Hardy Once Again

updated 08/05/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1991 01:00AM

YOU MIGHT CALL THIS THE CASE OF THE Purloined Prose. It begins on a dark and fateful night about a year ago when Phil Zuckerman, 40, began to read to his son Andy, then 5, from a favorite Hardy Boys adventure, The Mystery of Cabin Island. As he sat on a footstool in his Bedford, Mass., home, Zuckerman realized that something was missing. "Somehow the scenes weren't as cold as I remembered. The villains weren't as villainous," Zuckerman says. "It was dull." A little investigation proved that Zuckerman, who is president of the small Applewood Books, wasn't just imagining things. Beginning in 1959, all 38 of the original Hardy Boys titles and 34 of the Nancy Drew books had been revised to soften racial and sexual stereotypes and outmoded cultural references. Gone were all the swarthy, uneducated bad guys, along with Nancy Drew's blue roadster and many of the long, florid passages that had thrilled him as a child.

Zuckerman guessed that his kids would prefer the original products of a literary factory in which prepared outlines were fleshed out by hungry writers. When he showed before-and-after chapters to some booksellers, they agreed. So he has acquired the rights to the original texts of three Hardy Boys and three Nancy Drew stories and plans this fall to reissue facsimiles of the hardcovers, complete with original cover art, first published in the '20s and early '30s.

Not everyone is delighted. Sharon McDonald, the children's librarian at the Bedford Free Public Library, says, "When I reread these books as an adult, the bad guy always has an accent.... It troubles me." But beyond that, Zuckerman insists that the original books reflect "moral character and whole-someness and some historical perspective." Son Andy sees a simpler virtue. In the original description of the Hardy boys ice-skating in Hunting for Hidden Gold, he says, "I felt like the wind was blowing hard on the lake."

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