The Secret of the Old Clock

Nancy Drew CoverFrom the books of my childhood to the books of my tween years (a word, incidentally, that did not exist when I was that age).

What did Carolyn Keene do right?

I recall may hours spent reading “just one more chapter.” Keene had the chapter-ending hook down to a science.

I recently re-read The Secret of the Old Clock. My memory had not failed me about the tension-building aspect of the Nancy Drew books. I found myself getting mildly anxious as Nancy found herself in dangerous situations . . . and all before the days of cell phones to call for help, I might add.

While I don’t typically point out the flaws in the books I review, many things struck me as I began to re-read this classic.

1. Writers today are discouraged from using adverbs. We are to keep the -ly words to a minimum.

There are over two dozen such words in the first chapter of  The Secret of the Old Clock alone. Obviously, some rules change over time.

2. The rule that we are to show rather than tell goes back a long way. These days, there is much talk about deep point of view, taking the principle even further.

The Nancy Drew series was written long before this was stressed. Though Keene does a good job of staying in her protagonist’s point of view, it is far from the deep POV of today.

3. Dialogue must sound natural.

While I may be “a woman of a certain age,” I was not around in the 1930s when the first books in the series were written. I do not know exactly how people spoke back then, but I’m certain it wasn’t quite the way it is in the book.

4. As writers, we are to “tell the truth.” Even though we can invent entire new worlds – entire new universes, even – we must stick within established parameters . . . even if we create those parameters.

This book would definitely fit into the entertainment category rather than the realistic category. (What father allows his 18-year-old daughter to track down potentially violent criminals on her own?) In general, implausibility – even within expanded parameters – is frowned upon in the 21st century.

With all that said, our local library still carries the Nancy Drew series and keeps it in the Popular Series section. 

Keene’s writings are approaching their 100 year anniversary and even today’s most popular authors may not find a place in bookstores and on library shelves a century from now.

While I don’t get the same nostalgic stirrings that I do when I think back to the P.D. Eastman and Little Golden Books, the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories are a well-loved part of days gone by.

Did you read Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? What do you remember about them?


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