Anyone who has even gotten me talking about books will inevitably get an earful about how much I love Nancy Drew. Recently, I read Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her, and fed my obsession a little more. The Nancy Drew books I read growing up, the ones with the bright yellow spines, are apparently not the books as originally written.
The book were ghostwritten, primarily by a woman named Mildred Wirt-Benson, and distributed by the Stratmeyer Syndicate– who were also responsible for the Hardy Boys and most juvenile serial novels of the day. The first Nancy Drew book was written in the 1930s, and the series remained wildly popular through The Depression and World War II eventually reaching 56 volumes.
The Syndicate was hurt by The Depression, though, and many of the other serials fell off leaving Nancy as it’s real saving grace. Eventually, the founder of the Syndicate died and passed the business on to his daughters, who acted as co-CEOs and wrote all the outlines for the stories. One of the daughters, Harriet Adams, had a falling-out with the original publisher, Grosset and Dunlap, and eventually sold the rights of Nancy Drew to Simon and Schuster publishers. Adams also re-wrote all of the original 56 books. She updated Nancy’s age, car, took out changed details to make the time period more generic, and took out a lot of very blatant racism. These re-writes are the books with the blight yellow spines that I read and loved growing up.
As soon as I realized that what I had read was not the original Nancy Drew, I set about trying to get my hands on the original text. Fortunately, Applewood Books recently re-issued the original books, and my local favorite used books store– Cellar Stories– also carries a few titles.
I’ve managed to amass a pretty respectable collection of both the originals and the re-writes, and have done extensive compare and contrast exercises, because I’m supercool.
The other day, I was at a library conference in Connecticut. As I was just getting back to Providence, I got a phone call from my landlady informing me that a pipe had burst, there was water in my apartment, but she checked it out and it didn’t look like any of my stuff was damaged. I came home to find a shallow puddle on the floor at the front of my house, and some water stains on the ceiling, really not too bad. Then I noticed that the hat on the lowest shelf where I keep my Nancy Drew books was completely saturated.
I quickly checked the books, and saw that they were all completely fine. This shelf is also where I keep the greatest item of kitsh I’ve ever acquired– my black last supper painting.
The only thing left to conclude, is that Black Jesus knows how much I love these books, and saved them for me– despite the racism contained within them.
There is simply no other way — that I can think of– to explain how the water came through the ceiling and soaked the hat on the bottom shelf (which is about 1.5 inches off the ground), and didn’t touch the books at all.
It’s a miracle.