Not Me: Speluncaphobia, Secrets and Hidden Treasure
(Macavity and Me Mystery)
by Charlotte Stuart
Nancy Drew 2.0
by Charlotte Stuart
Our local chapter of Sisters in Crime recently had a flash fiction theme of “Nancy Drew at 70.” It was great fun thinking about what her life might have been like once she got beyond being a teenage sleuth. In writing my own version of her life at 70, I not only went back and looked at some of the original books from my childhood, I did some research on the series. Two things stand out for me: the incredible impact the series had on a generation of women, and how much the culture has changed since I first read these books.
It’s amazing how many women speak fondly of the hours spent with Nancy Drew mysteries. Not surprising, female writers of mysteries credit the books with hooking them on the genre. But most fans say the books encouraged them to be unconventional and independent. This includes U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Nancy Pelosi remembers being proud that her name was Nancy. Hillary Clinton liked that Nancy Drew was such a “go getter” and “really smart.” Diane Sawyer was thankful that Nancy offered an alternative to the Barbie Dolls and Donna Reed images of the 60s.
Nancy Drew was also praised by diverse fans such as Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Streisand and first lady Laura Bush. They all found some inspiration in the sixteen-year-old who drove a blue roadster, explored dark and creepy places, caught criminals and wasn’t afraid of anything. A generation of young girls collected as many books as they could, dreamed of being like her, and lived vicariously through her adventures.
More than 80 million copies have been sold over the years. But the Nancy Drew of today is not the Nancy Drew of 1930. Her views on race have changed, she aged a few years before eventually becoming an adult, she now has a diverse set of friends, has had a number of romantic encounters, and her hometown of River Heights has become less racist. There was even talk of a tv series featuring a non-white Nancy, but the pilot was never picked up.
A lot of readers still prefer the original books and argue that you can excuse the racism and lack of diversity as a product of the time. In the same way fans of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn admit the book may be racist but a product of its era. Like one of my favorites, Arthur Upfield’s detective series featuring Napoleon (Boney) Bonaparte, a half-aboriginal detective. Boney first appeared in 1929, and the views of aborigines have definitely changed since then. But the Australian outback and clever plots still retain their appeal. Which brings me to the question: How do you handle changing cultural expectations as a reader and as an author?
Many have suggested that what these older books need is a foreword in which there is a discussion of the book’s historical context. Since the past did exist, I understand the argument. At the same time, there is the possibility that repetition of past stereotypes may simply serve to reinforce them. If you read or hear something over and over, it leaves an imprint somewhere in your subconscience.
When I was working on my dissertation, I used a model to break it into three sections, including one labeled “concept of man.” My dissertation chair suggested I change it to “concept of humanity.” Initially I argued that “everyone” used the phrase “concept of man,” and the other didn’t sound right. My chair suggested that I repeat “concept of humanity” over and over and eventually it would sound just fine. He was right. And I am grateful that a third of my dissertation is not categorized by a label that linguistically leaves out women.
Another way to look at this issue is to consider what the reader “remembers” from favorite books like these. I loved Nancy’s “sass” and adventurous spirit and wasn’t thinking about diversity or racial stereotypes. I was fascinated by Huck’s river adventure and Boney’s Australian landscape. The question then comes back to whether a forward providing the cultural context of the time in which the books were written takes away the taint of former prejudices. New Nancy Drew adventures bring the cultural norms up-to-date. But you can’t do that with Mark Twain or Arthur Upfield because their books are in a time capsule with no one adding to their works.
I wish I knew the answer to the questions I’ve posed. In general, I’m against censorship of literature. But I’m also aware that books have an impact. As readers, we have an obligation to challenge stereotypes and make sure we don’t subconsciously fall prey to them. And as an author, I try to show respect for the people and cultures I write about. But language standards change, and events can color attitudes.
With the expansion of online book sales and proliferation of bookstores, girls today have a lot more options to choose from. It isn’t surprising that a single heroine no longer lays claim to an entire generation of fans. Although Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games trilogy currently top the list of most admired.
In conclusion, I’ve forgiven the Nancy Drew of my childhood for behaviors that would never be tolerated today, but I remain uncertain about how to handle the issue. I’m glad more recent Nancy Drew mysteries have been updated. But I don’t want earlier versions to be banned. In the end, I believe that we will find ways to acknowledge the past without necessarily approving of it.
About Not Me!
Not Me: Speluncaphobia, Secrets and Hidden Treasure (Macavity and Me Mystery)
3rd in Series
Setting – Seattle (where the protagonist lives), Vancouver BC, and a trip up the Inside Passage
Taylor and Seale Publishing (July 29, 2022)
Paperback : 242 pages
ISBN-10 : 1940224225
ISBN-13 : 978-1940224220
Digital ASIN : B0B8187514
Aztec gold artifacts from the 16th Century, a fake treasure map, and cryptic clues leading to a cave in the Canadian wilderness—
• Feuding family members
• A suspicious death and surfeit of suspects
• A sailboat trip up the Inside Passage and . . . a stowaway cat
Two cousins get together to investigate the death of a favorite uncle and to honor his legacy by fulfilling his dream to recover Aztec gold. They are thwarted in their efforts by greedy family members, a jumble of challenging clues, a prank from the grave, and unscrupulous treasure seekers.
What begins with a letter from the deceased leads to a wilderness adventure and ends with revealed secrets and a confession.
About Charlotte Stuart
Charlotte Stuart PhD is an award-winning mystery writer who got her start in academia, left a tenured faculty position to go commercial fishing in Alaska, spent a frustrating year as a political speech writer, enjoyed time as a management consultant, and survived several years as a VP of HR and training.
Her current passion is for writing mysteries with complex characters and twisty plots. Books in her Macavity & Me Mysteries have won a Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, a gold Global Ebook Award, and a Firebird Book Award for humor. Two were NYC Big Book Distinguished Favorites, one was a finalist in Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion contest, and Not Me! is currently a finalist in the Chanticleer Mystery and Mayhem competition.
Charlotte lives and writes on Vashon Island in the Pacific Northwest and is the past president of the Puget Sound Sisters in Crime.
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