Today marks 87 years since Secret of the Old Clock, the first Nancy Drew book, was published. Nancy Drew was the first mystery series I read, and not only inspired me to read books, but it introduced me to the genre of mystery/suspense.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Fisher, a Nancy Drew historian and researcher. She’s written numerous articles about the teenage detective, and also worked with Warner Brothers when they filmed the 2007 Nancy Drew film. To find out more about her and her work, you can visit her website: http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/.
What has been one of the most popular books in the series?
“Two books often cited are the first 2 – The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase.”
When her first book Secret of the Old Clock was released, what was the initial reaction to it?
“As far as researchers can tell, both it and the other 2 books released with it, The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery (a “breeder set” of 3 books), all did very well. A fourth book was in the works that came out that year too. The series took off quickly enough and soon was outselling many other series according to a 1934 Fortune magazine article.”
What impact has Nancy Drew had on literature? What about society?
“She’s not the first girl detective, but she’s one that has become a pop culture icon today. She’s inspired countless generations of women and men to do more in their lives, and she’s inspired numerous knock-off girl detectives who just don’t have quite the same spunk as Nancy.”
What inspired the book series to be created?
“Edward Stratemeyer, who ran the Stratemeyer Syndicate, created Nancy Drew – possibly inspired by detective novels of the day. His Hardy Boys series had debuted in 1927 and he often capitalized on what was popular at the time and then created stories to bring all that to life.”
Is there a little known fact about the series?
“One would be that Nancy Drew was created by Edward Stratemeyer – a man behind many of the popular series that still exist today or are fondly remembered like Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and The Hardy Boys. While I’m writing a biography of the original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson (who brought such feisty life to Nancy Drew through her writing style), the Stratemeyer Syndicate is just one of many mysterious things behind the scenes.”
Many ghostwriters wrote under the name of Carolyn Keene. Who was one of the most popular ghostwriters and why?
“Mildred Wirt Benson, the first Carolyn Keene, wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, and is one of the most well-known ghostwriters. The other is Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet Adams. Millie was like a real life Nancy Drew in some ways, so it’s no wonder I was inspired to write a definitive biography about her. Both were very neat and very fascinating women.”
Is it true that the series was once controversial? If so, why?
“I haven’t found it to be overall – perhaps a couple of minor things. Looking at it rationally, like any product of its time, some of the earlier books in the 1930s mostly had more stereotypes and prejudicial things about them, but not rampantly throughout the stories; perhaps a minor character or an instance in a chapter or two, and those who have actually read and studied them would reasonably agree – but everything written back then was the same. Also, some librarians didn’t like to carry series literature, so for some years libraries didn’t often carry all the various series books written back then, including Nancy Drew. However, most libraries finally wised up and realized that these books helped hook children to reading, which is far more important than being literary snobs! After all, nearly all the women justices of the Supreme Court have cited Nancy Drew as an influence. That speaks volumes!”