Nancy Drew PC Game Review: Warnings at Waverly Academy

Autumn means it is time for a Nancy Drew game–particularly a spooky one! Having played Warnings at Waverly Academy before, I already knew who the culprit was. However, I also knew that while the game has a slightly spooky atmosphere, it would not keep me awake at night. Mentions of black cats and a bit of creepy chanting are about all I can handle! While not HerInteractive’s longest or most complicated game, Warnings at Waverly Academy game me what I wanted–a few hours of fun puzzle solving along with the iconic Nancy Drew.

The Nancy Drew PC games can vary quite a bit in quality, length, and even format. While I appreciate the educational aspects of the games, I do not particularly enjoy the ones where Nancy has to read books of information or read museum exhibit signs, and then pass quizzes in order to advance. Having information dropped more organically or be part of a puzzle (like the many puzzles that require gamers to learn musical notes) makes the game more fun. Warnings at Waverly Academy delivers organic information for the most part, making it more enjoyable than tedious.

Warnings at Waverly Academy also appeals to me because I love when Nancy has to take on jobs, or chores. Not everyone likes these diversion from the main game, but mini games like serving up trays in the snack shop usually prove really entertaining for me. And they can make the game feel longer, as well. Unfortunately, however, this game has more diversions than just Nancy’s snack duties. She also has to play darts (and air hockey) repeatedly with another student, and she spends most of her time at the Academy running around doing chores (and homework assignments, for some reason) for the other girls. It sometimes felt like Nancy was too busy being taken advantage of by catty prep students for her to actually start solving the mystery.

The plot and mystery of the game are lacking a bit. I thought, from the interviews and the clues, that the culprit’s motivations were going to be different from what they actually were. I also thought the sudden reveal of hidden chambers and traps–while pretty standard in Nancy Drew games–seemed a bit out of place. And, ultimately, despite the culprit’s previous crimes, which included locking a claustrophobic student in a closet and giving a student with allergies something they were allergic to, I was still left wondering if the culprit was really capable of murdering Nancy. The characterization just is not there.

The game play, however, is largely satisfying. Nancy has plenty of places to explore and numerous characters to interview, so the game never feels like it is stagnating. Also, the puzzles and clues are (at senior level) are about the right bit of challenging. I never felt bored solving the puzzles, but I also never truly got stuck. More challenging puzzles might have been nice to extend the game play somewhat, but, overall, I was not upset that, for once, a puzzle was not proving to be overly frustrating.

Warnings at Waverly Academy may not be a standout among all the Nancy Drew games, but it is enjoyable. I liked the boarding school setting, the ability to interview numerous characters, and the options to run the snack shop or play other mini games (though air hockey is far easier to beat than darts). Playing reminded me of how much I love these games, so it might be time soon to replay another.

Do you play the Nancy Drew PC games?

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More on Nancy Drew

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 11-20)

Reading Through Nancy Drew

I have loved Nancy Drew for years, but will rereading the entire series of the yellow spine books hold up to my memories? Join me as I find out! Read part one here.

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Book 11: The Clue of the Broken Locket

The Clue of the Broken Locket

The eleventh installment of the series contains all the elements that make a classic Nancy Drew read. Upon driving to Maryland to help one of her father’s clients, Nancy discovers a mystery involving a missing treasure, a phantom ship, and a possible kidnapping. While attempting to solve the case, Nancy inevitably finds herself in danger of being imprisoned, kidnapped, and murdered herself. Plenty of action combined with a spooky mystery and a search for secret passageways shows the Nancy Drew series at the height of its powers.

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Book 12: The Message in the Hollow Oak

Message in the Hollow Oak

Book twelve mixes things up a little as Nancy attempts to track down a legendary message said to have been hidden in a hollow oak in the eighteenth century. Along the way, she gets tangled up with a confidence man determined to find the hollow oak himself. Nancy’s presence at an archaeological dig adds a little more historical interest to the story, though the book could do more to interrogate the ethical implications of digging up a burial ground, aside from one character’s objections about the disrespect to the dead it implies. The concept of tracking down a centuries-old treasure makes this book unique in the series so far, but it is arguably not very interesting to watch Nancy and her friends merely look for unusual trees and then walk around in the woods for a bit. The Message in the Hollow Oak has a good premise, but it fails to deliver on it as much as it might have.

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Book 13: The Mystery of the Ivory Charm

The Mystery of the Ivory Charm

This is one of the books where the rewrites meant to remove racism do not entirely succeed. Nancy and the other characters treat India as an exotic country full of many marvels, but also linger over details of the caste system, child marriage, and more that make the nation seem not entirely civilized. Many of the Indian characters in the book are very superstitious, which does not reflect well on them in a mystery where the protagonists are all about evidence and facts. The actual mystery is a rather convoluted one involving the kidnapping of a baby, theft of Indian treasures, blackmail, and more. The story is not as streamlined as many of the others, and it can feel a bit like a chore to get through.

Read my comparison review of the 1936 version versus the 1974 revised edition.

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Book 14: The Whispering Statue

The Whispering Statue

This adventure sees Nancy don a disguise in a fun attempt to solve two different mysteries while working undercover in a bookshop/art dealership. Her simultaneous stay at a yacht club adds some spice to the story, as she enters a sailing competition and Bess flirts with the handsome boat attendant. A break-in, kidnapping, sailing accident, near boat collision, and more lend extra excitement to a series that always tries to cram in as much drama as possible. The Whispering Statue has its odd moments (such as Nancy making sales off-the-clock for a business owner who seems to have skipped town), but its sense of narrative drama makes it an exemplar of why generations of children have been engrossed by the series.

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Book 15: The Haunted Bridge

The Haunted Bridge

Nancy’s stay at a resort with a gold club adds some interest to what is otherwise a bit of a lackluster mystery. Her father is on the trail of a ring of international jewel thieves, and Nancy manages to catch them almost entirely by accident when she stumbles upon a small chest belonging to a mysterious woman. The question of whether Nancy can win the amateur golf tournament somehow becomes more pressing than the question of whether she will crack the case.

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Book 16: The Clue of the Tapping Heels

Clue of the Tapping Heels

Nancy tries to solve a mystery where a woman is hearing ghostly tapping noises in her home, and her prize Persian cats are being stolen. Normally, I really love the stories where someone’s house is supposedly “haunted,” but for some reason this installment of the series feels a little lackluster. The big excitement is when Nancy, Bess, and George go to a cat show. And Nancy is targeted in a series of violent incidents that seem over-the-top for some guy just trying to steal some stuff out of a house. The book ends when all the culprits conveniently confess to everything. Definitely not one of my favorites.

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Book 17: The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk

Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trun k

Nancy Drew and her friends are aboard a ship sailing from the Netherlands back to New York City when they become involved in a mystery surrounding an international group of smugglers. The setting makes the story fun as the girls swim, play Ping-Pong, and flirt with cute boys, but it seems like the series is already running out of new catastrophes to strike. Nancy almost gets hit by a meteor in this book! Aside from the meteor, however, the story is pretty interesting, as Nancy must outwit a gang of thieves using sophisticated disguises.

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Book 18: The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion

Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion

I thought maybe the Nancy Drew series had jumped the shark in the previous installment, when Nancy and her friends are almost hit by a meteor. Book 18, however, is even more ludicrous, so much so that I might have thought I was watching the 1960s Batman show instead of reading Nancy Drew. Steaming pools of water to cast hapless victims into? Exploding oranges meant to take down a rocket ship? It’s hard to take this story seriously.

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Book 19: The Quest of the Missing Map

Quest of the Missing Map

I cannot decide if having Nancy sail to an uncharted island for actual buried treasure is exciting or just really corny. The real problem, however, is that Nancy acquires clues in this mystery far too easily for it to feel rewarding when she finally outwits the bad guys. The main draw is that this book feels perfect for an adaptation into one of the Nancy Drew PC games, with its hidden passages and contraptions left by an eccentric inventor.

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Book 20: The Clue in the Jewel Box

The Clue in the Jewel Box

This is another Nancy Drew story that verges on the fantastic, as it seems based on the story of the missing Anastasia. Nancy meets an elderly woman who turns out to be a former queen, who has fled from her country after the late revolution, and who is now looking for her lost grandson. There are enough twists and turns, however, to keep things lively as Nancy deals with pickpockets and an imposter. The series is picking up again after a decided lull.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak

Girl Sleuth

Information

Goodreads: Girl Sleuth
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2005

Summary

A history of Nancy Drew over the decades, as well as the two women who brought her to life: Mildren Wirt Benson, a Midwestern journalist and Nancy’s first ghostwriter, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the head of the Statemeyer Syndicate and later ghostwriter of Nancy.

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Review

In Girl Sleuth, Melanie Rehak brings to life the women who created Nancy Drew: Mildred Wirt Benson, Nancy’s first ghostwriter, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams who took over the Stratemeyer Syndicate after her father’s death, initially managing the ghostwriters of the Syndicate’s juvenile series, and then eventually taking over herself as “Carolyn Keene.” Though many believed (and still do) that Carolyn Keene was a real person, the book illustrates to what lengths the Syndicate went to keep the secrets of its ghostwriters, with Harriet even getting individualized stationery for the company’s various pseudonyms, creating fake signatures for them, and somehow getting the Library of Congress to agree to keep the secret, as well. As the popularity of certain series grew, however, the ghostwriters who had initially signed away all their rights to the books and the characters began to want recognition for their contributions. Girl Sleuth is a fascinating page-turner that delves into the mysteries behind Nancy Drew as it traces the detective’s enduring popularity in American culture.

In some ways, the story of Girl Sleuth can be read as a dark one. Readers who love Nancy with a passion, who believed that Carolyn Keene was a real person, or who believe that writing is a sacred art form that must be done only by an inspired individual, may feel like Nancy’s dirty laundry is being aired. The truth is that Nancy is the product of a syndicate, the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, a man who sold so many popular dime novels that he one day realized he did not have time to write them all–and did not have to. Stratemeyer formed a company where he would write the outlines for his juvenile series books (the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew etc.), send them out to a ghostwriter who would write the book to his specifications, then revise the drafts as needed to fit the company’s policies on what was “good” for children to read. After his death, his two daughters Harriet and Edna continued the company* until the day Nancy’s publisher demanded so many new books in such a short timeframe that Harriet decided it was best to drop Nancy’s then-ghostwriter (Mildred Wirt Benson) and just do the writing herself in-house. Thus began a sordid struggle over who had “created” Nancy Drew, who was her true author (the ghostwriter or the syndicate providing plot outlines), and who had the right to determine what Nancy would look like in books, films, TV shows, and more.

In this story, it is also easy to make Harriet the villain. She dropped Mildred Wirt Benson without any warning or notice, then eventually crafted for herself a story in which she was the sole creator of Nancy (once she was willing to admit that Carolyn Keene was not real, anyway). She neglected to mention that her father had come up with the series and plotted the first five books before his death, that her sister Edna had created outlines books, that her father’s secretary had helped with outlines and revisions (coming up with Bess and George), and that Benson and another ghostwriter had worked on the series at all. But perhaps this is no surprise. Even today collaborations are often revered less than products that spring from an “individual genius” and even today few recognize that it takes many hands to craft a book. But still, one can imagine the outrage Mildred Wirt Benson must have felt, as Nancy’s first writer. She had, in many ways, created Nancy, even if Harriet then recreated Nancy as a bit more polished.

However, the story is also about two women who fought their way to recognition and success in a man’s world. Both were trailblazers of their time, making careers for themselves even as they balanced being wives and mother’s. Harriet struggled to get respect as the head of her own company, and Mildred fought to keep her position as a journalist in a field dominated by men. Though Mildred was reluctant to call herself a “feminist,” both women were in favor of equality, and both demonstrated in their own lives that they believed women were equal to men in intellect and capability. Their determination no doubt informed the character of Nancy, who even today is recognized as a feminist icon, a woman who never backs down and always saves the day–even when the men cannot.

The book covers not only the biographies of both women, but also gives a fascinating account of the rise of Nancy and how she managed to feel fresh and modern as each decade passed. Even as other books struggled in the Depression, sales of Nancy were constant. At first, Nancy hearkened back to a better yesterday, when no one had to worry about money. Later, Nancy, with her cleverness and strength, anticipated struggles for women’s rights after WWII when the men came home and women proved reluctant to go back to the kitchen. Then, again in the 1960s, Nancy was ready to be claimed as a feminist hero. No matter what was going on culturally in America, Nancy seemed equal to it. Today, her popularity endures.

Avid fans of Nancy Drew will want to pick up Girl Sleuth and learn the incredible history behind one of America’s most-recognized literary figures. The story has just as much excitement as any one of Nancy’s own adventures.

*Edna eventually became a silent partner, solely concerned with the revenue being raised by the syndicate, to the extent that she became convinced Harriet wasn’t doing anything properly and refused to let Harriet have a raise for all her work.

5 stars

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 1-10)

Book One: The Secret of the Old Clock

It’s hard not to love the mystery that started it all. In The Secret of the Old Clock, readers are introduced to Nancy, an attractive, rich, and popular eighteen-year-old who enjoys helping her lawyer father with his cases. A chance encounter leads her to suspect that a rich bachelor left a second will to his fortune, and she begins tracking down his relatives to uncover more clues. This story establishes many of the later traits of the series, such as Nancy’s curiosity and resolve, her involvement with Carson Drew’s legal work, and her ability to ingratiate herself into the lives of random strangers so she can solve mysteries for them.

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Book Two: The Hidden Staircase

Who doesn’t love a classic haunted house mystery? In her second case, Nancy answers a friend’s plea to discover the truth behind the ghost frightening her relatives. At the same time, Nancy begins to investigate a railroad case her father is working on, and the threats he is receiving as a result. This is a fun mystery that includes all the staples such as hidden passages, disguises, and good old-fashioned sleuthing.

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Book Three: The Bungalow Mystery

Nancy’s third mystery gets a little wilder than the previous installments. This time, Nancy suspects that the guardians of a girl she met while on vacation are not what they seem. As usual, her mystery ends up being connected with a case her father is working on, though the odds of such a connection are slim indeed. Readers will need a healthy helping of credulity to enjoy this story, but that is true of most of Nancy’s mysteries.

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Book Four: The Mystery at Lilac Inn

This is arguably one of the weaker installments of the series. The motivations of the villain are a little unbelievable, as is her bizarre method of revenge. A series of coincidences ends up connecting two disparate cases Nancy is working on, and she ends up solving the mystery largely by stumbling into the villains instead of by actively sleuthing. The plot is also a bit redundant, recycling elements from previous books such as a capsized boat, a storm, and a haunted building.

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Book Five: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

Shadow Ranch is one of the most popular Nancy Drew books, and for good reason. This story takes Nancy out West, where the author delights in creating a deeply atmospheric setting full of old cave dwellings, square dancing, and horseback riding. The accuracy of this depiction may be suspect, but it is fun, and the setting is furthermore tied to a romantic story involving the doomed love between an outlaw and a sheriff’s daughter, which gives the story a sense of historical depth. This installment is also notable for introducing Nancy’s best friends George and Bess and for name dropping Ned, though Nancy will not actually meet him until book seven. All this, combined with a fast-paced plot and hint of romance with Dave the cowboy, makes Shadow Ranch one of the best Nancy Drew mysteries.

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Book Six: The Secret of Red Gate Farm

The Secret of Red Gate Farm throws a new, tantalizing mystery Nancy’s way as she tries to figure out why a mysterious saleswoman was so reluctant to sell Bess a bottle of perfume, as well as whether or not the “nature cult” on Red Gate Farm is truly what it seems. As usual, Nancy manages to solve the case when no one else can simply because she is incredibly lucky. The bottle of perfume, the man she meets on the train, the strange job advertisement her friend answers, and the cult–they all happen to be related! But, though the plot is unbelievable, it is still entertaining. I enjoyed something new since three of the last five books included haunted properties.

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Book Seven: The Clue in the Diary

Book seven is most notable for the introduction of Ned Nickerson, soon to be Nancy’s steady boyfriend (for the next few decades!). It is fun to see the usually composed Nancy start to blush and get nervous around Ned, who quickly proves himself a valuable asset to the sleuthing team. Nancy deserves someone who is interested in and supportive of her work, and she gets that in Ned, who gamely runs errands for Nancy and is always willing to lend a hand. There’s also a mystery involving two missing persons, a suspected arson, and mail theft, but, it is not one of the stronger plot lines in the series.

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Book Eight: Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

Book eight is not known for being one of the stronger installments of the series, but I admit I heartily enjoyed this mystery. Nancy mistakenly receives a letter addressed to another Nancy Drew, who has inherited a fortune in England. Now, Nancy must find the other woman before she is swindled out of her money. The story is essentially a comedy of errors, with Nancy tracking down two individuals, and always arriving at their former location just as they have left. There may be little mystery here, since Nancy knows exactly whom she seeks. But I enjoyed the chase nonetheless.

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Book Nine: The Sign of the Twisted Candles

Book nine is certainly one of the stronger mysteries of the series. Nancy arrives at an inn to investigate rumors that the old man who lives there is being kept as a prisoner in the tower by the innkeepers. In the process, she discovers an ancient feud that also threatens to estrange her from Bess and George. A gripping plot, combined with richly-drawn characters, secret compartments, and plenty of danger makes this a thrilling story.

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Book Ten: Password to Larkspur Lane

Password to Larkspur Lane continues a strong streak for the series. An injured messenger pigeon leads Nancy to two related mysteries, one involving a strange wheel of fire at her friend’s grandparents’ house and one involving a missing woman. Nancy does some solid sleuthing, piecing together some fairly tenuous clues to arrive at the truth, before attempting a daring rescue escape, complete with disguises, angry guard dogs, and airplanes. The series needs more stories like this!

Books If You Like Nancy Drew

Books if You Like Nancy Drew

Looking for books to recapture the magic of Nancy Drew? We have some suggestions, both old and new, to satisfy your inner sleuth!

The Dana Girls Mysteries by Carolyn Keene

By the Light of the Study Lamp

Jean and Louise Dana are sisters who solve mysteries at their boarding school. The series began in 1934 in an attempt to replicate the success of Nancy Drew, though the series has not endured the same way. But fans looking for more period mysteries will want to check out this series, whose ghostwriters include names who also worked on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The first book is By the Light of the Study Lamp. Can’t find a copy? Try interlibrary loan!

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Judy Bolton Mysteries by Margaret Sutton

The Vanishing Shadow

The Judy Bolton books were very popular in their own day; the back of The Vanishing Shadow (book one) states that over 5 million books were sold between 1932 and 1967 and that “the series holds the distinction of being the longest lasting juvenile series written by a single author.” It has the added interest of featuring a protagonist who ages over the 38-book series, unlike Nancy Drew.

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The Muskrat Mysteries by Michael Hutchinson

The Case of Windy Lake

Sam, Otter, Atim, and Chikadee are known as the Mighty Muskrats, solvers of mysteries. In book one, a visiting archaeologist goes missing on the Windy Lake First Nation, and Muskrats are ready to crack the case. However, they also have to deal with local politics when their cousin Denice takes her protests against a mining company to extremes. A new diverse serial mystery series.

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Surfside Girls Series by Kim Dwinell

The Secret of Danger Point

The Secret of Danger Point begins the adventures of Sam and Jade, two friends who solve supernatural mysteries at their home on the beach. The series is a perfect summer read. Set on the beach, it has surfing, cute boys, and a beautiful natural setting–as well as mystery and adventure. Fans of serial mystery stories like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys will enjoy this series, as well graphic novel fans looking for their next engrossing read.

Is “The Death of Nancy Drew” an Insult to Nancy’s Legacy?

Death of Nancy Drew Controversy

April 2020 marks the 90th anniversary of Nancy Drew. To celebrate, Dynamite Comics announced that a new title, The Death of Nancy Drew will be released. The comic continues the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys noir-inspired six-comic series The Big Lie, in which the Hardy Boys investigate their father’s murder. The premise of the new comic seems to be that the people responsible for Mr. Hardy’s death have come after Nancy in revenge. The Hardy Boys are now investigating who killed Nancy.

The news of the release immediately created a fan uproar, with Nancy Drew devotees arguing that celebrating Nancy’s 90th anniversary by killing her off and featuring the Hardy Boys instead is an insult to Nancy’s feminist legacy. This criticism might be valid, if we are to assume that Nancy is really dead. But I think we all know that Nancy will soon “resurrect” herself and get in on the crime-solving action. Indeed, fans have already posited that Nancy faked her own death in order to investigate from the shadows.

It seems to me that outrage over the new title has spread, in part, due to news articles that do not give readers the overall picture. Headlines screaming, “Nancy Drew is Dead!” might be good for clickbait, but they do not explain to fans that the new comic is part of a continuing series that is deliberately dark in order to explore Nancy in a new way for contemporary audiences, nor that the story naturally follows from The Big Lie. If Nancy has angered villains in the first series, of course we expect them to target her in the next. And, of course, we do not assume she is really, truly dead.

Nancy Drew has been a lucrative franchise for 90 years. It obviously makes no sense to kill her off for her anniversary, or, indeed, at all, at any time. Perhaps it could be argued that even fake killing her off is disrespectful, but I suspect that readers of the comic may come to enjoy the plot twist, which assuredly will show readers that Nancy is just as clever as ever. And, if they do not, there are plenty of other variations of Nancy Drew out there to enjoy.

I propose that fans read The Death of Nancy Drew before unilaterally deciding it is an insult to fans everywhere. After all, right now, no one but the creators know what the content is or how Nancy’s death is handled. Heaping outrage upon the creators with little information is really rather unfair. Author Anthony Del Cole says he is a huge fan of Nancy’s and would never disrespect her legacy. Let’s give him the chance to show it.

I Didn’t Realize Nancy Drew Was Irrelevant

Relevance of Nancy Drew

On October 11, 2019, David Opie reviewed the premiere of the new CW Nancy Drew, arguing that the depiction of Nancy having casual sex with Ned is what, in large part, successfully updates the character for modern audiences, making her newly relevant and relatable.  He even goes so far as to argue that any depiction of teenagers without sex is not realistic:

For far too long, the character of Nancy Drew has been impossible to decipher for modern audiences, much like some of the toughest mysteries she became famous for solving in the first place. Sex alone isn’t enough to update old-school characters and give them more depth, but it’s also unrealistic to portray a modern teen’s life without it.

When I think about the impact Nancy Drew has had on my life, and on the lives of other women I know, such an argument seems absurd.  I admired (and still admire) Nancy, not because of her sex life (or lack thereof), but because of the qualities she exhibits: fearlessness, perseverance, intelligence, and kindness. Nancy was a hero to me because she seemed, somehow, like the perfect woman, always knowing how to act gracefully in social situations, always caring, but also able to confront the bad guys and solve the case, no matter the danger to herself.  I wanted to be as smart and brave as Nancy.  I certainly didn’t care about her sex life!  After all, Nancy Drew was originally written for children–a fact Opie does not seem to consider.

Opie, I believe, misses the reason so many women have grown up loving Nancy Drew and so puts forth a deeply flawed premise that modern audiences can only relate to a teenage character if that teen is having sex.  But not all teens are sexually active and not all teens want to be.  There’s nothing wrong with Nancy representing the teens who aren’t sexually active.  There’s nothing wrong with a show focusing simply on solving a mystery and putting romance on the side.  I, personally, can easily watch a show and not find it odd if that show doesn’t include a bedroom scene.  After all, sex just might not be the point of the show.  And, in Nancy’s case, historically it has not been.  The point has been that Nancy is good at solving mysteries others have failed to crack.  The point is that Nancy is empowering.

Opie seems to be suggesting, however, that a modern Nancy can only be truly empowering if she has casual sex.  He argues that the values Nancy Drew espouses simply do not resonate with modern audiences:

Recently, however, the traditional values she holds dear have gradually become less relevant, which is why Nancy Drew was long overdue an update of this nature.

I assume that Opie  is referring to the classic yellow hardback stories, released in the 1950s. Of course, several iterations of Nancy Drew have been released since then, each showing different facets of Nancy.  There’s the flirty Nancy I read in the Nancy Drew Files.  Or the Nancy who drives a hybrid car in the comics.  (Her friends Bess and George are updated, as well, showing a facility for technology, for instance.)  There is also Nancy for younger readers in the Clue Crew books and in the Nancy Drew Diaries.  The fact is, Simon and Schuster is constantly updating Nancy with more modern depictions and modern values, if modern values are what Opie desires. But, let us return to the classic yellow hardbacks, since it is presumably the domestic 1950s Nancy that modern audiences are to find so objectionable–the one who helps Hannah Gruen in the kitchen and spends an awful lot of time shopping.

First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong with Nancy–or any woman–liking to cook or shop for clothing.  You can be a feminist and also bake pies, wear dresses, and like going to parties. The fact that Nancy does these things does nothing to lessen the fact that she is intelligent, persistent, and brave.  Secondly, it’s difficult to imagine what values Opie finds so outdated because he does not name any.  And he probably does not name any for the very good reason that Nancy’s values have traditionally been, well, kind of vague.  Which is probably why she has remained so popular over the years. Nancy does not go around explicitly stating any values, so even though she is made more domestic in the 1950s and less violent than in her 1930s incarnation, these things never come across as any sort of message to readers.  The fact remains that Nancy is just really good at, well, everything, from household chores to tap dancing to scuba diving. And she’s incredibly brave, regardless of how effectively she manages to ward off any attackers.  Her values could be summed up simply as, “Girls are capable and bold and independent.  They are smart and clever.  They can be kind and strong at the same time.” These values are hardly outdated.

Still, Opie goes on to argue that Nancy having casual sex is only natural and evidently the main reason modern viewers should relate to her:

In this updated story, Nancy is dealing with the loss of her mother, so it’s entirely natural that she would use sex to cope with this void that’s been left behind. Because of this, the new Nancy Drew is relateable in a way that more idealistic versions of the character could never be, and her sex-positive attitude can also inspire viewers in its own way too.

He even claims that Nancy will become obsolete without the sexy changes made by the CW:

After all, it’s only by making these characters more relevant that they’ll continue to survive. Yes, the new Nancy might seem unrecognisable at first, but if changes aren’t made, then soon it might only be grandparents left who still care about Drew’s adventures, and that would do her legacy a huge disservice.

The obvious rebuttal to the idea that Nancy Drew needs saving by adding sex to her story is that Nancy still sells very well.  Molly Young wrote on October 9, 2019, that,

The original Nancy Drew books still sell more than 350,000 copies a year. And there are over 70 million of the books in print — a number that includes both the classics and their spinoffs.

And there have been numerous adaptations of Nancy over the years, not including all the series still published under Carolyn Keene’s name.  From the 1970s show to the 2007 movie to the 2019 movie, Nancy has appeared onscreen many times since her creation. And video game company Her Interactive started successfully adapting Nancy for PC games in the 1990s; the latest game comes out in December.  To suggest that the CW needs to save Nancy for future generations seems ludicrous when Nancy has never left pop culture.

Additionally, I think it’s rather reductionist to suggest that Nancy having sex with Ned is the one thing that really updates her and makes her relatable.  When readers relate to characters, they typically do so because they see something in the character that reminds them of themselves.  That could be  just about anything, from a character’s socioeconomic background to their struggle with anxiety to their love of puns and small dogs.  Maybe some readers will relate to Nancy having sex to cope with grief.  But probably many more will relate to other aspects of her character. Why is Opie so focused on Nancy’s love life, of all things?  It hardly seems empowering to me to suggest that a character’s feminist value lies primarily in what she does in the bedroom.

Ultimately, however, I think Opie’s premise is flawed because it supposes that Nancy Drew is supposed to be relatable.  Nancy Drew is inspirational.  She is aspirational.  She is not necessarily relatable.  As the girl who can ride horses, draw, tap out Morse code, discover secret passages, and restore long-lost rulers to their thrones, Nancy is more of a Mary Sue than the girl next door.  She’s the girl others girls want to be, not the characters readers already see themselves in.  And that’s precisely what has made her a feminist icon.  It’s never been about her sex life.  It’s her message that girls can do anything.  And that message has never been irrelevant.

What Makes a Successful Nancy Drew Adaptation?

Successful Nancy Drew Adaptations

On October 4, 2019, The New York Times wrote an article exploring the history of Nancy Drew adaptations and pondering the continuing popularity of a character first created in the 1930s.  Even though Nancy is a feminist icon, a character often cited by women as influential in their lives, few adaptations have proven successful.  Fans, it seems, cannot always reconcile their vision of Nancy with what is presented to them onscreen.  So movies and TV shows have generally received lukewarm feedback as fans demand to see their idea of Nancy.

The article does note the Her Interactive PC games as one of the few adaptations of Nancy Drew to modernize the character successfully.  The article suggests that, perhaps, the ability of fans to play as Nancy is part of what has made the games so popular.  (Even after waiting for years for a new game to come out, many fans remain loyal to the company, which focuses on making logic-based games for girls.)  I have to agree.  Although I fell in love with the classic yellow hardbacks as a child, subsequent book series, the 2007 movie starring Emma Roberts, the comic book adaptations–they all failed to charm me.  They weren’t my idea of Nancy.  And the latest adaptation currently showing on CW? Well, I haven’t seen it, but everything I’ve read suggests it isn’t for me; I just don’t envision Nancy having casual sex, a strained relationship with her father, and run-ins with actual ghosts. But the PC games have always enthralled me.  I love solving puzzles, interviewing suspects, and never, ever giving up until the mystery is solved.

The PC games have, I think, successfully modernized Nancy for two reasons.  The first is that the games really only give a minimal idea of who Nancy is.  She’s persistent yet polite, she’s nosy, she’s a rule breaker, she’s fearless.  She’s a bunch of general attributes that line up with her original incarnation–kind and socially graceful, but also prone to rifling through your most personal possessions when you aren’t looking.  But players don’t get much more of Nancy than that.  They don’t really know what she does in her free time, what her relationships are like (besides, you know, being friends with George and Bess and having Ned as a boyfriend), or even, in many cases, what she’s wearing.  Nancy is somewhat of a fill-in-the-blank.  If players want, they can imagine Nancy as the flirty, sensuous incarnation of later series.  Or they can imagine her wearing her pumps and a vintage dress, ready to go to a fraternity dance or to bake a pie.  Beyond the game, Nancy could really be anyone.

This ties into the second reason I think the games are successful: players get to choose Nancy’s conversation and reactions, so Nancy is always going to say or do what players imagine the “real” Nancy would do.  If they think Nancy’s a flirt, she’s going to flirt with that handsome cowboy.  If they think Nancy belongs with one of the Hardy Boys, they can choose conversations implying as much.  But if they think Nancy and Ned are meant to be, they can have Nancy remain steadfastly loyal. This logic applies throughout the game, in various circumstances.  Nancy can be polite or pushy.  She can be accommodating or rebellious.  She can push her luck or err on the side of caution.  Nancy has always had such contradictions in her character; she’s the girl who always knows the right thing to say, while also knowing how to pick a lock and steal your papers.  But the games give fans the ability to bring out the side of Nancy that they associate with her the most, the attributes they think are her essence.

I’m still waiting for a Nancy Drew TV series or movie that presents my idea of Nancy. I’m not sure a modern adaptation will ever work for me.  Nancy is, in my mind, associated with 1950s settings and values; it just seems weird to see her using a cell phone or driving a hybrid car.  But the Her Interactive games have modernized Nancy for me successfully, probably in part because I never see Nancy moving through the world.  When I play, I’m Nancy.  She may carry a cell phone and find videos for evidence, but, somehow, her lack of a physical body makes her presence in the modern day make more sense. That’s something a movie or TV series can’t capture.  So, for now, the Her Interactive PC games are going to remain the only modernized Nancy Drew I love.

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.

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