Friday, January 1, 2016
Revisiting Nancy Drew
These are the original Nancy Drew series, too, the ones I read when eleven, the ones published between 1930 and 1959. You can see in the example above the old blue cloth cover with a silhouette of Nancy and her Sherlockian microscope. It's true what they say in the publishing industry: kids "read up". I checked every adventure I could find from the public library when I was eleven. I wanted to be Nancy Drew--enterprising, clever, fearless, able to handle whatever difficulties emerged from the crises that had a way of finding her. No matter that she took trips to faraway cities with her friends and drove a car--obviously not only a teenager, but in the high teens at that--she inspired me to start my own detective club and search for mysteries everywhere.
Being eleven in the fifties, and white, I was also oblivious to the racism embedded in many of the stories. In the sixties, revisions of the old mysteries and writers of new adventures started to address the racism and have continued to do so ever since. This was a much needed change for a series so popular. Popular literature not only reflects culture; it influences culture as well, giving attitudes the "okay" at a subliminal level where they seep into a reader's unconscious and take up residence. So I applaud the decision.
Sadly, though, in the series since 1959, Nancy's character has been watered down, a change that makes no sense to me. While subbing in a friend's classroom a few years ago, I picked out a fairly current Nancy Drew mystery from the classroom library and thumbed through it over lunch. This was not the Nancy Drew I remembered--spunky, adventurous, fearless, ready to take on what mystery she encountered. Instead I found a sort of "Oh, no!" Nancy, just short of a hand-wringer in the face of trouble. In an era of heightened awareness of social issues, including women's issues, what went wrong when so much was going right?
Here's what I would like to see happen: Keep cleaning up the racism and bring back the spunky Nancy Drew, the girl detective who inspired young girls for decades to believe they were smart enough to handle life.
How about you? Did you have a favorite mystery series when you were growing up? If not a mystery series, did you have a favorite series that had you waiting for the next adventure and the next?