One of the hallmarks of the early Swift books is the way they reflect the times in which they were written. The first series, for example, revisits a world in which the Wright brothers’ inaugural flight is still fresh in memory, but it also includes a character, casually described as a “darky,” who works as Tom’s servant.
“We should note the period in which the writing was done and the audience for whom the writing was intended,” Dizer wrote in explaining such offensive characters.
The second series, launched in 1954, embraced the era’s fascination with outer space and tackled Cold War espionage themes, with fictional Brungarians occasionally standing in for the Soviets. In Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship, the young inventor beat real-life space explorers into orbit by seven years. The Eisenhower-era Tom Swift books also welcomed nuclear energy with unblinking optimism; one story line connected sabotage with “some crank who is opposed to atomic progress and wants us all back in the Stone Age.”
Simon & Schuster, which purchased the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the 1980s, introduced the latest Tom Swift series (“Tom Swift, Young Inventor”) in 2006, and the most recent book (Tom Swift: Under the Radar) appeared in 2007. The stories seem generally more domesticated than their predecessors, told in the first-person voice of teen confessional.
Although there are no immediate plans for new Tom Swift books, Simon & Schuster has given the latest titles the most modern of treatments, releasing them as e-books—an innovation Tom Swift would surely love.
Danny Heitman, a columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.