Nancy Drew turns 90


If you, like me, grew up binge reading the Nancy Drew books, you might share the nostalgic feeling that washes over you when you read anything related to your childhood heroine. It’s hard to believe that the first Nancy Drew book (Kitty in Swedish) was published in 1930, almost a century ago (who else is already looking forward to special editions in 2030?)!

600 books, films, videogames and TV-series later… our determined and sharp-eyed heroine feels and looks anything but a 90-year-old; miss Drew continues to inspire and engage with her audience like never before! My own Nancy Drew books are like a childhood treasure; they bring back so many memories, especially from Christmas holidays and birthdays. The books were always on my wish list and also the first thing I thought of buying whenever I was given permission to spend some of my modest savings. The anticipation was sweet enough, but the feeling of complete bliss when walking out of the bookshop with a brand new copy of Nancy Drew’s latest mystery in my hands was simply priceless! I can still recall the young reader section in the local bookshop in my hometown and how I ran my finger along the titles, memorising those lacking in my collection.

If you too cherish your private collection of Nancy Drew books, you may be sitting on something with more than a strictly personal value — the first editions are prized collector’s items! The University of Maryland Library showcases the many physical differences in covers, endpapers, spines, dust jackets and other characteristics between the various editions and printings in their section Nancy Drew’s Legacy. If you are (or were) a ND fan, it’s worth clicking on the link; the site covers everything related to the books, like this Nancy Drew Fan Club Rules, created by Warner Brothers to promote the Nancy Drew movies of 1938-39. (reprinted from The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys by Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman).

A couple of days ago, CBS News wrote an article about Nancy Drew and her loyal readers (here‘s the full article). They quote Kennedy McMann, who currently plays Nancy Drew in the latest TV-series: I just have to trust whatever my instincts are. Because I know who this character is for myself, because I’ve grown up with her. Watch the trailer below to see how a modern version of Nancy Drew looks like!

In the same article, Jenn Fisher, president of the Face Club Nancy Drew Sleuths, explains that their members are police detectives, lawyers, doctors; we have so many different women (male members aren’t mentioned, I wonder if there are any?). The fact that several generations have read and enjoyed the Nancy Drew books is indeed an admirable achievement and demonstrates that Nancy’s character has evolved —as well as the appearance of the books— during her lifetime as an eternal 18-year-old. This creative process and evolution leads us to the following question:

Who was Carolyn Keene?

The first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of the Old Clock, was published in 1930. a product of children’s publishing giant Edward Stratemeyer, who would never witness its success — he died only a few days after the book came out. There have been numerous ghostwriters behind the collective name Carolyn Keene, but two of them stand out from the others: Mildred Benson (1905-2002) and Harriet Adams (1892-1982).

Benson wrote the first twenty-three books and laid the foundation of Nancy Drew’s character during two decades. According to Jenn Fisher, Benson’s Nancy was pretty much like herself: a little more rough-and-tumble than the later Nancy. Adams, daughter of the late publisher Stratemeyer, then picked up the baton and portrayed Nancy during the 50’s, the 60’s and the 70’s. Her Nancy was more discrete and conservative, she even had a list with things that her heroine would never do, explains Fisher, like driving above the speed limit — or kissing! Adams also revised the earlier books and rewrote them to adapt them to ‘her’ image of Nancy.

If you wish to learn more about the writers behind the creation of Nancy Drew, with emphasis on Mildred Benson and Harriet Adams, there’s a book waiting for you: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak.

Rehak, Melanie. Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. Harcourt, 2005

Both Benson and Adams would probably raise an eyebrow at the modern version of Nancy — and the spin-offs (River Heights and Nancy Drew Notebooks), but the fact is that we can celebrate Nancy’s 90th birthday thanks to her constant evolution. Furthermore, their possible disappointment in how their character has developed could never compare to mine when I found out that Carolyn Keene didn’t even exist!

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