Behind Every Mildred Wirt, Or Never Mind The Man Behind The Curtain

November 1st, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

There was a sense of relief and disappointment the day we discovered the truth about Carolyn Keene. Naturally, the disappointment came from learning she wasn’t a real person. The relief? Well, we’d noticed a certain similarity between The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew. We didn’t have a clue from voice in those days, but we suspected something was up. It’s about as close to detective work as we’ll ever get.

Though we don’t recommend sharing this with impressionable children, our favorite childhood series were the brainchildren of Edward Stratemeyer, whose rags-to-riches story is filled with the kind of irony that makes one wonder if it’s truly urban legend obscured by copious layers of carefully constructed fact:

Every Horatio Alger hero’s rise to riches depends on a lucky break. Stratemeyer’s was his proximity to Alger himself. In 1898, the older man, in failing health, wrote to Stratemeyer at Good News and asked him to complete a story that he was too ill to finish. “Can you take my story and finish it in my style?” he inquired. “You will divide the proceeds equally with me but I shall retain the copyright. . . . I fancy it would be easy work for you as you have a fluent & facile style.”

Ah, yes, a variation on the old “I’ll give you my idea, you can write it, and we’ll share the profits” theme. Clearly Stratemeyer fell for it — with success. From this, an empire was born: Stratemeyer came up with ideas, poor authors slaved over the manuscripts. As is often the case in these stories, one man triumphed against the system.

No, not the authors.

The New Yorker’s profile of Stratemeyer is fascinating for its historical perspective mixed with a “yeah, nothing really changes, does it?” throughline. Besides, when you’re a kid, who cares how the story comes about — it’s all about the magic:

Stratemeyer understood, in the end, that children want their heroes to have an air of mystery. A young reader isn’t trying to discover the ways in which she’s ordinary; she’s trying to discover just how to banish the shadows so that the afternoon lasts a little longer.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

1 response so far ↓