Sunday, October 31, 2010

Penny Allen and the Mystery of the Haunted House

The Penny Allen series is about the adventures of the Allen family: Philip, Penny, Jimmy, and Marjorie. Sound familiar? The Adventurous Allens are Philip, Nancy, Jimmy, and Marjorie Allen.

The Adventurous Allens Find Mystery
, which was written by Harriet Pyne Grove and published in 1932 begins as follows:
Almost too greatly surprised to believe in their good fortune, the four Adventurous Allens stood at the door of what had long been denominated by their uncle as his "Michigan Shack," while Philip, now the actual legal proprietor, tried to fit a key in the lock. It was well, perhaps, that none of them knew all which would attend their present adventure; but their anticipation was as keen as their surprise was pleasing.
Penny Allen and the Mystery of the Haunted House written (more like "edited") by Jean McKetchnie and published in 1950 begins like this:
It was almost unbelievable to the four Allens to be standing on the doorstep before Uncle John's "Michigan Shack." For, in spite of its name, the shack in the Michigan woods appeared to be quite a large house. It was built of logs, but it was such a cabin as money builds, with all the beauty that can be given to it, primitive only in the sense of unfinished timbers, a product of skill, artistic in its fitness to the surroundings. Large, strong, with a wide, hospitable porch in front, it welcomed them, a home for the adventurous Allens! Nineteen-year-old Philip, who had inherited the property from their uncle, stood fumbling to fit the key in the lock.
We have a clear case of plagiarism here, even though the wording has been changed. In this case, the plagiarism much improved upon the mess that Harriet Pyne Grove wrote. It is helpful that McKetchnie placed the proper explanatory information in the first paragraph. She then placed all of the information needed to understand the Allens' past history in next few pages of text.

Some of the explanatory information is copied from Grove's first Adventurous Allens book. Page 18 of The Adventurous Allens states:
Philip Allen was a well set up young collegian of nineteen years. Dark brown hair curved back in the latest college style from a good broad brow. This was equipped with very nearly straight black eyebrows, which separated at a proper distance from a very respectable nose, neither too large nor too small. That with clear, dark, blue-grey eyes and a pleasant mouth which could be quite firm when occasion demanded, gave character to Philip's young face. His height was above medium, probably five feet ten, and possibly he might yet reach the six feet he found desirable. He was brown from the summer's exposure and the usual hatless idiocy of fall days about college. At his uncle's, and about the little city, which numbered about fifty thousand inhabitants, he was accustomed to wear a hat. His face beneath it was rather long than round.
Pages 13 and 14 of Penny Allen and the Mystery of the Haunted House describe Philip as follows:
Philip Allen was a well set up young man. Dark brown hair curved back from a broad brow. This was equipped with very nearly straight black eyebrows, which separated at a proper distance from a rather respectable nose, neither too large nor too small. That, with clear, dark, blue-gray eyes and a pleasant mouth which could be quite firm when occasion demanded, gave character to Philip's young face. His height was above medium, probably five feet ten, and possibly he might yet reach the six feet he found desirable. He was brown from the summer's exposure. His face was rather long than round.
The content is remarkably similar. Even though the content is not original, it greatly improves upon the original form. I can understand the text without getting confused! When I wrote about The Adventurous Allens Find Mystery, I mentioned my confusion when the Allens decided to go for a ride in their uncle's boat. In this book, the conversation and events flowed nicely, and I knew exactly what was happening and when! It was so nice!

Some minor details are different, and the text has been greatly condensed. One detail that stands out is when Patrick Ryan has to leave unexpectedly. In Grove's original story, he leaves to look after a drunk relative who has gotten into trouble. In this revised story, Pat has to guide four men on a fishing expedition.

At around page 135, the story begins to deviate from Grove's original story, and the change matches up with around five pages before the end of the original story. The Allens plan to stay in Michigan for the winter, whereas in Grove's book, they decide to take a cruise. The final five pages of the original story concern getting ready for the cruise.

In the Penny Allen book, Philip gets a job, and Jimmy and Marjorie attend school. None of the young people attend school during the five Adventurous Allens books. Around page 147, the winter comes to a close, and the Allens decide to take a cruise on their boat during the summer to check out their Florida property. Once again the plot begins to converge with the original story, except the text appears to have been completely rewritten during this part.

At page 151, the Penny Allen book resumes copying Grove's narrative, this time from the beginning of The Adventurous Allens Afloat. The book diverges from the plot of the Grove book at page 183, and the mystery about Adra is solved through a slightly different means, although with the same result. After a few pages of different text, the book resumes copying the text of the Grove book.

Most of the last 150 pages of The Adventurous Allens Afloat is not used in the Penny Allen book. The book concludes with the Allens preparing to cruise the Caribbean in their boat.


stratomiker said...

It could be possible that whoever owned the copyright had the book revised and republished, or it could be outright plagiarism like the two Judy Bolton books, Black Cat's Clue and Musical Tree. There is also a rumor that Double Ring is lifted from another book.

I have a guide to gothic novels of the 20th century and thousands are reviewed. The author has found many that are lifted right from others, whether it be legal or illegal, who knows? But it happens.

Now there are a lot of paranormal versions of classic coming out - Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Jane Slayre, and many more. Most of these are just rewrites of the originals with the paranormal stuff thrown in, and some have been bestsellers. I guess it's OK to plagiarize a classic because no one owns them anymore and no one can sue you for it.


beautifulshell said...

While we're throwing around loaded terms like plagiarism, I think noting the distinction between plagiarism and satire is important: I doubt whether the P&P&Z people are trying to pass that off as an entirely original work.

Penny Allen, on the other hand - I'd be really interested in knowing how that came to be!

Jennifer White said...

If you are a member of the Nancy Drew Sleuths group, it is worth running a search for "Penny Allen" from the main page of the group. The series was mentioned a couple of years ago.

A point brought up by James Keeline in this message is that World Syndicate, which published the Penny Allen series, bought many of the A. L. Burt plates and publishing rights when A. L. Burt went out of business.

Many authors sold their books outright to the publisher rather than taking royalty payments. We do not know if Harriet Pyne Grove did this, but she may have. If so, then A. L. Burt owned the rights to her books.

We do not know if World Syndicate bought the plates for the Adventurous Allens books along with the other ones purchased, but it is possible. If so, we can then conclude that World Syndicate had the right to do whatever it wanted with the Adventurous Allens books. This is all speculation, since we do not know.

I only wish that on the copyright page something had been mentioned about the text being adapted from books by Harriet Pyne Grove. Nothing about Grove is mentioned anywhere in the Penny Allen books.

stratomiker said...

'Plagiarism' isn't a loaded term. It means copying somebody else's work, whether it's a satire or not. You CAN write a satire without using the same story line and text. Good satires are 'original' stories that lampoon a popular book, but very few of them are permitted for non-classics because publishers will sue to stop them.

A lot of money was spent on stopping the publishing of several Harry Potter satires. Harry's publishers didn't want the series ridiculed and sued to stop, was successful in each attempt. Try fighting something as big as Harry Potter in court. You can't, plus the 'plagiarism' angle is always used and succesful because most authors make their satire a bit too much like the original.

On the other hand, Harvard National Lampoon was allowed to publish NIGHTLIGHT, a satire of TWILIGHT, and it's selling well. They know enough to make it similar but not too exact and, anyway, Harvard has more money than any publisher and is a venerable old institution, so no one ever tries to stop them.

If one could easily publish 'satires' of popular books with owned copyrights, you'd see them all the time. But there are no 'Da Vinci Code and Werewolves', 'Nancy Drew and the Walking Dead', or 'Gossip Girls Meet Frankenstein'. Owners and publishers stop books like this, just like the recent faux Dana Girls books lifted from old Kay Tracey titles were stopped. And a few years ago The Phantom Friends were stopped by Nancy Drew owners from using their characters in 'satires' in The Whispered Watchword.

Recently, another series book fanzine rescinded on several asked-for articles I wrote about Judy Bolton that put her and her friends into 'new' mysteries based on old Potter County spooky legends. Why? Because the publisher became acquainted with the copyright holder and was afraid of getting sued (and does have a lot of money) because of the current drama over Judy #39 The Strange Likeness. The one article that was printed was cut down from seven pages to three paragraphs. Yet this person did publish a complete original Beverly Gray mystery without worry because there is no one to sue you for that character.

The recent THE WIND DONE GONE, a slave-viewpoint version of Gone With the Wind was stopped by the GWTW owners after quite a long court case. The author and publisher claimed it to be a satire, but the court disagreed because it was too much the same and was not humorous. It had been published and sold well, but they had to pay quite a large amount to the Margaret Mitchell charity fund and the book cannot be reprinted. Original copies are collctor items now.


Jennifer White said...

People react to the word "plagiarism" as though it is a really nasty word, kind of like a cuss word. I'm thinking of a recent skirmish I had with someone who got offended because I was annoyed that I had been plagiarized.

Plagiarism is an unpleasant word, since it has to do with copying other people's work without credit or permission. I thought about not using the word in this post, but why not? The Penny Allen books were plagiarized, even if the publishing company had the rights to the Adventurous Allens series.

Make sure you read today's comments on my last Adventurous Allens post. I just posted the first paragraph of another Harriet Pyne Grove book. The paragraph is so delightfully Grove-like!

beautifulshell said...

Mike, I understand what you're saying about the murky definitions of fair use and copyright law. I commented specifically on your example of P&P&Z because I'm not sure I agree that Austen's work has been plagiarized. For starters, her name appears first on the cover and EVERYONE knows that it's her novel with some zombies thrown in. If plagiarism is "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source" (, retrieved November 3, 2010 from:, then I don't think Seth Grahame-Smith has quite done that. If Austen were around to sue him, whether she'd have a case or not under copyright law doesn't automatically mean he's plagiarized.

I'm sure I know less about copyright than most bookish people, but for me, for reasons Jennifer already pointed out, plagiarism is a loaded word. I think it casts aspersions on authors and editors who have probably gone to lengths to avoid it, and don't deserve to be fighting it off unless they actually are guilty.

This has nothing to do with series books, though, so moving on!

Jennifer White said...

I commented specifically on your example of P&P&Z because I'm not sure I agree that Austen's work has been plagiarized. For starters, her name appears first on the cover and EVERYONE knows that it's her novel with some zombies thrown in.

I agree that the original source is obvious, and everyone knows how the original source has been changed. I see it as more of a parody than plagiarism.

I have a problem with text like Grove's getting turned into Penny Allen books, and most people who have read the Penny Allen books over the years probably had no idea that the books were copied from others. Even if the Penny Allen author and publisher had the legal right to do it, the books should have mentioned the original source. It comes across as cheating, which is what true plagiarism really is.

When those Dana Girls books that came from Kay Tracey books were published, my concern was that quite a few people actually thought that the books were totally new Dana Girls books. It was not obvious enough to most people, therefore I referred to the books as plagiarized, which offended the author greatly. When the original source of the text is made obvious, then I do not refer to the text as plagiarized, even if the text is copied from another book.

If those Dana Girls books had been subtitled with the text "adapted from Kay Tracey books by Frances K. Judd," I would have had no problem with the books. Of course, Simon and Schuster would still have intervened to protect their legal interests.

beautifulshell said...

I totally agree. I was just trying to separate the ideas of copyright infringement and plagiarism: you can have the first without the latter, and vice versa. I'm guessing publishers are more concerned with loss of profits than actual loss of perceived intellectual ownership.

All of this makes me wonder about how publishers thought of their own material: if it was that easy to duplicate and "borrow" from, it seems more like a means to an end (profit) than creating meaningful contributions to literature. I know all the ads talk about how wholesome series lit was for girls, but they seem to have treated it as a disposable commodity without much intrinsic value as "works." Which is too bad, because some of the writers were actually very good - it's not *all* pulp fiction!

beautifulshell said...

Also, I know nobody here needs such a basic primer, but a pretty funny review of copyright law is here:

stratomiker said...

The real problem to me is 'not writing an original story', whether it be Jane Austen, Kay Traceys/Danas, Penny Allen, or 'parodies'. The P&P&Z was the same story as P&P. The faux Danas are the same stories as the Kay Traceys. Penny Allens are the same stories as The Allens.

As a person who writes, I just don't think it's OK to use someone else's story. To me, it's So Easy to write an original one. I would think that a publishing house is in the writing/publishing business and ought to be able to find someone who can write an original story.

A few years ago a mainstream publisher put out THE HOUSE ON THE POINT, a more adult rewrite of the Hardy Boys' The House on the Cliff. I immediately bought it to see what a writer, who was given permission to write an adult Hardy, was able to do. The book absolutely sucked and it was a real dud. All he did was change around the story a bit, add to it, and change the time period from the 1920s to the 1940s. There were already two versions of this story - the original and the 1960s revised text. Why did he write a third one? That was my question - why did a pro writer who got permission to write a mainstream Hardy Boys NOT write an original story?

Perhaps one has to be a writer to understand it - it really is a snap to write an original. Why rehash the Allens into Penny Allens? Just write new original Penny Allens. After all, the publishing houses are in the business of writing.

I do write Nancy Drews, Hardys, Dana Girls, Ken Holts, and Rick Brants - but I write original ones. I don't attempt to publish them because 'derivative works' of that sort, published, are copyright infringements.

In fact, I am writing an original Dana now on a Dana Yahoo group, originally outlined by the producer of the faux Danas. But the faux Danas, lifted word for word from the Kay Traceys, left me feeling 'yuck'. I knew the stories so well as Kays that they could never work as Danas to me. But the person who did it can't write books, so was left with just copying.

The dictionary definitions of 'plagiarism' don't mean anything when you have a multi-million $$$ publishing house suing you for putting out a parody of their book that they don't like. As long as the story is 'the same' or 'too similar', even if it's funny and added to, they will win. Which is why you do not see many parodies of currently copyright protected books.


keeline said...

Pride and Prejudice is long in the public domain and that is why you see the zombie parody of this and other PD titles.

The examples given for Dan Brown books don't meet this criteria.

In the same way rewriting Kay Tracey stories into Dana Girls stories is not allowed because the KT books are still under copyright -- quite literally the right to make copies of a work. This has been interpreted to include the right to make derivative works as well.

Of course the KT-DG books also had the problem that they used "Carolyn Keene" -- a pen name that S&S sees to be very valuable -- as a means of gathering readers. The reaction is something like "there are more Carolyn Keene books than I knew about?" It's a little like the appearance of "Mystery at the Lookout" by Carolyn Keene on some MWB lists. This story was the short serial for young people in the 1940s Calling All Girls magazine.

There is no U.S. law against plagiarism (copying someone else's text as your own without credit to the original). There are rules about it in universities, of course because it is a form of cheating, even fraud by presenting someone else's work of as your own.

However, the copyright law does protect the artistic expression of the holders. That is, if you copy the particular words used by people to tell a story, that can be interpreted as copyright infringement depending on the length of content copied and the length of the original text.

I still think that the AA-PA case is one where the publisher said -- hey, we own these old texts, let's see if we can do something new with them. It might be like the case where ES took dime novels he wrote and owned and had them rewritten to Nat Ridley books.

James Keeline