What You Didn’t Know About Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew is an icon of American culture, a symbol of female independence and wit since she first appeared in 1930. But do you know all about the famous girl sleuth? Below are a few fun facts about Nancy Drew that you might not be familiar with.

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Nancy Drew was the inspiration of Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a company that would hire ghostwriters to author books based on outlines they were provided with. Stratemeyer wanted a girls’ series featuring a teenage detective as a counterpart to his popular Hardy Boys series, launched in 1927.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate was what is called a book packaging company. It oversaw the writing of its series (including the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls, and the Tom Swift books) by paying freelance authors a flat rate to write a book to order. The syndicate kept the copyright to the books. It then had the books published by Grosset & Dunlap (and later Simon & Schuster).

Mildred Wirt Benson was the first ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, writing under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. She would receive outlines written by Edward Stratemeyer or, after his death, his daughters Edna Stratemeyer Squier or Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and write a book according to the syndicate’s formula.

Though other ghostwriters would also work on the Nancy Drew books, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams became the main ghostwriter after Benson.

Eventually, Adams began rewriting some of the earlier Nancy Drew mysteries. Some critics see Adams’ revisions as creating a more polished and feminine Nancy, one who adhered most closely to ideals of the domestic. Adams’ revisions were also meant to remove some of the books’ racist elements–though she was not always successful. The revisions also sometimes tried to deal with the problem of racist elements by simply removing characters of color altogether.

For a time, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams was highly invested in keeping the true identify of Carolyn Keene (and other pseudonyms belonging to the syndicate) secret, even creating fake letterheads for the company’s various “authors.” To this day, many readers still believe that Carolyn Keene is a real person, and not the product of many ghostwriters.

The “true” creator of Nancy Drew would eventually become a contentious issue as the girl sleuth’s popularity grew. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams would drop the pretense that Keene was a real person, and try to take the credit for Nancy herself, erasing the fact that Mildred Wirt Benson had, in many ways, originated the character and that others, including Adams’ father and sister, had also influenced Nancy’s creation.

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Publication History

The original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories are considered to be books 1-56, which were first published by Grosset & Dunlap. Many of the earlier titles were later revised and the revised editions are what readers can buy in the yellow spine format today. However, Applewood Books printed facsimile editions of some of the unrevised original Nancy Drews between 1998 and 2010.

Simon & Schuster began publishing the Nancy Drew books with volume 57. They still used the title Nancy Drew Mystery Stories for the books. The final book in this series was published in 2003.

The next iteration of Nancy Drew, which ran from 1986 to 1997, is called the Nancy Drew Files. There are 127 volumes.

The Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series ran from 2008-2012. Written in first person, the series made George tech savvy and Bess mechanically minded. Ned works for a newspaper.

The Nancy Drew Diaries is the currently running series, begun in 2013. It continues the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series and, like that one, is written in first person from Nancy’s perspective.

Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series, featuring an eight-year-old Nancy started in 2007 and ran to 2015, releasing 40 volumes. It was rebooted as the Nancy Drew Clue Book series in 2015 and this series is ongoing.

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Other Media

Nancy Drew currently stars in 33 video games released by the company HerInteractive. The games (mostly for PC) take place in the modern day. Players play from the viewpoint of Nancy, so the girl sleuth is never seen onscreen.

In 2005, Grosset & Dunlap released a Nancy Drew cookbook.

Nancy has also appeared in other media such as board games, TV shows, and movies.

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Sources

I relied on Melanie Rehak’s Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her (2005) for the historical information. To try to make sense of Nancy’s convoluted publication history, I crosschecked Wikipedia and Goodreads. If there are nuances to Nancy’s publication history that I missed, let me know in the comments!

9 thoughts on “What You Didn’t Know About Nancy Drew

  1. Michael J. Miller says:

    When I think of Nancy Drew sometimes my mind turns over the question of what, if any, modern characters could have her longevity. The idea of creating a character who’s basic world, personality, relationships, drives, and the formula for those stories still works nearly a century after their creation blows my mind. I love it! I have so much respect for it, too. And when I think of other current characters who may have a similar lifespan part of what I love about the question is I’ve no way of knowing :). So playing in that hypothetical is fun. I mean, could Edward Stratemeyer and Mildred Wirt Benson have ever imagined the character they brought to life would still be so beloved, relevant, and going strong nearly a century later? It’s amazing.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think what I find so fascinating about Nancy’s success is that, by many metrics, the Nancy Drew books are not “good” writing. The plots are formulaic and often sensational. The characters are under-developed to the point of feeling wooden. The revised pacing is so lighting fast, no plot point can be adequately developed. The prose is unremarkable and the dialogue is stilted. Actually, when girls’ series like the Nancy Drew books were in their heyday, they were considered trash literature and libraries refused to stock them.

      And, yet, despite all of that, there’s something really compelling about Nancy and her world! To me, the bland characterization is part of that–you can superimpose any values you want on Nancy. Her world is part of that–it’s one-dimensional and not very varied, but it feels aspirational anyway because Nancy is rich and attractive and smart, and she can go anywhere and do anything she wants. And I think Nancy’s contradictions are part of that. Some people think she’s too domestic and feminine, while others see her as a feminist symbol. Well–she’s both! She’s whatever you want!

      Can another character replicate all that? It’s hard to say because I think writing today values things the Nancy Drew books don’t have–vivid world-building, deep characterization, and more nuance all around.

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      • Michael J. Miller says:

        This is so fascinating but I bet you’re right! The idea that very things we look for in a story/which help draw us into a story – vivid world-building deep characterizations, more nuance – are the things which may well “freeze” it in time and not allow it the longevity of a character like Nancy Drew is mind-blowing. It makes so much sense but I’d’ve never framed it that way. I will be thinking about this a lot tonight. So, with this being the case, the idea of any modern character aging as well or being relevant as long as Nancy Drew probably isn’t possible. I want to write more right now but I’m sort of just sitting here starring at my computer screen as my mind plays with all the implications of this. So this may be a “To Be Continued…” or we may pick this up later on another Nancy Drew post! But I will be thinking about this a lot now.

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        • Krysta says:

          Yes! Part of what I find some interesting about the Nancy Drew books is that they feel so timeless, even though they aren’t. There are little details, of course, like Nancy going to a dance, or her father going to the club, or the Drews having their telephone line cut, which mark the time period. But it’s not even easy to mark the transition from the 1950s Nancy to the 1970s Nancy, except that at some point they start using cameras instead of having Nancy sketch all her clues. Her world is very sparse, in a way. And, in a way, it could translate easily to small town America today.

          I guess the only modern equivalent I can think of for Nancy Drew would be superhero comics. They do the same thing where the characters never age and they just pop up in a new setting or time period. And, as long as you have a writer who seems to “get” what makes the character tick, it works out!

          But it’s hard to imagine a character like Frodo, say, not wandering in Middle-earth, or Gatsby not in 1920s America. Something about their settings and time periods are too integral to what makes the character. It would be a fun challenge for a writer, though!

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          • Michael J. Miller says:

            It would be so exciting! I would love to read a reimaging like that. Also, I was thinking of superheroes after I left my comment! And I was thinking of the “controversy” around Superman. So many people say he’s “too virtuous” or “too powerful” or “too good” to be a compelling character today. Some fans/critics/writers claim he no longer “fits” in our modern (or post-postmodern) age. Granted, there are plenty of people who see that as false. But it is fascinating to see how often that discussion comes up. I’m reading a Wonder Woman comic now (and there’s a good chance this observation may make a full blog post later XD) that tried to make Wonder Woman “relevant” to a modern audiance…by making her more violent and struggling with her “darker impulses” as she tries to find her way back to her Amazon roots. So…”love” and “hope” are outdated? Really? It’s frustrating. But also fascinating! And I was then thinking, I wonder if Nancy Drew every has a similar problem. I know there was that dreadful CW series ;:8. But I’ve not heard as much about her/her methods feeling “outdated” as I have with characters like Wonder Woman or especially Superman.

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            • Krysta says:

              Ugh, I really don’t like when contemporary writers think that characters have to be conflicted or violent or weak in order to appeal to modern audiences or to be relatable, or whatever it is they think is the point. The point is that some characters are aspirational! They choose the moral path as they can understand it in order to inspire the rest of us.

              I would love to read your Wonder Woman post, though!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Michael J. Miller says:

                Right? It’s so annoying and kind of insulting to readers, too. At least I feel mildly insulted when a writer feels a character must be violent or compromised to interest me or feel relatable. And thank you — the post is definitely in the being-fleshed-out-in-my-brain phase right now but all my actual blog writing of late has been ‘Doctor Who’-related…not that I’m complaining :).

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