Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Nancy Meant So Much

by Julia Buckley
Nancy Drew books provided an important transition in my reading life. By the time my sister introduced me to my first Nancy story, I was ready to graduate from flimsy paperback children's books to the "adult" world of hardbacks and the intrigue of mystery.

There have been several eras of Nancy Drew, and mine was the early to mid 1970s. In this era, Nancy Drew books had bright yellow spines and gorgeous full-color covers with alluring, alliterative titles like PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE.

Nancy Drew books were, through the eyes of my childhood, sophisticated and gorgeous. Sometimes I would sit and stare at one of the beautiful covers, daydreaming about the poetic titles and imagining beyond the story within to what else might be happening in those pictures.

I loved to imagine anyway, and I think that the poetry and visual style of Nancy Drew mysteries fed that fancy.

Nancy gave me a template for story writing, as well. Although I've been told that the Nancy of an earlier era was a bit more spunky and independent than 1970s Nancy, I still enjoyed Nancy's autonomy, her ability to hop in her coupe and pursue her ideas, her willingness to share her secrets with her best friends, and her skill for maintaining a romance while valuing her independence and her full-time job: solving mysteries.

My sister and I asked for Nancy Drew books for every birthday and every Christmas for a few years. By the end we had a couple dozen books--a whole beautiful yellow-spined collection. But when we finally started to lose interest in the Nancy formula and started reading truly adult authors like Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, my mother donated our Nancy Drew collection to the public library. We had agreed to this, but since then I've missed our lovely collection and wished that I could still look over the covers and smell that special scent of the pages and the ink.
What's your favorite Nancy Drew memory? Did these books play a part in your adolescence or your love of mysteries?


The English Teacher said...

I was never a big Nancy fan. I gobbled up the Three Investigators series when I was about 8. I loved those books, which are, unfortunately, out of print now.

It's too bad about giving away your collection of Nancy books. I still have all my favorite books from childhood, and sometimes it's still nice to re-read them. :)

Paul said...

It was Hardy Boys for me, soon to transition into Sherlock Holmes.

Sheila Connolly said...

Oh, yes, although I cut my teeth on the 1950s versions (I never did quite figure out what a "roadster" was). I would save my allowance--I think it was 50 cents a week back then--to buy them. It breaks my heart that my mother got rid of them all in the course of a move in 1963--a shelf's worth.

Nancy served as an unusual model for a strong, independent young woman. And as a sleuth--I borrowed her skills at various times to solve small puzzles, like where I had left a small china dog. I systematically retraced my steps, and voila! There it was.

Diane said...

I read some of the Nancy Drew books in 7th grade, so about 11 years of age. But I had already stared reading adult mysteries by then. The ones you mentioned, as well as John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Frances and Richard Lockridge's Mr. and Mrs. North, and many, many more. I found the Nancy Drew series too quick a read. Fun, but I could go through one in an afternoon. So I went back to the adult mysteries of the '40s and '50s.

A side note. I was a volunteer and my kids' school library when they were in elementary school - the mid-70s. At that time there was an alternating Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series on tv. One day some boys came in looking for some of the Hardy Boys books. One asked another who wrote them. The boy thought for a minute than said 'Nancy Drew?'. Ah...the days of feminism.

Julia Buckley said...

Haha. Great story, Diane. I remember when the series came out (Pamela Sue Martin, Shaun Cassidy, Parker Stevenson), but I was disappointed with it, and with the fact that the characters didn't even capture the look of the era in the books.

English teacher, I'm not even sure I know of the three investigators . . .

Paul, I read a couple of Hardy Boys, too. The also had great covers. :)

Sheila, I'm sure our mothers couldn't have anticipated the impact these books would have on us, nor how nostalgic we would feel about them.

Sandra Parshall said...

I have to confess I've never read a single Nancy Drew book. I didn't read mysteries until I was an adult, and I started with Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes.

Unknown said...

I read the early Nancy Drews when I was a kid. I still want a yellow roadster.

Julia Buckley said...

Bill, as I recall Nancy's roadster always "purred" when she started the motor. It seemed that even Nancy's car admired Nancy. :)

Sandra, if you read one now I'm sure you'd wonder what all the fuss was about--but at a certain age, in a certain time--they were highly satisfying.

Unknown said...

Summer time, the glider on the front porch of a friend's grandmother's home. All afternoon lost in the world of mystery.

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, Irene, that sounds ideal! And what a lovely memory.

Karen Russell said...

Loved Nancy during the yellow cover '70s and still do. My sister also introduced me to the series, and I'll be starting my daughter on it in a couple years!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

My 12-year-old cousin Emily reads them now. (I feel better about Nancy driving a convertible in the current version since Julia said in her day it was a coupe, not the roadster I remember.) Cousin Emily was named for L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, my favorite book in childhood--and her mom's (my amicably-ex-cousin-in-law) too. Mystery didn't particularly grab my imagination back then--but writers did. My sister had some Nancy Drews (given away long ago), and I read my father's paperback Agatha Christies and Erle Stanley Gardners.

Julia Buckley said...

Karen, they really have staying power, don't they?

Liz, I did graduate up to Agatha Christie after reading Nancy Drew. I found Agatha more sophisticated, of course, in terms of diction and style, but also her puzzles posed a whole new level of difficulty.

My favorite as a kid was THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD, which is just a fun, fun book.

Julia Buckley said...

Liz--I just perused several Nancy blogs, and it is in fact a "blue coupe" that she drove, but it is also described as a convertible!

JJM said...

@ Julia: the roadster belonged to the Hardy Boys. I read those back in grade school, among the first books I read in English. (I learned much of my English watching The Mickey Mouse Club, which serialized The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, based on The Tower Treasure and starring Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk. I was somewhat surprised to find the boys well into their teens and already saving up for college -- in the tv version, they were about 12 years old ... The book covers were uniformly brown and drab.)

Anyone else here ancient and decrepit enough still to remember the theme from the Disney version?

Gold doubloons and pieces of eight,
Handed down to Applegate,
From buccaneers,
Who fought for years,
For Gold Doubloons, and
Pieces of Eight ...


Julia Buckley said...

Thanks for that information, Mario! I did not know about that tv series, nor do I remember brown Hardy Boys books--I only ever saw the blue ones in bookstores.

That song is great, but I don't recognize it.

I do remember the song to the Mickey Mouse Club, though. :)

JJM said...

You're welcome, Julia. I suspect the blue covers came in later -- they had coloured illustrations on the front, right? I'd have encountered the Hardy Boys 1957/58/59, when the covers looked like this:

I'm sure you've already searched it out, if you had any interest at all, but here's the opening theme song for that 1956 Hardy Boys series on The Mickey Mouse Club:

It was done in, what, about 10-15 minute segments, a few times throughout the week. And, in case you're still interested, a brief clip from the show itself -- a much younger Joe & Frank than in the books:

Julia Buckley said...

Great clips! How interesting that the Hardy Boys name only comes at the end of the intro. I thought it was a pirate movie until the last title credit.

Those books do look very different, but I like the covers--they're somehow more bookish and sophisticated than the bright blue and yellow covers of the 70s.