If you are a red-blooded male who came of age sometime in the last 90 years, chances are you grew up with two action-loving, adventure-seeking, mystery-solving literary companions: Frank and Joe Hardy. The Hardy Boys books in which these young detectives star have never been out of print since first coming onto the scene in 1927, have been translated into 25 different languages, and continue to sell over a million copies annually.
The famous Hardy boys were created by the American publisher Edward Stratemeyer and subsequently brought to life by a series of ghostwriters under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. (Pro tip: The best volumes in the series are 1-16 and 22-24, which were all written by Leslie McFarlane.) While there have been numerous spin-offs and iterations of the series, enthusiasts consider the first 59 volumes to be the true Hardy Boys “canon.”
A few years back, I bought half the canon for my children to one day enjoy, and I’ve sometimes looked at the old Hardy Boys volumes sitting on the shelf in my office and thought about what exactly has made these books so popular and enduring; why do they continue to line the shelves of libraries and bookstores, engage generation after generation, and remain indelibly printed on our cultural consciousness?
To answer this question, I recently re-read half a dozen of the early Hardy Boys books. What I discovered is that much of their appeal has to do with the way these teenage sleuths embody many of the ideals of masculinity. So much so, that they actually have a lot to teach grown men:
9 Things a Grown Man Can Learn From the Hardy Boys
1. Develop a Wide Variety of Skills
The Hardy boys are strong, athletic, brave, clever, and resourceful. By developing a wide variety of skills and becoming mentally, morally, and physically fit, they’re ready to come to the aid of friends and strangers, handle any exigency they find themselves in, and solve mysteries involving ever varied contexts and circumstances.
Frank and Joe know how to fix cars and bikes, camp, canoe, navigate the woods, scuba dive, talk in sign language, speak Spanish, track animals and humans, hold their breath for longer than a minute, and sneak around stealthily. Their father also taught them how to properly handle firearms and both boys are excellent marksmen (though they rarely use guns on the job).
Many of their skills allow them to be eminently mobile, and follow a mystery wherever it leads; they know how to deftly operate cars, motorboats, and motorcycles, and can pilot single-engine aircraft.
In addition to cultivating a wide breadth of manual competence, Frank and Joe Hardy develop their athleticism. They keep in shape through playing sports like baseball and track and work out in a barn behind their parents’ house that they converted to a gymnasium. Here they and their friends hang out, work the punching bag, engage in friendly boxing matches, and use the parallel bars to practice their gymnastic skills. The Hardy boys also often round up their friends for day hikes through the woods and countryside.
As the brothers never know when they might need to tackle a crook, hang off the ledge of a cliff, or swim a far distance, they keep their bodies nimble, tuned up, and ready for action.
2. Be Perennially Curious
The Hardy boys’ skills aren’t just of the physical variety, but extend to the mental realm as well. The detectives are often able to make logical deductions and find connections between various incidents and pieces of evidence. This ability comes in large part from the fact that they have a robust treasury of mental models to draw from, and they construct this rich cognitive scaffolding by being perennially curious about the world.
Frank and Joe are interested in a wide variety of subjects, and while working their cases, they often take the time to learn about the context and background that form the setting of their investigations. For example, when a case takes them up to Alaska in The Mystery at Devil’s Paw, they pay a visit to a local museum to learn about the state’s indigenous culture and take an interest in the archeological work being done in the state. In The Secret Panel, the boys are supposed to be searching through a peculiar house, but after finding a book on locks and keys in the library, one of the brothers settles into a chair to read it and finds himself lost in the text for hours. In The Flickering Torch Mystery, Frank and Joe decide to go work on an experimental farm, and while a case ends up impinging on their stay and proves to be a major distraction, they still have the inclination to learn about the agricultural tests being conducted there.
The Hardy boys investment in gaining a wider knowledge while working a case consistently ends up helping them make the connections necessary to solving it. But their curiosity often aids them in discovering new cases in the first place. When they see a spooky or abandoned house, the boys can’t help but go explore it, and their gumption and interest in the unknown invariably leads them into uncovering yet another mystery.
3. Strengthen Your Powers of Observation
One of the most important components of the Hardy boys’ arsenal of cognitive abilities is their keen power of observation. From a young age, their father taught them that most “people walk around in a trance” and that one’s situational awareness was a skill that had to be intentionally trained. That training took the form of the kinds of games and exercises we shared in this article.
In The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, in which the brothers explain how real-life detectives do their work, Joe notes that “There’s a lot of difference between seeing and observing. The primary rule of observation is not to permit your eyes to pass over anything, but instead to make conscious mental images of the objects you wish to remember.”
The boys’ sharp eyes allow them to spot things that are unusual in their environment and find clues like footprints, tire tracks, fresh scratches on a rusty lock, and wilted plants that are no longer rooted in the earth and are instead being used to camouflage a secreted vehicle. Another tip they learned from their father is “always to note the exact time any unusual circumstance occurred.”
Frank and Joe not only practice observing as much detail in the environment as possible, they train themselves to take these mental snapshots as quickly as they can; they’re thus able to catch identifying details of a car that speeds past them, or notice an odd detail about a stranger they meet only briefly. For example, after speaking with a man for only a few minutes in The Secret Panel, the first thing the brothers say to each other is “Did you notice the odd signet ring Mr. Mead was wearing?” The Hardy boys’ attention to detail and close observation of others gives them “great ingenuity in judging character” and a heightened discernment in judging the bad guys from the good.
While Frank and Joe rely on their sight for much of their clue-finding, they also use their other senses at their full capacity. They are quick to notice unusual noises in their environment, and will put their ear to the ground or to a door to home in on and track faint sounds. Catching the scent of a certain flower wafting through a small hole in a prison where they’re being held is enough for them to figure out their location. And patting down a backpack allows them to detect an extra layer of material and discover the bag’s secret compartment.
4. Carry a Robust EDC
The Hardy boys were masters of everyday carry before that was even a term. They always have the tools and gear they need to escape danger, find clues, and solve their cases right on hand. Here’s what they carry:
- Pocketknife — for cutting through the ropes they so often get tied up with, and a host of other things
- Flashlight — for exploring dark tunnels, caves, attics, and basements
- Handkerchief — for bandages or wrapping up a piece of evidence
- Small magnifying glass — for examining clues more closely
- Pocket notebook — for writing down license plate numbers and sketching suspects and clues
- Pen/pencil — for writing in their notebook
- Strike anywhere matches — for starting fires and giving light in dark cellars when their flashlight is lost or broken
When engaged in outdoor adventures, the Hardy boys carry a first aid kit. And their father brings along “concentrated food tablets” wherever he goes in case he gets stuck in a place without access to needed sustenance.