Although courageous, the girl never was recklessly so, for, left motherless at an early age, she had developed amazing judgement. This quality was recognized and respected by the girl’s many friends and classmates at River Heights.
Who is Nancy Drew?
Or perhaps the real question I want to address today is what is Nancy Drew? Today’s discussion is about what type of person Nancy Drew was meant to be.
There’s a new Nancy Drew series in the works at the CW Network. In fact, it will premiere in about a week’s time on October 9th. A lot of people are excited, many are skeptical, and while both sides are making valid points, there are a few thoughts that I would like to share about it all. And although this is my starting point, the television show is really just a side note of what will be the central point of this post.
When talk about the new series first started, I was naturally ambivalent. No, that’s not true. I was completely against it. Having witnessed far too many “modern reimaginings” of classic and beloved characters lately, I was and am in NO hurry to see yet another revered figure dragged down into the depths of moral-less depravity which represents the current toxic culture of our time.
Then, when the trailer for the show first dropped over a month ago, I sat in stupefied (yet sadly, not surprised) silence as my disappointment grew.
The CW is also home to the television show “Riverdale”, whose zealous fanbase, when faced with criticism, will argue till Hot Dog comes home that it isn’t meant to be based on the wholesome Archie Comic characters of our youth — it just happens to use the name of the town and every single character to ever grace the pages of an Archie digest magazine. Archie has red hair, Betty is blonde, Veronica is brunette… but yeah, we’re totally not supposed to think of the comic book characters at all. Mhmm.
Understandably, there are those of us who fear that [especially] in the hands of the CW, Nancy Drew will suffer the same dark, modernized, perverted, over-sexualized fate as the gang from Riverdale — Archie had sex with Ms. Grundy in the back of her car in the very first episode, I’m not even joking. And so watching Nancy make-out with a boy and then pull her top off for him in this new series’ trailer didn’t do much to assuage my worries that my favourite female heroine is about to be slapped across the face with the loose and questionable reality that is 2019.
Now, I’ll be perfectly honest — ignoring the fact that this is supposed to be Nancy Drew, the premise of the series looks okay. The writers are giving this a supernatural twist which frankly I kind of dig. And at the end of the day, this might actually be a decently entertaining show. For the record, I want to make it clear that I’m not arguing against that. But… what I take umbrage at is the fact that this is supposed to be the character of Nancy Drew — a well-established “person” whose character traits, ability and standards are legendary, and integral to her being who she is.
And as I said above, the show is just a little detour for us today. I didn’t care for the Nancy that I saw portrayed in the trailer (and that has nothing to do with the actress who’s playing her, who I’m sure is extremely talented, capable and lovely), and read about in articles (the fact that she’s estranged from and “at odds with” her father is insulting to the relationship the two always had in the books, a relationship that helped shape her into the woman she is and fostered everything she stands for), but then seeing her rip her top off while getting hot and heavy just opened up a whole other can of worms for me.
There was a buzz on social media when the trailer first dropped, and this was where I read some things that prompted this post.
Many Nancy Drew fans are over the moon about this new show. Some are quite vocal about it, and they’ve been asking other fans for their thoughts too. And it’s totally fine for people to have differing opinions, okay? You can’t please everyone. But what got to me was a specific point that some advocates for the show are making. They’re angry at the Nancy Drew fans who don’t like the look of the new show, and in an effort to defend a potentially more “up to date” and “current” Nancy, they’re claiming certain things about the “original” heroine that I felt were highly unlikely. Before running my mouth about it, I decided to investigate for myself first.
The persons upset at Nancy Drew fans who are angry about what this new show is likely gearing up to do to our beloved heroine keep pointing out how the — and I quote — “prim and proper” Nancy we know and love isn’t actually the Nancy who was originally written.
You see, books #1-34 can be found with two different versions of the text. The original versions, written beginning in 1930 with “The Secret of the Old Clock”, have 25 chapters and are in excess of 200 pages long. Then beginning in 1959, publishers Grosset & Dunlap had the first 34 books revised. The new format consisted of 20 chapters and around 180 pages. Many claim that the purpose of the revisions was to eliminate things like racial stereotyping or to update “outdated” terminology. And while these specific changes were in fact made (in the rare instances that they were present in the first place), the main reason behind the rewrites was likely to save the publishers money. Shorter books = lower cost.
Now, I grew up with the revised versions, not the originals. But I am fortunate enough to own a few copies that maintain the original text.
And after reading so many criticisms of how the “prim and proper” Nancy Drew was merely the result of these late ’50s revisions, and not how she was originally intended to be, I decided it was time to read a few of these originals and see for myself if there was really a change in the girl detective’s behaviour and core character traits.
The argument was that the original Nancy Drew was more outgoing. She made mistakes. She wasn’t always respected — especially by the police, who found her to be a nuisance and were often irritated with her. She was considered “rebellious”. Basically, she was kind of a pain in the arse. [Not unlike the Nancy Drew played by Bonita Granville in a series of four Nancy Drew movies that Warner Brothers released in 1938 and ’39 — I never liked these films because Nancy seemed so different from the books I’d read.] Doesn’t sound like much of a role model. And according to some, this is exactly why she was tweaked later on — because she wasn’t a very good role model.
But you know… I just had a hard time believing any of this.
So I recently read the original version of book #4, “The Mystery at Lilac Inn”, and #14, “The Whispering Statue”. And you know what I found? Or rather who I found?
The very same Nancy Drew that I have known and loved since I was 10 years old.
Yes, I could definitely tell where there were differences from the revised text that I was familiar with, but those differences had nothing — I stress, NOTHING — to do with Nancy herself, her behaviour, her spirit, her demeanor, or her character. Nothing. The Nancy Drew of the 1930s was the same polite yet tenacious Nancy that existed from 1959 onward.
Let me share an excerpt from the original text that beautifully attests to our heroine’s irreproachable character.
The opening scene of “The Whispering Statue” takes place in a park where a dedication ceremony is about to take place. Nancy and her chums Bess and George find themselves being followed by a mischievous little scamp of a dog who is keen to cause trouble.
When the girls witness the impish dog steal the handbag of one of the key speakers and promptly drop it into the lake, Nancy is quick to jump up and help. The elderly speaker’s pocketbook contains a number of valuables, as well as the notes for her speech which she desperately needs. Working against the clock, Nancy rounds up some workmen and persuades them to drag the lake for the missing purse — all before Mrs. Owen, the speaker, must make her presentation.
Nancy: “If the workmen don’t find the handbag in time and Mrs. Owen should fail in her speech, I’ll feel that it is my fault.”
“It was typical of Nancy Drew to blame herself, although many times no other person would think of considering her responsible. Certainly she could not be charged with Togo’s wild prank. Ever conscientious and sympathetic, Nancy enjoyed lending a helping hand to anyone in trouble. This admirable trait frequently brought difficulties upon herself, and many an adventure had resulted from her desire to aid strangers.”
The book goes on in describing Nancy, “Although courageous, the girl never was recklessly so, for, left motherless at an early age, she had developed amazing judgement. This quality was recognized and respected by the girl’s many friends and classmates at River Heights.”
If this is not the most accurate description of Nancy Drew’s character…
Both original version books that I read leave absolutely no question about the kind of person Nancy Drew is. And honestly, she was just as NON-rebellious, polite, responsible and respectable in the ’30s as she ever was in the later books from the ’50s onward.
You see, the Nancy Drew that has endured for nearly 100 years is the Nancy Drew who IS prim and proper. The Nancy who rarely makes mistakes (she DOES make them though, she’s not perfect — and she admits it, which only adds to her charm, she’s in no way pretentious), who IS respected by most, including the police (and she EARNED that respect, she didn’t just demand it because she’s a woman or the daughter of a fancy lawyer). The Nancy who will turn 90 years old next year IS a suitable role model, not just in 1930, ’50, ’70, or ’90, but also in 2019. Because while times may change, morality does not. Manners do not. Justice does not. Right and wrong does not. What changes isn’t the values, it’s people’s willingness to defend and protect those values which changes.
I’ve also heard “prim and proper” Nancy Drew criticized for not being “relatable”.
But I’d ask: Is Wonder Woman relatable? Or even Diana Prince? Or any of the Disney Princesses or Marvel superheroes? Or most other fictional characters that we look up to? Nancy Drew isn’t supposed to be relatable — she’s supposed to be something to ASPIRE to. In today’s lingo, she is #Goals.
And to all who say that it’s impossible to live up to this “unrealistic” ideal? I call BS. Yes, you can, even in 2019. You can be a respectable young woman, who stands up for herself without being a b*tch, who earns the respect of others through hard work, dedication and manners; you can be a beautiful 30-year-old and still a virgin, and you can always strive to do what is right even when everyone else is telling you to do what is wrong.
You can embody the idealistic work ethics of the 1950’s housewife while still living in the modern 2019 world with all its fancy gadgets and disposable mentality.
To all the women out there — you CAN be this! You CAN embrace what made Nancy Drew a household name for nine decades. What inspired little girls and young women to CHOOSE to be the best that they could be. To apply themselves and work hard, and to always be helpful and considerate and responsible.
And you CAN reject the garbage that the majority (or at least the most pathetic, squeakiest wheels) try to say that you must conform to. No. No, I don’t have to conform to ANY of it. And maybe I’ll never be perfect, but by God, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try anyway. You only fail once you give up. And if Nancy Drew — the prim and proper lady that so many have looked up to our entire lives — has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t give up. You keep pushing forward, even in the face of adversity.
So while I may still watch an episode or two of this new Nancy Drew series, and might even like it in the abstract, I know for a fact that I won’t be embracing it as an acceptable interpretation of Nancy. The trailer they released this summer showed her doing things that Nancy Drew would never do — even in 2019. And respectfully, if you think she would, then I don’t think you understand what makes Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew. If Nancy’s a rebel, she is only such in the capacity of challenging wrongs with rights. Nancy, even in our cheap, modern, disgraceful world would not ever just “go along with the crowd”. Do the “in” thing. Because that is the antithesis of everything Nancy Drew, the person, stands for. Perhaps Nancy’s only legitimate claim to “rebelliousness” is this: When everyone else is getting high, getting naked, and having random hookup sex at 17… Nancy Drew is not. And SHAME ON THOSE WHO HAVE DECIDED SHE WOULD.
Everyone can do, think, say, be whatever they want. But I want to remind everyone, men and women alike, that values are worth holding on to. They’re worth defending. And the purpose of heroes and heroines is not for them to be relatable. Rather, they are meant to show us what’s possible when you apply yourself, and give us something to aspire towards. Being unrelatable does NOT mean unattainable.
We do NOT have to conform to the modern day. We do NOT have to abandon our ethics, our morality and our convictions of what’s right and wrong. We can CHOOSE to want better, do better, BE better. We can choose to follow Nancy’s example and give help where there is need, to seek justice where injustice has been done — even if it comes at a cost to ourselves. Because Nancy practiced the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have done unto you. And that should never change.
Something that did strike me when I was reading the original texts was that the language and writing style was incredibly advanced for books that were written for and marketed to an age group of about 8-10 years old. There were words that *I* had to look up in the dictionary, and I pride myself on having a full and comprehensive vocabulary.
For all our “advancements” in fields like technology and medicine, reading these old books has shown me that despite the advancements, we’ve allowed far too much neglect in other areas. Today, there are elementary school administrations who are pushing to end the teaching of basic math to students. “We have the technology — just give them a calculator!” Many schools have already eliminated handwriting from the curriculum. “We have computers and tablets — why do they need to know how to write?” Children are DUMBER than ever before. And why? Because we’ve stopped protecting our values.
If an 8-year-old in the 1930’s could understand words that a 30-year-old in 2019 doesn’t even recognize… that doesn’t say much for our precious “advanced” and “woke” culture today.
The truth is that adults today are selfish. My generation saw their grandparents growing up through the Depression, fighting for freedom in the World Wars, and working their fingers to the bone during the Atomic age to give their children and their children’s children the opportunities, security, peace and freedom that they didn’t have growing up themselves. And they succeeded!
But what have we all done with it. Squandered it. Thrown it away like it was nothing. We’re regressing ourselves right back to a time of war and unrest. Because we’re SO entitled. Because we don’t know what it’s like to face REAL hardships, and REAL oppression. We appreciate nothing because it wasn’t we who had to work for it.
I read the old Nancy Drew novels and I wish that people were like this again. I wish that people valued an education for their children. Valued their freedom. Valued other people! What do we have today? Everyone just takes and takes and takes. Nobody gives anymore.
The children of the ’30s grew up with role models like Nancy Drew. The children of the ’50s and ’60s grew up under the guidance of men like Rod Serling, who wove the most important and poignant of life lessons into “The Twilight Zone” — a show that was suitable for ALL ages.
But today? Today there’s nothing for the children. This new Nancy Drew series is a show that is “intended for older teens and adults.” Much like the new Twilight Zone reboot is clearly not suitable for anyone under the age of 16 with such strong language and pessimistic, agenda-heavy views on everything. When Nancy Drew and Twilight Zone were originally created, they were meant for younger people as well as adults, so that those young people could grow up into adults who could function and contribute to society in a positive and beneficial manner.
Slowly but surely, history always repeats itself.
But it doesn’t have to.
You (and your children!) can still pick up an old vintage Nancy Drew book and read about the harrowing adventures of the brave, respectable titian-haired sleuth… and be inspired. Before I sat down to write this post, I hadn’t read a Nancy Drew book in years. But you know what? Only 10 pages into the first one, and I already felt the desire to try and be a better person. Because even though Nancy Drew isn’t “real”, she could be. She could be you. She could be me.
She should be all of us.
Nancy’s character and spirit are what make her who she is, in 1930, and in 1959, and forever. Don’t allow the uninformed and often perverted opinions of others convince you that she was ever anything BUT herself.
Nancy Drew is a timeless role model who stands for the things we should all aspire to be. She doesn’t deserve to go down in history as just the ghost of another forgotten lady.