Revisiting Nancy Drew

I’m breaking my promise to write only positive reviews.

I grew up on Nancy Drew.  I loved Nancy Drew.  I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with Nancy’s attitude toward certain people until I bought a facsimile copy of The Secret of the Old Clock, originally published in 1930.  I finished the book with a sick feeling.

In this first book in the series, a rather unpleasant family stands to inherit the fortune of a distant relative.  The author, Edward Stratemeyer writing as Carolyn Keene, makes it clear that the family took care of the aging relative only to get their greedy hands on his money.  Nancy is sure there is another will, and the adventure in this book revolves around her search for the will.  She lies, cheats, and steals to get her hands on the will, but it’s all for a good cause, eh!

There are things to like about Nancy.  She’s responsible and capable.  She’s also mean-spirited.  When the bad buy gets his comeuppance, she fairly gloats.  The good guys get rewarded, the bad guys get punished, and there is no sympathy at all for the latter.

To be fair, the original Nancy Drew mysteries were rewritten–condensed and modernized–in  1959.  But that doesn’t alter the message the first book sent, that there are good folk and bad folk, and it is up to the good folk to teach the bad folk a lesson.

A good story doesn’t need a moral.  In fact, writers will attract more readers if they steer away from simplistic moralizing.  But a writer’s attitudes will leak into the story line, and we must be careful that we don’t send the wrong message to the kids who read our books.   In almost every human there is both good and bad in varying degrees.  For almost every action there is a catalyst, something in a person’s past or present that makes him or her act in a certain way.  When we write without sympathy for the villains in our books, and when we set up our heroine as both judge and jury, we are teaching moral values that should be left untaught.