Slick new image for good old Nancy Drew. Old-fashioned girl sleuth gets a trendy makeover
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``Instead of Nancy knowing all the time what has to be done, she experiences doubts, mulls things over,'' Greenberg says. ``We've taken a little bit of perfection away to give her more dimensions and make her more human.''Skip to next paragraph
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But so far, the emphasis on character relationships seems more important than intricately designed plots and escapes. The first two books have nothing nearly as satisfying as Nancy's escape in the ``The Silver Cobweb,'' (No. 71), where she gets herself out of a locked warehouse. She focuses the magnifying glass (that she just happened to be carrying in her purse) on a sunbeam which ignites a crumpled piece of paper. That sets off the fire alarm, which brings the firemen and rescue. Books later in the series promise more hair-raising escapes, says Greenberg; The Nancy Drew Files number 8 will have an ingenious escape from a sauna.
There's more emphasis on violence in the new series: The first four books have murder, killing, or deadly in the title, something rarely if ever seen in the old titles. ``There's definitely more menace in the new series,'' Greenberg says. ``Since the old ones came out, so many things have been done on TV and in movies, I don't think we'd be convincing if these books were as tame as they used to be.''
The girl who can pull a plane out of a spin, (``The Sky Phantom'') follow a trail into a slimy, spider-infested celler, (``The Secret in the Old Attic'') and climb the face of a rock (``Broken Anchor'') -- tame?
Well, sometimes, yes. The scary stuff was often too easily explainable, the language stilted. No one ever said the series was great literature; libraries looked down on the books, considering their plots formulaic and mediocre. The New York Public Library didn't even carry them until the mid-70s.
The mysteries were churned out by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a kind of fiction factory run by prolific writer Edward Stratemeyer, who created 70 different series, including ``The Hardy Boys,'' the ``Bobbsey Twins,'' and ``Tom Swift.''
Under various pseudonyms, (Carolyn Keene, for the Nancy Drew books), he would create the plot outline and farm out the fleshing out to a stable of writers. Upon his death, his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams continued the Nancy Drew series until her death in 1982.
The Nancy Drew series was written to a precise formula: Grab 'em on the first page (``Bang!'') keep the middle a mixture of suspense, adventure, and humor, and make the chapter endings cliff-hangers (``Hannah Gruen was lying motionless on the floor!'').
Mr. Stratemeyer's quoted motto was, ``I've found out what my audience likes, and I'm going to give it to them.'' The result -- more than 60 million books sold in 56 years -- was a series that attempted to reflect its times and audience.
The current changes are nothing new; the series has been updated all along. Dialogue, hairstyles, and fashions have been updated periodically, and anti-Semitic and racist stereotypes have been removed. In the late '50s, Adams and gang began to rewrite the earlier books, bringing them up to date, so much so that sometimes only the title was the same as the original.
The new series employs all new writers. Simon & Schuster, which had the paperback rights to the series since 1979, bought the entire Stratemeyer Syndicate operation in 1984.
``The Nancy Drew marketing campaign is just beginning,'' says Buehl. ``It's a big market. Young adult books account for millions and millions of copies in paper backs.''