Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Nancy Drew at 90

2020 marks 90 years since Nancy Drew’s first appearance and she doesn’t show any sign of stopping. (Okay, well, there is the graphic novel, Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Being a big fan of Ms. Drew, I decided to read her debut novel, The Secret of the Old Clock, in both its original 1930 version and the revised 1959 version, the one I remember reading when I was a kid. And, of course, I had to analyze the differences because, well, I love doing stuff like that. Some of you may remember a previous post here on Type M where I analyzed the differences between the original and revised versions of The Clue of the Leaning Chimney. You can find that here.

This analytical exercise suits me right now. It calms me down, brings a smile to my face and keeps me sane in this corona virus world we live in. So here we go...

First the statistics. The 1930 version is 25 chapters and 210 pages long. The 1959 version is 20 chapters and 180 pages.

In all of the original versions, Nancy is 16 years old and, apparently, has finished school. She runs the household for her father and occasionally does errands for him. They have a maid, Hannah, but Nancy’s the one in charge. “On the death of her mother six years before, she had taken the entire management of the establishment.” Quite a feat since Nancy was 10 years old at the time!

In the newer versions, she’s 18 and has finished high school. Hannah has been upgraded to housekeeper. She runs the household so Nancy is free as a bird to do her sleuthing.

I’ve always thought that River Heights, the town where Nancy lives, is in the mid-west somewhere though I don’t remember ever seeing that in the newer books. But in the 1930 book, Nancy is “a true daughter of the Middle West” and takes great pride “in the fertility of her State and saw beauty in a crop of waving green corn as well as in the rolling hills and the expanse of prairie land.” Sounds like the mid-west to me! But then they mention the Muskoka River, which seems to be a river in Canada, so maybe she’s been a Canadian all this time and I never knew!

The story line in both books is basically the same: Josiah Crowley dies leaving a will that gives all of his considerable fortune to a really, really annoying and undeserving family, the Tophams. But there are reports he drew up a new will when he died, naming far more deserving people as his heirs, and hid it somewhere. (Could it be in an old clock, perchance?) Nancy, of course, finds the will and the more deserving people get life-saving money. On a side note, Josiah Crowley’s wife in the 1930 version was said to have died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Seems rather timely given the current state of the world.

There are quite a few differences between the books. The 1930 version starts with Nancy talking to her father about the Tophams and saying what a shame it was that they inherited a lot of money. The 1959 version starts with Nancy driving her dark blue convertible along a road and witnessing a child fall off a wall. She, of course, stops and saves her. That’s how she meets the Turner sisters who are a couple of the deserving people who should have inherited. The topic of the will is brought up here. It also introduces the storyline involving thieves who steal silver and what not from unsuspecting people. She’ll meet up later with them when they’re stealing furniture etc. from deserted summer homes on Moon Lake. We don’t find out about the thieves in the 1930 version until Nancy meets up with them at the Topham’s summer cottage.

In the original version, Nancy doesn’t save a child. There’s not even a child in the story. She also doesn’t save a dog like she does in the 1959 version. Not sure why they added those bits, but maybe they just wanted to immediately portray her as a good person, hence the saving of the child in the first scene and the dog later.

They made a few other changes to Nancy’s personality. Later in the story, Nancy is in possession of the old clock mentioned in the title. She got it out of the moving van of the thieves. In the 1930 version she hides this fact from the police while in the 1959 version she fesses up. Also, in the 1930 version she doesn’t mention to her father the real reason she wants to go to a camp on Moon Lake (sleuthing!), but she's aboveboard in the 1959 version. I suppose they didn't want to give young girls any bad ideas. She'd become a role model by then, after all.

There might be a few differences in her personality between the editions, but she’s still capable of changing her own tire and fixing a boat engine in both books.

But, I don’t know what it is about having Nancy drive her car. In the older books no man suggests he should drive her car, they just hop in the passenger seat and away Nancy goes. But, in the 1959 book, a police officer offers to drive. At least he doesn’t insist. It’s not quite as bad as “The Clue of the Leaning Chimney” where Ned drives her car pretty much every time they drive somewhere together. Yes, people, Nancy can drive!

Another difference between the versions was in the profession of one of the young women. In the 1930 version, she keeps chickens and wants to expand to having a chicken farm, but needs money to do that. In the 1959 version she has a lovely voice and wants to be a singer, but needs money for lessons. An interesting change in story line.

There are some other differences that are probably because the story is moved to a different time period.
  • The woman in the book who is described as older is over 80 in the newer version instead of being over 70. 
  • A $100 bill is used in 1959 instead of a $20 bill 
  •  The caretaker of a house on Moon Lake in 1930 is black (not described that way, btw) and is just described as elderly in the newer version. Here is one place where I think the story was much improved. The way the caretaker in the 1930 version was portrayed and gotten out of the way by the thieves was quite racist. The way they got him out of the way in the 1959 version was much more believable.
  •  There’s a shootout between the police and the thieves in the 1930 version that Nancy witnesses! (Hard not to think of the potential for our heroine getting shot.) No guns in the 1959 version, thank goodness. 
  • Procedures for how they get access to a safe deposit box are different and more detailed. 
So those are my thoughts on the differences in The Secret of the Old Clock.

While I was immersed in the books, I did some googling and discovered a couple interesting things. First, there’s a Nancy Drew Mystery Podcast hosted by two women, one who read Nancy as a kid, one who didn’t. I listened to their thoughts on the Old Clock, which was quite fun. They only read the 1959 version. I wonder what they would have thought if they’d read the original as well. You can learn more about the podcast here:

At the end of the podcast, they played the song “Nancy Drew” by Kathy Johnson. (With her permission.) It’s quite fun and catchy. I may start singing it around the house! You can listen to it here:

The other thing I discovered was this graphic novel Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew. Apparently, Nancy is killed and the Hardy Boys investigate her murder! No, say it isn’t so! That’s all I know about it. For all I know, Nancy faked her death and is helping the boys investigate the mob or something.

Still, there’s a bit of controversy about this graphic novel. They’ve been accused of comic “fridging”. This is where a female character is injured, raped, killed or depowered, used as a plot device to move a male character’s story forward. That’s putting a female character “into a refrigerator”. Hadn’t heard of that one before. Probably because I’m not into graphic novels at all. Thought it very interesting though.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Nancy Drew musings. Now, I think I’ll learn the words to that Nancy Drew song.


Anna said...

Perhaps the Hardy Boys will be murdered simultaneously and Nancy will solve their murder? Or hey, wait, one Hardy boy will be bumped off and his surviving brother will beg Nancy to assist him "Please, Nancy, you are the only one who can help me!") and needless to say, she impresses him so much by her brilliant work and charming ways, and she likewise finds him so eminently admirable, that they get married (they've reached the age of consent by now) with Hannah as mother of the bride, Bess as matron of honor (matron? well, of course, by now she's married to Ned, who realized that he prefers the sweet retiring type to the adventurous type, and Bess had a crush on him all along but held back to give Nancy room, loyal friend that she is) and George as "best man" in the absence of the departed brother. The happy couple go off on their honeymoon with a bunch of old tin cans rattling away behind the blue roadster (I'm old school and will not say convertible). It's the start of a brand new series.

blogcutter said...

Have you ever read any of the "Nancy Clue" books by Mabel Maney? There are a couple that also feature "Cherry Aimless" (student nurse) and the "Hardly Boys". They're quick and entertaining reads, just the thing if you're in self-isolation!

blogcutter said...

Have you read any of the Mabel Maney books about "Nancy Clue", the "Hardly Boys" and "Cherry Aimless" the student nurse? Great fun! (not sure if this comment will go through - I haven't fully mastered the "captcha" process)

Sybil Johnson said...

Sounds quite wonderful! The car is a roadster in the 1930 book and a convertible in the 1959 one. I prefer roadster too. I particularly liked Bess marrying Ned.

Sybil Johnson said...

Hi blockbuster. Just saw your post. I haven't heard about the Mabel Maney books. I shall check them out!

Sybil Johnson said...

Sorry, blogcutter. I seem to not be able to read names today! Thanks for your comment.

Cynthea said...

I had read Nancy Drew faithfully MANY years ago. I remember the sight of the old used books and how intriguing my 8-10 y.o. mind found them. More recently (and I am MUCH older), I have found segments on Netflix which portrays Nancy at different ages and looks. None of them match my 10 y.o. imagination.

I enjoyed your analyses and would love to know the 'whys' behind the changes.

Thank you for reviving the memories and for the link to the podcast. I really enjoy old radio shows and these are characteristic of that time. I would never have thought to look for them

Sybil Johnson said...

Glad you enjoyed it. There's a book called Girl Sleuth that's all about the women who wrote the Nancy Drew books. It gives some details on changes in some books, but not everything. Very interesting read, though.