Only a few pop culture characters have maintained a constant allure for decades following their introduction. Nancy Drew is among them. She’s been an influential figure in YA literature since her first publication in 1930. Now, the iconic teen detective takes the spotlight again, in the March 15 release NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE.
The new movie is based on the second “Nancy Drew” book, but it’s a story that has been updated several times — and the regular process of refreshing the tale has helped Nancy stay current. With IT star Sophia Lillis in the role of the intrepid investigator, here’s how NANCY DREW remains a powerfully relevant force.
Decades of Cultural Impact
Nancy Drew was initially created as a female counterpart to the popular “Hardy Boys” characters. It didn’t take long for her popularity to rival that of those young boys, however. The first phase of the “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories” series, featuring 56 novels, ran from 1930 to 1979. The series changed publishers more than once, and by the time it ran its course in 2003, there were 175 novels. Other series have kept the character in publication since then.
Though credited to Carolyn Keene, that name is a pseudonym that stands in for a variety of ghostwriters. “Hardy Boys” creator Edward Stratemeyer came up with the idea of a 16-year-old sleuth and her lawyer father, and his daughter, Harriet Adams, generated many plots and edited most of the first 56 novels. Mildred Benson wrote 23 of the first 30 “Nancy Drew” books and is largely responsible for the adventurous, somewhat unruly first incarnation of the character.
Revision and Evolution
Part of the reason behind the character’s constant popularity is that she was never allowed to become stale. The collective that generated her first novels ensured that no single voice dominated a Nancy Drew story — and yet, the books always felt distinctly like part of the series. Different cover artists helped keep Nancy current from one decade to the next, too.
In the ’50s, Harriet Adams started revising some of the early novels. That process continued through the ’60s and ’70s. Nancy became a bit more nice and less aggressive, but she also was described in more detail, and the stories had more action.
Nancy Drew’s popularity in literature led to adventures in other media. There have been movies, TV shows and comic books featuring Nancy, such as the 1970s ABC series “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries,” featuring Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy, and the 2007 film NANCY DREW, starring Emma Roberts (above.) These all helped ensure that the character kept evolving, and as a result, Nancy has inspired many generations of young women.
The New Generation
As a heroine, Nancy Drew is arguably more relevant than ever. She’s synonymous with girl power. The investigator is independent, determined and proactive. She earns respect. NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE has the potential to invite the next generation of fans to meet a new hero.
Unlike the 1939 movie, which made radical changes to the plot, NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE maintains many elements of both the ’30s and ’50s revisions of the novel, while tweaking a few details to further modernize the character. The new movie should be an ideal starting point for young audiences.
As she skateboards through the small town of River Heights, where she and her father (Sam Trammell) have just moved, Nancy pursues one type of justice a bit too aggressively. To some people, that actually makes her a hero and leads to a mystery plaguing Twin Elms mansion, which in turn connects to a host of other questions about life in River Heights. The question isn’t whether or not Nancy Drew can solve the mystery — it’s only what she’ll do next.
NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE comes to AMC on March 15.