When Urania was young/ All thought her heavenly/ With age her eyes grow larger/ But her form unmaidenly

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Beloved of Undergrad Lit Workshops: a Reprise of Sorts

On the Hardy Boys, Maturity, and Genre: a cheatin' Smart Bitch entry

Benjamin Hoff, the author of that oddity The Tao Of Pooh, wrote something even odder: a thoroughly authorized rewrite of the second (!) Hardy Boys adventure The House on the Cliff as his own The House of the Point. Thee blue-spined, black-numbered volumes of the original series played a role in his childhood similar to what they did in mine: pure delight in a world the written word could create. When he reread some of them as adults, he discovered just how bald they were, and in a rather Brut(us)al move, honored and tossed a handful of dirt into the hole in us where they used to drive their convertible.

As an aside, before writing this tonight I had a dinner comprising Tanq & tonic and beef jerky, with an M&M-ridden trail mix to mediate, a move whose referents to my own stages of life might seem symbolic or overly literary in itself, but is very much the factual truth. I think it's working.

I wasm tempted to rattle around the topic of fan fiction, since The House on the Point bears an odd relation to the works of offered sequel and slash, but, well - I just don't care about fanfic. It neither offends nor interests me. My take on social phenomena is that they are guilty until proven innocent, and since I'm on no university's payroll, I don't need to barf out some analysis to score another article. Like, novelizations are dull and canon, but unlike fanfic at least they're usually minimally competent, for goodness' sake, and I don't read them either.

But Benjamin Hoff's tribute to the Hardy Boys interests me a great deal, even if the tweaks - gestures toward "realism" in their relationship with the town police chief and elsewhere (including a singular lack of ANYONE getting knocked out with a blow to the head); the promotion of Callie and Iola from a narratively dry "see, the Boys also have girlfriends" status to characters, albeit still unkissed - is like waxing a car that doesn't have an engine (for us) anymore. Very curiously, however, and in support of Hoff's project: I didn't discard the book after 50 pages, which was been the fate of substantial chunk of the novels I've picked up over the last year. I doubt I'd have finished a hyperclever and literary deconstruction of the Boys. Whatever nutritional supplement I'm lacking in my mental and spiritual life, it's not Vitamin Clever. But the pay-off at the end, when the boys get a motorboat named Sleuth - well, what am I to do with that?

Transition paragraph to Smart Bitchery: the wonderful Tom Disch says that the ideal age for reading science fiction is 12, and that the most successful writers are those who who retain their childhood. It stikes me as true for both sides of the sf field: the space opera/cyberpunk hemisphere of Kool Stuff and Explosions and the continually-connected other side of the world, Heavy Ideas, all fodder for adolescents feeling their hormonal and intellectual oats. And, if anything, most genre fantasy calls for even more arrested development, and the relative prominence of female writers and readers means we get telepathic animal familiars layered on the usual loner shtick. It takes a particular simplicity to be 40 and still be able to love Trantor or Pern, let alone Barsoom. I loved a quote I read about The Lord of the Rings, "If it's your favorite book at 17, that's great. If it's stil your favorite book at 45, something has gone badly wrong with your life."

The tiny nugget of Bitchery: like many (and it should be all) people who love books, I spent some time working in a bookstore. The category romance addicts (a healthy stack of books every couple of weeks) were never under 30, perhaps because even at 4.95 (at the time) a pop, it was costly habit, and the apprentice addicts shot up secondhand. As I see the sadly decayed state of my own fiction pleasure receptors, the pretty complete lost of hero-identification, I wonder - how did they did it? They were older than the heroines; probably had had love lives themselves; most were or had been married and (most of them) knew what a sadly inadequate formulation HEA is. Why do people grow out of sf/f, and women not (generally) out of romance, just as a taste for mysteries doesn't usually die of adulthood unless someone loses interest in popular novels entirely.