Author: Carolyn Keene
Recently having acquired a nearly complete, vintage set (from my favorite era, the 1950s) of the Nancy Drew novels, I was ready to recapture the beauty and innocence of my childhood which was spent glued to Nancy Drew’s mysteries and L.M. Montgomery’s romances. The vintage copy that I have, and the copy that is currently published, refers to the re-writes of the series (originally started in 1930) which presented a more toned down, law abiding, non-pistol packing, and extremely proper Nancy. The other edition, the 1930s original, can still be found and located, although I admit that I haven’t read and cannot specifically speak to the 30s rendition, other than to say that it certainly makes Nancy sound more independent and strong and a little less clichéd. Also, she’s 16 in the originals and enormously rich, whereas in the ‘50s rendition she is reasonably affluent and 18.
In the first Nancy Drew mystery, Nancy teams with her lawyer father, Carson Drew, to solve a will dispute where wealthy, unscrupulous relatives have forced the late Josiah Crawley to leave his entire fortune to them and disown his poor yet kind relatives. It seems, however, that Josiah was too cunning and many speculate that there is a later, hidden will. After meeting Josiah’s needy friends and relatives, Nancy is drawn into the intrigue and wants to help find the final will even if that means confronting the wealthy heirs and some furniture thieves along the way.
Even back in my childhood (I suppose I was around 8 or 9 when I first read this book), The Secret of the Old Clock was never my favorite Nancy mystery. It starts fairly slowly and the complexity of the mystery is straightforward. Everyone is poor, happy to tell you about it, and unwisely willing to open their hearts and personal problems to a young girl, which even at 8 made them sound weird or like mooches to me who constantly go around asking for a hand out and talking about how poor and devastated they are unless they expect the unsuspecting listener to dump so much needed cash in their laps. However, this is mostly done to highlight the good characters, the poor but kind neighbors, from the bad characters, the graceless and vitriolic Tophams, and creates a cozy atmosphere in that everything is straightforward and our sympathies are elicited for the characters that most deserve it.
The ‘50s mode, while cool in that Nancy has a gorgeous 50s car (illustrations are included), can make things seem a little stiflingly proper at times and too clean cut (Nancy always has time to be perfect); her strong independence is not lost, even in the toned down retelling. Nancy investigates on her own, tracks down potentially dangerous people (surprisingly with the okay of her father), and is able to change car tires, escape closets, accost thieves, fix boats, and be feminine all at the same time. Not a bad message for your girls. Nancy is strong, intelligent, and a well-rounded young women. I can only wonder what the 1930s version must have also included that was lost due to editing.
The Secret of the Old Clock is actually a quick read and a fairly straight forward mystery. The series becomes more complex as readers get involved, but the first book presents a straight forward and easily solved plot that still puts Nancy in some danger and allows her to use her quick intelligence and know how. The writing is simple, easy for young readers, yet well done and descriptive, catching a bygone era as well, adding a layer of nostalgia. I simply can’t go on enough about the pictures of Nancy in her beautiful behemoth of a ‘50s convertible or the relative freedom the world seemed to offer then before all the news programs and a world so terrifying that children and young adults no longer feel safe to wonder in their own neighborhood and explore for themselves.
I have many fond memories of reading the Nancy Drew series and even as an adult still enjoy returning to the cozy remembrances of my childhood that the books create. Perfect to spark children’s imaginations with mysteries that are child-friendly (i.e. no murders, nothing gruesome that a parent could object to), The Secret of the Old Clock begins a mystery series that has been beloved to generations of readers. Highly recommended.
- Frances Carden