Nancy Drew in Library School

Response paper: The Mysterious Mannequin (Nancy Drew #47)
Jennifer Friedman Box # 41
LIS 622: Children's Literature
Prof. Lundin

Chapter One: "Nancy! Wait!"

Nancy Drew, the spunky girl detective, sighed. It had been several weeks since the semester had started at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and she was enjoying her first classes at the School of Library and Information Studies, but some days were just too much! Today, her database project for Automation class just wasn't going well, she had about a million pages to read for Reference--and now she had locked her keys in her locker!

Or had she?

Nancy ran her hand through her shoulder-length strawberry- blonde hair. The familiar tingle of a new mystery came upon her. Leaning against her locker, she tried to mentally retrace her steps. She never left her keys in her coat pocket; therefore she would not have locked her keys in her locker with her coat.

There were other possibilities. She could have left her keys in the commons, where she had relaxed with Ned over lunch earlier. Ned was her tall, blond boyfriend, who had finished his studies at Emerson College and had come to Madison to take a lucrative job selling insurance. He was doing well, and they planned to marry soon, though Nancy was starting to wonder whether her aspirations and his really meshed. When he talked incessantly of his football days, she was expected to listen attentively, but let her even mention some of the fascinating things she was learning about reference work--why, it was just like detective work!--and he would tune out, or complain that she never paid any attention to him anymore, and why should she study to be a librarian when he was happy to support them both on his salary?

Nancy shook her head as if to clear it. If there was one thing she knew about solving a mystery, it was that she must keep her mind on track! If she had not left her keys in the commons, the other possibility was that someone had stolen them. She narrowed her eyes in concentration. Madison was a big city, at least compared with River Heights; crooks were bound to be everywhere, even in SLIS. Hadn't she seen signs in the library warning patrons to watch their belongings?

She started off towards the library, where she had been reading earlier, to start identifying suspects. This was exciting--a new mystery, the first one since she had arrived in Madison! She brainstormed names in her head: The Key in the Old Library? The Secret of the Stacks? Oh, well, her editor could probably settle that later. Now, she had a mystery to solve!

Then Nancy realized that she was getting caught up in the moment, and had forgotten to check out the possibility of the keys being in the commons. "I'll forget my own head next," she chided herself, walking towards the commons. "A good detective always checks out all the possibilities."

She reached the commons, not really expecting to find anything, and scanned the tables. No keys were there. A few women sat around a table in the back of the room, chatting about Cataloging class. Nancy would normally have been eager to join them, but today she had a mystery to solve, and she must not let herself be sidetracked.

As she was about to leave, one of the women noticed her and sprang out of her chair, putting her hand in her pocket. "Nancy!" she called out. "Wait!"

Nancy whirled around. The woman looked agitated, and was coming towards her quickly with her hand around something in her pocket! Was it a weapon? Nancy barely had time to act, but she managed to grab the woman's arm and yank it, sending the woman crashing into the back of a chair!

Chapter Two: Disappointment

The woman was dazed by Nancy's attack. She stood up and tried to get her bearings, while Nancy held her firmly by the arm. The woman's friends came towards Nancy, amazed, and Nancy quickly asked them to call Chief McGinnis and tell him that she had nearly been attacked.

"That's ridiculous," said one of the women, whom Nancy recognized as Lori from Cataloging class. "Nancy, you're paranoid. You're the only one doing any attacking here."

"This woman was about to pull a weapon out of her pocket," insisted Nancy. "She must have something to do with the theft of my keys earlier today."

"Nancy, no one stole your keys," said the third woman, rolling her eyes. She had heard about Nancy's sleuthing and wondered whether problems like this might not arise once Nancy came to Madison. "Susan was about to take your keys out of her pocket and give them to you. We found them on the counter in the kitchen a little while ago. You must have left them there when you went to make your Cup-a-Soup." Susan fished in her pocket and handed the keys warily to Nancy.

Nancy's heart sank. The Secret of the Stacks wasn't a real mystery at all--just an example of her own imagination running away with her. Life sure was different here than in River Heights, where a new mystery was always around the corner. "I--I'm sorry, Susan," she murmured, backing away from the three women. "It's just--I thought--" Suddenly she turned and ran out of the commons.

She felt awful. She'd embarrassed herself in front of her fellow students, and hurt Susan for no reason. How could she show her face in Cataloging class again? She ran down the stairs, desperate to get out of the building, and started towards the Union. She felt out-of-place, and wondered whether it had been a good idea to start school again. "I'm not much of a detective anymore," she thought dejectedly.

"Maybe I'll take up drinking."

I wrote this as a response paper for my Children's Literature class (hence the header), during our unit on genre fiction for kids. Although not all of us in the class wrote on Nancy Drew, all of us had been ardent Nancy fans (except the two lone males in the class). We would stop our discussions on literary merit or the syndicate publishers just to expound and puzzle on characteristics of Nancy's life: "So what did Nancy do? Did she work? I never saw her work. Was she basically just living at home and waiting to get married? Why on earth didn't she go to college? Why did her dad treat her like a ten-year-old when she was obviously a high-school graduate? Did she and Ned ever have sex or what? And what was it between Mr. Drew and Hannah Gruen, anyway?"

I tried to answer, or at least speak to, some of these questions in my reaction paper above. Although I assume Nancy never did make it to college (at least in the original series of books), I have taken her naturally keen perspective (no pun intended), friendly personality, and love for detail to its natural end: Nancy wants to be a reference librarian. (Here's a mystery: how did she get to library school without a B.A.?) She has indeed stayed with Ned, but she's finding that his outdated attitude towards women is getting between them. She's experiencing life in a city for the first time--perhaps life in the real world for the first time. In short, Nancy's life, for the first time in over 100 mystery books, is changing.

My piece starts with an erroneous and whimsical notion: that Nancy is indeed the author of all the Nancy Drew books, and has made not only a hobby but a business of solving mysteries, writing them up, and publishing them. That's been her work. Hence the fact that she has an editor who is charged with coming up with those intriguing book titles, and hence the chapter headings. It is as though an unseen writer (Carolyn Keene? No...) has written up Nancy's abortive attempt to find a mystery at the library school, in its two-chapter brevity. There are no more chapters forthcoming in this book, folks. There may never be another forthcoming book. Nancy has finally emerged from her dream world of River Heights, and suprise--she's just another librarian, with a touch of paranoia that makes her classmates roll their eyes. No longer a figure of epic proportions and 40's rigid morals, Nancy has written her last mystery.

If this idea makes you sad, there are piles and piles of the *new!* *improved!* Nancy Drew mysteries, written in the 80's and 90's and issued in paperback, that you are welcome to investigate. I guarantee you you'll find a different Nancy there than in the original series--or in the speculative piece above.

©Jennifer Friedman, 4/17/94