Nancy Drew Comparison Review: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

Secret at Shadow Ranch

The Secret at Shadow Ranch, fifth in the Nancy Drew series, was originally published in 1931.  In 1965, the book was revised as The Secret of Shadow Ranch, resulting in an entirely new plotline (unlike other revisions, such as the 1974 revision of The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, which retained most of the plot, but in a streamlined version).  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.

Spoilers for the plots of both books ahead!

The Secret at Shadow Ranch (1931) is perhaps most immediately notable for its slower-paced plot.  The 1965 version has Nancy arriving in Arizona to meet George and Bess for a visit to their aunt and uncle’s ranch, only to be told that she must leave at once, for someone is trying to sabotage Shadow Ranch.  An encounter with a strange man who leaves threatening notes and a near-death experience in the desert follow.  In contrast, the 1931 version has Nancy traveling with Eizabeth “Bess” Marvin and George Fayne to meet their Aunt Nell and cousin Alice Regor before they arrive at the ranch, which Aunt Nell will likely sell.  Alice desires to speak with Nancy about her father’s disappearance eight years ago (in the revised version, he disappeared only six months earlier), but otherwise, there is no mystery to be solved.  It takes four chapters just for Nancy to arrive at Shadow Ranch and, even then, she and her friends are mostly concerned with taking trips out into the wild, not with saving the ranch.

These trips into the wild provide most of the excitement in The Secret at Shadow Ranch and, ultimately, lead to the mystery Nancy tries to solve–the mystery of why beautiful child Lucy Brown lives with abusive squatter Martha Frank. The child abuse depicted–Lucy is penned up, dressed in rags, given little food, and even beaten with a stick (depicted on the cover–is removed to sanitize the later version.  Also removed are the instances of Nancy shooting at wildlife to save herself and her friends.  She shoots at rattle snack and, at one point, she kills a lynx!  The foreword by Mildred Wirt Benson explains that the 1930s were less concerned with violence against animals, so a scene thought okay for children then later had to be excised.

Also notable in the 1931 is a lack of handsome young men and love interests. In The Secret of Shadow Ranch, young cowboy Dave Gregory clearly has a crush on Nancy, while George and Bess go out to a dance with handsome Shadow Ranch cowboys Tex Britten and Bud Moore.  But, in The Secret at Shadow Ranch, there are no young cowboys on the ranch.  Nancy later meets a young doctor who has an interest in her–and who proves useful when Lucy is injured–but the romance is much less prominent.  Indeed, another love interest for Bess seems inserted mainly because he is an attorney. In both cases, the men are added to the storymainly because they can help Nancy solve the mystery.

The plot for The Secret of Shadow Ranch, which may be familiar to many as the basis for the Nancy Drew PC game, was almost entirely rewritten in the 1960s.  The glowing horse, the tragic love story between an outlaw and a lawman’s daughter, a hidden treasure, and the Indian cliffs were all added.  The main connecting point is Alice’s father, though the reason for his disappearance is different in both books.

The reasons for revision seem mainly to add a more defined mystery and more romance, while removing the depictions of violence present in the original story.  However, even though the 1931 version has a less present mystery, it does depict a more active and assertive Nancy–one who can shoot lynxes and even punch a would-be captor in the face.  Later versions of Nancy tend to show her as capable and competent, but more prone to capture because less able to fight back.  Her physical skills in later version are extensive and superior, but typically non-violent.  She can swim, scuba dive, ride a horse, and more–but she’s too much of a lady to know hand-to-hand combat.  It is a shame that that the revisions that sought to improve Nancy Drew also had to refine and “feminize” her more–there’s a bit of sexism that still overshadows the character who became a feminist icon.

4 thoughts on “Nancy Drew Comparison Review: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

  1. Anonymous says:

    Neat post! Do you have a suggestion for which Nancy Drew book to begin with for a new reader? I‘ve always had the impression that you had to grow up reading the Nancy Drew books to appreciate them as an adult—but maybe that’s not neccessary??


    • Krysta says:

      Shadow Ranch could actually be a good one. It seems to be a fan favorite and I think was/is a bestselling children’s book! Many of the early ones are good, though. I started with Sign of the Twisted candles. Like with most series, I think the best books are often the earliest ones.

      I possibly do appreciated Nancy more because I grew up with her. Now I see that she’s somewhat of a Mary Sue, while I didn’t notice that as a child. But I think her stories are still action-packed and compelling.


Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.