Saturday, September 4, 2010

The weird world of Nancy Drew

Assuming most young girls go through a Nancy Drew phase, I bought my tween the first two books in the series encased in a cute leather pocketbook set (seen above). She delved right in, working her way through the first few books without any problem.

But when she got to the sixth book, she said that she was having trouble keeping up with all the new characters and that, well, it was getting a little weird. So I volunteered to read it aloud to her, one chapter per bedtime; by the end, I agreed with her initial assessment.

If you haven't read Nancy Drew in a while, or if you never got to the sixth book, The Secret of Red Gate Farm, I'll summarize it for you:

Nancy and her cousins meet Jo, a young woman who passes out on their train; soon they decide to move to Jo's grandmother's farm as boarders—no explanation given as to how these young women can just uproot themselves like that. (Perhaps that is why these books have appealed to girls in the past; the girls are independent and of sufficient means, existing perpetually in the fleeting freedom between high school and motherhood.)

The grandmother rents out the other side of her farm to a nature cult called the Black Snake Colony that holds ceremonies in which they dress in white sheets and white hoods and howl at the full moon. Yes, the cultists look like the KKK, an image verified by an illustration later in the book. Red Gate Farm was first published in 1931, just 10 years after the KKK's second wave. Surely the author was aware of the KKK allusion, but I'm not sure to what purpose. Was she/he trying to make the KKK look silly?

Nancy convinces her friends to go and investigate the cult. They take old sheets and sew hooded outfits and slip into the cult's ceremony, following them from there into a cave. It was here that E-girl paused me and said, "Why would her friends agree to go there with her? Don't they remember the other trouble she's gotten them into before?"

But, of course, the stupidity is never justified, the danger never prolonged. In what turns out to be a mobster's den, the girls are threatened with being tied up, then (of course) are rescued at the last minute.

E-girl can't believe that Nancy's friends are never mad at her: "Even when she almost gets them hurt, they say, 'Oh Nancy, you're such a great detective!' I would say, ' Nancy, you almost got me killed! I'm not going on any more explorations with you!'"

When the girls were in the cave, E-girl asked, "Why didn't the mobsters just shoot the girls?" If Nancy was a princess, she would have suspended such suspicions.

I was thinking that Nancy Drew won't be read in the future, given how callous and news-numbed children already are these days (evident by my own kid questioning why a bad guy wouldn't have a gun); won't they be even more realistic/jaded in the future? Then E-girl made the surprising revelation that she wanted to go get the next Nancy Drew book.

"Why?" I asked.

"I want to see what trouble she gets into next time, and I want to see how fast I can solve the mystery, " she said. "I usually solve it 100 pages before she does."

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