I didn’t want Ned Nickerson. He seemed like a vain pretty boy who just got in the way of the real star of the show.
I did want a friend named George who wasn’t embarrassed to be a tomboy, but still went to all the dances. My best friend was Myrtle (and while she was great at hopscotch, she didn’t have the curiosity of a hedgehog.)
But most of all, I wanted to be the heroine who was smarter than all the grownups in town and had thrilling adventures where she rescued herself from danger. Who didn’t want to be Nancy Drew?
My childhood library didn’t stock Nancy Drew mysteries, although for some reason, you could find student nurse Cherry Ames who also solved mysteries. Still I managed to accumulate my own shelf of the blue and yellow mystery books, anxiously determined each time to crack the case before Nancy revealed the answer to the whodunit in the last ten pages.
My daughter, on the other hand, had zero interest in Nancy Drew. She loved the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce, that featured a fierce young woman who disguised herself as a boy to enter training as a knight. She found this fantasy series far more exciting, but also more realistic than the Nancy Drew mysteries. “Alanna got her period, had trouble with boys, stuff that happened to me even if I wasn’t a knight-in-training.”
So why my personal fondness for Nancy Drew? Was she my inspiration to write mysteries? Probably. I recently re-read The Secret of the Old Clock, the first book in the series. It had been reissued in 1959, cleaned up of any of its original racist references. The mystery is slight, at best. But even as an adult, I’m struck by the creation of a young girl heroine who is resourceful enough to rescue herself from a locked closet – look out Macgyver. I am delighted that her father Carson Drew doesn’t try and stop her from investigating the mystery, but instead encourages her independence and declares, “I’m glad you have the courage of your convictions.”
But if Nancy Drew was the spark, it was Mary Stewart, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rex Stout who fanned the flames of my early interest in mysteries. I quickly realized that their protagonists were more layered, their mysteries far more challenging, and their storytelling more sophisticated and intriguing.
Still, let me raise a toast to Nancy Drew. She filled a void in my childhood for a female adventurer who didn’t need a boy to give her the answers. She taught me that the search for solutions could be as much fun as the end result. And she gave me the confidence to say that I too could solve mysteries – or even better, create them!
Marian the Northern half of Evelyn David