Nancy Drew: She's just turned 80

Nancy-DrewI have Nancy Drew to thank for a lot of my childhood quirks. It’s because of her I grew up tapping on walls, hoping to find a hidden passageway; was convinced that all attics had secrets stored inside; and eyed any suspicious-looking character who came my way.

Oh, who am I kidding? I still do all that.

It was 80 years ago yesterday that the world was first introduced to the intrepid, titian-haired girl detective. On April 28, 1930, the first three Nancy Drew books — The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery — were released, opening up a world where girls could — and did — do anything. Nancy wasn’t relegated to the sidelines; she was the one leading the charge, usually in her cool roadster.

She wasn’t alone, though. By her side during most cases were her best chums, cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne. She also had a caring father, lawyer Carson Drew, and doting housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Last but certainly not least was her “special friend,” the dreamy Ned Nickerson. Any man who isn’t afraid to let his girlfriend take the reins gets an A+ in my book.

At 25, I’m part of the generation that was raised to believe that we could grow up to be whatever we wanted. I took that to heart, and here I am, living my professional dream. But times of course were different when Nancy made her first appearance. It wasn’t a girl’s world for the taking. That this amateur sleuth who put bad guys behind bars could show young women what they were capable of accomplishing was amazing. I’m not alone in my admiration for Ms. Drew. Some pretty awesome people are also fans, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor and Oprah Winfrey. Nancy Drew hasn’t just touched the lives of us American girls; her influence is global. Nancy Drew books are published in 25 languages, and have sold 200 million copies worldwide.

The books weren’t perfect in the beginning; they were marred by racial stereotypes of the day. I remember reading older copies and being shocked by the blatantly racist portrayal of minorities (who were, of course, the cleaning people, drivers, etc.). In the revisions the offensive material was taken out, but for those who have seen the originals, it’s a sad reminder of what used to be acceptable.

Some complain that the books are too contrived, formulaic and unbelievable. To those people, I give a polite but firm,  “Get over it.” These are works of fiction, marketed for young people. I’m not suggesting we dumb down books for children; that’s absurd and insulting. But what kid doesn’t want to read about adventures that are exciting, slightly implausible and a tad bit dangerous? For me, the best stories involved ghosts, spooky mansions and the occasional racketeer. That’s probably why my favorite Nancy Drew book was The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, chockful of séances, organ-playing phantoms, creepy crooks and a frightening trip to New Orleans that almost took our girl out for good. This made for a riveting read for an eight-year-old, and if I had my trusty copy with me, I’d crack it open right here and now as a tribute to Nancy.

I’m not the only one celebrating Nancy’s entrance into octogenarianism. Grosset & Dunlap released a limited edition, special 80th anniversary edition of The Secret of the Old Clock, on sale today. The cover is simple, with the familiar silhouette of Nancy, magnifying glass in hand. It looks modern, with a retro twist. Now I want to hear from you, Shelf Life readers. Who else is a Nancy Drew fan? Why did you love the books, and which one’s your favorite?

Comments (99 total) Add your comment
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  • rkor

    I was a big fan when I was 8-10 years old. I’ll always be grateful because one of the books introduced the concept of a blind date (which I thought meant the date was blind…). Good times!

    • Hardy Boys Fan

      Anyone remember the old Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew show from the mid 90s? – it was an hour long show with the first half hour was the Hardy Boys and the second was the Nancy Drew show. It lasted one season but it was pretty good and had an awesome theme song. I’ve tried to find it on youtube for the longest time.

      • Lisa

        and didn’t he have Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as the stars?

      • Beth

        You can find those on DVD now. I’ve got them in my queue on Netflix.

      • Hardy Boys Fan

        No, you guys are thinking of the show from the 70s, I am talking about the one from the 90s (~1995)where Frank worked for a newspaper and Joe was a college student, I think the show was made in Canada but they showed it in the U.S. on syndication.

      • Meg
      • Angela

        These first came out in 1978! I am so dating myself. You can get the original episodes on DVD.

      • dvelcro

        Big Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Fan, used to watch it on tv all the time as a matter of fact I have the first season or maybe the first 2 season on DVD, how fun is to see “hunky” Sean Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. But I love Nancy Drew books so much, I have the complete collection from the 1960’s, proudly displayed on my bookshelf. Happy Birthday Nancy Drew

  • Steph

    I was never into books as child, but I remember early in my teenage years I picked a Nancy Drew book up, I didn’t care if I was over the targetted age group, but I loved it.
    I agree,they weren’t perfect. But I felt I could relate to Nancy, while looking up to her- I wanted to be the famous girl detective, capable of being strong and wise.
    That was around 8 years ago, I’m 20 now, and I read the old classic books, I now they have a more “modern” series but I loved the classics. I have the whole series in my room still.
    Some with newer hard covers and some that I was very lucky to find at used bookstores, in their original but badly damaged covers, yet still keeping that smell of mystery.

    • Steph

      I forgot to add the titles of my top 2 favorite Nancy Drew books:
      The Hidden Staircase
      & The Password to Larkspur Lane

  • elena

    I adore Nancy Drew. She’s the inspiration for some of my favorite shows (Veronica Mars, to name one), and as a kid I totally dreamed of being a sleuth. Like you said, it was great entertainment as a kid. Nancy Drew was this calm, cool, collected role model I aspired to be like. Plus, Ned? Hello, dreamy! My favorite one is when she had to rescue Ned when he was kidnapped. Romance, suspense, and danger? What’s not to love?

  • banan

    Happy birthday Nancy! I loved every ND mystery I picked up, but my favourites were The Scarlet Slipper Mystery and Mystery at the Lilac Inn

  • SC

    I love Nancy Drew! I was introduced to it in elementary school by one of my teachers and I couldn’t stop reading them. I also grew up in the computer generation, so I had Nancy Drew computer games where I could try and solve the mysteries. I can’t believe how old the books are and how they are still popular today.

  • Diana

    LOVED Nancy Drew as a kid, and still do…I collected all 56 of the original mysteries, and those yellow covers still have pride of place on the bookshelf in my childhood room.

    “The Secret of Mirror Bay” is definitely my all-time favourite!

  • kittyra

    OMG, I LOVED my Nancy Drew books!! I remember “The Secret of Shadow Ranch” (I was always horse-mad as a kid) & “The Whispering Statue” being particular favorites. Even as a young girl, the idea of her having so much relative independence and freedom (not to mention intelligence & good old-fashioned “moxie”/sass/chutzpah/whatever you want to call it) always resonated with me & inspired me. Happy birthday Nancy!

  • Kal

    I liked when Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys teamed up for the super mysteries.

  • Katja

    This is going to sound lame, but I always liked the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys supermysteries! And I will always remember how one ND book (no idea what the title was) described Bess as looking really cool because she was wearing an outfit consisting of neon pink, neon green, and orange clothes. I am assuming it was written or re-released in the good old ’80s…but it still makes me laugh. Anyways, I need to go back and find my old books and reread them, because I have a horrible memory and can’t even remember any of the plots.

    • Katja

      I failed to explain the “lame” part of that statement – I just feel guilty that I liked her better when she was working with the boys. I feel like I ought to be all about girl power, but I really liked the Hardy Boys (I thought Joe seemed smokin’ hot). Nonetheless, go Nancy!

  • Hillary

    I loved both Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries, I remember when my mom picked up about forty (nearly the whole Trixie series) at a garage sale for a nickel each. I spent a whole summer vacation back in 1983 reading them. I’ve often wondered if ten year olds now would like them or just wonder why no one was texting . . . I also adored the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.

    • Hillary

      Does anyone remember the Nancy Drew show from the 80’s? and the occasional cross overs with the hunky Hardby boys played by Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson?

      • Kim

        I do remember the show from the 80’s.. and I was disappointed that Pamela Sue Martin (I believe was the actress) had dark brown hair when it should have been strawberry blonde or “titan”. I loved the Nancy Drew books and I moved on to Trixie Beldon books.

    • Fridge

      I totally loved the Trixie Belden series! I think I was more partial to Trixie because she was a little rough around the edges and not the blonde perfection Nancy was.

  • Ali

    When my sister and I were growing up, my mom would read her favorite books to us before bedtime. The Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew were always in constant rotation. I loved them then and I love them now. One memory I have is of reading about Mortimer Beltiscue (sp?) and his “roving eye”…my sister and I though that meant he popped his eye out and let it roll all over the floor.

  • Lisa

    I LOVE NANCY DREW! I remember reading The Secret of the Old Clock in second grade and my favorite is The Crooked Bannister. These are classics and I am fortunate to have read and own the originals.
    I also remember the TV show with Pamela Sue Martin and the Hardy Boys Mysteries with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. It was a great way to see the books come to life. Those were the days! Happy Birthday Nancy Drew!

  • Allison

    Loved my ND books – couldn’t wait to buy new ones each week. I recently sold them all – no daughters to pass them onto – and now I’m a bit wistful that I did. Hope young girls today read them and are inspired, too. Also, loved the series with Pamela Sue Martin.

  • Cooley Horner

    I loved “The Mystery at Lilac Inn,” but then I loved just about all of them. :)

  • trashytvlover

    Loved Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Cherry Ames books….

    • Kaiulani

      I totally forgot about Cherry Ames!

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