Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, August 8, 2008


THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF NANCY DREW AND THE HARDY BOYS. Carole Kismaric & Marvin Heiferman. Simon and Schuster;

While other juvenile mystery series fell by the wayside, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys have been consistently published for around seventy years! This engaging volume, packed with cover facsimiles and other photos, looks at the creation of the three detectives, the Stratemeyer syndicate that packaged them, some of the ghost writers of the various books, how the books were revised over the years, and the various ways that Nancy and Frank and Joe Hardy have been reinvented and repackaged over the years to keep them interesting and relevant to teens of all ages. Along the way there are sidebars looking at how teenagers steadily grew into an identity and demographic (and sales force to reckon with) all their own -- until now everything seems geared to teenagers. There is also some discussion of the old Nancy Drew movies starring Bonita Granville as Nancy, and the various TV series devoted to the characters, beginning with the serialization of The Hardy Boys' first book The Tower Treasure (as The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure) on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1956.

If there's any problem with the book it's that one senses the authors' were not particular fans of the series they're writing about, which makes the book an interesting collection of info and anecdotes that is, unfortunately, devoid of a certain personal enthusiasm. (And a smart copy-editor certainly should have flagged a line wherein the authors lump homosexuality in with other "nightmares" of modern life such as "divorce and teen suicide.")

While there have been many, many new adventures of Nancy and the Hardys in various formats, the original (revised) books are still available in hardcover from Grosset and Dunlap (everything else is published by Simon and Schuster). The original stories (before the revisions) can be found in used bookstores and on ebay or The best of these include (for The Hardy Boys): Hunting for Hidden Gold, The Sinister Sign Post, A Figure in Hiding, The Twisted Claw, The Mystery of the Flying Express, The Wailing Siren Mystery, The Clue in the Embers, The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, The Clue of the Screeching Owl, and The Haunted Fort. [NOTE: Some of the earlier titles have been completely rewritten and have entirely different storylines.] Above-average Nancy Drew titles include The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, Mystery of the Tolling Bell, and Password to Larkspur Lane.

As the book relates, some fans were outraged at the streamlining and updating of the books in the 50's to 60's. While it's true that some books and characterizations lost a bit of flavor (the intrepid Nancy Drew, sort of an early feminist heroine, was toned down a bit, and the Hardy Boys' delightful Aunt Gertrude lost a bit of her pepper) and that some of the new storylines were pretty bad, it's also true that the streamlining cut out some dull, meandering passages and some of the revised stories were an improvement over dumb and dated originals rife with racist stereotypes. Deciding whether it's the original story or the revised/new version which is better has to be done on a book by book basis.

NOTE: Other juvenile/young adult mystery series of note include the Ken Holt series by Bruce Campbell (The Secret of Skeleton Island is the first and best) and the Rick Brant science-adventure (and mystery) series by John Blaine, including The Rocket's Shadow and The Lost City. These series did not survive past the late sixties/early seventies, more's the pity.

Verdict: For the inner child in you. ***.

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