Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Revisiting The Secret of the Old Clock

It has been around 10 years since I have read any of the original 56 Nancy Drew books. I have been meaning to revisit them, but I have not been motivated to do so. This last week I decided to read The Secret of the Old Clock. I chose to read the revised text version, since that was the one I read as a child. Following are my various observations.

Upon this reading, I found that the revised text book is way too short, and so I decided to read the original text version immediately after reading the revised text. The original text version does take a good bit longer to read, and the story is fleshed out better.

The primary reason given for the revision of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books is that the revisions were done to remove racial stereotypes. While this may indeed have been one of the reasons, more likely the revisions were motivated by the need to renew the copyrights and to replace worn printing plates.

The revised text Old Clock does remove the unfortunate stereotype of the drunk, colored caretaker who allows the thieves to trick him. But at the same time, the revised text book adds other stereotypes which are not present in the original text.

In the original text Old Clock, the Horner girls need money badly in order to run their farm. Allie Horner wants to buy more chickens. I guess that wasn't a worthy enough reason to need an inheritance.

In the revised text Old Clock, Allison Hoover has a fantastic voice, and a voice teacher tells her "that some day we shall know Allison Hoover as an operatic star!" She needs the money for voice lessons since she is destined for greatness. Now that is a much more worthwhile reason, right? We can't have poor girls wanting to have more chickens. We need them to have poise and be brilliant in some fashion.

Little Judy does not exist in the original text version. In the revised text version, the Turners are going to be able to give Judy "the kind of schooling we think she should have!" This is an example of the stereotypical fashion in which the wealthy elite think. A young girl who is better than her economic situation can only thrive with expensive, private schooling.

In the original text, Nancy drives the officer back to the station. In the revised text, the officer drives Nancy's car back to the station with Nancy as a passenger. This is that stereotype of male superiority that was prevalent during the middle part of the 20th century. Interestingly, Nancy is more subservient in the revised text books than she is in the original text books.

Another example of how Nancy is more subservient in the revised text books is how Nancy interacts with the caretaker, Jeff Tucker. She is amused by the drunk, colored Jeff Tucker, and does not treat him very well. In the revised text, Nancy is quite polite to the white, elderly Jeff Tucker. She is not polite to the drunk, colored Jeff Tucker. It appears that Nancy is impolite only because Jeff is drunk; unfortunately, Jeff's race is mentioned all the way through the text, and he speaks in the stereotypical southern dialect. An entire essay could be written about the two Jeff Tuckers, how Nancy treats them, and how even the white Jeff Tucker continues the same racial stereotyping.

I noted that the revised text book needs some revision. The revised text book mentions the photostat machine, which is not mentioned in the original. I read about the photostat machine on Wikipedia, and the company that owned it had already been sold by the time Old Clock was revised and was in the process of being replaced by Xerox. The revised text used a term that was on the way out at the time it was written. Now, the term has been obsolete for more than 50 years.

People who dislike Nancy Drew criticize her for her perfection. They clearly have read the revised text books. I don't have a problem with it, but at moments, even I am given pause.

The revised text Old Clock adds the scene in which the dress is torn by one of the Topham girls in the department store. Nancy just so happens to love the dress and insists upon trying it on. Of course the dress fits perfectly, and Nancy suggests to the clerk that they have it altered to hide the tear. Oh how perfectly perfect it worked out! The clerk was not blamed for the torn dress, and Nancy saves the day! The original text scene of the Topham girl breaking the vase would have sufficed.


Jenn Fisher said...

Research into the revisions has revealed the main reason for the revisions--$$--it was cheaper to produce a 20 chapter book than a 25 chapter book--and they went to that format with #35 onward so went back and did this with the first 34. Harriet wasn't too keen on the revising process but G&D pushed it. The benefit for some was the removal of stereotypes and that sort of thing and then also modernization here and there. A lot of the revisions where they are not an all new story, keep a lot of the written words and phrases from the originals where things are not shortened or new subplots added--sometimes complete sentences and paragraphs, in other places they are shortened or removed for space. Several years ago I did a read through of the first 56 and read the original first for the 1st 34 and then the revised and made copious notes on the changes and such. I found it pretty interesting to see that past #18 with some exceptions, the revisions were mostly the same as the originals--with less added subplots and things of that nature.


Laura said...

Very interesting post, Jenn. I've never read any of the original versions where I had the revised text to read also and note the differences. I'd love to be able to do that sometimes.

I only have a couple of original texts: Hidden Window and one or two others.

Paula said...

I also read the the two versions of Old Clock back to back about a year ago. I read the original text first as I had not read that version in childhood. It made me smile how coincidences were so integral to the plot, and of course, always helpful to Nancy in figuring out the mystery. I didn't remember that from my first readings of Nancy's adventures - the plots must have seemed realistic or more plausible to me at the time. :)

I was shocked when the revised text started with a totally different scene - Nancy saving little Judy. It seemed unnecesasary to create this character and I actually felt more sympathetic to the Hoovers in the original text. After reading both versions, I can say I preferred the original text to the revised text. Although the revised text is the one that got me hooked on Nancy Drew, I checked my childhood collection and found that most of the books I read as a child were the original text versions; so I may prefer the original text because it is closer to the Nancy I remember in general.

Anyway, it is an interesting intellectual exercise to compare and analyze the two versions of the stories from the eyes of an adult, but I don't think I could do it for all 34 books. The stories don't hold my interest as they once did and I prefer to remember the magic of "devouring" them as a girl. I don't think it was the stories or the plot details that made us lifetime Nancy Drew fans. It was the character of Nancy herself, how she influenced us as a role model, and fed our dreams of what we could do and what kind of person we could be.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the revisions put in more fanciful motivations. Whereas the originals were rather practical, the revisions added a lot of voice lessons, famous people, and oranges rigged to explode.

I think a fun fanfiction thing to do would be to take the originally short books and flesh them out more so they are 25 chapters long, too.

Judy said...

There was a scene early on in the (I think) original version of the book that had the Tophams trying on dresses and stepping on one, but it didn't tear. The broken vase was later on. Sounds like the revised version combined them. Seems silly since the broken vase was dramatic enough on its own. I'm going to have to read these revised versions sometime - thanks for the idea!

Unknown said...

The introductory volumes of the Nancy Drew series don't hold my interest as much as books in which she sleuths with her chums. Nancy Drew needed companions (Helen Corning in the early books) or Bess Marvin and George Fayne to make the stories more interesting.

I may not have continued reading the Nancy Drew books if she had continued to work as a solo sleuth in the series. Using helpers when sleuthing gave the series more depth.

Despite my lack of comfort about Nancy working solo, I still found the books very exciting because of the mystery. In the original book, Nancy wanted to locate Josiah Crowley's second will to disinherit the snooty Tophams. In the revised text, her motivation was kinder; she wanted the deserving relatives to inherit.