Nancy Drew, More Than Just A Girl
Edward L. Stratemeyer (1862-1930) may not be a household name, but his characters were and still are to this day. He wrote the wildly popular Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys series. Now, I will admit that I never actually read any of The Hardy Boys books, but I did watch the TV show in the late 70s with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson! But Nancy Drew? Those I read cover to cover, loving every minute of her wildly adventurous life!
In researching for this post, I learned the Mr. Statemeyer was one of the most prolific writers in the world! He wrote over 1300 books himself and sold more than 500 million copies. In addition to Nancy Drew (1930) and The Hardy Boys (1927), he also wrote three other popular series for kids: The Rover Boys (1899), The Bobbsey Twins (1904) and Tom Swift (1910).
He was a pioneer in the area of producing long-running series of books using a team of freelance writers. All of the writers used the same pen name owned by his company. With the help of these free-lancers, he was able to contribute to the new genre of juvenile fiction.
I never knew this. I thought Carolyn Keene, the author listed on my Nancy Drew books, some of which still grace my shelves, was the actual author. Turns out Carolyn Keene is a collective pen name used by a number of authors who wrote the series.
Nancy Drew is a cultural icon. She was one of the first “power girls” of juvenile fiction – a female amateur sleuth who was smart and successful. In the original books she was 16 and I thought she was allowed a lot more freedom to run around and do exciting things than any girl I knew! She was wealthy, and intelligent. She drove motor boats, was a gourmet cook, and could play tennis, golf and ride horses. She also traveled all over the world and had her own blue convertible. Very heady stuff for a young reader to be sure! 🙂
The character changed with the times and so did the books. In 1959, they were largely rewritten to eliminate racist stereotypes that appeared in the originals. In the revisions, the books were also shortened to help lower the printing costs. In the 1980s, an older, more professional protagonist emerged. These later books are called The Nancy Drew Files and in them, Nancy is allowed some romantic adventures. The original series was ended in 2004 and a modern series called Girl Detective was launched, in which the main character drives an electric hybrid and uses a cell phone. Other series evolved from the franchise include The Nancy Drew Notebooks, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, Nancy Drew on Campus, and River Heights.
While Mr. Stratemeyer didn’t write most of the books in the series, he did conceive the character of Nancy Drew as the main character for a Hardy Boys series for girls. He also worked out many of the initial plotlines and then hired ghost writers to fill in the story.
There have been five films and three television shows featuring Nancy Drew. There have also been interactive video games created based on the series.
I loved the original series, though I now understand I was not reading the original but more likely the revised version from the late 1950s/early 1960s. I never read any of the later series when the main character was made less assertive and more feminine to suit cultural pressures. I am intrigued to read the Girl Detective series though.
The first five Nancy Drew books I ever read were the first in the original series, and I still own them today –
The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), revised (1959)
The Hidden Staircase (1930), revised (1959)
The Bungalow Mystery (1930), revised (1960)
The Mystery at Lilac Inn (1930), revised (1961)
The Secret of Shadow Ranch (1931), revised (1965)
Other favorites that I still have and love –
The Mystery of the 99 Steps (1966)
The Mystery of the Ivory Charm (1936), revised (1974)
The Clue of the Broken Locket (1936), revised (1965)
The Ringmaster’s Secret (1953), revised (1974)
The Clue of the Dancing Puppet (1962)
The Secret in the Old Attic (1944), revised (1970)
If you have always wanted to be an amateur sleuth, or know a young girl who likes a good mystery, do yourself a favor and pick up some of these charming classics.