On the radio show called To the Best of Our Knowledge, Anne Strainchamps talks to Melanie Rehak, author of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. In the interview, Rehaks mentions that in her latest incarnation published by Simon and Schuster, duly revamped for the new millennium, Nancy has a hybrid car, speaks the current teen lingo and narrates the mysteries in the first person.
I don’t know if kids around the world still grow up with Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (probably not), but back in the day, my sister and I devoured books from both series, she faster than I. I started around the age of ten or eleven and in the space of five years had gobbled more than a hundred books. I remember keeping a list of the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and the terrible Case Files series, which I stopped updating around #102 or somewhere close. I read The Hardy Boys strictly as mystery stories and was never really impressed by Frank and Joe as personalities, but for many of my middle school years, I found that none of the girls in class measured up to Nancy Drew. How could I have known that she was “designed” to have no flaw at all?
For me, as for many of my friends, Frank, Joe, and Nancy were our first windows to the United States. Before the internet came to India, and before cable TV caught us unawares, it was through these serial detective stories that I discovered this strange land where eighteen year olds drove motor cars. I still recall looking up “titian” and “convertible” in a dictionary while reading my first Nancy Drew book. Of course, it would be many years before we, now in our twenties, realized that Carolyn Keene and Franklin Dixon were pseudonyms, and that the series was actually ghost-written by a team of writers for the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
My love affair with the books had fizzled long before we found out about the Syndicate. That was singularly because of The Case Files, an ill-conceived series with the same characters but written for older readers. I didn’t like any of them, and had moved on to The Three Investigators, who, I thought, were cooler because they had a concealed headquarters inside a junkyard, complete with a photographic dark room and other nerdy things, not to mention that they had won the use of a chauffer-driven Rolls Royce. Around the time, the wonderful Jeremy Brett began to channel Sherlock Holmes on TV, and a whole new world of mystery was revealed. Now, it seems strange that we were so enamored by Frank, Joe and Nancy and with the way their stories were written – each chapter ending with an exclamation mark, each story having one of the principals blacking out from a blow or a fall, everything turning out just fine at the end (except that poor Iola Morton died) – formula at its most formulaic.
I will still have to look at the new Nancy Drew series, to give nostalgia a chance. In the radio segment (see below), Anne Strainchamps also talks to Chelsea Cain who wrote Confessions of A Teen Sleuth: A Parody – as a response to the betrayal she felt after finding out that Carolyn Keene did not write the novels. In her parody, Bess is anorexic, George is gay, and Nancy married Ned but has a secret longing for Frank Hardy!
[You’ll enjoy the radio program if you enjoyed Nancy Drew. Jim Fleming introduces Anne Strainchamps 25:05 minutes into the program]