Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew
1966 cover of the revised version of The Secret of the Old Clock, the first Nancy Drew mystery

Nancy Drew is a fictional young amateur detective in various mystery series for all ages. She was created by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate book packaging firm. The character first appeared in 1930. The books have been ghostwritten by a number of authors and are published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene.[1] For a complete list, see list of Nancy Drew books.

Over the decades the character has evolved in response to changes in American culture and tastes. The books were extensively revised, beginning in 1959, largely to eliminate racist stereotypes,[2] with arguable success.[3][4] Many scholars agree that in the revision process, the heroine's original, outspoken character was toned down and made more docile, conventional, and demure.[5] In the 1980s a new series was created, The Nancy Drew Files, which featured an older and more professional Nancy as well as romantic plots.[6] In 2004 the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, begun in 1930, was ended and a new series, Girl Detective, was launched, with an updated version of the character who drives a hybrid electric vehicle and uses a cell phone. Illustrations of the character have also evolved over time, from portrayals of a fearless, active young woman to a fearful or passive one.[7]

Through all these changes, the character has proved continuously popular worldwide: at least 80 million copies of the books have been sold,[8] and the books have been translated into over 45 languages. Nancy Drew has featured in five films, two television shows, and a number of popular computer games; she also appears in a variety of merchandise sold over the world.

A cultural icon, Nancy Drew has been cited as a formative influence by a number of prominent women, from Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor[9] and Sonia Sotomayor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton[10] and former First Lady Laura Bush.[11] Feminist literary critics have analyzed the character's enduring appeal, arguing variously that Nancy Drew is a mythic hero, an expression of wish fulfillment,[12] or an embodiment of contradictory ideas about femininity.[13]



Nancy Drew is a fictional 18-year-old amateur sleuth (16 in earlier versions). She lives in the fictional town of River Heights[14] with her father, attorney Carson Drew, and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen.[15] Nancy's mother died when she was three (10 in earlier versions). Nancy spends her time solving mysteries, some of which she stumbles upon and some of which begin as cases of her father's. Nancy is often assisted in solving mysteries by her two closest friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, and also occasionally by her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Ned is a college student at Emerson College.

Nancy has often been described as a super girl: in the words of Bobbie Ann Mason, she is "as immaculate and self-possessed as a Miss America on tour. She is as cool as a Mata Hari and as sweet as Betty Crocker."[16] Nancy is wealthy, attractive, and amazingly talented.

At sixteen she 'had studied psychology in school and was familiar with the power of suggestion and association.' Nancy was a fine painter, spoke French, and had frequently run motor boats. She was a skilled driver who at sixteen 'flashed into the garage with a skill born of long practice.' The prodigy was a sure shot, an excellent swimmer, skillful oarsman, expert seamstress, gourmet cook, and a fine bridge player. Nancy brilliantly played tennis and golf, and rode like a cowboy. Nancy danced like Ginger Rogers and could administer first aid like the Mayo brothers.[17]

Nancy never lacks money and in later volumes of the series often travels to far-away locations, such as Nairobi in The Spider Sapphire Mystery (1968), Austria in Captive Witness (1981), Japan in The Runaway Bride (1994), and Costa Rica in Scarlet Macaw Scandal (2004). Nancy is also able to travel freely about the United States, thanks to her car, which in most books is a blue convertible.[18] Despite the trouble and presumed expense to which she goes to solve mysteries, Nancy never accepts monetary compensation.[19]

Creation of character

Edward Stratemeyer

The character was conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Stratemeyer had created the Hardy Boys series in 1926 (although the first volumes were not published until 1927). The series had been such a success that he decided to create a similar series for girls, with an amateur girl detective as the heroine. While Stratemeyer believed that a woman's place was in the home,[20] he was aware that the Hardy Boys books were popular with girl readers and wished to capitalize on girls' interest in mysteries with a strong female heroine.[21]

Stratemeyer initially pitched the new series to Hardy Boys publishers Grosset & Dunlap as the "Stella Strong Stories", adding that "they might also be called 'Diana Drew Stories', 'Diana Dare Stories', 'Nan Nelson Stories', 'Nan Drew Stories', or 'Helen Hale Stories'."[22] Editors at Grosset & Dunlap preferred "Nan Drew" of these options, but decided to lengthen "Nan" to "Nancy".[23] Stratemeyer accordingly began writing plot outlines and hired Mildred Wirt, later Mildred Wirt Benson, to ghostwrite the first volumes in the series under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.[24] Subsequent titles have been written by a number of different ghostwriters, all under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.

The first four titles were published in 1930 and were an immediate success. Exact sales figures are not available for the years prior to 1979, but an indication of the books' popularity can be seen in a letter that Laura Harris, a Grosset and Dunlap editor, wrote to the Syndicate in 1931: "can you let us have the manuscript as soon as possible, and no later than July 10? There will only be three or four titles brought out then and the Nancy Drew is one of the most important."[25] The 6,000 copies that Macy's ordered for the 1933 Christmas season sold out within days.[26] In 1934 Fortune magazine featured the Syndicate in a cover story and singled Nancy Drew out for particular attention: "Nancy is the greatest phenomenon among all the fifty-centers. She is a best seller. How she crashed a Valhalla that had been rigidly restricted to the male of her species is a mystery even to her publishers."[27]


The Nancy Drew books have been written by various writers, all under the name Carolyn Keene. In accordance with the customs of Stratemeyer Syndicate series production, ghostwriters for the Syndicate signed contracts that have sometimes been interpreted as requiring authors to sign away all rights to authorship or future royalties.[28] The contracts stated that authors could not use their Stratemeyer Syndicate pseudonyms independently of the Syndicate.[29] In the early days of the Syndicate, ghostwriters were paid a fee of $125, "roughly equivalent to two month's wages for a typical newspaper reporter, the primary day job of the syndicate ghosts."[30] During the Great Depression this fee was lowered to $100.[31] All royalties went to the Syndicate, and all correspondence with the publisher was handled through a Syndicate office. The Syndicate was able to enlist the cooperation of libraries in hiding the ghostwriters' names; when Walter Karig, who wrote volumes 8 through 10 of the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, tried to claim rights with the Library of Congress in 1933, the Syndicate instructed the Library of Congress not to reveal the names of any Nancy Drew authors, a move with which the Library of Congress complied.[32]

The Syndicate's process for creating the Nancy Drew books consisted of creating a detailed plot outline, drafting a manuscript, and editing the manuscript. Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier wrote most of the outlines for the original Nancy Drew series until 1979. Volume 30, The Clue of the Velvet Mask (1953), was outlined by Andrew Svenson. Usually, other writers wrote the manuscripts. Most of the early volumes were written by Mildred Wirt Benson. Other volumes were written by Walter Karig, George Waller, Jr., Margaret Scherf, Wilhelmina Rankin, Alma Sasse, Charles Strong, Iris Vinton,[33] and Patricia Doll. Edward Stratemeyer edited the first three volumes, and Harriet Adams edited most subsequent volumes until her death in 1982. In 1959, the earlier titles were revised, largely by Adams.[34] From the late 1950s until her death in 1982, Harriet Adams herself wrote the manuscripts for most of the books.[35]

After Adams's death, series production was overseen by Nancy Axelrad (who also wrote several volumes). The rights to the character were sold in 1984, along with the Stratemeyer Syndicate itself, to Simon and Schuster. Book packager Mega-Books subsequently hired authors to write the main Nancy Drew series and a new series, The Nancy Drew Files.[36]

Legal disputes

In 1980, Harriet Adams switched publishers to Simon and Schuster, dissatisfied with the lack of creative control at Grosset & Dunlap and the lack of publicity for the Hardy Boys' 50th anniversary in 1977. Grosset & Dunlap filed suit against the Syndicate and the new publishers, Simon and Schuster, citing "breach of contract, copyright infringement, and unfair competition."[37]

Adams filed a countersuit, claiming the case was in poor taste and frivolous, and that, as author of the Nancy Drew series, she retained the rights to her work. Although Adams had written many of the titles after 1953, and edited others, she claimed to be the author of all of the early titles. In fact, she had rewritten the older titles and was not their original author. When Mildred Benson was called to testify about her work for the Syndicate, Benson's role in writing the manuscripts of early titles was revealed in court with extensive documentation, contradicting Adams' claims to authorship. The court ruled that Grosset had the rights to publish the original series as they were in print in 1980, but did not own characters or trademarks. Furthermore, any new publishers chosen by Adams were completely within their rights to print new titles.[38]

Evolution of character

The character of Nancy Drew has gone through many permutations over the years. The Nancy Drew Mystery series was revised beginning in 1959;[39] many commentators agree that Nancy's character changed significantly from the original Nancy of the 1930s and 1940s.[40] Commentators also often see a difference between the Nancy Drew of the original series, the Nancy of The Nancy Drew Files, and the Nancy of Girl Detective series.[41] Nevertheless, some commentators find no significant difference between the different permutations of Nancy Drew, finding Nancy to be simply a good role model for girls.[42] Despite revisions, "[w]hat hasn't changed, however, are [Nancy's] basic values, her goals, her humility, and her magical gift for having at least nine lives. For more than six decades, her essence has remained intact."[43] Nancy is a "teen detective queen" who

offers girl readers something more than action-packed adventure: she gives them something original. Convention has it that girls are passive, respectful, and emotional, but with the energy of a girl shot out of a cannon, Nancy bends conventions and acts out every girl's fantasies of power.[44]

Other commentators see Nancy as "a paradox—which may be why feminists can laud her as a formative 'girl power' icon and conservatives can love her well-scrubbed middle-class values."[45]


Nancy Drew is depicted as an independent-minded 16-year-old who has already completed her high school education (16 was the minimum age for graduation at the time). Apparently affluent, she maintains an active social, volunteer, and sleuthing schedule, as well as participating in athletics and the arts, but is never shown as working for a living or acquiring job skills. Nancy is affected neither by the Great Depression—although many of the characters in her early cases need assistance as they are poverty-stricken—nor by World War II. Nancy lives with her lawyer father, Carson Drew, and their housekeeper, Mrs. Hannah Gruen. Some critics prefer the Nancy of these volumes, largely written by Mildred Benson. Benson is credited with "[breathing] ... a feisty spirit into Nancy's character."[46] The original Nancy Drew is sometimes claimed "to be a lot like [Benson] herself – confident, competent, and totally independent, quite unlike the cardboard character that [Edward] Stratemeyer had outlined."[47]

This original Nancy is frequently outspoken and authoritative, so much so that Edward Stratemeyer told Benson that the character was "much too flip, and would never be well-received."[48][49] The editors at Grosset & Dunlap disagreed,[50] but Benson also faced criticism from her next Stratemeyer Syndicate editor, Harriet Adams, who felt that Benson should make Nancy's character more "sympathetic, kind-hearted and lovable." Adams repeatedly asked Benson to, in Benson's words, "make the sleuth less bold ... 'Nancy said' became 'Nancy said sweetly,' 'she said kindly,' and the like, all designed to produce a less abrasive more caring type of character."[51] Many readers and commentators, however, admire this original Nancy's outspoken character.[52]

A prominent critic of the Nancy Drew character, at least the Nancy of these early Nancy Drew stories,[53] is mystery writer Bobbie Ann Mason. Mason contends that Nancy owes her popularity largely to "the appeal of her high-class advantages."[54] Mason also criticizes the series for its racism and classism,[55] arguing that Nancy is the upper-class WASP defender of a "fading aristocracy, threatened by the restless lower classes."[56] Mason further contends that the

most appealing elements of these daredevil girl sleuth adventure books are (secretly) of this kind: tea and fancy cakes, romantic settings, food eaten in quaint places (never a Ho-Jo's), delicious pauses that refresh, old-fashioned picnics in the woods, precious jewels and heirlooms.... The word dainty is a subversive affirmation of a feminized universe.[57]

At bottom, says Mason, the character of Nancy Drew is that of a girl who is able to be "perfect" because she is "free, white, and sixteen"[16] and whose "stories seem to satisfy two standards – adventure and domesticity. But adventure is the superstructure, domesticity the bedrock."[57]

Others argue that

Nancy, despite her traditionally feminine attributes, such as good looks, a variety of clothes for all social occasions, and an awareness of good housekeeping, is often praised for her seemingly masculine traits ... she operates best independently, has the freedom and money to do as she pleases, and outside of a telephone call or two home, seems to live for solving mysteries rather than participating in family life.[58]


At the insistence of publishers Grosset & Dunlap, the Nancy Drew books were revised beginning in 1959, both to make the books more modern and to eliminate racist stereotypes.[59] Although Harriet Adams felt that these changes were unnecessary, she oversaw a complete overhaul of the series, as well as writing new volumes in keeping with the new guidelines laid down by Grosset & Dunlap.[2] The series did not so much eliminate racial stereotypes, however, as eliminate non-white characters altogether.[4] For example, in the original version of The Hidden Window Mystery (1956), Nancy visits friends in the south whose African-American servant, "lovable old Beulah[,] serves squabs, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, piping hot biscuits, and strawberry shortcake."[60] The mistress of the house waits until Beulah has left the room and then says to Nancy, "I try to make things easier for Beulah but she insists on cooking and serving everything the old-fashioned way. I must confess, though, that I love it."[61] In the revised version (1975), Beulah becomes Anna, a "plump, smiling housekeeper"[62] whose race is not made explicit.

Many other changes were relatively minor. Nancy's age was raised from 16 to 18, her mother was said to have died when Nancy was three, rather than ten, and other small changes were made.[46] Housekeeper Hannah Gruen, sent off to the kitchen in early stories, became less of a servant and more of a mother surrogate.[63]

Many claim that Nancy's character also changed significantly: "The character of Nancy Drew also underwent a dramatic change: the strong-willed teen was having her personality diluted, causing her to lose her characteristic independence," making Nancy Drew more docile, conventional, and demure.[5] The books were also shortened from 25 chapters to 20, quickening the narrative pace. Some commentators are less concerned about the attempted elimination of racial stereotypes from these books than about the more choppy writing style:

The revisions shortened the books and left out a lot of the prejudices and stereotypes from the original text volumes. They also quickened the pace of the texts. The originals really develop the story, the scenes, and the characters in much more detail than do the revised texts. Consequently, most collectors who grew up with the originals would not have the revised texts for anything![46]

Other critics see the Nancy of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s as an improvement in some ways, a step back in others:

In these new editions, an array of elements had been modified...and most of the more overt elements of racism had been excised. In an often overlooked alteration, however, the tomboyishness of the text's title character was also tamed.[64]

Nancy becomes much more respectful of male authority figures in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, leading some to claim that the revised Nancy simply becomes too agreeable: "[I]n her new incarnation, Nancy was leveled out, homogenized.... In the revised books, Nancy is relentlessly upbeat, puts up with her father's increasingly protective tendencies, and, when asked if she goes to church in the 1969 The Clue of the Tapping Heels, replies, 'As often as I can' ... Nancy learns to hold her tongue; she doesn't sass the dumb cops like she used to."[65]


In a change from earlier portrayals of the character, Nancy is pictured on the cover of Hit and Run Holiday (1986) in proximity to an attractive young man, rather than a clue.

After Harriet Adams died in 1982, her protegé, Nancy Axelrad, oversaw production of the Nancy Drew books briefly before the Stratemeyer Syndicate was sold to Simon and Schuster. Simon and Schuster turned to book packager Mega-Books for new writers.[36] The books and Nancy's character began to change as a result, although there is disagreement on the nature of this change. Some contend that Nancy's character becomes "more like Mildred Wirt Benson's original heroine than any [version] since 1956."[66] Others criticize the series for its increasing incorporation of romance and "[dilution] of pre-feminist moxie."[67] For example, volume 78 in the series Update on Crime (1992) opens with Nancy wondering in italics, "Am I or am I not in love with Ned Nickerson?"[68] Nancy begins dating other young men and acknowledges sexual desires: "'I saw [you kissing him] ... You don't have to apologize to me if some guy turns you on.' 'Gianni doesn't turn me on! ... Won't you please let me explain.'"[69]

In 1986, the character of Nancy Drew was used in a new series, The Nancy Drew Files, which lasted until 1997. The Nancy of the Files series is also interested in romance and boys, a fact which led to much criticism of the series: "Millie [Mildred Wirt Benson] purists tend to look askance upon the Files series, in which fleeting pecks bestowed on Nancy by her longtime steady, Ned Nickerson, give way to lingering embraces in a Jacuzzi."[6] Cover art for Files titles, such as Hit and Run Holiday (1986), reflects these changes; Nancy is often dressed provocatively, in short skirts, shirts that reveal her stomach or breasts, or a bathing suit. She is often pictured with an attentive, handsome male in the background, and frequently appears aware of and interested in that male. Nancy also becomes more vulnerable, being often chloroformed into unconsciousness, or defenseless against chokeholds. The books place more emphasis on violence and character relationships.[70]

Nancy Drew finally went to college in the Nancy Drew on Campus series, which ran from 1995 to 1998. Again, the books focused on romance plots, and, by reader request, Nancy broke off her long-term relationship with boyfriend Ned Nickerson in the second volume of the series, On Her Own (1995).[46][71]


In 2003, publishers Simon and Schuster decided to end the original Nancy Drew series and feature Nancy's character in a new mystery series, Girl Detective. The Nancy Drew of the Girl Detective series drives a hybrid car, uses a cell phone, and recounts her mysteries in the first person. Many applaud these changes, arguing that Nancy has not really changed at all other than learning to use a cell phone.[72] Others praise the series as more realistic; Nancy, these commentators argue, is now a less-perfect and therefore more likable being, one whom girls can more easily relate to – a better role model than the old Nancy because she can actually be emulated, rather than a "prissy automaton of perfection."[73]

Some vociferously lament the changes, seeing Nancy as a silly, air-headed girl whose trivial adventures (discovering who squished the squash in Without a Trace [2003]) "hold a shallow mirror to a pre-teen's world."[74] Leona Fisher argues that the new series portrays an increasingly white River Heights, partially because "the clumsy first-person narrative voice makes it nearly impossible to interlace external authorial attitudes into the discourse," while it continues and worsens "the implicitly xenophobic cultural representations of racial, ethnic, and linguistic others" by introducing gratuitous speculations on characters' national and ethnic origins.[75]

The character is also the heroine of a series of graphic novels, begun in 2005 and produced by Papercutz. The graphic novels are written by Stefan Petrucha and illustrated in manga-style artwork by Sho Murase. The character's graphic novel incarnation has been described as "a fun, sassy, modern-day teen who is still hot on the heels of criminals."[76]

Evolution of character's appearance

Nancy Drew has been illustrated by many artists over the years, and her look constantly updated. Both the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the books' publishers have exercised control over the way Nancy is depicted.[77]

Jennifer Stowe contends that Nancy's portrayal devolves significantly over the years:

The 1930's Nancy Drew is characterized as bold, capable and independent. She actively seeks out clues, and is shown in the center of the compositions. In subsequent characterizations Nancy Drew becomes progressively weaker, less in control. By the 1990s there is a complete reversal in the representation of her character. She is often shown being chased or threatened, the confidence of the 1930's being replaced by fear.[78]

Some aspects of Nancy's portrayal have remained relatively constant through the decades. Arguably her most characteristic physical depiction is holding a flashlight.[79]

Russell H. Tandy

Commercial artist Russell H. Tandy was the first artist to illustrate Nancy Drew. Tandy was a fashion artist and infused Nancy with a contemporary fashion sensibility: Nancy's early style is that of a sophisticated young girl with immaculately curled hair, pearls, high heels, and elegant dresses. By the end of the 1930s, Nancy was dressing along the lines of a sophisticated young woman, with smart suits, matching hats, gloves, and handbags.[80] By the 1940s, Nancy wore simpler, tailored outfits and her hair was often arranged in a French knot or a pompadour.[81]

Tandy drew the inside sketches for the first 26 volumes of the series as well as painting the covers of volumes 1 through 10 and 12 through 26 – the cover artist for volume 11 is unknown. Tandy read each text before he began sketching, so his early covers were closely connected to specific scenes in the plots. He also hand-painted the cover lettering and designed the original Nancy Drew logo: a silhouette of Nancy bending slightly and looking at the ground through a quizzing glass.[82]

Tandy often portrays Nancy Drew with confident, assertive body language. She never appears "shocked, trepidatious, or scared."[83] Nancy is shown either boldly in the center of the action or actively, but secretively, investigating a clue.[84] She is often observed by a menacing figure and appears to be in imminent danger, but her confident expression suggests to viewers that she is in control of the situation.[85]

Tandy's home was struck by fire in 1962, and most of his original paintings and sketches were destroyed. As a result, the Tandy dust-jackets are considered very valuable by collectors.[86]

Bill Gillies and others

Beginning in 1949 and continuing into the early 1950s, Nancy's appearance was updated to follow the current styles. In postwar opulence, a trend emerged for young adults to have their own casual style, instead of dressing in the same styles as more mature adults, and Nancy becomes less constrained. Sweater or blouse and skirt ensembles, as well as a pageboy hairstyle, were introduced in 1948, and continued with new artist Bill Gillies, who updated 10 covers and illustrated three new jackets from 1950 to 1952. Gillies used his wife for a model, and Nancy reflects the conservative 1950s, with immaculately waved hair and a limited wardrobe–she wears similar sweater, blouse, and skirt ensembles on most of these covers. Gillies also designed the modern-era trademark as a spine symbol which was used for decades: Nancy's head in profile, looking through a quizzing glass.[86]

Beginning in the later Tandy period (1946-49), and continuing throughout the 1950s, Nancy is depicted less frequently in the center of the action. Instead, she is likely to be observing others, often hiding or concealing herself.[87] Her mouth is often open in surprise, and she hides her body from view.[88] However, although Nancy "expresses surprise, she is not afraid. She appears to be a bit taken aback by what she sees, but she looks as if she is still in control of the situation."[85] Many of the covers feature less action, such as the observation of a clue, other parties involved in the case, spying on criminal activity, or displaying her discoveries to others involved in the mystery. Only occasionally is she shown in action, such as running from the scene of a fire, or actively sleuthing with a flashlight. In many cases, more active scenes are used for the frontispiece, or in books after 1954, illustrations throughout the text drawn by uncredited illustrators.

Rudy Nappi and others

Rudy Nappi, the artist from 1953 to 1979, illustrates a more average teenager. Nappi was asked by Grosset & Dunlap's art director to update Nancy's appearance, especially her wardrobe. Nappi gave Nancy Peter Pan collars, shirtwaist dresses, a pageboy, (later a flip haircut), and the occasional pair of jeans. Nancy's hair color was changed from blonde to strawberry-blond, reddish-blond or titian by the end of the decade. The change, due to a printing ink error, was considered so favorable that it was adopted in the text.[89]

In 1962, all Grosset & Dunlap books become "picture covers," books with artwork and advertising printed directly on their covers, as opposed to books with a dust jacket over a tweed volume. The change was to reduce production costs. Several of the 1930s and 1940s cover illustrations were updated by Rudy Nappi for this change, depicting a Nancy of the Kennedy era, though the stories themselves were not updated. Internal illustrations, which were dropped in 1937, were returned to the books beginning in 1954, as pen and ink line drawings, mostly by uncredited artists, but usually corresponding with Nappi's style of drawing Nancy on the covers.[46] Nappi followed trends initiated by Gillies and often illustrated Nancy wearing the same clothing more than once, including a mustard shirtwaist dress.

Unlike Tandy, Nappi did not read the books before illustrating them; instead, his wife read them and provided him with a brief plot summary before Nappi began painting.[90] Nappi's first cover was for The Clue of the Velvet Mask, where he began a trend of portraying Nancy as "bobby-soxer ... a contemporary sixteen-year-old. This Nancy was perky, clean-cut, and extremely animated. In the majority of his covers Nancy looks startled – which, no doubt, she was."[91] Nancy's style is considerably conservative, and remains so during the psychedelic period. Although she wears bold colors and prints, or the background colors are shades of electric yellow, shocking pink, turquoise, or apple green, her clothing is high-necked and with long hemlines. Earlier Nappi covers show Nancy in poses similar to those in the covers by Tandy and Gillies; for many updated covers he simply updated the color scheme, clothing style, and hairstyles of the characters but retains their original poses in similar settings. Later Nappi covers show only Nancy's head or part of her body, surrounded by spooky or startling elements or clues from the story. These Nappi covers would later be used for the opening credits of the television production, with photos of Pamela Sue Martin inserted on the book covers.

Often, "Nancy's face wears the blank expression of one lost in thought,"[92] making her appear passive.[93] On the cover of The Strange Message in the Parchment (1977), for example, in contrast to earlier covers, Nancy "is not shown in the midst of danger or even watching a mystery unfold from a distance. Instead, Nancy is shown thinking about the clues;"[94] in general, Nancy becomes less confident and more puzzled.[92]

Nancy in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s

Nancy is shown in danger on the cover of The Case of the Vanishing Veil (1980) and other covers from the 1980s. Unlike in earlier covers from the series, she is not completely in control of the situation.

Ruth Sanderson and Paul Frame provided cover art and interior illustrations for the first Nancy Drew paperbacks, published under the Wanderer imprint. Other artists, including Aleta Jenks and others whose names are unknown,[95] provided cover art, but no interior illustrations, for later paperbacks. Nancy is portrayed as "a wealthy, privileged sleuth who looks pretty and alert.... The colors, and Nancy's facial features, are often so vivid that some of the covers look more like glossy photographs than paintings."[96]

Nancy is frequently portrayed pursuing a suspect,[93] examining a clue, or observing action. She is often also shown in peril:[97] being chased, falling off a boat, or hanging by a rope from rafters. These covers are

characterized by frenetic energy on Nancy's part; whether she is falling, limbs flailing, an alarmed look on her face, or whether she is running, hair flying, body bent, face breathless. Nancy does not have any control over the events that are happening in these covers. She is shown to be a victim, being hunted and attacked by unseen foes.[98]

Nancy is also sometimes pursued by a visibly threatening foe, as on the cover of The Case of the Vanishing Veil (1988).

The covers of the The Nancy Drew Files and Girl Detective series represent further departures from the bold, confident character portrayed by Tandy. The Nancy portrayed on the covers of The Nancy Drew Files is "a markedly sexy Nancy, with a handsome young man always lurking in the background. Her clothes often reveal an ample bustline and her expression is mischievous."[96] In the Girl Detective series, Nancy's face is depicted on each cover in fragments. Her eyes, for example, are confined to a strip across the top of the cover while her mouth is located near the spine in a box independent of her eyes. The artwork for Nancy's eyes and mouth is taken from Rudy Nappi's cover art for the revised version of The Secret of the Old Clock.[46]


The longest-running series of books to feature Nancy Drew is the original Nancy Drew series, whose 175 volumes were published from 1930 to 2003. Nancy also appeared in 124 titles in The Nancy Drew Files and is currently the heroine of the Girl Detective series. Various other series feature the character, such as the Nancy Drew Notebooks and Nancy Drew On Campus. While Nancy Drew is the central character in each series, continuity is preserved only within one series, not between them all; for example, in concurrently published titles in the Nancy Drew series and the Nancy Drew On Campus series, Nancy is respectively dating her boyfriend Ned Nickerson or broken up with Ned Nickerson.

International publications

The main Nancy Drew series, The Nancy Drew Files, and Girl Detective books have been translated into a number of languages besides English. Estimates vary from between 14 and 25 languages,[99] but 25 seems the most accurate number.[100] Nancy Drew books have been published in many European, Scandinavian, Latin American, and Asian countries. The character of Nancy Drew seems to be more popular in some countries than others. Nancy Drew books have been in print in Norway since 1941 (the first country outside USA[101]), in Denmark since 1958, and in France also since the 1950s. Other countries, such as Estonia, have only recently begun printing Nancy Drew books.[100]

Nancy's name is often changed in translated editions: in France, she is known as Alice Roy; in Sweden, as Kitty Drew; in Finland, as Paula Drew;[100] and in Norway the book series has the name of Frøken Detektiv (Miss Detective), though the heroine's name is still Nancy Drew inside the books.[102] In Germany, Nancy is a German law student named Susanne Langen. George Fayne's name is even more frequently changed, to Georgia, Joyce, Kitty, or Marion. Cover art and series order is often changed as well, and in many countries only a limited number of Drew books are available in translation.

Film and television

Six, feature films, and three television shows featuring Nancy Drew have been produced to date. No television show featuring Nancy Drew has lasted longer than two years, and film portrayals of the character have met with mixed reviews.


Former child actress Bonita Granville portrayed Nancy Drew in four Warner Bros. films directed by William Clemens in the late 1930s: Nancy Drew -- Detective (loosely based on The Password to Larkspur Lane) (December 1938), Nancy Drew... Reporter (March 1939), Nancy Drew: Trouble Shooter (September 1939), and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (November 1939).[103] A fifth movie may have been planned or even produced, but it was never released; actor Frankie Thomas believes that he and Granville made five movies, not four,[104] and in August 1939 Harriet Adams wrote to Mildred Benson, "three have been shown in this area, and I have just heard that a fifth is in production."[105]

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase was the only film to borrow its title from a book in the series, although the plot was altered substantially. One critic wrote that "the only similarity between the book and the film was the word staircase."[106] Nancy's boyfriend Ned Nickerson became Ted Nickerson, as Ned was considered too old-fashioned,[103] and housekeeper Hannah Gruen was replaced by Effie Schneider, a minor character who had appeared in only a few books as the Drews' part-time maid; in the films, Effie's traits are combined with Hannah's. Nancy's friends George and Bess were eliminated completely, "mystery elements were downplayed, plots simplified, and the romance spiced up."[105] To promote the film, Warner Brothers created a Nancy Drew fan club that included a set of rules, such as: "Must have steady boy friend, in the sense of a 'pal'" and must "Take part in choosing own clothes."[107] These rules were based on some research Warner Bros. had done on the habits and attitudes of "typical" teenage girls.[108]

Critical reaction to these films is mixed. Some find that the movies did not "depict the true Nancy Drew",[109] in part because Granville's Nancy "blatantly used her feminine wiles (and enticing bribes)" to accomplish her goals.[110] The films also portray Nancy as childish and easily flustered, a significant change from her portrayal in the books.[111] Nevertheless, Mildred Benson, the author of most Nancy Drew books at the time, liked the films.[105]

A new movie adaptation of Nancy Drew was released on June 15, 2007 by Warner Brothers Pictures, with Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew, Max Thieriot as Ned Nickerson and Tate Donovan as Carson Drew. As with the earlier Drew films, reactions were mixed. Some see the film as updated version of the basic character: "although it has been glammed up for the lucrative tween demographic, the movie retains the best parts of the books, including, of course, their intelligent main character."[112] Others find the movie "jolting" because Nancy's "new classmates prefer shopping to sleuthing, and Nancy's plaid skirt and magnifying glass make her something of a dork, not the town hero she was in the Midwest."[113]


A television series called The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries ran from 1977 to 1979 on ABC.[114] It initially starred 24-year-old Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy. For the first season, episodes featuring Nancy alternated with episodes featuring the Hardy Boys. Beginning in the second season, the format of the series changed to focus more on the Hardy Boys, with Nancy Drew primarily appearing as a guest star in several crossover story lines; Martin left the series midway through the second season and was replaced by Janet Louise Johnson for the final few episodes.[115] The series continued for a third season as The Hardy Boys Mysteries, dropping Nancy Drew completely.

In 1989, Canadian production company Nelvana began filming for a second Nancy Drew television series, to be called Nancy Drew and Daughter. Margot Kidder was cast as an adult Nancy Drew and her daughter as Nancy's daughter; however, Kidder was injured during filming of the first episode when the brakes failed on the car she was driving, and production was canceled.[116]

Nelvana began production of another Nancy Drew television show in 1995. Tracy Ryan starred as Nancy Drew, but the show was cancelled after one season.[117] In December 2002, the ABC television network aired "Nancy Drew," a TV-movie with Maggie Lawson in the title role. [118]

Computer games

Computer games publisher Her Interactive began publishing Nancy Drew computer games in 1998. Some titles are taken from published Nancy Drew books, such as The Secret of the Old Clock and The Secret of Shadow Ranch. The games are targeted at "ages 10 and up" and are rated "E" ("Everyone") by the ESRB. They follow the popular adventure game style of play. Players must move Nancy around in a virtual environment to talk to suspects, pick up clues, solve puzzles, and eventually solve the crime.[119] The games have received recognition for promoting female interest in video games.[120] Her Interactive has also released several versions of their Nancy Drew games in French, as part of a series called Les Enquêtes de Nancy Drew,[100] and a shorter game as part of a new series called the Nancy Drew Dossier;[121] the first, Lights, Camera, Curses, was released in 2008 and the second, Resorting to Danger, was released in 2009. Her Interactive also released The White Wolf of Icicle Creek on the Nintendo Wii system. In addition to the games created by Her Interactive, a new game for the Nintendo DS was released in September 2007 by Majesco Entertainment. The game, called Nancy Drew: Deadly Secret of Olde World Park, will let players help Nancy solve the mystery of a missing billionaire. The game was developed by Gorilla Systems Co.[122][123] Majesco has also released two other Nancy Drew games for the DS, entitled Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society (released July 2008)[124] and Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase, based on the second book in the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series (released September 2008).[125] Nancy Drew The Hidden Staircase and Nancy Drew The Model Mysteries, both by THQ, are also available on the Nintendo DS system.

Nancy Drew Adventure

Nancy Drew Dossier

  • Lights, Camera, Curses (PC 2008)
  • Resorting to Danger (PC 2009)
  • Nancy Drew Dossier: Ship of Shadows (PC 2012)

Nancy Drew Mobile Mysteries

  • Shadow Ranch (iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad 2011)
  • Castle Finster (iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad)


A number of Nancy Drew products have been licensed over the years, primarily in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Parker Brothers produced a "Nancy Drew Mystery Game" in 1957 with the approval of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. In 1967 Madame Alexander produced a Nancy Drew doll. The doll carried binoculars and camera and was available in two outfits: a plaid coat or a dress and short jacket. Harriet Adams disapproved of the doll's design, believing Nancy's face to be too childish, but the doll was marketed nonetheless. Various Nancy Drew coloring, activity, and puzzle books have also been published, as has a Nancy Drew puzzle. A Nancy Drew Halloween costume and a Nancy Drew lunchbox were produced in the 1970s as television show tie-ins.[126]

Cultural impact

According to commentators, the cultural impact of Nancy Drew has been enormous.[127] The immediate success of the series led directly to the creation of numerous other girls' mysteries series, such as The Dana Girls mystery stories and the Kay Tracey mystery stories,[128] and the phenomenal sales of the character Edward Stratemeyer feared was "too flip" encouraged publishers to market many other girls' mystery series, such as the Judy Bolton Series, and to request authors of series such as the Cherry Ames Nurse Stories to incorporate mystery elements into their works.[129]

Many prominent and successful women cite Nancy Drew as an early formative influence whose character encouraged them to take on unconventional roles, including Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Sonia Sotomayor;[130] journalist Barbara Walters; singer Beverly Sills;[131] mystery authors Sara Paretsky and Nancy Pickard; scholar Carolyn Heilbrun; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former First Lady Laura Bush;[10] and former president of the National Organization for Women Karen DeCrow.[132] Less prominent women also credit the character of Nancy Drew with helping them to become stronger women; when the first Nancy Drew conference was held, at the University of Iowa, in 1993, conference organizers received a flood of calls from women who "all had stories to tell about how instrumental Nancy had been in their lives, and about how she had inspired, comforted, entertained them through their childhoods, and, for a surprising number of women, well into adulthood."[133]

Nancy Drew's popularity continues unabated: in 2002, the first Nancy Drew book published, The Secret of the Old Clock, alone sold 150,000 copies,[134] good enough for top-50 ranking in children's books,[135] and other books in the series sold over 100,000 copies each.[136] Sales of the hardcover volumes of the original Nancy Drew series alone has surpassed sales of Agatha Christie titles,[137] and newer titles in the Girl Detective series have reached the New York Times bestseller lists.[134] Approximately 10 new Drew titles are released a year, in both book and graphic novel form, and a sequel to the 2007 Nancy Drew film is planned.[138] Entertainment Weekly ranked her seventeenth on its list of "The Top 20 Heroes", ahead of Batman, explaining that Drew is the "first female hero embraced by most little girls ... [Nancy lives] in an endless summer of never-ending adventures and unlimited potential." The magazine goes on to cite Scooby-Doo's Velma Dinkley as well as Veronica Mars as Nancy Drew's "copycat descendants".[79]

Many feminist critics have pondered the reason for the character's iconic status. Nancy's car, and her skill in driving and repairing it, are often cited. Melanie Rehak points to Nancy's famous blue roadster (now a blue hybrid) as a symbol of "ultimate freedom and independence."[131] Not only does Nancy have the freedom to go where she pleases (a freedom other, similar characters such as The Dana Girls do not have), she is also able to change a tire and fix a flawed distributor, prompting Paretsky to argue that in "a nation where car mechanics still mock or brush off complaints by women Nancy remains a significant role model."[139]

Nancy is also treated with respect: her decisions are rarely questioned and she is trusted by those around her. Male authority figures believe her statements, and neither her father nor Hannah Gruen, the motherly housekeeper, "place ... restrictions on her comings and goings."[140] Nancy's father not only imposes no restrictions on his daughter, but trusts her both with her own car and his gun (in the original version of The Hidden Staircase [1930]), asks her advice on a frequent basis, and accedes to all her requests. Some critics, such as Betsy Caprio and Ilana Nash, argue that Nancy's relationship with her continually approving father is satisfying to girl readers because it allows them to vicariously experience a fulfilled Electra complex.[141]

Unlike other girl detectives, Nancy does not go to school (for reasons that are never explained), and she thus has complete autonomy. Similar characters, such as Kay Tracey, do go to school, and not only lose a degree of independence but also of authority. The fact of a character's being a school-girl reminds "the reader, however fleetingly, of the prosaic realities of high-school existence, which rarely includes high adventures or an authoritative voice in the world of adults."[142]

Some see in Nancy's adventures a mythic quality. Nancy often explores secret passages, prompting Nancy Pickard to argue that Nancy Drew is a figure equivalent to the ancient Sumerian deity Inanna and that Nancy's "journeys into the 'underground'" are, in psychological terms, explorations of the unconscious.[143] Nancy is a heroic figure, undertaking her adventures not for the sake of adventure alone, but in order to help others, particularly the disadvantaged. For this reason, Nancy Drew has been called the modern embodiment of the character of "Good Deeds" in Everyman.[144]

In the end, many critics[145] agree that at least part of Nancy Drew's popularity depends on the way in which the books and the character combine sometimes contradictory values:

For over 60 years, the Nancy Drew series has told readers that they can have the benefits of both dependence and independence without the drawbacks, that they can help the disadvantaged and remain successful capitalists, that they can be both elitist and democratic, that they can be both child and adult, and that they can be both "liberated" women and "Daddys' little girls."[146]

As another critic puts it, "Nancy Drew 'solved' the contradiction of competing discourses about American womanhood by entertaining them all."[147]

In 2010, Nancy Drew (and her novels) were discussed in the Young Adult themed issue of the academic journal "Studies in the Novel." See Jennifer M. Woolston's essay entitled "Nancy Drew’s Body: The Case of the Autonomous Female Sleuth" for a detailed discussion of the heroine's impact on popular culture. The essay also discusses links to Nancy Drew and feminist theory.


  1. ^ Peters (2007), 542.
  2. ^ a b Rehak (2006), 243.
  3. ^ Nash (2006), 55
  4. ^ a b Rehak (2006), 248.
  5. ^ a b Lapin (1989).
  6. ^ a b Leigh Brown (1993), 1D.
  7. ^ Stowe (1999).
  8. ^ Inness (1997), 79.
  9. ^ McFeatters (2005), 36.
  10. ^ a b Burrell (2007).
  11. ^ Argetsinger and Roberts (2007), C03.
  12. ^ Sherrie A. Inness writes that in "many respects, Nancy Drew exists as a wish fulfillment." See Inness (1997), 175.
  13. ^ Chamberlain (1994).
  14. ^ Fisher (2004), 71.
  15. ^ Macleod (1995), 31.
  16. ^ a b Mason (1995), 50.
  17. ^ Jones (1973), 708.
  18. ^ Inness (1997), 91.
  19. ^ Keene (1961), 198.
  20. ^ Johnson (1982), xxvi.
  21. ^ Johnson (1993), 12.
  22. ^ Rehak (2006), 113-114.
  23. ^ Rehak (2006), 113.
  24. ^ Carpan (2008), 50.
  25. ^ Quoted in Rehak (2006), 121.
  26. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 27.
  27. ^ Quoted in Plunkett-Powell (1993), 18.
  28. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 24.
  29. ^ Keeline (2008), 21.
  30. ^ Keeline (2008), 22.
  31. ^ Rehak (2006), 149.
  32. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 26-27.
  33. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 39.
  34. ^ Rehak (2006), 245.
  35. ^ Farah (2005), 431-521; Rehak (2006), 249.
  36. ^ a b Plunkett-Powell (1993), 29.
  37. ^ Johnson (1993), 16.
  38. ^ Johnson (1993), 17.
  39. ^ Dyer and Romalov (1995), 194.
  40. ^ See, for example, Betsy Caprio, Geoffrey Lapin, Karen Plunkett-Powell, and Melanie Rehak.
  41. ^ See, for example, Maureen Corrigan, Catherine Foster.
  42. ^ See, for example, Gerstel (2007), Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), and Plunkett-Powell (1993).
  43. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 55.
  44. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 8.
  45. ^ O'Rourke (2004).
  46. ^ a b c d e f Fisher, "Nancy Drew, Sleuth."
  47. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 24.
  48. ^ Quoted in Plunkett-Powell (1993), 33.
  49. ^ While Benson stated repeatedly in interviews that Stratemeyer used these words to her (Keeline 25), James Keeline states that there is no independent confirmation of this; Stratemeyer's written comments to Benson upon receipt of the manuscript for The Secret of the Old Clock contain no such criticism (Keeline 26).
  50. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 33.
  51. ^ Quoted in Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 28.
  52. ^ See, for example, Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), Lapin (1986), and Fisher.
  53. ^ While Mason's book was originally published in 1975, after the Drew books began to be revised and re-written, Mason cites the unrevised volumes almost exclusively.
  54. ^ Mason (1995), 49.
  55. ^ Mason (1995), 69-71.
  56. ^ Mason (1995), 73.
  57. ^ a b Mason (1995), 60.
  58. ^ Parry (1997), 148.
  59. ^ Carpan (2008), 15.
  60. ^ Mason (1995), 70.
  61. ^ Keene (1956), 64. Quoted in Mason (1995), 70.
  62. ^ Keene (1975), 35.
  63. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 94.
  64. ^ Abate (2008), 167.
  65. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 113-114.
  66. ^ Caprio (1992), 27.
  67. ^ Torrance (2007), D01.
  68. ^ Keene (1985), 1.
  69. ^ Keene (1985), 111-112. Cited by Shangraw Fox.
  70. ^ Foster (1986), 31.
  71. ^ Drew (1997), 185.
  72. ^ Springen and Meadows(2005).
  73. ^ Benfer (2004), A15.
  74. ^ Corrigan (2004).
  75. ^ Fisher, Leona (2008), 73.
  76. ^ "Sleuths Go Graphic" (2008).
  77. ^ Rehak (2006), 228.
  78. ^ Stowe (1999), 1.
  79. ^ a b "The Top 20 Heroes," Entertainment Weekly 1041 (April 3, 2009): 36.
  80. ^ Stowe (1999), 15.
  81. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 44.
  82. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 43–44.
  83. ^ Stowe (1999), 26.
  84. ^ Stowe (1999), 28.
  85. ^ a b Stowe (1999), 32.
  86. ^ a b Plunkett-Powell (1993), 46.
  87. ^ Stowe (1999), 30.
  88. ^ Stowe (1999), 30-31.
  89. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 48.
  90. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 49.
  91. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 47.
  92. ^ a b Stowe (1999), 35.
  93. ^ a b Stowe (1999), 36.
  94. ^ Stowe (1999), 33.
  95. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 52.
  96. ^ a b Plunkett-Powell (1993), 51.
  97. ^ Stowe (1999), 38.
  98. ^ Stowe (1999), 40.
  99. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 160.
  100. ^ a b c d Shangraw Fox.
  101. ^ Around the World with Nancy Drew - Norway
  102. ^ Skjønsberg (1994), 72.
  103. ^ a b Plunkett-Powell (1993), 113.
  104. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 117.
  105. ^ a b c Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 103.
  106. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 105.
  107. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 116.
  108. ^ Nash (2006), 87-90.
  109. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 114.
  110. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 115.
  111. ^ Nash (2006),71-116.
  112. ^ Cheong (2007).
  113. ^ Brown (2007), D1.
  114. ^ Carpan (2008), 110.
  115. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 121.
  116. ^ Canadian Press (1990).
  117. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 122.
  118. ^ Internet Movie Database
  119. ^ Szadkowski (2009).
  120. ^ "Games of the Year". PC Gamer (Future Games) (198): 65. March 2010. 
  121. ^ Bella (2009).
  122. ^ TurboNuts (2007).
  123. ^ Musser (2007).
  124. ^ Szadkowski (2008).
  125. ^ Brown (2009).
  126. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 158-167.
  127. ^ Among critics making this claim are Billman, Caprio, Dyer and Romalov, Inness, Kismaric and Heiferman, Macleod, Mason, Nash, Plunkett-Powell, and Rehak.
  128. ^ Rehak (2006), 162.
  129. ^ Billman (1986), 8.
  130. ^ Weiss (2009).
  131. ^ a b Shulman (2007).
  132. ^ Rehak (2006), xii.
  133. ^ Nancy Tillman Romalov, quoted in Knowlton (1995), 21.
  134. ^ a b Eveld (2004).
  135. ^ Strauss (2004).
  136. ^ Leibrock (2004).
  137. ^ Paretsky (1991), i.
  138. ^ McClintock (2007).
  139. ^ Paretsky (1991), ii.
  140. ^ Paretsky (1991), iii.
  141. ^ Caprio (1992); Nash (2006), passim.
  142. ^ Macleod (1995), 33.
  143. ^ Pickard (1991), iii.
  144. ^ Lundin (2003), 123.
  145. ^ See also Mason (1995), 49; Nash (2006), 29-30; O'Rourke (2004).
  146. ^ Chamberlain (1994), 3.
  147. ^ Siegel (1997), 171.


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