“Nancy, what are you thinking about? You’ve been so quiet,” said George Fayne, a thin short-haired girl who was proud of her boy’s name.
“Yes, Nancy, what’s going on?” chimed in George’s cousin, Bess Marvin, a blond girl who was always talking about going on a diet. “Tell us!”
Nancy, a pretty eighteen-year-old with strawberry colored hair and blue eyes, looked away from the window out of which she had been staring. I’m thinking that I’m tired of playing this game, thought Nancy Drew. It’s the same thing, book after book, chapter after chapter, word after word. Even the introductions of each character is the same! Bess is pretty but plump, George is thin but a tomboy, my father is handsome but a widower. And what am I? Who am I? I am Nancy Drew, famous girl detective, but what does that mean? I figure out unsolvable mysteries, get myself into all sorts of dangerous situations, but how difficult can that really be if I always seem to have unexpected help from the most unlikely places, if I am never actually put in any seriously violent scenarios, and if the answer can always be found in the first chapter? Who is Nancy Drew and why do people always expect so much of me?
But Nancy was too polite to say all of this. She was a strong, determined girl but knew better than to force her opinions on others. Instead, she turned to her friends and said with that familiar mischievous twinkle in her eye, “I’m just thinking about a new mystery!”
This excerpt is a warped version of how a typical Nancy Drew mystery could begin. While the character’s existential crisis is an obvious spoof, the rest of the above passage could have plausibly been in one of these mystery books. George is always described as proud of her boy’s name. Bess is always in need of a diet. And Nancy is always pretty, smart, and looking out for everyone’s best interests. The formula in a Nancy Drew book never wavers, because that is what it is: a formula.
The Nancy Drew book series was part of a book packager which produced children’s stories, known as the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Responsible for such successes as the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, the Stratemeyer Syndicate produced Nancy Drew under the same guidelines that dictated the other books. The Syndicate stipulated that each book would be part of a series, which would all be written under the same pseudonym, each chapter would stop in the middle of an intense situation, and the characters could never age or marry. With such guidelines, each of the books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, especially Nancy Drew, ended up being quite formulaic. Nancy Drew stumbles upon a mystery, and with the help of her friends, she eventually triumphs over evil, never encountering serious danger herself. The outcome in all of these books are always the same. Yet Nancy herself is described by many as a feminist icon. Here is a girl who is strong, smart and determined, and always manages to save herself. However, one thing she cannot save herself from is this Stratemeyer formula and this ultimately diminishes her capability as a true feminist figure.