Sunday, December 14, 2008

All Things Nancy

Of all the books I read when I was young, my favorites were the Nancy Drew mysteries. Even today, when I see or hear something related to Nancy Drew, I feel a spontaneous flush of pleasure that instantly transports me back. In her roadster with chums Bess and George, Nancy roamed near and far of River Heights, solving mysteries and outsmarting the bad guys. I read Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames as well, so why was this particular series so favored? It's hard to say for sure. Without a doubt, Nancy is a strong female role model: feminine and courageous, determined and confident, independent with a tremendous sense of responsibility.

Today, these books have distinctive yellow spines, but my original collection was of the older blue--what I call denim--bindings. No matter the color, I had a preoccupation with all things Nancy, the girl sleuth who transformed a series of mysteries into a cultural icon and became the most popular girls’ book series in publishing history.

I recently read some information about the woman who wrote many of these books under the nom de plume Carolyn Keene. Mildred Wirt was a ghostwriter who wrote 23 Nancy Drew mysteries on an Underwood typewriter in her Cleveland kitchen for $100 a book (Yikes!) over a 23-year period. First debuting almost 80 years ago, hundreds of millions of books have been sold. Mildred died six years ago at 96. As her curtain came down, I wonder if she realized her part in shaping the reading appetites of more than one generation of girls the world over. I’m sure I was not the only one to cut my literary teeth on these stories, which proved to be a real milestone for me. These books, more than any other, became the corner I turned from being just a kid who liked to read to something very different and much more. I began to build my literary canon with Nancy Drew. I put my eyes to the page 38 years ago and still haven’t looked up.

1 comment:

Sydney said...

Do you know I never knew anything about who Carolyn Keene was, but I had no idea she was still alive until recently. Had I known, I might have written her a fan letter which I assume she's be tickled to get.

I grew up on those books, my older sisters actually, and have boxes of the old denim gray covers too. That and the Bobsey Twins and the Happy Holisters, if those names ring a bell..

I was a night person as a kid and read about Nancy in her roadster getting clues in her skirt and heels night after night, under my covers, with a flashlight. You are right that she shaped so many young girls. I do hope she knew the impact she had, and I also hope that as times modernized, she got a good agent or lawyer to get her the compensation she deserved! Hope she was dripping in riches as an old lady :-D