It was a long-drawn-out, moaning sound that rose in volume to a veritable shriek, indescribably terrifying.
“Ghosts!” clamored Chet.
“There aren’t any such things!” snorted Joe.
— The Mystery of Cabin Island (original text), p. 69
The Hardy Boys Ghost Stories is a book that should not exist.
The Hardy Boys series is built upon rationality and coincidence. Frank and Joe follow the form of detective stories, gathering evidence to prove someone has committed a crime and logically building a case against that suspect. (The coincidences are unconnected to the rationality, except inasmuch as it is the primary method by which the boys gain their clues and proofs.)
Although ghost stories are nothing if not a series of improbable events piled atop each other, they have little of the rational about them. Or I suppose they have their own rationality — Event A happens, which causes, as a repercussion, Event B. It doesn’t matter that Event B is impossible and that no one in the history of humankind has ever perpetrated Event A. The story insists that they happened that way, and we suspend our rationality for a moment to enjoy the atmosphere and danger presented by the ghost story.
The Hardy Boys Ghost Stories has six ghost stories in its 137 pages. None of them are that enjoyable.
Here are the six stories, from least spooky to the most:
6) “Phantom Ship.” Frank and Joe are on the Atlantic, and a storm is rolling in. Of course it is; Frank and Joe long ago angered the storm god who watches over Bayport, and seeing the boys on the ocean, he must punish them. He has also smited the Sleuth, which mysteriously stops working, and their radio. Or maybe he has clouded their heads so that they can’t see what’s wrong; that would explain the rest of the story.
Frank and Joe are given sanctuary aboard the Samoa Queen, but only after boarding do the boys realize they are on a ghost ship: a mid-19th century whaler headed for the Pacific. The frightening thing about a ghost ship is the potential for sailing on it forever and being damned for all eternity. That possibility isn’t brought up by either the narrator or the characters, though. So what is the terror of the Samoa Queen?
All the whalers (but one) are mean to Frank and Joe. They don’t like the Hardys, and the captain doesn’t listen to them. (Still, Frank and Joe manage to show their seamanship is better than some of the ghosts. I suppose you get sloppy after a century at sea, no matter how dedicated you are.) Truly, it’s a masterpiece of terror.
Frank and Joe are thrown overboard and land in the Sleuth instead of the open sea. Somehow, Frank and Joe credit their survival to another ghost — one the ghost sailors couldn't see — who kept pointing for them to jump overboard, even though they ignored it. I suppose believing in Ghost Squared (or Super Ghost) makes as much sense as anything else in this story.
On the plus side, Frank and Joe are prepared to use karate against ghost sailors.
5) “The Haunted Castle.” Frank and Joe visit a castle in Scotland, just like they did in The Secret Agent on Flight 101. In this case, Fenton has sent them to help Lord MacElphin deal with a ghost infestation.
The castle is haunted by the first Lord MacElphin, a 17-century pirate named Rollo who bought his lordship with his pirate booty and was generally cruel to everyone. That’s a good starting place, but the author forgot to make his ghost frightening. Sure, he pops up in the dungeon nightly (with an extra matinee on Sundays) and shakes his chains throughout the castle, but he doesn’t do anything threatening. He just shows up and sings sea chanties. I can see wanting to exorcise anyone, living or dead, who sings songs of the sea at any time of day, but it’s not frightening. It’s annoying.
The story also mentions Rollo MacElphin stole the local witches’ meeting grounds; after reading that, it will surprise no one that Mrs. Crone, the housekeeper, is also the leader of the local witches. How does she lead them? Well, she leads them in this frightening chant: “We are witches … We know the magic spells and will bring the powers of darkness down on anyone who tries to cross us!” She’s also trying to keep the current Lord MacElphin from selling the castle so the witches can get their pagan-holy ground back, so she made Rollo visible. (He’s always been in the castle, due to a witches’ curse, but he was invisible.)
Frank and Joe release Rollo from the curse by talking to him twice, being American, and most importantly being named “Hardy.” (The curse can be lifted when “a hardy pair guards the dungeon door.” Convenient!) Poor Mrs. Crone is fired from her job, which breaks the poor woman: “I will go to Glasgow and cease to be a witch,” she declares.
I almost feel for her.
4) “The Mystery of Room 12.” This would be switched with “The Haunted Castle” in the rankings if I could only figure out why it’s supposed to be frightening.
The Hardys — even Laura! But not Gertrude — go to a hotel on the New England coast. The innkeeper tells the guests of a captain who went to sea in the 19th century but had an unprofitable trip, and his ship sank within sight of shore. He went down with the ship, playing his flute, and his widow (and everyone within a mile or two) heard his sad, sad song.
While staying in Room 12, Joe is awakened by a child crying. Frank doesn’t hear the crying, though, and he’s annoyed when Joe wakes him up. The bathroom door opens in the middle of the night, but it doesn’t make its usual squeaking noise. When Joe wakes Frank up to talk about that, Frank threatens to kill him. Reasonable enough. Frank is also prepared to use karate against whatever comes along; since he doesn’t believe in the supernatural in this one, he’s not really planning to karate chop a ghost child.
The non-scary stuff keeps going on — it also includes a woman who kinda looks like a witch, I guess, and a chest that smells like camphor after more than a century — until Frank finally gets his non-believing ass stranded on a local lake with Fenton and Joe has to sleep in Room 12 alone. He is confronted by a little ghost boy, who non-verbally demands he open the camphor-wood chest and get out his flute.
And that’s it. The innkeeper mentions the dead captain had a son — also now dead — and that Room 12 had been the boy’s room. Sorry he didn’t mention the haunting! Well, the joke’s on him: now the chest doesn’t smell like camphor any more.
3) “Mystery of the Voodoo Gold.” This isn’t scary, but at least it doesn’t have a ghost, so it’s not like it was trying to be scary.
In an Atlanta mall, Frank and Joe kill some time by going to a fortune teller. Fortunes cost $10, and the boys have only $11, so they flip a coin to see who will get his fortune told. Frank wins, and the fortune teller informs him his future holds a man with one blue eye who drives a white car, the Green Dragon, and gold. Obviously, Frank will find himself in the middle of an updated Norse myth, with Odin as the one-eyed man, his horse Sleipnir transformed into a white sports car, and Fafnir, a dwarf transformed into a dragon by his greed for gold.
No, not really. Fenton takes the boys to the Green Dragon, a restaurant, where they are accosted by the one-eyed Pierre Buffon, whom Fenton identifies as “one of the most cold-blooded cutthroats in this hemisphere.” Pierre asks the Hardys if they’ve seen an envelope lying around — it’s totally not valuable, but man, he’d like it back — and Fenton treats Pierre as if he’s got excruciating body odor. Perhaps he does.
Later, Frank and Joe find the envelope attached to the bottom of their briefcase — what are the odds? — and the letter inside directs them to a Civil War gold hoard. Just like in The Secret of the Lost Tunnel! Except this time it takes no effort to actually find the gold, even though they’re digging in a thunderstorm. Frank and Joe leave the gold in situ, fleeing the rainwater filling their excavations. Before they can claim it, they get a call telling them Laura is having emergency surgery, and they need to return to Bayport at once. They do, of course, although no one ever tells anyone what the surgery is for.
Frank and Joe don’t inform anyone about the gold, of course, and by the time they check back on it, a month later, it’s been paved over in a massive road construction project. C’est la vie!
There’s also some nonsense of about a voodoo statue watching over the gold; the fortune teller warned them about it. The boys spot it atop the hoard, and they seem leery of its powers. Since I can’t believe Frank and Joe would actually pay attention to the curse the statue is supposed to visit upon those who steal what it guards, I’m choosing to ignore that.
2) “The Walking Scarecrow.” Frank and Joe’s car breaks down while they’re on their way home from a day of backpacking in the Bayport Hills. Joe says they’re a “zillion miles” from anywhere, but it’s the Bayport Hills; how far can it be from anywhere? How far can it be from Bayport?
In any event, the boys decide to walk to the nearest farm to phone for help. Reasonable enough, given that they have no cell phones and for some reason are not able to fix their vehicle. (For Frank and Joe, that’s a horror story right there.) While walking up the road, they are unnerved by a scarecrow. Of course they assume it’s a real person at first; when you meet someone wearing a stovepipe hat, tattered clothes, and weird shoes in a cornfield, you just assume that it’s a farmer, right? Isn’t that what farmers wear? I mean, my dad doesn’t farm any more, but his stovepipe hat with the Case-IH logo stitched on it is still sitting on the back porch.
After passing up the scarecrow, the boys hear footsteps and a voice they attribute to the scarecrow. Frank and Joe totally want to karate chop that scarecrow, but it never gets close enough — it just warns them to go away. The boys ignore the advice and break into an abandoned house … well, they break into a house, but they discover it’s abandoned later. The house has no electricity or phone service, so Joe proposes a false dichotomy: sleep in the car or in the spooky, critter-infested house. (He forgets that they can keep walking down the road to find another house. It should have made him feel stupid the next day when a nearby farmer shows up, but I don’t think he makes the connection.)
The boys fall asleep, but the scarecrow wakes them, telling them to leave again. Frank and Joe give chase, because … it’s a crime to disturb someone’s sleep? I dunno. But while they’re chasing the scarecrow, the house is struck by lightning, and the house burns to the ground. The farmer who lives “next door” shows up and takes them to his house for pancakes and tows their car and is the greatest guy ever!
Why did the scarecrow save their lives? I dunno. Why did it come to life? *shrug* But the story had a spooky house (I was hoping it had been used by a serial killer, and in my head, it was) and it was somewhat atmospheric.
1) “The Disappearance of Flaming Rock.” “Flaming Rock” is the name of a mining town, so get your mind out of the gutter.
In the 19th century, a prospector stumbled into Tucson and told a tale of the inhabitants of an entire town vanishing: their food was still warm on the table, clothing and furniture was untouched. An expedition was launched later, but snows kept it from Flaming Rock; when they reached the town the next spring, they couldn't find the town. In the 20th century, the town had been spotted twice, with both observers confirming the prospector’s details. But each time, they couldn't find Flaming Rock again, either, and the two observers both disappeared mysteriously within a month of their sighting.
So Frank and Joe decide to check it out, battling through a rainstorm to do so. And of course, they find the town exactly as the prospector described it! Just as in The House on the Cliff, Frank is seriously intrigued by all this, while Joe is a little afraid. So Frank, ever sensitive to his little brother’s feelings, tells Joe that they’re going to split up. Thanks, Fred.
Their investigations are more stupid than scary. Joe knocks himself out by hitting his head on a coal scuttle and hallucinates an Indian blaming the white man’s crimes against Indians for Flaming Rock’s destruction — or is it a hallucination? The Indian leaves behind a headband that Joe picks up. Frank gets himself locked in a jail cell. Doofus. In the morning, Frank takes pictures of the town, and then they leave.
Back in Bayport, they tell the tale. Joe says he had an “Indian friend” translate the markings on the inside of the headband: it was the name of a chief killed just before Flaming Rock’s end. The ink itself dated back to the 1800s. And Frank’s pictures came out fogged. Spooky! Except for the part where there was no actual jeopardy for the Hardys, who are in no danger of disappearing like the previous re-discoverers of Flaming Rock!