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Thread: My Three Investigators essay now published online

  1. #1
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    My Three Investigators essay now published online

    You can find my essay, titled The Three Investigators: Modern Mythology in the Making, available in pdf format at the following site:

    http://www.threeinvestigatorsbooks.com/

    This is easily the best English-language site on the Web dedicated to The Three Investigator series; it contains numerous facts about the series as a whole as well as about the individual books, writers, artists, editors, and so on. It's managed by T3I historian named Seth T. Smolinske, an ardent fan.

    My essay can be located on the main page, at the top of the column on the left side of the screen.

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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    The essay actually uses Claude Levi-Strauss's theory of structural anthropology to explain why The Three Investigators series is timeless - and a part of modern-day mythology. (And yes, Toomas, you get quoted!)

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    Registered User Toomas Losin's Avatar
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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    That was good reading. It's given me things to think about and other ways of looking at this series, or any other series. I sense that I'm not fully grokking the details because I haven't studied Levi-Strauss or any form of literary analysis; I'll have to spend more time with your essay to absorb all of it.

    From the explanation in your essay I can generalize a dyadic pair as a writing device which groups two concepts that in opposition create dramatic conflict, allowing a story to be told. That's a simple sentence which buries detail that I feel needs paragraphs to explore. However, once understood I wonder if this might be the simplest device to use when telling a story; one of the "simple machines" of storytelling perhaps, precisely because such a pair can be an archetype, thus requiring no explanation to the reader.

    Here's a thought I had. It's not very well fleshed-out but it should convey the idea. Archetypes work at the most basic level - they're primitive. That implies they're very strong and can provoke intense interest but, like an instinctive reaction, there's very little intelligence at the root of one. By that I mean that a pairing of something like good/evil or intelligence/stupidity doesn't create a story; using such a pair supplies the skeleton of a story (and if they're archetypes the reader instinctively understands the setup) but it can only be an interesting story if the surrounding flesh is interesting. Another way of stating this, I suppose, is that an archetype is a cliché but isn't perceived as one because it's only a building block of the rest of the story.

    To build on your essay (or maybe restate part of it): You've identified many dyadic pairs in The Three Investigators which support a myth; I believe they lay a very strong foundation for the series and it's the story layers on top, fleshing out the dyads, which provide the detail for each story to keep it interesting to the reader. That's where I interpret your essay's comment about the "emotional impact" of the story coming into play; that emotional end result builds or reinforces the myth.

    The concept of myth might be what I'm missing when I try to put words to what I feel is the difference between this series and something like The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. There's an essay topic. :-)

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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    Toomas, as usual, you have an extremely strong grasp on a concept. It sounds to me as if you understand completely what dyadic pairs are, as well as their purpose. They're very basic, primal, and common. Almost everything in entertainment represents some kind of dyadic pair. They have to contain some kind of opposition to each other, even if that opposition is minor, so that, in the end, they can come together in such a way that a lesson is taught or reinforced. And that lesson has to reflect the values of the culture in which the dyadic pair is being presented. So, for instance, Jupiter and his aunt and uncle are dyadic pairs in that they have an element (however minor) of opposition - Aunt Mathilda wants Jupiter to work in the salvage yard, but he doesn't want to because he needs to investigate a case; yet this situation, which happens time and again, usually resolves itself in such a way that the work in the yard gets done AND Jupiter has time to investigate the case. Thus, children reading the stories learn that they can be of their own mind and yet still obey their parents (or guardians, as the case may be here).

    Actually, if you think about it, what makes the stories interesting are smaller dyadic structures outside the central pair. The example above concerning Aunt Mathilda and Jupiter wanting two different things is one example. Another is that Jupiter, Pete, and Bob have to solve many cases despite Skinny Norris's interference. In M.V. Carey's books, a dyadic pair is created between The Three Investigators and Chief Reynolds/the police. And so on and so on. So you have a primary dyadic pair that is shored up by many smaller dyadic pairs, and all of these combined are what makes the story interesting.

    In my original essay, I drew a great many comparisons and contrasts between The Three Investigaters and the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series, but unfortunately my teacher had me remove them because she believed they interferred with the main point. Those books are missing soooooooooo much that The Three Investigators books contain. For one thing, the kids never solve the mysteries themselves; either adults solve them for the kids, or the kids stumble upon the answer quite by accident (look how Frank and Joe solve the mystery of THE TOWER TREASURE). Nothing in the way the kids speak to their parents is realistic; it's idealism aimed at getting young readers to worship their parents and believe that everything their parents do is right. This can be very problematic in families where intelligent kids are born to dumb people (to put it simply) who have a disdain for intelligence. That's very much in contrast with The Three Investigators, where very little of the dialogue (or prose) represents idealogical views of family and parenthood. On the contrary, young readers are encouraged to think for themselves, to use their minds. So, on the one hand, a somewhat traditional view of the family is maintained by the series as a whole, but it allows for and encourages intelligence in children, unlike most series of the same vintage.

    Sometimes, The Three Investigators series even manages to break entirely from traditional cultural values. This is what makes WANDERING CAVEMAN one of my favorites in the series. M.V. Carey makes it clear that she has a disdain for stupid people - and she presents parental figures who do everything to discourage and stamp out intelligence from their niece, who acts as a surrogate daughter. Also against type is the fact that, rather than encourage religious precepts, Carey sets them on their head by making it clear that evolution is a FACT! And she drops all kinds of interesting factual tidbits about evolution throughout the book (for instance, our hominid ancestors were much smaller than ourselves) that help Jupiter solve the mystery. This is almost subversive, particularly for a mainstream children's lit series in the 1980s. And it's something you never would have seen (and in fact haven't) in the original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. (I have not read the more recent books.)

    On a side note, the fact that the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books, at least beginning with the rewrites in the late 1950s, are so horribly written discourages me from revisiting them on a regular basis. They suffer from terrible sentence structure, terrible dialogue, and terribly unrealistic situations.

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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    It struck me, right after I hit POST QUICK REPLY on that last post, that one major difference between the T3I and the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books is that each book in the former feels meticulously thought out and planned, while each book in the latter feels improvised. Perhaps that's part of the problem. While you can improvise certain types of stories and have them feel natural, it's very difficult to do so with mysteries, which require - in the end - that everything come together smoothly and naturally, not haphazardly or artificially.

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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    By the way, Toomas, did you check out the rest of Seth's terrific site?

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    Registered User Toomas Losin's Avatar
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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    Quote Originally Posted by cworkman View Post
    [Dyadic pairs] have to contain some kind of opposition to each other, even if that opposition is minor, so that, in the end, they can come together in such a way that a lesson is taught or reinforced. And that lesson has to reflect the values of the culture in which the dyadic pair is being presented.
    I'm being confused by the word "values" because my mind wants to interpret it as meaning "positive values" rather than the meaning I believe you want, which is something like "concepts understood by" in order for the target audience to be able to receive the lesson. Is that the correct interpretation?

    On my first reading I interpreted the word as meaning "good values" and I became confused because I couldn't understand a restriction to something positive. That's because I could see the strength of dyadic pairs for propaganda purposes, a "negative value" for all but the propagandist.

    That's my pedantic side showing itself.

    So you have a primary dyadic pair that is shored up by many smaller dyadic pairs, and all of these combined are what makes the story interesting.
    Yes, well put. The detail work of fleshing out all those pairs makes for a very rich story, reducing the odds of boring the reader. To a limit, I suppose.

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    Registered User Toomas Losin's Avatar
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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    Quote Originally Posted by cworkman View Post
    By the way, Toomas, did you check out the rest of Seth's terrific site?
    Yes, a few years ago I searched out all the Three Investigators sites I could find. I check up on them on occasion to see what's new.

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    Re: My Three Investigators essay now published online

    Quote Originally Posted by Toomas Losin View Post
    I'm being confused by the word "values" because my mind wants to interpret it as meaning "positive values" rather than the meaning I believe you want, which is something like "concepts understood by" in order for the target audience to be able to receive the lesson. Is that the correct interpretation?

    On my first reading I interpreted the word as meaning "good values" and I became confused because I couldn't understand a restriction to something positive. That's because I could see the strength of dyadic pairs for propaganda purposes, a "negative value" for all but the propagandist.

    That's my pedantic side showing itself.


    Yes, well put. The detail work of fleshing out all those pairs makes for a very rich story, reducing the odds of boring the reader. To a limit, I suppose.
    The concepts understood by the culture enforcing the values are positive - for them, or at least for those people who rule the society. Thus, a society may have a value in which men rule while women are subservient. They may then encounter another culture that does not share this value (of a woman being subservient). Therefore, they construct a dyadic pair to instruct the other group (or their own children, who may become "tainted" by the other society) on why women being subservient is a good thing. Now, I don't believe for a moment that women being subservient to men is a positive thing, but to the people who believe in it, it is. So, a value doesn't have to be positive to everyone, just the culture enforcing it. You can really see this in discussions about "Christian values" versus "gay rights" (as if those things are mutually exclusive).

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