I was excited to recently acquire a 1941 copy of a Nancy Drew mystery, Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion. For some time now (especially after reading Girl Sleuth) I’ve been immensely curious about the differences between the original Nancy Drews and the revised editions done starting in the 1960s. Why were they rewritten? What changed? Which would I like better? So I did some sleuthing of my own by reading the two editions of Moss-Covered Mansion back to back.
I read the 1941 original first. I enjoyed it for the most part (its unconscious details of daily life back then, such as how cars and telephones worked, were helpful for my own story!). It involved an isolated mansion in the woods with shady goings-on, a missing heiress, and a hostile troublemaker. It had twists and turns and red herrings, and I was able to guess a couple of the solutions at the same pace as Nancy Drew, which is always fun. Nancy was clever and delightful. But the mystery plot didn’t seem very tight; Ned Nickerson, Nancy’s boyfriend, made a rather pointless, one-time token appearance; George and Bess, her friends, were paper dolls and completely interchangeable; and the sensibilities toward heritages other than white American were definitely pre-Civil Rights.
So I must admit I liked the 1971 revised edition more. The mystery was completely different – it hardly involved any of the same characters, and the only thing the two books really had in common was the mysterious moss-covered mansion inhabited by wild animals, which concealed two totally different things. (It was interesting to note a couple of “nods” to the original in the 1971, such as a fire, an airplane crash landing, and an impersonator.) It wasn’t the mysteries, though, that made up my mind, because both were good; it was more the characters, structure, and writing.
The newer Nancy Drew seemed more modest and approachable somehow – she’s the girl detective I grew up loving. She didn’t leave Bess and George so far in the dust; they really helped her, and each was a more defined character – bold, Judo-flipping George (I love George almost as much as Nancy) and timid, girly Bess. Having interesting sidekicks made Nancy herself more interesting because of their contrasting personalities. Ned Nickerson was a partner who served a definite purpose in solving the mystery. The story was shorter and more streamlined, and all the action seemed more to the point. No ethnicities were demeaned. I’m a lover of detailed, educational settings in novels, and this one was set in a real place – Merritt Island, Florida, which contains the Kennedy Space Center.
So there’s my honest opinion. In conclusion, this Nancy Drew nerd wants to say: The two are very different books and they each have their own charms – they’re time capsules of two different eras, after all! I’m very glad I read both. And I’m just comparing two editions of one mystery – every other pair will have to be considered in its own right. (Whether I’ll be able to do that myself remains to be seen!)
Have you read the two versions of Nancy Drew? Which do you like better?