In contemplating my early writing influences and seeing my fellow Word Whores' cool books they read as kids, I will admit I’m feeling a little SFF-paltry. While I was a great reader of all the mainstream fantasy and sci-fi books for children and teens, I can’t say any of them really influenced me the way the Nancy Drew series did.
To me, the Nancy Drew series was the shit! I had them all, and I read them over and over.
The titles are so alluring, and even a bit forbidden-sounding: THE CLUE IN THE DIARY, THE SECRET PEARL, THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE, THE SECRET OF THE FIRE DRAGON. Nancy's mysteries took her to all corners of society, put her in contact with all kinds of characters, so you learned new things about new people. And they were fun. And kind of wacky, depending on which Carolyn Keene was writing.
Which is another thing, that they were written by another Carolyn, Carolyn Keene, which was significant to me. Apparently I was quite the budding little narcissist.
But back to Nancy. She was such a can-do girl, with her galpals, Bess and George, and her Roadster and her college boyfriend, Ned, football star of Emerson College.
This whole question of the week is really interesting now that I think of it, because it is making me realize that Justine Jones from my series really is a kind of Nancy Drew - once she gets the scent of a mystery, she is out investigating, even though her friend Shelby is reluctant. (OMG! Shades of Bess!) LOL.
Actually, now that I'm pondering, she really really is a bit of a supernatural Nancy Drew, if Nancy was more neurotic and slutty. Hmm!
One of my fave Nancy Drews that I read OVER AND OVER was NANCY'S MYSTERIOUS LETTER. I was super into mail as a girl and had numerous pen pals.
Anyway, this mystery begins as Nancy and her friends drive past old Ira Nixon the mail carrier, who looks tired and bedraggled, and his mailbag is stolen while Nancy and pals are serving him cocoa.
It soon comes out that there was a letter to Nancy in that bag, informing her of a large inheritance, only the letter was meant for a different Nancy Drew. Basically, Ira’s evil brother is trying to get the other Nancy Drew, who doesn't know she's an heiress, to marry him before she learns about the windfall, and Nancy is trying to stop the wedding and let her know Ira Nixon’s brother is a bum.
These books were so dramatic. I always so loved that.
For example, early in Mysterious Letter, Nancy gets an excellent clue from a quick witted boy on a bike—a description of the mail thief’s clothes and a partial license plate. She relates this to mail carrier Ira:
Seriously, I can feel that passage in my bones. Like these books are part of me.
“Mr. Nixon, do you know a tall, slender man who wears a yellow overcoat and hat, and has a beat-up car with the license plate TJ12?”
To the surprise of Hannah Gruen and the girls, Ira Nixon uttered a cry of dismay. The blood drained from his face. He put his hands over his cheeks and exclaimed, “No, no! It couldn’t be! Oh, what will I do?”
Ira Nixon slumped forward in a faint!
One of the great unrecognized things in Nancy Drew books that influenced me was the quirkiness and randomness of things. People would tell her bizarre stories that went nowhere, or she would find random clues, but they wouldn’t always lead places. In this, it was way more realistic than other kids books. Very life-like.
Nancy is very compassionate and observant, too, something that is important to me in my work today.
An illustration of both of the above points, from THE THIRTEENTH PEARL. Nancy's sleuthing takes her to the home of Sailor Joe, whose every exclamation is a sea thing (“Heave your anchor lass, come into the parlour.”) He tells her this really random and sort of insane story about being kidnapped because he was mistaken for a pearl diver, but when he'd said he was a pearl diver, he'd meant a dishwasher.
Sailor Joe laughed uproariously. Nancy wondered what was so funny about this. Instead, it seemed tragic.
|One of the coolest ND covers, but I|
recall the story was disappointing.
One of the most frightening Nancy books was THE SECRET OF THE OLD ATTIC where Bush Trott tied her up in the secret room next to the attic of Pleasant Hedges. He left behind a poisonous spider to do her in. Thankfully Ned rescued her and stepped on the spider!
Ned was awesome. I never thought much of the Hardy boys, and never approved of Nancy teaming up with them. Ned was the one for me. (Ahem, I mean, Nancy!).
Here is a bit that is so Nancy:
As soon as luncheon was over, Nancy told Hannah Gruen she was tired of staying in the house and waiting for news “I’m going to do some investigating,” she announced.
Oh, where would I have been without Nancy? I'm a Nancy girl all the way!