Nancy Drew without doubt

The new Nancy Drew movie turns the dauntless heroine into a fashionably self-doubting modern girl, writes Meghan O’Rourke in Slate. In 2004, Simon & Schuster reintroduced a series called Nancy Drew: Girl Detective.

The publisher made the new Nancy more inward-looking and doubt-stricken than her former can-do self. Gone were the days when Nancy’s interior life seemed to consist only of curiosity about the mysterious-looking fellow with a dark mustache lingering by the bank. The acutely self-aware new Nancy related her adventures in the first person and had questions about her ability.

This was a stark contrast to the original Nancy Drew. When the sleuth was invented in 1930, she was supposed to reflect the adventurous spirit of that era’s “New Woman.” She had spunk, a lot of good hunches, and zero introspection.

The new Nancy also seems to be younger. She’s a school girl. Classic Nancy seemed to be eternally 18 — out of high school, not in college, free to follow clues where ever they led.

When I was a girl, I read all the Nancy Drew books, trading with friends for rare copies. We liked Nancy’s independence and her gift for solving mysteries though we made fun of her infallibility and wondered why she drove a shiny red roadster rather than a car. My favorite was Password to Larkspur Lane. You can order the 75th Anniversary Box Set with the original text or books 1 through 64 in the “classic” series.

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  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    But, JJ, did you celebrate your success by getting a red roadster? Go, gal, you earned it!

  2. My 9yo dd is working her way through the Nancy Drew series now, and loves them. Dd is homeschooled, and is fascinated with “pumps” (shoes, that is) because Nancy wears them.

  3. Nancy Flanagan says:

    When I went away to college, in 1969, my mother gave away all my Nancy Drew books and my prom dresses. It was like destroying my personal history.

    And don’t fret too much about the changes in Nancy’s psyche. Just as the Cleavers’ TV interactions seem wooden and overly sunny to us, playing Nancy straight out of the books would ring false to today’s girls (who still comprise the audience for Nancy Drew). As for making Nancy younger, a lawyer’s daughter who’d graduated HS today would likely be in college (or waiting tables), not zooming around searching for the secret of the old clock. She’s still spunky and independent, our Nancy.

  4. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Nancy Drew is not the only hero to be redefined. There is a misunderstanding of what makes a good hero, not only from English professors and literary critics but by fans of such stories. Today’s hero is supposed to be a “three dimensional” character, with well described human weaknesses. Yet of the heroes that have become fan favorites and cultural icons, Peter Parker is the ONLY one who fits that description.

    Sherlock Holmes had eccentricities, not weaknesses. The stuff about cocaine addling his wits and the notion that there is something wrong with being a celibate workaholic was added later.

    Such diverse heroes as Holmes, Conan of Cimmeria, Perry Mason, Kal-El, Bruce Wayne, Steve McGarrett, Matt Dillon and Jessica Fletcher were described in terms of strengths.

    Buffy Summers became a hit in its first season, which was about perky youngsters making witty remarks while fighting the forces of darkness. Later seasons, where the slayeretts were shell-shocked and fighting among themselves, were a lot less fun.

    Now Bruce Wayne is obsessed and driven. Clark has domestic ups and downs with Lois and broods about being the last of his kind.

    Sigh. I prefer the old way. Possibly it’s a generational thing.

  5. The “Hornblower” series of naval adventure stories may offer an interesting example. Although the series was written in the 1930s, the hero was very introspective and had a lot of self-doubt…but not to the point where focus on external events is totally lost. I think it still reads quite well today.

    There was a TV series based on the books several years ago, and I thought it was pretty awful. IIRC, the conflicts among the British naval characters, although they certainly existed in the novels, were amplified all out of proportion. And, of course, introspection is difficult to capture in a movie.