The summer of 1982. I’m twelve and it’s the first summer that I’m really allowed to just ride my bike all over the place. My friends and I would usually take off mid-morning and explore our area of town in usually a 2-3 mile radius of our neighborhood. One of the places we would go was, at the time, one of the bigger shopping centers on our side of town, Eastland Center. There were several attractions for us there: there was a theater, a t-shirt shop (remember those?), a trading card store and a book store, The Book Rack. We spent a good amount of time in those three store – at times to just get out of the heat – but the one store that seemingly indulged us the most was The Book Rack. It wasn’t a large store, semi-multilevel with racks and dark wood shelves full of books that were arranged in such a way that they formed little corner nooks here and there. In one of those little nooks is where I discovered a book series called The Three Investigators.
The Three Investigators were created by Robert Arthur, who wrote the first few books and then oversaw and edited the rest of the series. Arthur installed Alfred Hitchcock as the patron of the team made up of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, Bob Andrew. Hitchcock would introduce each case, and often called the boys in to set them off on their latest adventure. The boys, who lived in a small town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, used their spare time to solve any riddles, enigmas and mysteries that come their way. Their motto was “We Investigate Anything”. Pete and Bob lived with their parents while Jupiter lived with his aunt and uncle who owned and operated The Jones Salvage Yard, a fabulous junkyard where one can find almost anything. Headquarters for the team was a damaged mobile home trailer within the salvage yard which had been cleverly hidden from view by stacks of junk which surround it and was accessible only by several secret passages and hidden entrances including their favorite, Tunnel Two. Headquarters contains a small laboratory, a dark room, and an office. All of their equipment was rebuilt from junk that came into the salvage yard.
When I discovered the series I sat in that corner several times and read an entire book little by little every time we went to the book store. One day my friends actually left me behind because I was so enthralled with reading that first book. There were a couple of dozen different books in all and I eventually read all of them. My favorite part of their universe was probably their headquarters hidden in the junkyard. We had a little hideout in a wooded area near our neighborhood. Nothing as elaborate as the one in the books but my buddy, Jeff (who was also hooked on the books), and I dreamed of making it that way. In sixth grade, one of our class projects was about writing a book. We were to write an outline of the book then we eventually wrote the first chapter. My choice, of course, was writing a Three Investigators book. I remember titling it The “Mystery of The Wooden Indian” but for the life of me I can’t remember the outline.
Not long after this, someone gave me a book set of The Chronicles of Narnia. In much the same way that other people my age fell in love with J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, I fell in love with Narnia. “The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe” appealed to me immediately probably because I’ve always had a fondness for stories centered around a world hidden within our own (which may explain my strange fondness for shows like Fraggle Rock.) My second favorite book in the series is “The Horse And His Boy.”
I was also playing D&D at the time. I wasn’t heavily into it like some of my friends but I played occasionally. Also around this time, the “satanic panic” was gearing up. If you’ve read other articles I’ve written you’ll remember that I grew up in Baptist church culture. One Sunday night, some chicken breath preacher came to our church and made his “Satan is in everything your kids are doing” presentation. After that, D&D was off limits but because there were supposed “biblical undertones” in the Narnia series, my youth pastor declared they were still suitable for consumption. While I didn’t really catch the Christian undertones until I was well into my adult years, it never made sense that D&D was out but these books weren’t. In my mind, they contained the same type of content (strange creatures, magic, anthropomorphic creatures, etc.) and neither compelled me to sacrifice pets or murder my family. I’ve reread this series several times over the year and still love it so much.
So, did any of this spark a memory or ring a bell? Let me know! Tomorrow we’ll talk about a galaxy far, far away…
See all the books in the Summer Reading Program