Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Nancy Drew Mini-Challenge

I began my grand Nancy Drew reread with a visit to the bookstore and, I confess, I felt my heart beat a little faster at first sight of the row of familiar yellow hardbacks on a shelf in the children's section. However, on closer examination, they were not quite so familiar. Yes, they bore the same cover illustrations that I remembered from my childhood copies on yellow boards. But the contemporary editions are a more garish shade of yellow and the surface is glossy rather than matte. More of a concern though was a copyright date of 1987 inside. Might the changes be more than cosmetic? I suddenly recalled having read about an update of Nancy Drew in the 1980s, and I wondered if I would encounter an altogether different Nancy between these glossy, neon covers than the one I remembered. I decided I ought to do little research before making any purchases. After all, if the point was to revisit my childhood reading, nothing but the original text would do.

I soon learned that a 1980s update had indeed occurred, but that it had not involved any change to existing volumes. The 1980s Nancy who traded in her blue roadster for a Mustang convertible and embraced designer jeans and shopping malls was destined for a new series (The Nancy Drew Files) that launched in 1986, not for retroactive appearances in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories of my youth. So the contemporary editions of the latter would serve my purposes.

But that was not the end of the matter. For along the way I discovered that the Nancy Drew books that I first encountered in the 1970s were not the originals that I fondly believed them to be, but rather a 1960s update of the original volumes from the 1930s and 40s. The impetus for that update was complaints from parents about racial stereotypes, but the revision process went well beyond attempts to eliminate those stereotypes. Beginning in 1959, a substantial overhaul of the first 34 volumes in the series occurred that involved paring down the books by as much as five chapters, to eliminate period details that would date them, and to heighten suspense. Some have argued that these revisions not only denuded the books of much of their atmosphere and hence their charm, but also changed the character of Nancy, and not for the better. The new Nancy, some opined, was less independent, more modest and ladylike, and more respectful of authority.

Now, for my part, as a child reader I found my 1970s Nancy to be an independent, adventurous, and courageous heroine. And, as noted, the point of my current reread is to revisit that Nancy to find out what I make of her from an adult vantage point. But, in light of the above, distraction though it may be, how can I resist investigating the original Nancy? 1930s and 40s editions are not so difficult to come by in thrift shops and second hand bookstores (the illustrations above are scans of the cover and endpapers of one of my recent finds). And Applewood Books has reissued facsimile editions of many of them. So, armed with some of these, I'm poised to engage in a compare and contrast exercise.

This brings me to my mini-challenge. I encourage anyone who's interested in doing so to join me in comparing and contrasting at least two versions of Nancy Drew. That could mean reading two different versions of the same book, for example, the 1930 and the 1959 versions of The Secret of the Old Clock. Or it could mean reading installments from the Nancy Drew series of different eras: the original or the revised Nancy from the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, the 1980s Nancy from the Nancy Drew Files, the grade school Nancy from the Nancy Drew Notebooks, the college Nancy from Nancy Drew on Campus, the up-to-the minute Nancy from the Girl Detective series who apparently drives a hybrid car and wields a cell phone, or, most recently, the manga-style Nancy of the Papercutz Nancy Drew Graphic Novels. There's no deadline for this mini-challenge. All it requires is selecting and reading at least two different versions of Nancy Drew, and posting your thoughts on how they compare. Who's in?

For those interested in reading more about the ever evolving Nancy Drew, I recommend:

Melanie Rehak, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her;

Carolyn Stewart Dyer & Nancy Tillman Romalov (eds.), Rediscovering Nancy Drew; and,

Michael G. Cornelius & Melanie E. Gregg (eds.), Nancy Drew and Her Sister Sleuths: Essays on the Fiction of Girl Detectives.


Anonymous said...

I'll be interested to see what you find!


Anonymous said...

I think I read all of the Case Files when I was young--I particularly loved when Nancy and the Hardy Boys teamed up!
Might take you up on this--once I get past this next week!

Janet said...

My Nancy was from the 50s - lol and I was lucky enough to have some of my aunt's from the 30s. They do change some. Early books don't have Ned (the boyfriend). I think I read he was added in the 50's. My favorite was the Hidden Staircase!

TwistBook said...

Kate, Thanks for post! I'll read it again :-))

Christine said...

i have that exact book (the one at the top)! :D
i have read almost all of the ones ppl think of as the original nancy drew and the 1930s ones (the real originals). thankfully one of the libraries in our area has them, which is awesome :D
i have also read most of the nancy drew girl detective, which i loved the most.. havent read the most recent ones tho, as my sister, brother and i would read them together and i think they kinda lost interest. i loved them tho, even tho i was too old for them :D altho when they first came out and i started reading them i was the right age lol
annnnd most of all, i loooove the nancy drew computer games ^___^ haha

Unknown said...

I've read three versions of The Secret of Shadow Ranch. I was lucky enough to find an original print from 1930/31 (can't remember for sure) and read that, then I read the glossy yellow-backed version from 2003. Finally, I got to read the version in between, the version from the mid-60's. The variation between the versions is unbelievable. It's like you're reading a completely different story, from 1930 to 2003. All references to guns, or the use of guns were removed from the 2003 version. The ending is different, and there are characters in one version that didn't exist in the others. I would highly encourage anyone to read at least the 1930 version and the 2003 version, just for a comparison.

singlerose57 said...

I have a copy of the Ringmaster's Secret with the cover like the one you have posted as well as the books that later came out with the yellow spine. My foster aunts (God rest their beautiful souls!) gave me 4 Nancy Drew books for my 10th birthday (I'm now 52) and I continued purchasing those books until they started coming out with the ones in paperback in the 80's. My beloved aunts enhanced my love of reading. I would take you up on your challenge but there is just somethings better left aloone for me. Nothing but the ones that I grew up with will ever be replaced by updated versions in my eyes and I don't think it would make as good as a read.

I still haul out those books & read them from book #1 to the last one at least once a year. Best trip down memory lane ever! LOL! Good luck with your research. I will be interested in your findings. Although I did read both copies I have of the Ringmaster's Secret, I did not find any variations between them.

Melissa said...

I love reading the originals and comparing with the 1950's edits. You can definitely see the racial stereotyping that went on. But the stories overall were better; the revisions seem to dumb down the books a lot. I mean, yes, it's a children's book, but let's give kids some credit!

Anonymous said...

I found this same exact Nancy Drew book from that same year in a used book store. That is my most treasured Nancy Drew books of them all! Hopefully you can find more!

vee said...

very interesting post, thanks. how can they significantly rewrite the stories and keep the original titles? it's an insult to the fans!
i'll be checking out my local library for some examples to compare and contrast

Anonymous said...

I have a blog on which I compared the original and the revised-
Nancy's Mysterious Letter-book!
Interesting post!