**WARNING: I do not recommend reading this blog post if you’re actually in the target audience for Nancy Drew. (Although, do kids age 10-12 even read blog posts like this?)**
I’m going to do a little twist on my 5 Reasons posts. Let me say this first: I love Nancy Drew! I devoured these books when I was a pre-teen. I loved Nancy’s confidence and independence. I loved the friendship of Bess and George and how they’re always there for Nancy. I love Ned and how he was able to add that little bit of romance to the stories. And I loved the mysteries.
I’ve been rereading some of those mysteries and I realize that… well, they are not the great literature I once thought they were. Reading them through the eyes of an adult… well, if they weren’t filled with nostalgia, I’d probably DNF pretty quickly.
I will still recommend these books to young people. And I have actually recommended these books to young people. Why? Because there’s something in Nancy Drew that transcends the “badness” of the books. So, before I go on, let me tell you what I mean about badness…
1) Nancy Drew, meet Mary Sue
(This point even rhymes!)
If you don’t know what a Mary Sue is… she’s basically perfect in every way. Wait! Take out the basically. Mary Sues are perfect. No flaws. Period.
“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.” This is from a parody of a Star Trek fanfic story. And it’s where we get the name Mary Sue. (This Mary Sue is so Mary Sue-ish that she manages to impress Spock with her flawless logic.)
But as you will see, the Mary Sue trope happened long before with another character. You got it: Nancy Drew.
Now, to be strictly true to the definition, a Mary Sue is also a character that wows canon characters that have come before her (or him, since a Mary Sue can also be male). Okay, so the Nancy Drew mysteries don’t quite do this. It’s not like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple or Father Brown pop in to be impressed by Nancy’s sleuthing skills. (This isn’t fan fic!) But Mr. Carson Drew is a good stand-in. He’s always described as the best lawyer in River Heights… which is somehow connected to him solving mysteries himself (I guess, legal mysteries?) And yes, Mr. Drew is certainly impressed with the skills of his 18-year-old daughter.
Consider Book #10 – Password to Larkspur Lane – Nancy wins first prize for a flower arrangement. (Actually, this part of the plot is not necessary to the actual story!) Why does she have to WIN?
2) The Writing is Kind of… (Ahem) Bad
Yikes! I hate to say this, but the writing is actually quite bad. There is no subtext. No subtlety. And there are way too many adverbs. Here, I’ll give you an example:
Nancy did not reply immediately, but her chums noticed that she appeared to scan the woods searchingly.
“You don’t really think he might be hiding along this road, do you?” Bess demanded anxiously.
#7 – The Clue in the Diary (Chapter XIV, 1931 edition)
Talk about unnecessary adverbs: Searchingly? Really? How else would you scan the woods?? And Bess’s remark is already tinged with anxiety, you don’t need to tell us that!
3) Full of Coincidence
Nancy has more luck than a leprechaun. Clues just fall into her lap! Let’s go again with Book #10 – Password to Larkspur Lane. A homing pigeon JUST HAPPENS to fall into the yard at the Drews’ home. Nancy just happens to know that there’s a special organization that you call if a homing pigeon were ever to fall into your lap. She just happens to see Dr. Spire being “kidnapped”. Then Hannah Gruen just happens to have a fall going down the stairs so that they need to go to the doctor’s house to have her checked out. And while they’re there, Nancy just happens to take a phone call, which just happens to have a similar message to the message found on the homing pigeon. Need I go on?
That’s A LOT of coincidence. A little too much.
And here’s the thing that I love. The author knows this. I love how she (he, actually, since the ghostwriter on this book was Walter Karig) makes Nancy say: “This mystery just dropped into my lap.” 😉
4) Events Don’t Flow from One Book to the Next
In #16 – The Clue of the Tapping Heels, Nancy learns Morse code and tap dancing. But neither of these ever come into any of the other books… at least, not that I can remember.
It’s kind of like each book re-sets at the end. This is probably due to the many different writers who wrote under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Also, it means that the books can be read out of order. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing!)
However, the result of this is that there is no growth for Nancy or any of her pals from book to book.
(One slight exception to this rule may be the character Helen. She appears in the early books and her big change is the fact that she gets married. But she soon disappears from the books after this happens.)
5) Not Very Realistic
Nancy is 18 and she drives around in her convertible (or roadster, depending on when you read the books). She doesn’t have a job. She isn’t going to school.
And she’s ALWAYS 18! Meaning, she must solve at least one mystery a week for us to get to 52 books for the year. (And no, the series doesn’t stop at 52). Rarely do we ever (do we ever?) get holidays or winter or anything like that.
How is this even possible?!
So, yeah. There you have it. Five perfectly good reasons why I shouldn’t like Nancy Drew. And yet, I do. I love the Nancy Drew books in spite of these failings. (And even now, I love them for these failings.)
P.S. The photo that accompanies this blog post is of my first Nancy Drew book. #16! It was given to me by a friend for my eleventh birthday. It was my introduction to the world of Nancy Drew!