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Nancy Drew 101

Fashionable Nancy
Nancy Drew. Mystery's IT Girl...

Smart. Sophisticated. Independent. Fashionable. Fearless. Role model. Nancy Drew is all of these and so much more--a timeless character that has trailblazed through generations of fans and over 8 decades since 1930.

It's no mystery why Supreme Court Justices, lawyers, detectives, librarians and teachers, authors--you name it--have been inspired and motivated by Nancy Drew.

No matter the baffling mystery, the suspenseful cliffhanger or the dastardly peril Nancy faced, she was always determined to solve a mystery and help others. Often racing off on adventures in her snappy roadster, she was always fashionably attired in the latest frocks and delectable heels--pure grace and gumption--an adrenaline thrill for the masses. Today's Greek yogurt and protein shake guzzling yoga pant-wearing memory foam tennis-shoed peeps don't having anything on Nancy Drew!

A classic and timeless sleuth, Nancy Drew has endured through time from her plucky out in the world style beginning in 1930 to a modern day latte-drinking heroine. She is a tried and true character–smart, resourceful, and independent. Nancy has many talents and is popular among her circle of friends and peers. There is no mystery too baffling that she cannot solve. What is the scoop on Nancy and her friends and family? A walk down memory lane, this section will attempt to unveil the mystery behind the intrepid girl sleuth. For more information on the history of the series and its creators as well as a timeline of various Nancy Drew events, visit the Nancy Drew History section.

Currently, I am writing a book which focuses on the mysterious history of Nancy Drew and a biography of the first Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson. While this website is a good introduction into the world of Nancy Drew, you will find further analysis in my upcoming book.

What is the Scoop on Nancy Drew & her chums?

The basic formula for the Nancy Drew books is that the classics were "safe and sane" - and family friendly. They were not about politics or religion or other divisive topics. They were kids books, after all! They were designed to be fun, entertaining mysteries which were light on romance, full of suspense and cliffhangers and a healthy escape from the everyday ordinary lives of those reading the books. And they were educational to a degree - where you might learn more about the theme of the book or a place Nancy was visiting and sometimes words was used that a child might need to look up in a dictionary to learn more about. But overall, they were pure escapism and thrilling for kids. Nancy's desire to solve a mystery at all cost, no matter how baffling the case, to right wrongs and restore justice was a running theme throughout the series and that dedication was motivating and inspiring to kids who read these books.

In the original texts, Nancy was 16, aged to 18 in later texts and revisions. She’s the daughter of famous mystery case attorney, Carson Drew. Carson is a former prosecutor and his good reputation is known far and wide and comes in handy during many of Nancy’s mysteries. Motherless since the early age of 3(10 in early original texts), she is close to her father. Housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, more servant-like in early original texts, later became more motherly to Nancy in later texts and revisions and played a greater role in bringing up Nancy. The semi-affluent Drews live in fictional River Heights, USA in a nice neighborhood, their house set back some from the street. Nancy is no longer in school and spends most of her time and energy focused on her passion for solving mysteries.

Early on, she was accompanied by Helen Corning on adventures, but soon Helen was replaced by the classic foil characters, Bess Marvin and George Fayne. Bess and George are cousins and help Nancy solve her mysteries. Bess is boy crazy and likes to eat, forever on a diet. She is more timid and easily scared while involved in Nancy's cases. George is the tomboyish athletic foil, while Nancy falls in the middle. Nancy compliments them, keeping them grounded. Boyfriend Ned Nickerson is introduced earlier on than Bess and George’s dates, respectively, Dave Evans and Burt Eddelton, but all three are a staple of later texts and revised versions. Ned, Dave, and Burt attend nearby Emerson college and are quick to help out in solving a mystery. Ned is always there for Nancy, but knows her mysteries are a very important priority in her life and remains very patient. He plays football for Emerson College. Nancy’s dog Togo, shows up in volume 14, The Whispering Statue, and appears in volumes after that from time to time. A sometime pet, Nancy's cat, Snowball, appears in the original text of volume 17, The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk. In early volumes, Nancy drives a blue roadster (with a few brief color variations). Later on, her transportation becomes a blue convertible and later is specified as a blue Mustang convertible.

River Heights

What would one expect from a sleepy tree-lined suburban Midwestern town formed about the winding Muskoka River? A hotbed of criminal activity! From burglars (often at the Drew's home) to jewel thieves to smugglers, kidnappers, and organized crime syndicates, River Heights has it all. There is plenty of excitement for Nancy, whether she is eavesdropping on suspects at Taylor's Department Store, chasing criminals down city streets in hot pursuit of her just snatched purse, or visiting a friendly neighborhood baker or jeweler for a few clues. Life is clearly never a dull moment in Nancy's world.

Fictional, though it may be, many collectors and scholars have argued that a basis for River Heights may be found in Iowa, Ohio, Illinois and even New Jersey--home of famous "Carolyn Keene", Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. The Nancy Drew Files series and the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series placed River Heights near Chicago, Illinois.

Fashion & Food

A Nancy Drew mystery just wouldn't be the same without the latest fashions or sleuthing snacks.

Fashionable Frocks are a staple of Nancy Drew's appeal. The latest fashions were depicted on many generations of Nancy Drew covers over the years by illustrators ranging from Russell H. Tandy to Bill Gillies to Rudi Nappi among others. A sophisticated darling in the 1930s in a golden bob and cloche hat is depicted on the cover of volume 1, The Secret of the Old Clock. 1950s Nancy reminds one of an young "June Cleaver" with matching handbag on the cover of volume 31, The Ringmaster's Secret. A Polyester-pantsuited Nancy is an emblem of the 1970s leisure suits on the third cover of volume 16, The Clue of the Tapping Heels.

Steaming waffles at the Drew's breakfast table, Hannah Gruen's pot roast, delicious cakes, roadside tearooms and quaint inns--these descriptive elements whet one's appetite. Like comfort food, a Nancy Drew mystery is at best--nostalgia savored with a rich cup of cocoa and a crisp slice of Twisted Candles cinnamon toast. And burglars storming the Drew home late at night? Time for a midnight snack!

What Happened to Nancy's Mom?

We don't know a lot about Nancy's mom in this series, however not having a mom allows Nancy the freedom to go out and do a lot of things most girls couldn't do! While she has a doting dad who does worry about her, he's often off on business trips and too busy to be a very demanding father.

We know from the originals that she was around 10 when her mom died but later that became 3 years old. Hannah Gruen is the "motherly" housekeeper who has stepped in to help rear Nancy, but she isn't so overly motherly that she smothers Nancy.

Mrs. Drew's illness is a mystery but was described in #39, The Clue of the Dancing Puppet, as a sudden illness.

There are still personal effects such as a lace shawl and fan around the house that were her mother's and her mother's maiden name was Austin. She has maternal family in Scotland and her maternal great-grandmother Lady Douglas is involved in the mystery in #41, The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes.

We often hear that Nancy looks like her father's sister Eloise, so it remains a mystery as to what Nancy's mother looked like.

How Many Times Did Nancy get Knocked Unconscious, Locked Up, Kidnapped, and all those other villain foibles that nearly did her in?

Like the Energizer Bunny, she took a lot of licks but kept on ticking! Sometimes she suffered a few setbacks or went down for the count - but a wan smile and a healthy dose of pluck got her right back on her feet to tangle with the villains and save the day. Here's a few stats based on the classic 56 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories books:

# of Times locked in a castle tower: 1
# of Times Poisoned/Attempted Poisoning: 3
# of Times Car Forced Off Road: 3
# of Times Locked in elevator: 1
# of Times Warned to Leave/Drop a Case: 9
# of Times Tortured: 1
# of Times Villains scare people wearing mask outside a window: 2
# of Times Villains use a bomb to harm/scare Nancy off case: 4
# of Times Nancy's dog, Togo, kidnapped/missing: 2
# of Times Nancy knocked unconscious: 19
# of Times Nancy kidnapped: 16
# of Times Nancy Drugged/Chloroformed: 8
# of Times Nancy nearly boiled alive: 1

Original Texts v. Revised Texts

You may be wondering what an original text (OT) and a revised text (RT) are in relation to the Nancy Drew books. The first 34 volumes were published between 1930 and 1956. These books had 25 chapters and around 200+ pages. The key to identifying an original text, is that it has 25 chapters. These texts were rich in description and characterization. After volume 34, starting with volume 35 through volume 56, the books had 20 chapters and around 180 pages. Beginning in 1959 through the late 1970s, the first 34 volumes were revised. These revisions were now 20 chapters and were shorter and choppier.

Why were the books revised?

Costs, plain and simple (and documented in the Stratemeyer Syndicate archives at the New York Public Library, mind you)--it was cheaper to produce a 180-page or so book than one over 200 pages like the originals were. This was the main reason the books were revised--that and the switch to a different type of printing plate also led the charge to change--as plates were wearing out they were replaced with the new style--one reason the books were not revised completely in order of 1-34. As a consequence of the revisions process, ethnic and racial stereotypes/prejudice were removed and the texts modernized with outdated language and slang being removed. It was felt that new generations of “TV watchers” had less of an attention span than previous generations of readers, so the pace of the books was quickened too in the revising process.

Where can one find an original text version?

Never fear, the originals have made a comeback in the publishing world of reproductions. Applewood Books has issued reprints of the originals since 1991 and reproduced the original text and illustrations for the first 21 books. Used bookstores, antique malls, grandma’s attic, and even are great sources for finding the original books and also paperbacks and out of print spin-off series as well as some libraries that still carry the original versions.

What is still in print?

At your local bookstores and online, you can still purchase the classic hardback 56 stories, although the first 34 are revisions. These come in the glossy flashlight yellow spine picture cover style. The paperbacks that continued the original series from volume 57 onward, are mostly out of print. However, Grosset & Dunlap reprinted 8 of these - 57-64 in the glossy flashlight yellow spine picture cover style. Currently in bookstores, are the ongoing Nancy Drew Clue Book series and the Nancy Drew Diaries series. And at sites like Amazon, you can download many of the books and modern series and spinoffs.

What are the various Nancy Drew series about?

The Classic Series:

The classic series consists of the original 56 Grosset & Dunlap hardback books from The Secret of the Old Clock to The Thirteenth Pearl. Continuing this series, is the Digest sized paperback series published by Simon & Schuster. These paperbacks include volumes 57 through the last digest 175, Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland.

The Files Series:

In the mid-1980s, the Nancy Drew Files series debuted and lasted for 124 volumes, over 10 years. In this version, Nancy is more modernized and there is more romance entangled with mysteries. And murders!

Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Mysteries:

The Super Mysteries series teamed Nancy up with the Hardy Boys. Written in the style of the Files series.

The On Campus Series:

This series debuted in the mid-1990s and lasted for only 3 years and 25 volumes. This series had Nancy going off to Wilder University and forgetting she liked to solve mysteries!

The Nancy Drew Notebooks:

This series, now out of print, has Nancy and her friends Bess and George in elementary school, age 8. These are very cute books and each incorporates a good message or lesson for kids.

Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew & Nancy Drew Clue Book:

Clue Crew replaced the old Nancy Drew Notebooks series and has the same format. It was replaced in July 2015 with the Nancy Drew Clue Book series--same type of format.

Nancy Drew: Girl Detective & Nancy Drew Diaries

These series picked up where the digest series left off at volume 175. Starting over at volume 1, Without a Trace, the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series sought to make Nancy Drew more "real" and unfortunately made her too imperfect. The Nancy Drew Diaries series replaced the Girl Detective series and strives to be a little more like classic Nancy Drew with Nancy not as forgetful and "too real" as the GD series was. Both series utilize first person voice.

Nancy Drew: Girl Detective Super Mysteries:

The Super Mysteries spin-off features volumes that are a little bit longer than the regular series.

What color *is* Nancy’s hair?

In the early books, she is a blonde. Around 1957, the cover of volume 35, The Haunted Showboat came out and she was painted with more reddish hair and thereafter illustrator Rudy Nappi continued to paint her this way - - there was more contrast on the Haunted Showboat cover since Bess was a blonde and George a brunette. . Soon in the stories, she was referred to as being Titian-haired. Does a blonde Nancy have more fun?!

Previous Faces of Nancy on the Big Screen and on TV:

In the late 1930s, actress Bonita Granville, portrayed Nancy in four films for Warner Brothers. These were slapstick comedies and Nancy was portrayed as a more ditzy female than the book character. Ned became Ted in the movies and was played by Frankie Thomas. These are often shown on Turner Classic Movies channel. Some of them are available as videos or on DVD. Visit the 1930s Movie Collectibles section for more information on the movies and related collectibles.
In the 1970s, Nancy was played on the Nancy Drew TV show by actress Pamela Sue Martin, of later Dynasty fame. After Pamela Sue left the show, Nancy was played briefly by Janet Louise Johnson. Pamela’s Nancy was rather brash and daring like the book character, but she did not look much like the character from the books. Visit the 1970s/1990s TV Collectibles section for more information on the TV shows and related collectibles.
In 1995, there was a very short-lived Nancy Drew TV series in which Tracy Ryan starred as Nancy. The series was only a half hour and was not well developed. In this series however, Nancy went off to college and majored in journalism much like the 2002 TV show. Tracy did not look much like Nancy either. This series was not as well known and not distributed well. Only one season was aired.
In a TV pilot shown December 15, 2002, Nancy is portrayed quite fittingly by Maggie Lawson--who looked like a modern day Nancy Drew. She gave Nancy her own blend of spunk.
The 2007 Warner Brothers Nancy Drew movie featured Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew. Unfortunately it was not a success--she was played too young, in school, and as a "fish out of water" which Nancy Drew never was. It was too much "mean girls" and not enough mystery to satisfy Nancy Drew fans.

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