I forget how old I was the day my mother found an old box of her childhood books and introduced me to The Secret of the Old Clock, but that was the day my love for Nancy Drew began. I read most of the original yellow hardcover versions and would go on to sample the other, more modern Nancy Drews. (Unfortunately, I never did like those hundreds of paperbacks showing Nancy in fearful poses with brooding men watching her from the background. Nancy has a boyfriend–why does she flirt with some dangerous bad boy every time she finds a mystery?) I scoured yard sales for Nancy, found a few related books like the Dana Girls to try, and rejoiced when a Nancy Drew movie was announced. (It was terrible, but I maintain we all deserve a period Nancy Drew mini series.)
Even now I love Nancy Drew and I find myself intrigued by the graphic novels on the library shelves and eagerly anticipating the newest Nancy Drew PC game from Her Interactive. Nancy began in the 1930s and has seen many changes over the years, transitioning from a blonde to a “titian-haired” girl, modelling different styles through the decades, upgrading to a hybrid car and a cell phone, and even going back in time to be a child detective in the Clue Crew series. But, throughout it all, Nancy has represented the modern, independent woman. Smart, resourceful, and kind, Nancy has it all–and makes readers believe they can, too.
I realized even as a child that Nancy was a little too perfect, even a Mary Sue. She’s rich, stylish, and beautiful. She has a car and a steady boyfriend while her stereotyped friends Bess and George do not. She’s always kind and polite, and knows just what to say and how to act, no matter the social situation. As the series progresses, she gains more and more, suddenly revealing that she’s had a secret talent for drawing and even becoming a caring pet owner. Still, I admired Nancy not for what she has but for what she does.
Nancy represents the best of humanity as she helps others without expectation of anything in return. She ventures boldly into danger and often finds herself locked up, kidnapped, or drugged in the pursuit of the truth. She puts others before herself and outwits older, stronger men not only because she’s smart but also because she perseveres; Nancy Drew does not allow herself to be intimidated. At eighteen, Nancy is already a savvy, independent career woman who has dedicated herself to others. She’s a role model for us all.
I do not appreciate all of the more recent interpretations of Nancy, from her ditzy incarnation in the graphic novels to her flirtatious incarnation in those peeling paperbacks that stuffed the racks at my library. But Nancy is good at evolving. Her very first adventures contained racist stereotypes and other problematic and even insulting depictions of characters, but, fortunately, the writers attempted to correct these issues when they re-released the books. Nancy is always changing, always growing–and her admirers can change and grow along with her, hopefully becoming strong, independent, and caring individuals themselves.