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Merriwell, Frank and Dick. Frank and Dick Merriwell were created by “Burt L. Standish,” a pseudonym used in this case William Gilbert Patten (Bainbridge, Bob Hunter (I)), and appeared in over a thousand stories and novels from 1896 to 1930, beginning with “Frank Merriwell; or, First Days at Fardale” (Tip Top Weekly #1, April 18, 1896); the Merriwell stories were reprinted across Europe and Scandinavia through the 1920s.

Frank Merriwell is the epitome of clean-cut, honest, moral, and adventurous American youth. He is aggressively devoted to fair play and decency. He is an all-sport star at Yale, always sticking up for the Yale Bulldogs and for his parents and friends. He has a “frank, open, and winning face,” and “a merry light usually dwelt in his eyes.” He is remarkably muscular, with unusually large chest and arms. Strongest of all are his morals. He does not smoke or drink, he does not cheat, whether in school or at athletics, and he always keeps himself in the best possible physical shape through intensive daily exercise. For Merriwell mens sana in corpore sana is not simply a motto but a moral dictum. He refrains from smoking and drinking not so much because of any moral compunctions but because smoking and drinking would impair his physical abilities. He rises up from an earnest and capable student at prestigious Fardale Academy to a triumphant student-athlete at Yale and then has an unusually varied set of adventures: bullfights in Spain, fighting gauchos in Argentina and Thugs in India, being shipwrecked on a desert island, discovering a gold mine in Mexico, working on the railroad, discovering his half-brother Dick, playing semi-professional baseball, and fighting outlaws around his mine in Colorado.

Frank is an accomplished ventriloquist and hypnotist, fluent in Spanish, an excellent mechanic and talented at everything he tries, “the perfect union of brain and brawn.” Frank is remarkably humble for someone who knocked out the Irish heavyweight champion, broke the course record at St. Andrews, and settled a railroad strike. Frank is also dedicated to helping the weak and persecuted, once even shaking hands with and complimenting a black jockey, despite the jeers of the onlookers. Frank and Dick are also friendly toward Indigenous Americans. Dick always treats Shangowah as his father, and Shangowah's biological grandson, Wind-that-roars-in-the-night, a.k.a. “Young Joe Crowfoot,” enrolls in Frank's School of Athletic Development, attends Fardale Academy, graduates from Yale, and becomes a recurring character and sidekick in the Merriwell stories. Frank and Dick are helped by Owen Clancy. He helps Frank and eventually opened the Square-deal Garage in Phoenix, Arizona. Later still he returns East to help Chip Merriwell in several of his adventures.

* I'm including Frank & Dick Merriwell in the Best of the Encyclopedia category because of their archetypal status. It can't be said that the Frank & Dick Merriwell dime novels were particularly well-told. William Gilbert Patten was very much a dime novel author, meaning that his work (largely due to the requirements of the market and the form) was formulaic, repetitive, and demonstrated only one-dimensional characterization. Patten went out of his way to be racially inclusive and progressive, however, and there are no better portrayals of Indigenous Americans in the dime novels than Shangowah and his son. The example of racial inclusivity in the Merriwell dime novels was, sadly, not particularly influential on readers or Patten's fellow dime novel writers. However, the same cannot be said of Frank & Dick Merriwell--especially Frank. The Merriwells were so influential that well into the late 1920s they were seen by the public as the archetypal American young men. The Merriwell way, the Merriwell code, the Merriwell approach to life, were seen as both inspirational and aspirational. The fame of the Merriwells faded during the Great Depression--the Merriwells were creations of the pre-Depression years and were a bad fit for a shellshocked and abruptly poor American culture post-1929--but during their heyday the Merriwells were as famous as any dime novel or pulp character ever got. 

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