Everyone has a Nancy Drew story

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]

10 thoughts on “Everyone has a Nancy Drew story”

  1. i used to read nancy drew and hardy boys as a child, but strangely i didn’t like the english version, but the malay ones instead! for someone who devours book in english it’s extremely peculiar. the children’s mystery series i liked best was the famous five. i love enid blyton.

  2. Sulz, I liked Enid Blyton too, and read a little bit of The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. We did watch the latter on TV on Sunday mornings, with George and Timothy being my favorites. Is it just a coincidence that there was a tomboy named George in both TFF and ND series?

  3. I was thinking about this when I purged my bookshelf of “The Cat Who…” mystery books recently. I absolutely devoured serial books when I was a preteen and teenager, particularly mysteries like ND and TCW. I read literary criticism now that suggests detective fiction reinforces a kind of unforgiving norm where criminals become so because they are trying to rise about class and victims are victimized because they too perverted some social law or another. Perhaps. I don’t think I would enjoy reading any of those series at this point in my life. But in adolescence, when your sense of right and wrong is *keen* and without nuance, they worked just fine. More importantly, mysteries are exquisitely concerned with detail and each book introduces data–trivia, maybe, but information that thirsty adolescent minds can soak up. “The Cat Who…” series introduced me to the finer points of art, interior design, and cheese production among other things; Nancy was always jetting off all over the world; and if I can dimly recall the word “apiarists” in response to a crossword clue, then I probably learned it in a mystery book.

  4. The Three Investigators rocked, but what about Encyclopedia Brown? I always figured he grew up into Hercule Poirot, making up an elaborate fib about being Belgian.

    I read sixty or so Nancy Drew books, but I read them for the mysteries, not for the characters, whom I found stereotypical (as, indeed, they were designed to be). I vividly remember one case where the boys were tied up in a cabin and the girls had to rescue them (I remember it because it was ALWAYS the other way around) and the girls, before going in to effect the rescue, checked their hair and freshened their lipstick. Don’t recall Wonder Woman doing that at any point…

    I also remember once Nancy got on a horse. It was the first time in twenty or thirty books that Nancy had gotten near a horse, the horse reared, and the book said, “Only an expert horsewoman like Nancy could have remained aboard.” That was when I knew Nancy wasn’t human and I started to hate her.

    After that, I moved on to the Trixie Belden books. My daughter, should she ever exist, will be getting a full set of Trixie Belden books. Trixie fell off. Trixie made mistakes. And Trixie never waited for the boys to rescue her.

  5. LOL at “expert horsewoman like Nancy” ;). I hadn’t heard of Encyclopedia Brown and Trixie Belden. Somehow these two never made it into our little library around the corner. The Belden series sounds like a nice read, from what you say. I’ll check one out just for fun, one of these days.

  6. I always loved Nancy Drew. And maybe I’m the only one, but I loved the Case Files version, as well. I remember my mom giving me new Nancy Drew books each Valentines day. And to be fair, I was younger than 13 at the time, so perhaps they wouldn’t come across the same way now.

    I didn’t know that they were alll ghost-written though. I suppose next you’ll tell us that Sweet Valley High wasn’t written by Frances Pascal. Not that I’m surprised. Ghostwriting wasn’t uncommon back then.

  7. Lisa, I’m sorry to say that Sweet Valley High was ghostwritten as well, according to its Wikipedia page. 😦

    To be fair, age has everything to do with it, and most adult readers would not be swayed by the books. So you don’t have to feel bad about liking the books. For me personally, a large part of the disillusionment is because the books are ghostwritten: the realization that I had been taken for a ride.

  8. my literary diet was mostly made up of the sweet valley series… trashy but it’s what really got me into reading.

    if you left me in a room of sweet valleys and other classics or generally good, un-trashy books, no guesses which i will read first…

  9. I still grew up with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The old classics are the best. I didn’t like the Case Files, but I was biased. My favorites were the super mysteries that were published in ’88. I think it was because I kept hoping that Nancy and Ned would Break up, and So would Callie and Frank, then Nancy and Frank would finally be able to get together!… but of course not… I may have to read Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody now. 🙂

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