Edward Stratemeyer Essay - Critical Essays


Edward Stratemeyer used the techniques he developed while writing dime novels to perfect the construction of juvenile mystery fiction. His leading characters were derived from the leading characters in fairy tales and projected a universal appeal because of the essential familiarity of their types (Jung’s universal archetype theory). His plots were built on action and strengthened with cliff-hanging suspense with an overabundance of coincidence rather than applied detection, deduction, or induction. In thirty-one years, Stratemeyer managed to create five extremely successful juvenile mystery series that have become embedded in American popular culture. The Rover Boys, Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew are cultural icons and centers of controversy, just as Stratemeyer was controversial.

Critics of juvenile fiction have accused Stratemeyer of sensationalism, lack of realism, and the repeated use of similar characters and plots. Teachers, librarians, and the Boy Scouts of America attacked his books. The consensus seemed to be that it was impossible to write as much as Stratemeyer did and still write well. However, Stratemeyer wrote well enough to capture the imaginations of his readers. He chose his syndicate writers based on who best could communicate the excitement he hoped to promote and best express the character he hoped to create. If he, and later, daughter Harriet, found an author to be unsatisfactory, that author was not invited to work for the syndicate again.

The Bobbsey Twins Series

Although Howard Garis and Lilian Garis, writing as Laura Lee Hope, worked on the later volumes of this series, the greatest mystery of all about the Bobbseys remains unsolved. The 1904 publication date of the first book in the series is a year or so in advance of estimated dates for the syndicate organization, so who wrote the book? If, as Stratemeyer’s daughter said, Stratemeyer, himself, wrote the book, it would be the only book for very young children that he ever attempted, even though he, presumably, outlined succeeding volumes. Because the publishing world was glutted with “tots” series, the syndicate was content with the Bobbsey Twins until 1952 when Harriet introduced the Happy Hollisters series by Jerry West (Andrew Svenson). The idea seemed to be to create an audience for a mystery series by developing an audience for mysteries, and the Bobbsey Twins solved mysteries, beginning with tracking down the identity of a ghost in the first volume. After 1943, the series was devoted to solving mysteries and was popular enough to outlast its competition, and even after it was discontinued in 1979, it went immediately into reprints and a new format. Writers who wrote novels in the series include Elizabeth Ward, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, Andrew Svenson, Jane Dunn, Grace Grote, Nancy Axelrod, Mary Donahoe, Patricia Doll, Bonnibel Weston, and Margery Howard.

The Tom Swift Series

This third volume of the 1910 breeder set, Tom Swift and His Airship: Or, The Stirring Cruise of the Red Cloud, demonstrates Stratemeyer’s fondness for using names to describe personalities. Tom was quick on the uptake and quick to seize on opportunities. This series by Victor Appleton, a house...

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