Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 9: Nancy Drew

Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 9: Nancy Drew

A detective girl. There’s something about those words that makes me think in terms of enjoyable literature. Breathless moments. Clues uncovered. Treasures discovered. And there’s something wonderful about naivete and innocence meeting evil head on, and kicking its ass. It’s detective work that combines solving a mystery with solving the mysteries of growing up. It’s a whole different game than Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, or the Continental Op (other favorites of mine, to be sure) and I suppose it speaks to the time when I was myself first having adventures in my head, when I was a young boy running all over my little section of Iowa and dreaming my stories of how the local graveyard had the grave of a 16th century pirate, and how there were tunnels beneath the woods that would stretch for miles, tunnels constructed by bootleggers, with all their ill-gotten riches hidden behind secret doors and their ghosts roaming the corridors. It was a time for me when adventures were always lurking, when everyone was having affairs with foreign spies (I wasn’t real sure what having an affair meant, to be honest) and when every slip of paper I saw floating in the wind was almost undoubtedly a treasure map or a plea for help tossed from the barred window where a certain woman was being kept… said certain women either being a Russian heiress or else Liz, from my math class, who made me feel happy even though I hated her, or perhaps I hated her even though she made me happy. I was so confused.

Anyway, for me, Nancy Drew is at the forefront of the girl detective / adventurous youth genre. I enjoy “girl detective” over “teen detective” for a number of reasons, chiefly that a girl detective is more likely to live by her wits. Also, boys are stinky and girls are pretty. Mystery solved. Case closed.

Just LOOK at all the places that adventure is lurking! From ruined riverboats to abandoned houses and buried Aztec treasures. But then there's just plain ol' basements, beaches, and in the living room next to the record player. That's what I like about Nancy Drew, is that some of the mysteries are small, and some of them huge, but ALL of them needed solving with the application of courage and pluck and a simple but effective wardrobe.

If I was a girl, this is exactly how I would dress and accessorize. As it is, I'll just go bald and glance at the note I have written on my wrist, reminding me not to scratch myself in public.

If this was for a boy detective the images would be of guns, knives, a compass, a noose, barbed wire, an attack dog, three bottles of liquor and a coded note that reveals the password to BoobsAreNoLongerAMystery.com

Kicking it, Nancy Drew style.

An unfortunate look at how, from my opinion, Nancy's tastes in clothes have degenerated over the years. Sadly, it's a reflection of the rest of society. Also... fuck you, 1990's.Â

Now THAT'S how a lady detective should dress, dammit!

My love for Kate Beaton's comic strips is well-documented. I'll be dropping in a few of her Nancy Drew strips in this post. You should all go over to Kate's website and read it and laugh and buy her "Hark, a Vagrant" book.

Kate’s website can be found… here.

This parody joke thing is a bit too close to the truth. I LOVE the girl detective genre, and the girl-adventurer, or girl reporter, and so on... but I only love them when the characters are dynamic and brash and brainy. Too many times, though, the characters are portrayed as helpless / frail girls caught up in events that their poor little minds just cannot comprehend. Nancy Drew has been written in both ways over the years.

Edward Stratemeyer, the man who created the Hardy Boys, but then wanted to sell as many books to the ladies, so he then created Nancy Drew, an instant success. Good ol' Edward was definitely in it more for the money, as he wasn't all that enamored of women out in the world. Dames belong in the home, don'tcha know.

I still think the early days of Nancy are the best. She was as talented as any boy, and as brash and daring as anyone on the planet. And I love this classic art. In later volumes, Nancy's personality would undergo revisions, so that sometimes she was far more passive, simply falling into mysteries and having them (oh gosh, let's HOPE!) work out by luck. In the early stories, though, and in some time periods since then, she was far more apt to solve the crime by herself, even if that meant taking the tiger by the tail. In fact, she HOPED she could take that tiger by the tail.

Whoops! Bondage. I like how the two people in the porthole are looking in at Nancy with expressions of, "Horrors! Young ladies these days!"

Stratemeyer created Nancy Drew, as I mentioned, coming up with her name (chosen from other possibilities, such as Stella Strong and Diana Drew) and crafted the first few basic story outlines, but it was Mildred Wirth Benson who actually wrote the majority of the early books. Like all subsequent Nancy Drew authors, Mildred used the pen name of Carolyn Keene.

Mildred during her career, with a few of the many books she wrote.

On the left is Harriet Adams, the daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, who was responsible for writing some of Nancy's adventures, and also for editing the great number of them. A fantastic history of Nancy's origins is in the book on the right.

Another Kate Beaton strip. Love that guy's eyes in the final panel.

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew... not only both created by Edward Sratemeyer, but all three of them finalist in the fluffiest hair world finals.

A modern look at Nancy Drew. Who owns Nancy these days? I could probaly be talked into writing a comic book version, depending on the artist I could work with.

There's a whole series of Nancy Drew video games. Tempted. Very tempted.

Just LOOK at all those clues! I would RAMPAGE my way through this room, finding clues like a BOSS.

As always, love is the greatest mystery of them all.

Like I mentioned before, I think Nancy accessorizes in a way that lends itself towards mystery. This doll doesn't come with a gun. It comes with a flashlight so that Nancy can find things in the dark, and it comes with a magnifying glass so that she can better understand what she has found. There's no gun, or poison, or portable shark. This means the story is going to be about adventure, and about character, which is more fascinating to me in a mystery story.

Another of the early printings. Love her outfit, and the simple suspense. Probably one of the reasons I like "teen" stories is because it removes the sex aspect. You can't dress Nancy Drew like Powergirl. You can't say, "She's in tenth grade and DAMN that's a fine ass!" So... with that removed, the mystery can have more focus, the adventure becomes key. Don't get me wrong, I also like stories about women with alluring rumps and my editors have nominated me for the "Writer for whom I'll most likely need to edit out some pervy moment" award... it's just that it's nice, sometimes, to read a simple story about teen adventurers.

Nancy Drew cosplay. Sweater. Skirt. Flashlight. Done.

Nancy done got all design-y. Love the image, but I'm glad this isn't who Nancy Drew is. I like her as a simple girl, the everyday character that we can all aspire to, as luck as we have a bit of brains, courage, and pluck. Also, I couldn't BEAR to be seen with that purse, and I can't walk in heels.

And now we ALL have that song going through our heads.

Here's where it all began for Nancy. An old clock. And a secret. I like this image because it gives another look at how Nancy changed over the years.

One last image by the incomparable Kate Beaton.

You’re almost done with my blog post, so you might as well go to Kate’s.

That's it for now. Couldn't resist putting in this poster for a bookstore event. I think it's really well done, and encapsulates everyhting that Nancy Drew literature stands for: a pretty young girl, brash enough to seek out the mystery, because she simply has to KNOW.


#25: Scarlet Witch

#24: Chance Falconer

#23: Vampirella

#22: Tigra

#21: Jean Grey

#20: Kitty Pryde

#19: Janet van Dyne

#18: Mary Jane Watson

#17: Hermione Granger

#16: Death

#15: Modesty Blaise

#14: Black Widow

#13: Sue Storm

#12: Fantomette

#11: Millie (the Model) Collins

#10a: Blonde Phantom

#10b: Betty & Veronica

#10c: Lois Lane

#10: Wonder Woman

#9: Nancy Drew


I’ve been thinking about women, lately. Women characters in comics. Women creators in comics. Female characters in literature. And pretty girls riding around on bicycles or walking along the sidewalk, etc, etc. Because of this, I’ve decided to make An Entirely Useless List. Why is it entirely useless? Because it’s my top 25 female characters from comics and literature, and such lists change at whim and at a breakneck pace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to quantify favorites… the term favorite is far too malleable. A list of my best friends from high school, for instance, would not include anyone with whom I’m currently in contact. Times change. Still… I’m making the list. Why? I suppose I just like thinking about women.


Filed under Uncategorized

4 Responses to Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 9: Nancy Drew

  1. Dean

    Nancy Drew knows that you have to style it up as a girl detective in France, or they won’t take you seriously, and the gendarmes will chortle through their moustaches.

    Also, does the “Writer for whom I’ll most likely need to edit out some pervy moment” award come with a statuette? If so, of what? 🙂

  2. Paul Tobin

    I… cough cough, wouldn’t know, of course, but I believe the “pervy writer” award comes with a statuette of a chortling Frenchman twirling his mustache.

  3. I just wanted to say I loved your page. I am a serious fangirl of Nancy Drew.

    If you love the character, you’ll LOVE the games. I’ve played almost every computer game that’s been put out, and HerInteractive does a great job of bringing the book world to life.


    P.S. My answering machine message on my phone is the same as hers in the game. I only called “myself” through the game 15 times to get it right.

    I’m a bit obsessive. >.>

  4. Paul Tobin

    Nice! I really have been wondering about those games. No Nancy Drew fans have stepped forward, before now, to give a review. That’s awesome about you making that answering machine message. I used to love doing things like that with answering machines, but now my cell phone just has the generic message. Boring. I think you’ve inspired me to try to get that changed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.