Tuesday, June 05, 2007

There's Something about Nancy

So, is the new Nancy Drew film gonna be any good? It’s not a question likely to arise among our readers, yet it’s just as worthy of posing as one about, say, the next James Bond film. And, the answer would be the same in both cases: it'll be good enough. At this stage of her career (closing in on eight decades), Nancy Drew has serious flow. She's long past the point at which she can be thought of in terms of just one movie . . . or book . . . or TV show . . . or manga . . . or video game. If Nancy shows up in something bad, the negative impact gets diffused across years of context. Think Star Trek.

Suppose the new film, which stars
Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew, is dreadful (it won’t be). A good number of people would still see it and then even buy the DVD. Some would buy two: one to study (so as not be left out of the Nancy Drew metaconversation) and one to leave shrinkwrapped on a shelf alongside other Nancy Drew artifacts and memorabilia. Call it the Nancy Drew Mystique. On the one hand, Nancy’s pluck can be wearying; on the other, you’ve got to respect her high camp index and pop culture cred. Yes, coincidence sometimes trumps detection skill in a Nancy Drew mystery, yet Nancy's nostalgic pull rivals that of some Disney characters.

Novelist Bobbie Ann Mason picked up on this—almost certainly she was the first to devote a book to the topic. In
The Girl Sleuth, Mason writes as a fan and a feminist to get us thinking about the nature of Nancy Drew’s enduring appeal. Mason reveals Nancy to be a paradoxical figure: "as cool as Mata Hari and as sweet as Betty Crocker." She was a model of independence and courage who managed never to violate decorum. And, in her amiable way, Nancy subverted adult authority. Just as Harry Potter’s young fans know it now, kids who read Nancy Drew back in the day knew that literary tastemakers ranked the stories somewhere close to comic books. Think of the power in that knowledge: you could bug some grownups just by reading a book.

A number of critical works on Nancy Drew have appeared since The Girl Sleuth. Like Mason, their authors also have something to say about the larger cultural phenomenon of children’s series fiction. A major discovery about the true authorship of the original Nancy Drew stories (written under the pen name Carolyn Keene) prompted a national conference, out of which came Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov's
Rediscovering Nancy Drew. Other notable books include Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman's The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth.

To get quickly up to speed on Nancy Drew, read this New Yorker
article on the Stratemeyer Syndicate, publisher of the original Nancy Drew stories and this bio of Mildred Wirt Benson, the real person behind the nom de plume Carolyn Keene. Then visit this fansite and this site on classic series fiction for girls.

Top left: poster for the new Nancy Drew film, opening June 15, 2007
Middle left: cover of the first Nancy Drew story, The Secret of the Old Clock
Bottom left: packaging for Her Interactive's Nancy Drew game #16, The White Wolf of Icicle Creek
Top right: cover of The Girl Sleuth by Bobbie Ann Mason
Bottom right: Scene from the Papercutz Nancy Drew graphic novel #6, Mr. Cheeters Is Missing, by Stefan Petrucha and Sho Murase

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