Posted in Book Stuff

Nancy Drew 1939

When I was around 10, my best friend had the best house. She was allowed to drink pop, read at the dinner table, or watch tv on tv trays with glasses of pop. She also had comic books, a Nancy Drew game and a big pile of Nancy Drew books.

Nancy Drew was created by Edward Stratemeyer, a prolific writer himself, who founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate to produce kids’ books en masse, including The Bobbsey Twins (1904), which I also remember fondly, The Hardy Boys (1927) and Nancy Drew (1930).

From the beginning, his idea was that these series would be authored under a consistent pen-name regardless of whomever he, and his successors, hired to write the books. There have been many authors writing as Carolyn Keene over the years, and Nancy’s character has changed, bolder in the beginning, more sedate in the 50’s, now the driver of a hybrid car.

I was thinking about this last night, apropos of our conversation about the dearth of female characters in children’s books, as I watched Nancy Drew: Reporter, made in 1939. While there are complaints that the movie largely diverged from the books in specifics, I think it’s true to its spirit, and I was happy to watch it with one of my daughters (the other preferred to browse on her computer).

Though most of the minor characters are male in male environments (newspaper room, boxers’ gym), the important characters are 50-50, with the girls taking the lead. Nancy is feisty, inventive, tricky, righteous and concerned, not with her appearance, but with whether she is acting intelligently in solving the murder mystery.

An old woman has died, leaving her fortune to her foster daughter, who has been framed for murder. An aspiring reporter, Nancy believes in her innocence and sets out to find the evidence to free her and incriminate the real murderer.

Along the way she’s assisted by her sometimes reluctant friend and photographer, Ted. Their actions are paralleled by another younger team of kids. Tagging along and getting into trouble are Ted’s younger sister, equally feisty but naughtier than Nancy, and her friend, a boy who follows her lead, both of them 13 years old.

There is some suspense and waving of guns, but nothing seriously scary here. I also enjoyed the bit part of the police officer who dresses up as a granny to trap the evil-doers. It’s less broad than pantomime usually is, rather gentler as I didn’t have the sense of mockery than pantomime often has because there is no sense of humiliation in the cross-dressing here.

There is a more recent Nancy Drew movie (2007) that I watched with my younger daughter, too, that was fun but in it Nancy was a bit too 1950’s perfect (including wardrobe). I like the 1939 Nancy better.

The Syndicate sold the series to Simon and Schuster who dropped the Nancy Drew in the title and just called it Girl Detective. Not a good change to my mind, but Nancy has been around for over 80 years, and she’ll outlast that title too.

via Chronicle Books



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

2 thoughts on “Nancy Drew 1939

  1. I loved Nancy Drew as a child but I had NO IDEA that the author behind them was a conglomerate. I feel cheated! I sort of imagined Carolyn Keene having this wonderful time making up Nancy Drew stories with slushy subplots about the boyfriend – what was his name – Ned? Ted? Something like that. Oh well, I guess I can stand to be disillusioned at 42. 😀

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