Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Nancy

I was away for a few days and I missed someone’s birthday. Nancy Drew is 80 years old.

It was 80 years ago yesterday [Wednesday] that the world was first introduced to the intrepid, titian-haired girl detective. On April 28, 1930, the first three Nancy Drew books – The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery — were released, opening up a world where girls could — and did — do anything. Nancy wasn’t relegated to the sidelines; she was the one leading the charge, usually in her cool roadster.

It’s been years since I’ve picked up a new Nancy Drew book so I don’t know what she’s like now. But, apparently, she’s still working:

Three hundred books, a dozen video games, five films, and two TV series later, Nancy’s still at it. These days, she drives a sky-blue hybrid and carries a cell phone, but River Heights still depends on her to prevent everything from identity theft to political assassinations. Her books don’t follow any of the hot trends in young adult fiction: Nancy fights no zombies, owns no designer clothes, and lusts after nary a vampire. Yet each new book has a print run of 25,000 and, cumulatively, the books have sold more than 200 million copies. It’s hard to imagine another cultural icon that could bring together Sonia Sotomayor and Laura Bush, both of whom cite Nancy as an inspiration.

I’ve already talked about how the first Nancy Drew book I ever read was The Witch Tree Symbol. In that story, Nancy and her friends solved a mystery set amongst the Amish. At 8 years old, I had never heard of the Amish so it was a whole new world to me. I think that was part of what was great about reading the Nancy Drew Series. One week I was traveling to Buenos Aires (The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk), the next week, after a brief stop in New York City (which might as well have been Timbuktu to me) I was in China (The Mystery of the Fire Dragon), the next week it was Hawaii (The Secret of the Golden Pavilion). One of my favorites was The Secret of the Wooden Lady which took place on board a clipper ship in in Boston Harbor.

I didn’t read the series in order, I read the books as I could get my hands on them. At some point I realized that the original versions of the first books in the series had been re-written at some point. Nancy had gone from being 16 to being 18. I didn’t care that there were different versions; it meant more books to read.

The thing about a Nancy Drew Mystery was that the mystery wasn’t solved by brute strength but by brains. And by lack of fear. Sometimes the talents that Nancy evidenced were a little hard to believe. Or, at least, they are hard to believe now that I look back at them. Nancy manages to compete in a figure skating competition (The Mystery of the Ski Jump). And she joined the circus as a stunt rider (The Ringmaster’s Secret). But I was willing to suspend disbelief.

So, Happy Birthday Nancy. You may be 80 years old, but you are still 18 to me.