25 March 2024

Here's to Absent Chums

The Missing Chums
Franklin W. Dixon [Leslie McFarlane]
New York: Grosset & Dunlop, [c. 1960]
214 pages

The fourth Hardy Boys book, I read The Missing Chums for the title alone. "Chums" is so dated a word that I'm not sure I've ever written it before. The novel features characters with names like "Biff" and "Slim," teenage boys who spend rainy days in a barn walking on their hands and practicing their boxing skills. They might take to the trapeze, as does Jerry Gilroy, performing something known as "skinning the cat":

As every boy knows, ‘‘skinning the cat" is an acrobatic feat that does not necessarily embrace cruelty to animals. 
This boy knew nothing about skinning the cat, and isn't sure what to make of the reassurance that it "does not necessarily embrace cruelty to animals [emphasis mine]."

Jerry's attempt at skinning the cat is interrupted by a swat on the butt administered by Chet Morton. Jerry returns the favour after using a sash window to restrain Chet:

Read nothing into this.

Biff, Slim, Jerry, and Chet are but four of the Hardys' chums; Phil Cohen and Tony Prito, the latter owning a motorboat boat called the Napoli, round out their number. As every boy knows, Frank and Joe Hardy have a motorboat of their own, the Sleuth, which they purchased with reward money received in solving The Tower Treasure mystery. Biff Hooper doesn't have a motorboat himself, but his father does. Named the Envoy, it was purchased not long ago, which may explain the chum's ineptitude in piloting the craft. 

Grossett & Dunlop, 1944
This novel is in many ways a nautical adventure, with Biff and Chet as the titular chums. The former had long dreamed of "motorboating along the coast," and now has his chance. The Hardy boys would like to join them, but their father, "internationally famous detective" Fenton Hardy, is about to leave town and Mrs Hardy cannot be alone. Mr Hardy is on the trail of bank robber Baldy Turk who he believes to be in Chicago, the "thieves' paradise." 

Biff and Chet receive a nice send-off from Frank, Joe, and the rest of the chums. Iola Morton and Callie Shaw are also present, but they're girls, not chums. As the Sleuth and Napoli escort the Envoy towards open water a thunderstorm rolls in. The Sleuth and Napoli return to port, while the Envoy motors on into the Atlantic Ocean.

Have I mentioned Biff's incompetence? It's a matter of comedy in the novel's earliest pages, but by the end of the first chapter he's on course to collide with two sailboats.

The second chapter begins with Frank grabbing the wheel, thus averting loss of life. "Thanks," Biff says, "I'd have never got out of that mess if you hadn't taken the wheel. I was so rattled that I didn't know what to do." Frank is magnanimous: "After you've run the boat a few more weeks you'll get so used to it that it'll be second nature to you."

A few more weeks do not pass.

A day or two later, the Envoy is on its way, heading into a storm that saw more seasoned seaman like Frank Hardy and Tony Prito return to the shelter of the port.

There's some concern about Biff and Chet, which is elevated when a promised postcard fails to arrive. The Hardy boys would like to head out in the Sleuth to see what they can find, but what of mother?

Grossett & Dunlop, 1928
Hartley boy L.P. once noted: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

Ignoring the obvious – that The Missing Chums is set in a foreign country – the novel was written nearly one hundred years ago. Was this really a time in which an intelligent, able-bodied middle-aged woman could not take care of herself? Would parents of missing children really let days go by before alerting authorities? Children who were last seen heading out into the Atlantic? During a violent thunderstorm? In a motorboat piloted by a novice? Would those same parents have relied on their children's chums to find them, even if those chums were the Hardy boys?

Beginning in 1959, the thirty-eight earliest Hardy Boys titles underwent extensive revisions so as to bring them up to date. No more roadsters. Ethnic stereotypes were toned down.

I've found no evidence that Republican politicians were at all concerned. 

Revisions to The Missing Chums were done in 1962 by James Buechler. They are more radical than most in that the plot is done away with entirely. I won't go into details for fear of spoiling it for readers of either version. What I find most interesting is that no one thought to replace the title, which seems so... well, it seems foreign to me. And yet, Grossett and Dunlop chose to maintain it, and continues to so do today.

Why not The Missing Friends? Was "chum" still so common in 1962?

I can't say. I pretty much missed the first eight months of that year.

Favourite sentence:

“I’ll say!’’ Iola replied, slangily.

Favourite exchange:

"Just a little while before they went on their trip I was talking to Chet and Biff and I remember that Biff said he had always wanted to visit Blacksnake Island.’’
   "Blacksnake Island!’’ exclaimed Frank. “That’s the place that is overrun with big blacksnakes, isn’t it?"

Fun fact: The word "chum" appears in the text fifty-one  times, roughly once every four pages. "Hardy boys" appears even more frequently – a total of eighty-eight times – which I'm supposing has everything to do with branding. And so, my second favourite exchange:

Trivia: In 1982, Armada, which owned the paperback rights to the Hardy Boys books in the UK, retitled the adventure The Mystery of the Missing Friends.     

Object and Access:
An unattractive, cheaply produced hardcover lacking dustjacket, I purchased my copy for one dollar twelve years ago in London, Ontario. The previous books in its "HARDY BOYS Mystery Stories" list suggests it was published in or about 1960. Its frontispiece is a bit of a spoiler.

As I write this, the most expensive copy of The Missing Chums listed online is going for US$950.

It is not a first edition.

In 1960 Dutch publisher Van Goor Zonen gave us De verdwenen vrienden (left) based on McFarlane's text. The jacket illustration, by the late Dutch artist Rudy van Giffen (1929-2005), is the best I've seen. It's easy to imagine it being used today.

There have been other translations 
– Swedish, Finnish, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese –  but I'm fairly certain all are of the Buechler rewrite.

18 March 2024

Quick! To the Customs House!

Montreal Customs House, c. 1916

I've been on something of a Constance Beresford-Howe kick this past week, all to do with her 1947 novel Of This Day's Long Journey. It's a remarkable achievement from a young woman who was otherwise working on her MA and PhD. What struck most was the maturity of voice. Written by a twenty-four-old academic, it concerns a twenty-four-year-old academic, yet seems in no way autobiographical. Believe me, I've tried to find some sort of link between Constance Beresford-Howe and her heroine Cameron Brant; my first book, Character Parts, dealt with characters modelled on real people.

One resource I used in my search is Google's increasingly unstable, moribund News Archive.  

As might be expected, clicking "Petite, Pretty, Young Writer Teaches Mcgill Niaht School" brought me to this, in which I learned that the novelist was more than a mere cutie pie:

Beresford-Howe taught "The Art of Shorter Fiction;" Somerset Maugham's "Rain" and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, published just the previous year, were amongst the works discussed. One lecture was titled "Bad Fiction and How to Recognize It."

According to the article, the petite, pretty, young successful novelist was at the time completing her most ambitious project, "Drink Thy Wine With Joy," a historical novel inspired by a 16th-century English divorce. I recognized it as 1955's My Lady Greensleeves:

This Google News Archive link was even more interesting. 

'Facts Tout' brings to mind 'Bonjour Hi!' It's the very thing to get Premier François Legault's knickers in a twist. 

Speaking of knickers, are you not intrigued by "Panties Customs Dust?" I was! Clicking on the link brought some disappointment:

I shouldn't complain because columnist Harriet Hill's focus is Beresford-Howe's first, unpublished novel. In publicity material, publisher Dodd, Mead had teased of this bit of juvenilia, but provided few details. This is the most I've ever read about the manuscript:

Where is "Gillian" today? By the time the manuscript would have landed there, the eight-story Customs House had grown to take over an entire city block. It's occupied today by the Canada Border Services Agency, the descendant of the Department of Customs and Excise. I like to think that "Gillian" is somewhere in that building, perhaps close by seized copies of The Temple of Pederasty and By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.

Who knows? Given Pierre Poilievre's announced intention to give away six thousand federal buildings to developers, it might just turn up in a dumpster on rue Normand.

11 March 2024

Destination: Montreal

Of This Day's Journey
Constance Beresford-Howe
New York: Dodd, Mead, 1947
240 pages

A second novel, Of This Day's Journey followed the author's debut by a little over a year, during which she earned her MA and had begun work on a PhD. Beresford-Howe was all of twenty-four years old when it was published.

Camilla "Cam" Brant, the novel's protagonist, is also all of twenty-four. The earliest pages take place as she's preparing to leave Blake University, somewhere in New England, for her Montreal home. Cam had been hired a year earlier as a seasonal lecturer in English and has been living with the wonderfully-named Olive Pymson, spinster secretary to Andrew Cameron, Blake's tall, lanky president.

Of This Day's Journey is divided into three parts – Morning, Afternoon, Evening – each featuring a different narrator; plain Miss Pymson, the most endearing and attractive, is the first. It was quite unlike her to open up her home to Cam, but she'd been taken by a sudden urge to shake up her life. The two hit it off from their first meeting, an unlikely duo with a shared taste for dry humour.

The second part, Afternoon, is told by Cam herself. The shift in perspective is an eye-opener. For example, Job Laurence, whom Olive had thought a good match for her new housemate is seen with fresh, younger eyes as a physically unattractive man who is much older than herself. It's to Beresford-Howe's credit, I think, that Cam's narration is slightly less engaging. She is, after all, a different person. In this middle part we learn that Cam's reason for leaving Blake has to do with her love for the older – but not Job Laurence old – Andrew Cameron. This should not come as a surprise to the reader; in Morning, Miss Pymson provided enough hints. The front flap of Dodd, Mead's dust jacket isn't nearly so subtle.

The Gazette,
10 May 1947
Lastly, in Evening, we have Andrew – not as seen by Olive Plymson or Cam Brant – rather as how he is: a man exhausted by obligation and responsibility. He abandoned his academic pursuits and interests in order to steer Blake, an institution co-founded by one of his great-grandfathers. Homelife centres on care for his once-adulterous wife Marny. Her series of affairs was brought to an abrupt end by a car accident. Who knows whether the child she was carrying – the child she lost – was Andrew's. Now confined to a wheelchair, Marny refuses to leave the house, and so her husband must attend functions stag... functions also attended by Cam.

The only possible happy ending to such a scenario would have Marny succumb to her infirmity, thus freeing Andrew to be with Cam. But Beresford-Howe, all of twenty-four, was already too good a writer for such contrivance. Of This Day's Journey is far superior to her debut, The Unreasoned Heart (1946).

Beresford-Howe's third novel, The Invisible Gate, was published the month she turned twenty-seven. She'd almost completed her PhD by that point. Given her trajectory, I'm betting it's the best of the three.

Object and Access: A hardcover bound in grey boards with uncredited dust jacket. I purchased my copy, the American first edition, five years ago from a Rochester, New York bookseller. Price: US$9.94 (w/ US$18.00 shipping).

A British edition was published in 1955 by Hammond & Hammond (above). There has never been a Canadian edition.

As of this writing, two copies are listed for sale online, the cheaper being a jacketless copy of the Hammond & Hammond being sold at £17.50. The other is an inscribed edition of the Dodd, Mead edition:

Hardcover. Condition: Near Fine. Dust Jacket Condition: Poor. 1st Edition. HARDCOVER W/dj; NF/poor, 240pp. SIGNED.inscribed by author ffep. Newspaper sad [sic] for this title laid in. First edition. Please email w/questions or to request picture(s); refer to our book inventory number.
Tempting, but at US$49.00, with a further US$53.00 for shipping, I'm taking a pass.

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04 March 2024

Too Soon?

Son of a Meech: The Best Brian Mulroney Jokes
Mark Breslin, ed.
Toronto: Ballantine, 1991
113 pages

News of Brian Mulroney's death last Thursday did not hit hard. I was no admirer. As a young man, I dismissed Mulroney as Ronald Reagan Lite. Simplistic, but not wrong. In 1984, the year he led his party to the second greatest electoral victory in this country's history, I was distrustful and skeptical. It came as no surprise when his government began selling off Crown assets at Fire Sale prices.

The Mulroney government spanned the better part of my twenties. He hung onto power, forcing the game into overtime, only to leave the political arena when it became clear he could not score a third victory. Mulroney all but destroyed the Progressive Conservative Party, leaving Kim Campbell and Peter Mackay to ensure its end. 


As I say, I was no admirer, though I've come to recognize the man's achievements. He somehow managed to convince Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that Apartheid was wrong, which was no small feat. He wasn't quite as successful in pushing Reagan on acid rain, but he did get a treaty through with the first President Bush. Mulroney really was our "greenest prime minister," a title included in most of the obituaries.

That he holds it still, three decades after he stepped down as PM, is a sad commentary on his successors.

Son of a Meech
Andy Donato
Toronto: Key Porter, 1990
Son of a Meech is so obvious a pun that Breslin's book is the second to use it as a title. The Meech Lake Accord was Mulroney's greatest gambit, and his greatest defeat. I was against it at the time but have since changed my position. I won't go into my reasoning as it would add five thousand words to this post. I'd much rather focus on this collection of "The Best Brian Mulroney Jokes" because it anticipates the hate, homophobia, and misogyny spread by Ezra Levant, Jeff Ballingall's Proud pages, and the Conservative Party itself.

And so, a warning to the reader, I will be quoting from this book.

Let's begin with stand-up comedian Mark Breslin's brief introduction, in which he describes how Son of a Meech was born:
After each show, members of the audience would approach me with jokes about [Mulroney] – vicious, mean, brutal – my kind of jokes. They weren't, as my literary sensei Jack Kapiica observed, the usual anti-government barbs, but personal ad hominem attacks on the man's most private self. These jokes stepped over the line of good taste, and I got interested.
Are these amongst the jokes he collected? 
Canadians no longer believe in the theory of trickle-down economics.
   Mulroney's trickled down on them long enough.

Not that the prime minister is crooked...
   But last week he swallowed a nail and it came out a corkscrew.
Perhaps not. They don't step over the line.

Variations of the trickle-down economics joke can be traced back to Reagan's first term. The corkscrew joke has iits origins in an insult General Sir Gerald Templer delivered to Lord Mountbatten.

The most interesting part of Breslin's introduction suggests that the jokes provided by his fans weren't quite so numerous as he claims:
The collection got bigger, so I turned to Martin Waxman for help. He researched volumes of comedy material of all eras for jokes about despots and cruel or incompetent leaders. Sad to say, they fit.
And so, we get these:
Did you hear the new Mulroney stamp has had to be recalled?
   People kept spitting on the wrong side.

What's the difference between the prime minister and yogurt?
   Yogurt has culture.

Why would Mulroney never be eaten by cannibals?
   Because he's too hard to swallow.

What do you call an Irish Canadian with half a brain?
   Mr. Prime Minister.
Take a tired old joke, insert a reference to Mulroney, and you're pretty much done, but not always. This one was made contemporary with a reference to yuppies:
What's the only mediocre product yuppies will buy?
   Brian Mulroney.
This one proved too difficult to update:
What's the difference between Howdy Doody and Prime Minister Mulroney?
   You can't see Mulroney's strings.
There are even a couple of blonde jokes:
How do you make Brian Mulroney laugh on Monday?
   Tell him a joke on Friday.

Looking to bolster his stodgy image, the P.M. spent the night at a rock club. And not wanting to be perceived as a square, he even snorted Sweet and Low. 
   He thought it was Diet Coke.

Tame stuff, lame stuff, these can't be the "vicious, mean, brutal jokes" Breslin says he likes.

I've given an imprecise depiction of this book's content, choosing to not share jokes involving bestiality or golden showers. There's also a fair amount of racist and homophobic writing, the most extreme being a joke that combines the two and involves the PM receiving a black coffee enema. I won't be sharing it either, but because I feel there should be at least one example of Breslin's vicious, mean, brutal jokes, I present this:
What's the difference between Rock Hudson and Brian Mulroney?
   Brian's aides have not killed him yet.
Mark Breslin's book is unlike earlier Canadian political humour books. It has little in common with Sex and the Single Prime Minister, The Naked Prime Minister, I Never Promised You a Rose GardenP.E.T., or even Andrew Donato's Son of a Meech, which seem gentle ribbing in comparison. Nowhere is this more apparent than in its treatment of the prime minister's wife, Mila Mulroney, to whom Breslin dedicates the book.

Of the dozens of jokes in which she figures, this is the most tame:
Over dessert at 24 Sussex, Mulroney whispered to Mila, "Drinking makes you absolutely gorgeous."
   "I don't drink," Mila replied.
   "Yes, but I do."
The others feature fellatio, anal sex, adultery, and descriptions of a variety of sexual positions. Plumbers feature in four of them. 'The Unity Issue,' eighth of the book's ten sections, focusses exclusively on Brian and Mila Mulroney's sex life.

Mark Breslin was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2017.

Was Brian Mulroney Canada's worst prime minister as Breslin claims? Of course not. The most recent Maclean's ranking had him in eighth spot, just below Jean Chrétien, which seemed about right. But then I remembered that Mulroney accepted bribes and was a tax cheat. How about we place him in the very middle, just below eleventh place John Diefenbaker, but above Alexander Mackenzie.

Seems more than fair.

Is Breslin's Canada's worst joke book?

Beyond a doubt.

Martin Brian Mulroney
20 March 1939, Baie Comeau, Quebec
29 February 2024, Palm Beech, Florida


Object and Access: A slim mass market paperback, I found my copy two years ago in a Kemptville, Ontario thrift store. Price: $1.00.

Son of a Meech is held by seven Canadian libraries, the most surprising being the Legislative Library of British Columbia. St Francis-Xavier University, Brian Mulroney's alma mater, does not have a copy. 

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