I have a six year old niece who has not yet read a Nancy Drew. As her Aunt Marni, I believe it is my role to introduce her to what started my life long addiction to mystery novels. But what version? Or maybe they are too old fashioned, and they will turn her off from mysteries (disaster!) forever.
Encyclopedia Brown was most likely my first introduction to the mystery genre. But Nancy is how I got hooked. I was already a voracious reader by second grade, so I didn’t need the “boy detective” to inspire me to spend more time reading. My nose was frequently in a book. It was the concept of mystery that appealed, not so much the characters or setting.
When I first got hold of a Nancy Drew, I already had the basic setup: difficult mystery, police (or friends) need help, young detective solves case. I don’t really remember any of the characters’ traits from Encyclopedia Brown (although in reading through the Wikipedia article >> I vaguely recognize the names.)
But Nancy…oh Nancy. Much has been already said and written about the girl detective, her original personality, the revisions, etc. Brash and bold to polite and dutiful…adventurous and “masculine” in her abilities to a feminine domestic ideal…racial and poverty stereotypes…I won’t go over the history or commentary about revisions here. The big question now is: which version do I give to my 6 year old niece?
Let’s be clear: as much as I am glad that the stereotypes were removed (some would say they weren’t so much removed as modernized), I loved the quaint language and allusions of the very old versions. And I, like many others, prefer the adventurous, bold, sassy Nancy. Yes, I can understand why the revisions did what they did. I’m making this example up, but things like: “she turned on the light,” vs. “she turned on the electric light.” I was only 7 years old, but I knew what this was about; when these were written it was an important distinction. By the time I was reading them, of course you didn’t need to specify “electric” light. But at my young age I still liked the quaintness of it. I grew up wanting to drive a roadster and eat luncheon. (great website alert: for a history of what Nancy drove in which volume: Nancy’s Roaster > >)
My craving for more and more Nancy Drew books was fed by my Grammy. Although I am not sure if she gave me my first one or if it was a classmate, it was Grammy who took me to her used bookstore in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where we would find shelves of old Nancy Drews. This was the 1970s, so I’m sure there were the newest revisions available at Walden Books (this was way before Barnes and Noble and Amazon). But Grammy loved the used book store, so I did too. (side note: this is where I got my comic book fix too). And yes, I still have them. Never having had children of my own, I figured someday I’d just sell them. But to be able to gift them to a young reader–what joy!
I can still picture the inside of the used book store: crammed with bookshelves all around the sides, and overflowing book carts through the entire middle section. The smell: musty. The Nancy Drew books were on the lower shelves, which was great for a little girl; I remember sitting on the floor, meticulously going through the collection to find ones I hadn’t read.
I don’t have a full collection (or at least, what would have been a full collection when I outgrew them in the late 1970s). But I have editions from the 1930s-1970s. So which do I give her? Do we start with the Secret of the Old Clock (I have the unrevised version)? Or do we go for The Message in The Hollow Oak (I have the version revised in the 1970s)? Yeah, I get it: even the ones revised in the 1970s will be old fashioned to her. But those who would dismiss the subtleties of this decision Just Don’t Get It.