Nancy Drew turned 80 years old this week. I have a worn collection of the blue cover mysteries on my shelf and a whole bunch of memories to go with them.
I started reading Nancy Drew mysteries the summer I was eight. My family was going through a very difficult time, so escaping into a good book wasn’t just fun, it was a way of surviving. I didn’t so much read the books as devour them. I was borrowing them from a neighbor, but it wasn’t long before I finished her collection and had to search for more. It was tough for a kid in the 1970s, without Amazon and with only a couple of used bookstores within walking distance. The public library didn’t have Nancy Drew mysteries, probably because the librarians always thought they were rubbish.
I still managed to collect many copies of Nancy Drew. Even as a kid I felt the older blue cover editions were the only ones worth keeping. (Today the books themselves aren’t worth nearly as much as the dustcovers. Naturally I own none of these.) I was constantly selling off my newer yellow cover versions so I could buy other titles, but I always saved the old ones. The differences were significant. The original books were longer, with more quirky details and character development. Some of those details became dated and charming, like Nancy’s roadster, but the publishers obviously wanted to keep Nancy Drew modern for later generations of readers.
The feminist in me is embarrassed to admit that as soon as I discovered The Hardy Boys, I abandoned Nancy. I preferred the boys’ rough and tumble adventures, and I adored it when one or both brothers got knocked out by the bad guys. To this day, I don’t know what was so appealing about unconsciousness. The best variation happened in The Crisscross Shadow; Frank and Joe both got knocked out with lacrosse sticks. Brilliant!
I collected and saved the oldest versions of The Hardy Boys, published first in 1927, keeping the brown textured covers and dumping the newer blue covers. My favorite old version is The Great Airport Mystery, when Frank and Joe actually graduate from high school! It was obviously a mistake, and right away they matriculated backwards. The mystery begins with this conversation between Frank and Joe:
“I wish we could go up in an airplane some time.”
“Wouldn’t you be scared?”
“Me? Would you?”
“Then I wouldn’t be scared either. Look at the record holders! Where would they be now if they’d been afraid to go up in an airplane?”
“That’s right,” said Frank. “Airplanes are pretty safe nowadays. Almost as safe as this car of ours.”
No discussion of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and the 1970s is complete without mentioning the television series with Pamela Sue Martin, Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. Oh, it was dreadful! I watched every painful episode, and like most girls my age I thought the boys were cute. I recognized that the show had traded the vintage charm of the books for feathered hair, tight pants and satin jackets. The 1950s serial version on The Mickey Mouse Club was much more successful. It starred Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine, and happily this is now available on DVD.
The problem behind all attempts to dramatize the mysteries, both Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, is whether to leave them in the 1930s or bring them forward to modern times. This was cleverly addressed in the recent Nancy Drew movie with Emma Roberts. All the other kids are completely modern, but Nancy is deliberately old-fashioned. It sounds stupid, but it works.
In the 1980s a new series of books was issued, called The Hardy Boys Casefiles. I tried to read #1-Dead on Target. In the first chapter, Iola Morton (Joe’s girlfriend) gets blown up by a car bomb. I was horrified and returned to my classics.