I think I related, at some point in our long, strange journey together, that I once desired to be the great boy detective Encyclopedia Brown. Even made up my own sign offering to solve neighborhood mysteries with my amazing powers of deduction and such.

The sign went like this: “Encyclopedia Mark Now On Duty. No Case Too Big Or Small. 25 Cents Per Case. Gurlz Welcome.”

The first half of the sign was awesome, because I had a new magic marker — the ones that smell really delightful but which make you kind of sleepy if you sniff them for too long.

The latter part of the signs was mostly a series of frantic scribbles because the marker eventually petered out and I had to finish, painstakingly, with a ballpoint pen. You know how long it takes to fill in a single letter with a ballpoint pen? Forever, that’s how long. Why don’t you get off my back about it?

Where was I going with this?

Oh, right. I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown, tracking down missing cats, finding incriminating evidence to convict abusive older brothers (you know who you are) and generally becoming a neighborhood wunderkind, whatever that is. All I wanted was to make a little scratch over the summer and maybe to earn everlasting awe and respect around the world. Is that so much to ask?

Sadly, I only took on one case and I never did find that damn Nerf ball. That case broke me, man. It’s the reason I drank so much, why I couldn’t manage a healthy relationship and why I absolutely despise anything made of Nerf.

But anyway, the point is that my Encyclopedia Brown phase (all told, it lasted about four hours, whereas the making of the sign took three times as long) was certainly not the only dream I had as a yoot. I also wanted to be one of the Scooby Doo gang or — and I could still go either way on this — one of the Hardy Boys.

I bring it up mainly because I have a column due and nothing else to write about. But also because a scholarly friend recently revealed that, over the years, many of the original Hardy Boys books have been sanitized. And by that, I don’t mean they were sprayed with Lysol because some kid threw up on them.

Apparently classic Hardy Boys capers, with titles like “While the Clock Ticked,” “The Hooded Hawk Mystery” and “The Shattered Helmet” contain terminology that was commonplace in the 1930s and 1940s but which is now verboten. And so some hand-wringing folks decided that what they should do is to rewrite those books to make them less icky. Which is, in essence, rewriting history.

Sanitizing the language of a pre-existing book smacks of Newspeak, doesn’t it? It smacks of The Memory Hole, and if you’re not familiar with those terms, get acquainted because it’s a theme that grows more popular by the hour. It happened to Mark Twain’s work. And to Harper Lee’s and to some obscure hack named William Shakespeare. And if these old books aren’t being edited to make them more modern and cuddly, they’re outright banned and it’s hard to say which is worse.

When I was an enterprising lad reading the adventures of The Hardy Boys and Huckleberry Finn, I came across those politically scary words and surmised, all on my own, that they were the language of another time. And you must remember that I wasn’t very bright. Sniffed too many markers.

Reading the original Hardy Boys didn’t turn me into a racist, hate-spewing monster, it turned me into somebody who wanted to read more, learn more and know more about the differences between then and now. Elementary, my dear Huckleberry. Sanitizing the classics is yet another solution in search of a problem.

After The Hardy Boys, I moved on to S.E. Hinton. “The Outsiders,” “Rumblefish,” “That Was Then, This is Now …” Great books about hard times on the street. I suppose that sooner or later, some do-gooder will come along with an editor’s pencil and change all those knives to lollipops and the brawls to hugs.

The works of S.E. Hinton didn’t make me want to be an inner-city gang member, although I did go through a brief period when I wanted to be Matt Dillon. It’s all very blurry and embarrassing and my marker is out of ink.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Subversives can email him at [email protected]


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