Saturday, July 26, 2014

Don't Diss the DREW! What Nancy Drew Did Right

What this post IS: A countdown of the Top Five things that the original Nancy Drew series did WELL in relation to presenting a woman-centered book series aimed at a young female audience.

What this post ISN'T: A space to air our (well-founded) grievances about the numerous ways in which the series fell short of its goal. Because we all know it did. We all know that the Nancy Drew mysteries were, in many ways, cheesy and paternalistic and sometimes surprisingly racist. But I don't want to get caught up in that, because to do so would be to ignore the HUGELY positive impact this book series and this feminist icon has had on generations of women. Besides, I intend to write up that post another day.

This summer I've made it a point to dive back into my large and growing collection of Nancy Drew mysteries. I have now acquired nearly ALL of the Yellow Cover hardbacks. Alas I've only found a couple of the original-original editions. I've also started to slowly gather some of the later, revamped Nancy Drew mysteries.

Titles I've Read This Summer

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Super Mystery: Terror on Tour*
The Ghost of Blackwood Hall
False Notes*
I'm nearly finished reading The Moonstone Castle Mystery
Next I'll read The Hidden Window Mystery

*Denotes a book from the later, revamped and modernized series of books.

I love Nancy Drew. Here are five reasons why.

What Nancy Drew Did Right

(5) Nancy knew how to prioritize. When Nancy worked a mystery she always stayed on top of it, and she never let her guard down. Yes, she was an amateur sleuth but she didn't behave like an amateur. On the other hand, she also didn't let the case completely overtake her life. Unlike many of her modern-day mystery-solving counterparts--I'm looking at you, Adrian Monk--Nancy Drew knew when it was time to take the afternoon or the evening off for a bit of relaxation. If Ned and his friends threw a soiree at their frat house, Nancy, Bess and George would never turn down their invitation. And frequently the change in scenery helped clear Nancy's head enough to allow her to see the mystery from a new angle.

(4) Nancy was always prepared. The Boy Scouts ain't got shit on Nancy Drew. Wherever her mysteries took the sleuth, Nancy always correctly predicted what tools she would need, and she never failed to bring them. In The Moonstone Castle Mystery, Ned joked that it was because of his girlfriend Nancy that he always carried a flashlight on him. Because you just never know when you'll need it.

(3) Nancy worked WITH the authorities, not AGAINST them. Again, I realize that Nancy Drew was just an amateur detective, but unlike many of her contemporaries in fiction and on TV, she never squared off against the local police or engaged in any type of one-ups-manship. Nancy's aim was always to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring whatever baddie she was chasing to justice, and whenever it seemed the best course of action was to either enlist the aid of the authorities or to turn a portion of the case over to them, she did just that. Nancy didn't have a fragile ego. It didn't hurt her to ask for help.

(2) Nancy was a consummate professional. Nancy was the picture of poise. She could handle herself in nearly any setting, and with nearly any adversary. She was polished, articulate, and tactful--but she was also firm and resolute. Nancy knew how to ask questions to get answers. BUT! She also knew when to shut up, and when to walk away. She was equally at home querying elderly spinsters, road-hardened thugs, and bank presidents.

AND! The NUMBER ONE thing Nancy Drew did right...

(1) Nancy Drew never sent a man to do a woman's job. Probably the thing that kept (and keeps) generations of young girls reading Nancy Drew is that, while she was grateful to have a well-connected father and a strong, understanding boyfriend, Nancy Drew was no wilting daisy. She recruited Carson Drew and Ned to help when she needed it, because she wasn't stupid, but she never ever ever felt the need to turn the dangerous jobs over to the men, even when her cousin Bess asked her to. Nancy was strong, fearless, and responsible. When she took on a mystery SHE meant to solve it. Herself. Whatever her detractors might say, Nancy Drew was a feminist.

I've reviewed a couple of Nancy Drew titles in more depth. You can read about them here and here. 

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