Nancy Drew Comparison Review: Mystery of the Ivory Charm

Mystery of the Ivory Charm

The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, number 13 in the Nancy Drew series, was originally published in 1936.  In 1974, the book was revised and republished both to streamline the plot and to remove some of the more overt racism. The original versions  of the Nancy Drew series were later re-released in the 1990s with an explanatory note acknowledging the ugly parts of the stories, which are, the note says, a part of history that needs to be confronted.  These reissues make it possible to compare the original stories with the revised editions.

The Mystery of the Ivory Charm centers around Rishi (1974)/Coya (1936), an Indian boy who forms part of a visiting circus.  Mistreated by his so-called father Rai, Rishi/Coya ends up under the protection of Nancy, who attempts to trace his real parentage and discover why Rai has been keeping him.  Her investigations lead her to uncover an international plot, ultimately putting her life at risk.

Spoilers for the plots of both books ahead!

The general plot of both books remains the same, though the 1974 version notably cuts out any material not directly related to forwarding the action, while also adding in a subplot to give the story a somewhat happier ending.  This means that scenes such as Nancy going to D.C. to seek help and getting to meet the First Lady are removed in the 1974 version.  However, even when scenes remain almost exactly the same, all description is cut, leading to more concise scenes focused almost exclusively on dialogue and action.  At times, dialogue is attributed to a different character in the 1974 version.  This may be because a character like Ned has been deleted as extraneous in some scenes, but, occasionally, all characters remain the same, but the dialogue tags are switched, especially between Bess and George.

The 1974 version of The Mystery of the Ivory Charm also notably attempts to soften or sanitize the story.  For instance, in the 1936 version, Rai uses a whip on Coya and he abuses the circus elephant.  In the 1974 version, Rai merely threatens to use a whip on Rishi, but Nancy prevents him; he does not hurt the elephant. The 1936 version also has some more action with Nancy almost getting trampled by stampeding elephants and later having to brave a herd of cows.

The protagonists are nicer in the 1974 story, as well.  The 1936 version has a more racist Hannah Gruen, who refuses to raise a “brown-skinned boy” and who keeps on about making sure he does not shirk his chores.  Ned speaks sharply in the original version, yelling, “Scram!”  And Coya, in the 1936 version, breaks into a house.  These occurrences are later removed.

The 1974 Mystery of the Ivory Charm unfortunately fails, however, to remove all the racism from the story.  Through more obvious instances are excised (see: Hannah Gruen), India is still exoticized and the protagonists see it as a fascinating, yet somewhat barbaric place where the natives marry as young as 16 (age 14 in the 1936 version). The Mystery of the Ivory Charm is, even after revision, one of the more racist books in the Nancy Drew series.

The final notable difference between the two versions is the discovery of Rishi’s father in the 1974 revision. In the 1936 edition, Coya’s father is dead, and he needs a guardian to return to India and take up his inheritance.  This change gives the 1974 story a far happier ending.

The Nancy Drew books remain astonishingly popular, even 80 years after their first appearance.  The racism remaining even in  the revised The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, however, makes this one of the more uncomfortable books in the series, and not necessarily a good place for new readers to start.  Even Nancy Drew fans may find this one difficult to read.

Book Source: Library

One thought on “Nancy Drew Comparison Review: Mystery of the Ivory Charm

  1. Michael J. Miller says:

    This is a fascinating comparison! Being able to read the 1936 and 1974 version of the same story side by side like this provides such an enlightening window into the respective cultural mindsets. Someone should be assigning this in some American Culture college class!

    I’m also intrigued by the idea of fans having to wrestle with something like racist or sexist content in something they love. When we hit that point where we can see it it opens the door to so many choices. Do we consume the art still? What sort of feelings move within us when we see it? How does it affect our overall experience of the art? I’ll never forget the first time I returned to the comics of my youth as an adult and found them dripping with the most uncomfortably exaggerated women who were little more than blatant sexual objects and men as ridiculous male power fantasy figures. As a kid, that’s just “how most comic art was.” But as an adult it made me very uncomfortable to see there.


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