We Need To Talk About Nancy

I turned 62 this week, and it’s been bittersweet. I got to thinking about 62, 1962, Linda Bay and Nancy Drew, did some mental math and …. O My Lord: Nancy Drew is 102! This assumes eighteen years of growing up before Edward Stratemeyer and a team of ghostwriters collectively known as Carolyn Keene committed Nancy to print in 1930 and locked her into the longest, most suspenseful and most lavishly funded gap year in the history of River Heights. So, my renascent but wildly age-inappropriate crush on Nancy must be nipped in the bud. Sigh…

Of course Nancy doesn’t look 102, because she gets a complete makeover approximately every generation—in human years—

and River Heights simultaneously gets a socio-technological upgrade. This is so that each new generation of readers is more readily engaged and retained. Fair enough, I suppose: this is not Great Art which is being interfered with. I’m not part of the target market, though, and I’m perfectly happy to stick with Nancy Mark II, introduced to the world in 1959, and to me by Miss Bay in 1962. A secondary intention of that series of rewrites was to eliminate racial stereotypes, anticipating the era of compulsory cultural sensitivity by at least a decade if not two. But, as Nancy Drew biographer Melanie Rehak tells us, “The series did not so much eliminate racial stereotypes, however, as eliminate non-white characters altogether.”  Efficient, even borderline elegant, if a tad hamfisted. Simpler times, I guess.

My excuse for this reawakened interest in Nancy is that I wanted to check on whether she really was “startled by a bloodcurdling scream” at every turn, or whether my memory was going all creative on me, as it does now and then. With two mysteries under my belt and a third in progress, it’s beginning to look like the latter. All I’ve had so far is one piercing scream and one shriek, also piercing. Not even a situation which could give rise to a bloodcurdler.

Never mind. Not only am I being carried back to a time and place which I remember as magical, but I’m actually enjoying these books. Although ghost-written to a formula by various hands, they’re really quite stylish, and Nancy comes across as arguably a fine role model for girls not only of my generation but of the two generations which have followed. I’m speaking here of the 50s/60s Nancy, generally regarded as “Classic” Nancy. Strangely,her later incarnations seem to have gone backwards vis à vis the evolving status of women in western society, so that the 21st century Nancy is just as boy-crazy and deferential to males as real girls were pre-1970, whereas pre-1970 Nancy was politely tolerant of males, but certainly not in need of their help, their attentions or even their presence*. Her relationship with her well-heeled, generous and ever-approving father was one of great mutual respect: his advice was sometimes offered and sometimes even solicited, but followed only if Nancy was in full accord. Daddy Drew was supportive of whatever course of action Nancy decided upon, because he had faith in her ability to handle negative consequences. Perhaps more fathers of daughters should read Nancy Drew instead of parenting manuals.

You may well ask why a man of 62 is making so much of a quasi-academic interest in Nancy, and I can only venture that I may be sublimating. The age gap issue, don’t you know.

I’ll leave it at that, then, not wishing to bore you further, and moreover not wishing to be thought a teensy bit peculiar. I will let you know, though, if and when I finally hear my long lost bloodcurdling scream. Please, Miss Bay, bring it on!

screamcontest

 

 

 

* From Mystery at Lilac Inn:   Later, as Nancy, Helen and Emily were talking, the two older girls suddenly stopped speaking on the subject of their forthcoming weddings. Helen said, “Goodness, Nancy, you must be tired of hearing us talk about steady partners when—”  Nancy interrupted. Laughing gaily she said, “Not at all. For the present, my steady partner is going to be mystery!”

 

 

 


A Beehive, a Bush Pilot, and My Favourite Martienne

 

The glorious and glamorous Miss Linda K Bay liked to tell her Grade Five class all about her boyfriend the bush pilot. She loved him a lot. He didn’t work down south, she was quick to explain, but way up north, flying over the wilderness around Flin Flon*, Thompson, and Lynn Lake. His name was probably Steve, or Brad, or Jack, or something similarly square-jawed. Not Gord. Gords are not bush pilots. Gords get rescued by bush pilots. There are Gordons all over the Scottish diaspora, but Canada seems to have a monopoly on Gords, which is a whole ‘nother story. This one’s about Miss Bay, mostly.

Linda K Bay had the best beehive ever. The fact that it was flaming red was a bonus, and I just know that was her natural colour. If Principal Weber happened to look in and see thirty little heads lain on their desks between their arms, it wasn’t because we were shielding our eyes from Miss Bay’s fiery radiance: it was because she was reading us our daily dose of Nancy Drew, and eyes-closed was the only way to listen to Carolyn Keene’s suspenseful tales. Miss Bay was a magical story-reader. The way she delivered “Nancy was startled [as she was seemingly every other chapter!] by a bloodcurdling scream” was…. well, if any of us kids had known the term frisson we surely would have commented, “Nice frisson, Miss Bay!”

Between bloodcurdling screams, I sometimes snuck a peek at The Girl Three Rows Over (and Two Seats Down), also a redhead of sorts: hair of deep, mysterious, otherworldly auburn—almost violet—and every bit as big though not as vertical as Miss Bay’s.

Royalty-Free (RF) beehive hair Clipart Illustration #1052120

Today I am certain to be the only 60-something man on planet Earth reading a Nancy Drew mystery. I wanted to do a bloodcurdling scream count, and clearly chose badly, as The Secret of the Old Clock doesn’t have a one. There’s a piercing scream early on, and from then on diddly-squat, screamwise. Here’s hoping for a better result from The Mystery At Lilac Inn. Carolyn Keene was no more an actual person than Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, of course, but the ghostwriters did a good job; the prose is actually quite elegant in places. So I’m enjoying my important research, along the way being transported right back to 1963, receiving frissons from Linda K Bay while banishing from my mind the image of Steve the bush pilot, and deciding that the otherworldly auburn girl must be from Mars, the red planet, or maybe from another galaxy altogether.

 

* I’ve always been  fond of the name Flin Flon and its more sensible sounding uncut version: Flintabbatey Flonatin. Here’s a song, with my parental advisory that a man smoking a cigarette appears briefly on-screen. So you may wish to shield your children’s eyes, and your own, too, if you’re of delicate sensibilities….perhaps a Gord.