Wednesday, October 4

Character and Characters

Edward Stratemeyer was born on this day in 1862 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was arguably among the most prolific and influential American authors. Indeed, he wrote more and sold more than almost any other writer who has ever lived anywhere at any time--some 1,300 novels selling in excess of 500 million copies. He created more than 125 different series--many of them familiar and beloved American cultural icons. You say you’ve never heard of him? Well maybe you know him by one of his many pseudonyms: Franklin W. Dixon, Victor Appleton, Carolyn Keene, Roy Rockwood, Laura Lee Hope, or Ralph Bonehill. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Surely you’re familiar with his famous characters: the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Jack Ranger, Bomba the Jungle Boy, the Dana Girls, the Bobsey Twins, Dave Dashaway, and Don Sturdy. All were invented by this lone writer: Edward Stratemeyer.

At the height of his career during the first two decades of the twentieth century, he employed an entire syndicate of editors, copy-writers, stenographers, co-authors, and secretaries just to keep up with his prodigious creativity. With their assistance he was able to produce an astonishing literary legacy, practically inventing an entirely new genre of juvenile fiction.

According to Stratemeyer all of his books had a single uniting theme: the vital importance of moral character. He attributed all his success and the enduring popularity of the series he created to the fact that he never wavered in this regard. “The history of the world, the outcome of great events, and the establishment of true heroism will always entirely depend upon this,” he said.

“Every story worth retelling,” he asserted, “is the fruit of internal uprightness at work in the external world. Whenever any mystery appears, its solution will depend upon the exercise of ethics, first and foremost. Whenever any adventure arises, its resolution will depend upon the exertion of morals. Whenever any question emerges, its outcome will depend upon the establishment of standards. In every circumstance, character is the issue. It is the issue which underlies all other issues.”

When the destiny of men and nations hangs in the balance it is not the Dow Jones Industrial Average that matters most. It is not the International Balance of Trade that matters the most. It is not the Gross National Product that matters the most. It is not the State of the Union that matters most. When push comes to shove what matters most is not so much what we do as who we are. Character is the issue. Whether we are writing a story for boys and girls, giving direction to a family or a community, or establishing standards for an entire nation, character is always the issue that supercedes all other issues. At least that was the theory Stratemeyer operated by in his writing and publishing career--which may be why his stories and characters have endured so remarkably well to this day.


Delmar Smith said...

I love the way you combine arcane and forgotten history with very practical wisdom. What a gift.

Where can I learn more about Stratemeyer?

Laura said...

Amen! My students beg to read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books for their book reports.

Customer Service said...

Dr. Grant my son loves the Hardy Boys. Have you read or can you recommend Nero Wolf for a 10 year old boy? The writer is Rex Stout.
Chris McCullough

The Girl in Grey said...

I had a deprived childhood. And depraved. My Dad left Leslie Charteris books lying around. Poor me.

Seriously, I can think of nothing more fun than reading a good detective story.

gileskirk said...

Chris: Virtually all the Nero Wolf books are great fun--and they endure well over the years.

One note about both the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew books: later editors and publishers have updated the stories to make them "more relevant." In other words, they have ruined them. So, always try to get the originals whenever possible.