Saturday, January 26, 2008

Betty Gordon - The Prototype for Trixie Belden

In the past, I have read comments that Betty Gordon and her friends Bobby and Libbie are prototypes for Nancy, Bess, and George of the Nancy Drew series. While this is true to an extent, I see Betty Gordon more as a prototype for Trixie Belden. As I read the first book, Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm, I was especially struck by several strong similarities to the Trixie Belden series. I continue to notice similarities as I now read the sixth book, Betty Gordon at Ocean Park.

In Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm, Betty goes to stay at Bramble Farm, which is run by a mean old miser, Mr. Peabody. Mr. Peabody keeps a poorhouse boy, Bob Henderson, whom he beats ruthlessly. Betty and Bob become close friends and decide to run away from Bramble Farm.

In the Trixie Belden series, Trixie Belden lives on a farm named Crabapple Farm. Additionally, in Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, a mean old miser, Mr. Frayne, lives near Trixie's home. Mr. Frayne's nephew, Jim Frayne, shows up on the Frayne property looking for his uncle. Jim has run away from home in order to escape from his cruel stepfather who beats him. This makes Jim the victim of cruelty just like Bob Henderson. It is also hinted at times that Trixie is Jim's special girl. Likewise, I get the impression that Betty Gordon and Bob Henderson may eventually be more than just friends.

Betty Gordon's personality is very similar to Trixie's personality. Trixie angers easily, often fails to think before she makes thoughtless statements, and has a knack for taking chances and getting herself into trouble. Trixie is also a tomboy. In Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm, Betty remarks, "I haven't really played with dolls since we moved from the city. I like outdoor things." Later, Betty confesses, "I have a temper, Uncle Dick. I get so raging mad! If I don't tell you, some one else will, or else you'll see me 'acting up,' as Mrs. Arnold says, before you go. So I thought I'd better tell you."

On pages 12-13 of Betty Gordon at Ocean Park, Betty Gordon is described as follows:

Impulsive she was, and rather daring and reckless, but her determination and her ability to carry through a thing once it was begun, tempered that natural impatience and impulsiveness. Her character was more rounded than that of most girls of her age, and she won the confidence of older people because of such attributes.

Some of the banter between Betty and her friends reminds me of the banter between Trixie Belden and the other Bob-Whites. On page 9 of Betty Gordon at Ocean Park, Betty's friend Louise exclaims, "Elucidate, Miss Know-It-All!" I can't help thinking of Mart Belden.

Betty Gordon attends Shadyside School, and the name reminds me of Trixie Belden's hometown of Sleepyside. Trixie Belden attends Sleepyside Junior-Senior High. Last, Betty is about the same age as Trixie Belden. Betty is twelve years old at the beginning of the first book and is thirteen to fourteen years old by the sixth book.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The First Four Betty Gordon Books

I am nearly finished with the fourth Betty Gordon book. So far, I have been very impressed with this series. The early Ruth Fielding books were good but not great, and the series got better as it progressed. The early Betty Gordon books are great, and I dare to say that they may even be outstanding. They are well-written, highly-interesting stories.

The authors for the Betty Gordon series were Josephine Lawrence for #1-4, 7, and 9; W. Bert Foster for #5 and 6; Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward for #8; and Eunice W. Creager for #10-15. I have read that the series is uneven because of the different authors and that the later volumes are not as good as the earlier volumes. It will be interesting to see whether this is true.

I do know that the early volumes are excellent and are well worth reading. I am enjoying them greatly. The easiest way for me to measure how much I like a series book is to consider how long it takes me to read the book. I find that I want to resume reading these early Betty Gordon books at any available opportunity. I am reading them more rapidly than I read the early Ruth Fielding books.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A few quotes from Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm

Betty Gordon is a sassy, impetuous 12 year old girl. She reminds me a lot of Trixie Belden. Like Trixie, Betty speaks before she thinks and is very hot-tempered, particularly when she witnesses injustice. Betty is sent to live with Mrs. Peabody, an old school friend of her uncle, and Mrs. Peabody's husband is a mean old miser. On page 87, Mr. Peabody scolds Bob, a poorhouse boy who works for him, for getting back a little late.

"You take that pail of whitewash and don't let me see you again till you get the pig house done, you miserable, sneaking poorhouse rat! You'll go without dinner to pay for wasting my time like this! Clear out now."

"How dare you!" Betty's voice was shaking, but she stood up in the wagon and looked down at Mr. Peabody bravely. "How dare you taunt a boy with what he isn't responsible for? It isn't his fault that he was born in the poorhouse, nor his fault that we're late. I made him stop and help put a buggy wheel on. Oh, how can you be so mean, and close and hateful?"

Betty later scolds herself for sinking to Mr. Peabody's level and tells herself that she is living in his house, even though she hates it, and she has no right to be disrespectful to him.

The first few books in the Betty Gordon series were written by Josephine Lawrence, who also wrote the Riddle Club books. The Riddle Club books are generously sprinkled with humor, and this first book in the Betty Gordon series has the same type of humor. On pages 100-101, Betty's impulsiveness creates a very funny tableau:

She woke in the dark to hear a noise directly under her bed!

She sat up, her eyes trying to pierce the darkness, wondering why she had not taken the precaution of looking under the bed before she locked herself into a room with a burglar.

"If I look now and see his legs, I'll faint away, I know I shall," she thought, her teeth chattering, though the night was warm. "I wish to goodness Uncle Dick had sent me a revolver."

That reminded her of the shotgun downstairs. With Betty to think was to act, and she sprang noiselessly out of bed and ran to the door. Thank goodness, the bolt slipped without squeaking. Downstairs ran Betty and lifted the heavy shotgun from its place over the mantel. She was no longer afraid, and her eyes sparkled with excitement. She was having a grand adventure. She had shot a gun a few times under Mr. Arnold's instructions and careful supervision when he was teaching his boys how to handle one, and she thought she knew all about it.

She gained her room, breathless, for the gun was heavy. At the threshold she stopped a moment to listen. Yes, there was a the noise again. The burglar was unaware of her flight.

Unaware herself of the absurdity of her deductions, Betty raised the heavy gun and pointed it toward the bed. As well as she could tell, she was aiming under the bed. She shut her eyes tight and fired.

The gun kicked unmercifully, and Betty ejaculated a loud "Ow!" which was lost in the babble of sound that immediately followed the shot. There was a the sound of breaking glass under the bed, a shrill scream from Mrs. Peabody, and the thunderous bellow of Mr. Peabody demanding: "What in Sam Hill are those varmints up to now?" Evidently he attributed the racket to Wapley and Lieson, who had been known to come home late from Glenside.

In a few minutes they were all gathered at Betty's door, Bob open-mouthed and speechless, the two men sleepily curious, the Peabodys loudly demanding to know what the matter was.

It turns out that there wasn't a burglar under Betty's bed, but I won't spoil it by revealing exactly what it was.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm

Page 42:

The letter rambled on for several pages, complaining rather querulously of hard times and the difficulties under which the writer and her husband managed to "get along."

"Doesn't sound like Agatha, somehow," worried Uncle Dick, a slight frown between his eyes. "She was always a good-natured, happy kind of girl. But most likely she can't write a sunny letter. I know we used to have an aunt whose letters were always referred to as 'calamity howlers.' "

I had to laugh at the name "calamity howlers," used to describe a letter in which the writer bemoans all of his problems. I immediately thought of the Howlers in the Harry Potter books, except a calamity howler would howl about the writer's misfortunes!

Ruth Fielding and Her Crowning Victory

Often when a series ends, there are more volumes in preparation. For instance, the last Judy Bolton book, The Secret at the Sand Castle, mentions the next title, The Strange Likeness, which was never published since the series was abruptly canceled. As I finished reading the last Ruth Fielding book, Ruth Fielding and Her Crowning Victory, I have to conclude that Mildred Wirt knew that it was to be the final title.

On page 202, Ruth reflects upon everything that has ever happened to her:

At her chum's words, Ruth's fancy took a panoramic sweep back over the many exciting adventures that had been her lot since she had left the Red Mill so many years ago. There had been war days, though not so exciting as her experiences in Bellogia; thrilling weeks on Legend Island and in foreign countries, with glorious vacations spent at ranches, plantations and summer resorts. By her own efforts she had raised herself to a commanding position in the motion picture world. Yet Helen was undoubtedly right. No honor she had ever received could compare with this surpassing achievement—her crowning victory.

And the very last paragraph of the book on page 210 reads:

"But now I really mean it. If there are any more adventures in our little family, they will be passed on to June!"

It is always sad to read the final pages of the final volume in any good series. However, it is nice that the series did not end with any obvious loose ends. One thing I hate about how the Beverly Gray series ended is that we never did get to see for certain who Lenora would marry. I have always wondered which man Clair Blank would have had Lenora choose.

I now have two choices for the next series to read: the Barbara Ann series by Ruth Grosby and the Betty Gordon series by Alice B. Emerson. While I am very eager to read the Barbara Ann series, I believe I will choose the Betty Gordon series, simply because it was "written" by Alice B. Emerson, just like the Ruth Fielding series. The Ruth Fielding and Betty Gordon series are like sister series, with the titles in both series listed on the copyright pages of all of the books in each series.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

More Thoughts on Ruth Fielding

I am now about halfway through volume 30. I have finished all of my Ruth Fielding summaries for my website. I normally write the summary for a book before I finish the book. I try to be vague about the ending, and it helps when I don't even know for sure how a book will end. Actually, I do know how #30 ends simply because I have read the summary of it that appears in the Girls' Series Companion. But even so, I don't know the entire story.

My favorite groups of books in the Ruth Fielding series are the World War I books, #13-15; all of the books written by Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward, #20-22; and all of the books written by Mildred A. Wirt Benson, #23-30. In these groupings of books, my very favorite two volumes are #20 Ruth Fielding in the Far North and #29 Ruth Fielding and Her Greatest Triumph. I like #20 because of the Blythe Girls phenomenon (see my post from December 29), and I like #29 because it reads so much like a Beverly Gray book.

Even though many of the earlier books are not quite as interesting as the later books, I feel like it is very necessary to have read all of the earlier books in order to fully appreciate the later books. The past history of the characters is important. The Ruth Fielding series tells a story, and that story begins with volume 1. It is a series that is best read in order and without skipping a volume. Sometimes, the events of one book lead into the next book, so in a few cases, the books would be hard to follow if the previous volume had been skipped.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ruth Fielding Titles

Yesterday I posted a message in which I mentioned my dissatisfaction with the Ruth Fielding titles. While I feel like most of the titles could have been better, there are a few scattered titles which I feel are sorely lacking.

In keeping with the format of the existing titles, I would change volume 29 Ruth Fielding and Her Greatest Triumph to Ruth Fielding at Legend Island. Legend Island is the setting for volume 29, and it sounds so much more interesting than Greatest Triumph. How many greatest triumphs and victories can Ruth possibly have?

I would also change volume 16 from Ruth Fielding Down East to Ruth Fielding in Maine. I have difficulty in comprehending Maine as "down east" since I live in the south central United States. To me, Ruth Fielding in the East would have made more sense.

Finally, I would change volume 20 from Ruth Fielding in the Far North to Ruth Fielding in the Yukon. By changing Far North to Yukon, it makes the location sound different from that of volume 22 Ruth Fielding in Alaska.

I have not read any of volume 30 Ruth Fielding and Her Crowning Victory yet, but since I know what the setting is, I would probably change the title to Ruth Fielding Travels Abroad.

By the way, volume 29 Ruth Fielding and Her Greatest Triumph reads a lot like many of the Beverly Gray books. Ruth is on Legend Island in the Pacific Ocean, and the island is inhabited by crazy, superstitious natives who think that Ruth is bringing evil to the island. Since Beverly Gray is one of my all-time favorite series, I'm really enjoying Ruth Fielding and Her Greatest Triumph.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What Ruth Fielding Deserved

I have just finished reading volume 28 in the Ruth Fielding series. I am close enough to the end that I can reflect on what I think of this series. As I have stated previously, I was very unsure about whether I should collect this series but reasoned that any series with 30 volumes must be worthwhile. Since I was able to purchase all of the books relatively inexpensively, I decided to build an entire set before reading any of the books.

It did turn out to be worth it. For those who have read my blog post in which I rate how much I like the different series books, I give the Ruth Fielding series a 3. This means that I feel that it is a very good series and worth reading. There were a few books that dragged for me, but the good books far outnumber the lackluster ones.

I do have to say that I would feel more strongly about the series if the dust jackets were nicer and the titles more descriptive. These were the reasons that I was reluctant to purchase the books, and I have to say that the outward appearance of the books still shades my opinion to a degree, even though I have now read the books. They could have been packaged better.

Many people have wondered why the Nancy Drew series has had a success that has far exceeded any of the other Stratemeyer Syndicate books. I personally feel that the packaging of the Nancy Drew books was far nicer than that of any other series books. The early Russell Tandy cover art for the Nancy Drew books is exquisite, and I believe that it is a huge factor in why the Nancy Drew books sold so well. The Ruth Fielding books were apparently a bestseller during their run, but if the books would have had beautifully painted individual cover art like the Nancy Drew books, the series may not have gone out of print during the early 1930s. Perhaps Ruth Fielding would have had the same staying power as Nancy Drew. The last seven Ruth Fielding books are in every way comparable to the early Nancy Drew books, so I feel that the packaging of the Ruth Fielding series is a factor in why it did not last.

Not only are the dust jackets boring, but the titles are boring as well. They are only slightly better than the boring nondescript titles of the Nancy Drew Files. Take the two books Ruth Fielding in the Far North and Ruth Fielding in Alaska. These two titles could easily refer to the same location. There is really nothing that distinguishes them.

I have had to laugh as I have read the later books in the Ruth Fielding series. I feel like they must have been running out of ideas for titles. Chapter 25 of Ruth Fielding Clearing Her Name is entitled “Ruth’s Great Triumph.” But then volume 29 is entitled Ruth Fielding and Her Greatest Triumph. Additionally, Chapter 25 of Ruth Fielding’s Crowning Victory is entitled “Ruth’s Crowning Triumph.” Oh, the superlatives!

In closing, I like Ruth Fielding, but she was denied what she richly deserved—descriptive, interesting titles and nice dust jackets with individualized cover art.