When I’m asked what was my first mystery book I answer quickly by saying Nancy Drew. Like many little girls my love of mysteries started with this teenage sleuth. And before we talk about Nancy Drew let me share a quick story.
I remember one Christmas one when I was about ten I received three Nancy Drew Books as a present—not one, not two but three books. I was thrilled until I returned to school after the holidays. One of my wealthier classmates proudly announced she had received 100 Nancy Drew books as a gift—Wow!
This one incident taught me several life lessons. It’s one of the only times I can remember experiencing jealously over something someone else received.
Second, there was a lesson about boasting or perhaps I should say exaggerating. My Mom (who was very wise and a librarian) informed me that there were about 35 Nancy Drew books published at that time. So unless this person received three copies of each book there was no way she received that many Nancy Drew books.
And last, I learned how popular Nancy Drew was. I soon discovered that many of my friends also received Nancy Drew books for the holidays and soon we had our own lending library established and were sharing books with one another.
Now let’s take a closer look at this popular detective.
Nancy Drew as a Role Model
First, the Nancy Drew series did much to boost the status of women especially young girls because Nancy was a great role model.
Nancy is a skilled investigator and skilled at all she does. This includes everything from sports activities, wearing the right outfits, handling her sporty convertible car, keeping up with the boys and of course solving mysteries. There is nothing she can’t do and nothing she won’t try. You might think that being good at everything would make her conceded, but instead she is a warm, caring, friendly, and outgoing person. For adults reading the books her skills may seem unbelievable but for young female readers she is a role model. Young girls learn from Nancy that they can accomplish anything when they put their minds to it. Nancy is a smart, independent thinker and perhaps most importantly she has adventures.
Nancy Drew is a Unique Series
Second, Nancy Drew mysteries are unique because for over eighty years the books have been written by different writers all under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. The series was started by Edward Stratemeyer and published for years under the Stratemeyer syndicate until it was sold to Simon and Schuster. The first writer was Mildred Wirt (Benson) who produced the first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of the Old Clock at age 24 and continued writing books through Volume 30.
After Stratemeyer’s death his daughters, Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier, took over the syndicate and continued writing outlines for new books. Harriet Adams edited most of the books and wrote many of the manuscripts until her death in 1982.
So What Do We Know About Nancy Drew
Nancy lost her mother as a young child and lives with her father and housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Her father is a lawyer and practices in River Heights. In fact Nancy gets many of her cases by helping one of her father’s clients. Other cases come her way when she meets someone who is in need of her talents. However, regardless of how she gets the case she never accepts money for what she does.
Nancy relies on her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne to help with many of her cases. And of course there is long time boyfriend Ned Nickerson who is on the scene to help out. Bess and George first appeared in Book 5, The Secret at Shadow Ranch and Ned came on board in Volume 7, The Clue in the Diary.
Regardless of what friend may be helping out on the case, when Nancy goes off in her blue roadster we all feel a sense of freedom knowing that she will accomplish what she sets out to do. And of course there isn’t a case that she’s not able to solve.
Nancy Drew Books have Evolved over the Years
Nancy Drew Books are still being produced today and over the many decades Nancy Drew has remained true to her principles. However, she has been modernized. In the original books Nancy was a high school graduate but between 1995 -1998 Nancy attends college for the first time in the series Nancy Drew on Campus.
Her blue roadster has been exchanged for an electric hybrid car and her clothes have been updated from conservative suits, dresses, hats and gloves to the style of today’s teenagers.
Ned has taken a back seat to other fellows. And boys are now viewed as potential dates and not just as challengers to beat at games or solving crimes.
And of course Nancy Drew has gone beyond the original books with other media offerings. In the 70’s there was the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys television series featuring Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy. There have been numerous movies made starting with the Warner Brothers offerings in the 1930’s starring Bonita Granville to the 2006 production of The Mystery in Holly wood Hills starring Emma Roberts.
Additionally, there was a board game developed by Parker Brothers, a Nancy Drew cookbook, computer games, Christmas ornaments and for the first time in 2011 Nancy Drew paper dolls were introduced.
Nancy’s Influence is Not Forgotten
When I talk with my mystery loving women friends many credit Nancy Drew with influencing them in their love of the genre. Many still have Nancy Drew books in their libraries or have passed them on to their daughters and granddaughters. And when pressed they will admit, as will I, to occasionally picking up a Nancy Drew and reading one of the stories. Nancy Drew continues as a role model for girls and a good mystery read.
(Note: For young boys the Stratemeyer Syndicate also produced the Hardy Boy mystery books)