I see they're coming out with The New Bobbsey Twins books, billed as "action-packed mystery/adventures." Even the slash is up to date.
They have the same names -- Bert and Nan, aged about 12, and Freddie and Flossie, aged 7 -- but they certainly don't sound like the Bobbsey Twins I remember. They have been going since 1904. I read one of the books when I was 7, which would have been 1934, and it was about spending the summer in the country and celebrating the Fourth of July.
The biggest adventure was that Freddie cut his leg on the sickle in the barn. I didn't know what a sickle was, but it sounded sinister. Years later, I finally saw one, and it was a letdown.
The thing that stays with me to this day was the fact that something wasn't quite right about those kids. The way the boys said, "Hurrah!" for instance. I never heard anyone say "Hurrah!" in my life, except possibly my father, but he was born in 1885 so what would he know?
And there was the dust. The kids would walk down the road and kick up clouds of dust. On the Fourth of July morning Bert or somebody got up at dawn and set off a firecracker in the road -- and practically disappeared in a great mushroom of dust.
The truth crept up on me gradually and then with a rush: These roads were not paved! This was all happening in olden times! It was not the deep country at all, it was a normal American town of another era. It was my father's childhood I was reading about.
That was the last Bobbsey Twins book I bothered to look at.
... Until today, when I was presented with "The New Bobbsey Twins in 'The Secret of Jungle Park.' " It is different.
There are only 87 pages, for instance. As the brochure from Pocket Books observes, the original 200-page books "were too long for the music video generation."
And there is a plot. It seems that, as part of the publishers' efforts to modernize them, the twins have become little detectives, "as they energetically tackle such modern-day crimes as arson, shoplifting, kidnapping and blackmail."
I don't know what this is about modern children being detectives. It's one thing for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and all the children on public TV to be detectives, but somehow I didn't expect it from the Bobbseys.
The idea is not exactly new, after all. I was going to be a detective too, when I was 7. I had my Sherlock Holmes disguise kit and the invisible ink from my chemistry set and I was all ready for a mystery but never had one happen to me.
The New Bobbsey Twins are so modern that they eat fast foods and belong to a punk rock group. And the secret of the title is that the bad guys want to jinx the amusement park with a series of accidents so it will go broke and they can sell the land for a shopping mall.
That's modern, all right. In my day it was that the bad guys knew there was oil under the property and that was why they were trying to make the old house seem haunted. Oil was a big thing in my generation. We knew there was no gold down there, that was for little kids, that was naive, but I once dug a hole four feet deep between the syringa bushes hoping to strike oil, pushing down the shovel more warily each time lest the gusher spurt in my face.
I have also just read, in connection with the Bobbsey event, the new up-to-date Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. These series, respectively 57 and 60 years old, have a publishing history that reads like a page from Debrett's. For instance, "The House on the Cliff" with the Hardy Boys was copyrighted in 1927, 1959 and 1987. Even from their own brochure I can't tell for sure if they are published by Pocket Books, or its Minstrel imprint, or Grosset and Dunlap, the original publishers, or the Putnam Publishing Group, whose name is at the top of one letter, or Simon and Schuster, whose name is at the bottom of another.
The Boys and Nancy try hard to be as modern as the Bobbseys. Nancy's roadster is now a dark blue convertible, and she doesn't spend so much time in tearooms, and when she saves little girls from drowning, it is no longer a millstream they have fallen into.
The Hardys ride motorcycles now, which I guess is quite modern, even though their fat chum Chet Morton still owns a jalopy that he wants to "soup up" into a "hot rod," as the author puts it. Well, I figured Chet was just being a little camp. I knew kids like Chet in prep school.
As I read on, however, I noticed that the boys addressed each other as "fellows." Shouldn't they say, "Hey, man"? And I had to ask, where are the guns? There aren't any at all in Nancy Drew and barely any in the Hardy Boys. And when the bad guys do have guns they never can hang onto them long:
... He reached for the revolver at his hip.
"Look out, Dad! " Frank hissed. "He's got his gun! "
Quick as a flash the detective landed a blow on the guard's jaw. Malloy blinked and raised both hands to defend himself as he fell to the ground. Mr. Hardy darted forward and pulled the revolver out of the man's side pocket ...
Then there is the question of how the bad guys will treat the heroes when they capture them. They do not shoot them or cut their throats or rape them or smash their heads in with axes or cut them up with chain saws. What they do is lock them in a room in an abandoned house -- in hopes that they will starve to death! This happens to Nancy in one book and to the Hardys in another.
I was thinking, is this a trend? Does it have anything to do with the fact that these young detectives need something to eat in almost every chapter? Isn't this the era of rapists and serial murderers, of Gacys and Geins? Is it I who is living in a time warp?
And then I came across this, in "The House on the Cliff":
The boys' father was able to follow the tracks of the car from the tread marks in the dusty road ...
And this, in "The Secret of the Old Clock":
Nancy watched the tire marks which the van driven by the thieves had evidently made in the dirt road ...
O dirt roads, O dust of my father's childhood, O lost sunny days, spangled with leaf-shadow, bright with silent laughter ... They are still there, hidden among the pages of these action-packed mystery/adventures, and perhaps, even as the bulldozers doze down the amusement park for the new shopping mall, if you look into the roiling dust, you will glimpse Freddie Bobbsey, the old Freddie Bobbsey, the real Freddie Bobbsey, barefoot and scabby-kneed, jumping up and down in sheer glee and shouting, "Hurrah! Hurrah!