Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Books That Last

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a good holiday, that you’re rested and refreshed and raring to go for 2015!

For Christmas, I was at my mother’s house where I spent some time getting in touch with my reading roots. Read a little Encyclopedia Brown, a little Bobbsey Twins, some Happy Hollisters and, of course, Nancy Drew.

While I remember enjoying them all, I have to admit I don’t remember many details about any of them. I remember Encyclopedia Brown had a detective agency in his garage, the Bobbsey Twins were two sets of twins and the Happy Hollisters were, well, happy.

I remember more about Nancy Drew than the others, probably because I was older when I first met her. This is what I recall: (1) Nancy had a convertible, (2) Bess and George were her best friends, (3) Ned Nickerson was her boyfriend, (4) her father was a lawyer, and (5) Nancy was adventurous and a great detective. That’s pretty much it. While I hadn’t read any of the books in years, I do admit to seeing the Bonita Granville movies from the 1930s, watching the Pamela Sue Martin TV series from the 1970s (okay, I watched the Hardy Boys more), and playing the Her Interactive Nancy Drew games. (I’ve made my way through #20 or so. I know, I know, I’m not the target market for those but, hey, that’s never stopped me!)

While I was in Seattle, I read the first 4 Nancy Drew books, took a peek at the 5th (1960s versions), and read two versions of The Clue of the Leaning Chimney. (More on that later.)

I was shocked I tell you, shocked!, to discover Bess, George and Ned don’t appear until book 5! (Secret at Shadow Ranch) I thought they were all joined at the hip from the very beginning but, no, Nancy had other friends and even (gasp!) other boyfriends. (She really played the field.) Ned was the first boy who was described as her “special friend”, though, so yay for Ned! Bess and George are described as her best friends but I have to wonder what they were doing for the first 4 books!

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney was my favorite of the ones I read. (Book 26) I first read the 1949 version, which was tucked away in a closet. (I vaguely remember buying it at a thrift store when I was a kid.) I’d heard somewhere that the 1960s versions were “dumbed down” from the earlier ones so I read the 1967 version to compare. (Hey, I was curious and, yes, I know I can be very analytical.)

I don’t know what “dumbed down” means in this context, but here’s what I discovered after comparing both versions: I didn’t see much difference between the two, really. The plot stayed the same, the characters the same. The writing was tightened, some words changed, and an event or two deleted but nothing that altered the storyline in any significant way. Here are a few differences I found particularly interesting:

  • 1949 – 25 chapters; 1967 – 20 chapters. Some of the chapters were combined in the newer version with some dialog shortened and one or two small events eliminated. Basically, it was streamlined.
  • 1949 – Nancy took 25 minutes to get ready for a party; 1967 – she accomplished the task in “a few minutes."
  • 1949 – Apparently, guests left later in 1949. They left at 11:30; 1967 – they left the party at 10:30 (Guess Nancy had an earlier curfew.) 
  • Nancy takes a plane to New York City in the book. In 1949, it was referred to as an “air liner”; in 1967 just a “plane”. There’s also less description of the flight in the later version. Guess it was more common to fly in 1967 so they felt the additional description unnecessary.
  • 1949 – Nancy generally drives her own car; Ned drove it once; 1967 – Ned drives the car pretty much every time he’s in it. I guess he no longer trusted her driving. (If you’ve ever seen the Bonita Granville movies, you’d understand his hesitation at letting Nancy drive.)

Basically, though, Nancy was the independent gal I remembered in both versions. She climbed trees, helped friends with problems, and used her brain to solve cases.

Not everyone has read a Nancy Drew book, but most people know who she is. When I think about how old those books are and how people are still reading them, it boggles my brain a little. I think that’s what most writers hope for: to tell a story and create characters readers will remember fondly and that will last for years and years.

I’m not talking about large numbers of books sold, though that would be nice. I’m talking about writing something that lasts after the writer is long gone. I don’t know what makes something last, what catches the reading public’s eye. If I did, I’d be making gobs and gobs of money, which I’m not. All a writer can do is write what they have in them. Whether or not it stands the test of time is something we may never know. I intend to write something I’d enjoy reading, have fun while doing it, and not worry about the rest.

My wish for you in the coming year: For those who write, may you produce something people will praise and enjoy for generations to come; for those who read, may you read something you enjoy and remember for years to come.



Eileen Goudge said...

Nancy Drew was my go-to gal when I was a girl. My love affair with mysteries started with Nancy. I remember her car described as a "roadster" in the earlier books. Ned "planted" kisses on Nancy. They never went beyond chaste kisses, as I recall. Perhaps the real mystery is why she stayed with him for so long.

Sybil Johnson said...

Ned didn't even bother planting one on her in the Leaning Chimney. They did go to a wedding together, though. I always got the impression Nancy was happy being single. In fact, at the end of one of the books I read someone asked if she was upset that all her friends were getting married and she basically said no, she was having fun solving cases.

It's interesting though, that college wasn't even mentioned for her.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Those differences are really fascinating! And this is just plain brilliant and wise: "I intend to write something I’d enjoy reading, have fun while doing it, and not worry about the rest."

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks, Cynthia!