phrase implicitly refers to earthly life, but true to the deepest realities. At any rate I was greatly moved, and will certainly turn to this play again.
And I hope this video will continue to be available so that I can turn to it. A list of the play's productions (on Wikipedia, I think) called this one "orthodox." That's probably not meant to be a compliment, but it's fair enough: there is nothing gimmicky about the production, nothing that smacks of someone trying to put his own personal stamp on the work, or to render it somehow more fitting or engaging or palatable to a contemporary audience. In this case "orthodox" means excellent acting and appropriate, fairly simple, stylized but unobtrusive staging. I could quibble with this or that detail of either, but it would be just that, quibbling.
Somewhere online in the past day or two I saw an advertisement for a Shakespeare in modern language. Well, it's true enough that in many cases the plot alone of many of the plays, and the plain matter of much of the dialog, has plenty of appeal. Still, that seems like Raphael in monochrome.