Friday, December 23, 2011

Nancy Drew #5 The Secret at Shadow Ranch

As I continue my journey through the Nancy Drew books, I read the revised text of Shadow Ranch. I recall that I loved gazing at the Rudy Nappi cover art as a child. The phantom horse is so spooky.

I love the mystery of Dirk Valentine's missing treasure. This mystery has always been one of my favorites. As with Lilac Inn, I have always preferred the revised text.

I have always disliked the original text, although upon this reading, I viewed it much more favorably than previously. I have already mentioned that my reading of the early Stratemeyer Syndicate series in recent years has changed my perspective. This reading was the first time I had ever read the original text Shadow Ranch since reading all of the early series books.

I was struck by how much the book reminds me of the Outdoor Girls series. The entire tone of the book and all of the events from start to finish are extremely similar to the way the Outdoor Girls series is. Change a few names and rewrite some passages, and the book could easily become The Outdoor Girls at Shadow Ranch. In fact, Nancy suddenly acquires two new friends, Bess and George, at the beginning of Shadow Ranch and becomes part of a trio, similar to the Outdoor Girls and other series. This got me to thinking.

Edward Stratemeyer died as the first three Nancy Drew books were published. Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier had to scramble to get their father's business under control in the months after he died. During the first few months, Edward Stratemeyer's secretary, Harriet Otis Smith, was responsible for keeping the business going. Lilac Inn was the first Nancy Drew book published after Stratemeyer's death, but that book had already been written by Mildred Wirt, and Otis Smith edited it.

Grosset and Dunlap wanted the next book in the series, the one that was to become Shadow Ranch. The trouble was that Shadow Ranch had no outline, and nobody knew what story Stratemeyer had wished to tell. On page 133 of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, Melanie Rehak gives Stratemeyer's description of Shadow Ranch: "A thrilling tale of mysterious doings at various places in the valley and around the ranch. It remained for Nancy Drew to solve some perplexing situations."

Otis Smith wrote up an outline based on that vague description. Since Shadow Ranch reads so much like an Outdoor Girls book, I wonder whether Otis Smith could have gotten some ideas from an outline for an Outdoor Girls book and changed it up for Nancy Drew. She also could have used an outline for Billie Bradley or Betty Gordon, which were still in print during the early 1930s but soon ended. It would be reasonable to assume that some outlines for those series were never used for books in those series. They could have been used for Nancy Drew. This is pure speculation on my part, but I see such a strong similarity in tone between the original text Shadow Ranch and early Stratemeyer books that I feel this to be a possibility.

Back to my thoughts about the story. The original text Shadow Ranch has some crazy, improbable coincidences that go beyond any of the coincidences in the revised text. For instance, Alice Regor is looking for her father, who is found near Shadow Ranch, and it happens that Alice's father went missing because of the actions of Martha Frank and her brother, which occurred in a completely different part of the country. Yet somehow, Martha and her brother show up near Shadow Ranch, while Alice's father also shows up near Shadow Ranch unknown to them. Next, Nancy and her friends also show up at Shadow Ranch with Alice, and everything randomly falls into place. This kind of crazy coincidence is how all of the early Stratemeyer Syndicate books are, and as I already stated, I have a suspicion that the idea for this story came from one of those series.

I still do not particularly care for the story about Martha Frank, and I overall do not care for the original text story as a Nancy Drew book. Nancy and her friends do a lot of exploring in the mountains, get lost, and nearly get attacked by wild animals. It just doesn't feel like a Nancy Drew book to me. However, if I read the book and pretend that it is an Outdoor Girls book and that Nancy, Bess, and George are Outdoor Girls, then the book is totally awesome.

If you are someone who enjoys the original text Shadow Ranch, I suggest that you try some of the Outdoor Girls books, say the second half of the series which are the best books. The Outdoor Girls books are great vintage stories that have the same tone as the original text Shadow Ranch. I always have to get in a good word about the Outdoor Girls series, which is a great series that is not collected by very many people.


Kelly Robinson said...

Interesting comparison between this title and Outdoor Girls. You're probably on to something.

Jennifer White said...

The cell phone website spammers are out in large numbers this weekend! I have now deleted spam comments from three different IDs.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting theory about the Outdoor Girls; I guess we'll never know but it seems like a possibility.

Julie Ratcliffe said...

I am intrigued by your theory, but it does make sense. Why toss a perfectly good outline if it can be recycled?I was also interested in your remark that the books from the second half of the Outdoor Girls are better than the first half. I have read all the books in the series that are available on (up to and including Wild Rose Cottage) and found them rather enjoyable. It seems from your description that the second group of books are written to appeal to younger readers. Why do you like these books better?

Jennifer White said...

That question is going to be a bit hard to answer since it has been six years since I read the Outdoor Girls books. I just went back and read an old blog comment I made. Let me amend my statement to be that I prefer volumes 7 through 23 of the Outdoor Girls series. I like the first six books less than I do the rest. The first six books were written by Howard Garis, and I like what Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward did with the remainder of the series.

I have never felt that any of the Outdoor Girls were written to appeal to younger readers. I had to go visit my site to figure out what you meant. I noted that the ages for the Outdoor Girls are younger than they are for the girls in the first books in the series. Even though the ages are younger, as I recall, the girls from the later books act the same as the girls from the early books.

The later books appeal to the same age reader as the early books.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading about Jennifer's speculation that the outline for this book might have come from a recycled outline for another Edward Stratemeyer book for which he wrote the outline. That theory has merit because this book is so different than the previous four books.

The early Hardy Boys books, outlined by Edward Stratemeyer and penned by Leslie McFarlane, are rich in details about previous mysteries and adventures. There is also a chronological order to them (spring, summer, fall winter) which is absent in the books after the first nine titles.

Margaret Sutton's Judy Bolton series had mysteries and events chronically. This makes sense because Judy and the other characters aged as the series progressed.