Tom Swift, Boy Inventor

Did any of you read the Bobbsey Twins when you were young?  Tom Swift?  Nancy Drew? You can do it again because these and hundreds of other books whose copyright has expired can be downloaded from for free.  The downloading takes only a minute or two, and you can then read them anytime in a word processing program.

They are fun to read just to get an idea of how differently we thought back then.  Most of them (all that I’ve read) have a child-like, devoted black housekeeper or handyman who is the source of humor.  My favorite, Tom Swift, Boy Inventor, often chuckles at the ignorance of his elderly black handyman, Eradicate, who bungles the simplest requests.  Eradicate’s main job is protecting the Swift family’s chicken coop from theft by his own “no-’count” relatives:  “G’wan, ya all git out ob here!”

In “Tom Swift In the Land of Giants,” Tom goes off to South America to find a tribe of black giants and bring back a few to sell to a circus and to do the work around his father’s house.  They come running like devoted pet dogs when Tom whistles and claps his hands. (Creepy!)

The old books of Tom Swift, like the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins series, were actually written factory-style by many authors under one pseudonym.  The publisher would send an outline of the plot to an anonymous author who was paid by the piece to flesh it out.  Each book had to be exactly 25 chapters, and the author had to work in a brief summary of the previous books near the beginning and of the next book at the end.

The style of the Tom Swift books started a series of corny jokes called “Swifties.”

One example—”I need a pencil sharpener,” said Tom bluntly.

Another—”I only have diamonds, clubs and spades,” said Tom heartlessly.

The jokes stem from the publisher’s aversion to the word “said.”   He routinely changed any he found to a more descriptive synonym, like “asked,” “cried,” “exclaimed,” “blurted,” and (poor choice) “ejaculated.”

In following example from “Tom Swift and His Wireless Message,”  Tom almost runs over Mary Nestor, his love-interest, with whom he does nothing but blush and stammer in all twenty-some books.  She seems to do nothing but sit around her parent’s house waiting for visitors.

“Why, Tom Swift! What are you trying to do? Run me down?”

“Mary–Miss Nestor!” ejaculated our hero, in some confusion.

Now that must have been one very hot girl, or Tom was a total horn-dog.

Later, in the same book, Tom rescues Mary’s parents from a desert island.  (Every adolescent boy dreams of heroically rescuing his girlfriend’s parents.)

“Why–of all things–look–Amos–it’s–it can’t be possible–and yet–why, it’s Tom Swift!” cried the lady.

“Tom–Tom Swift–here?” ejaculated the man at her side.

Needless to say, they were a very loving couple.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
This entry was posted in Popular culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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