Brenda (Brendini) explains why Trixie Belden is better than Nancy Drew.
Over the years, there have been many different young detective series. One of the most famous, of course, is Nancy Drew. Some of the lesser-known series include Meg Duncan, Judy Bolton, Ginny Gordon, and Trixie Belden (Knight). One thing these series all have in common is that they are meant to inspire children to learn to enjoy reading. The authors and publishers never knew these books would be enjoyed (for some) well into adulthood. Fan websites and message boards have sprung up all over the Internet, and the fans vary widely in age.
Young adult mysteries began primarily with Edward Stratemeyer. After his success with “The Rover Boys”, he aspired for more success. He devised a plan to improve the dime novel. By producing books with cloth hardbound covers (and increasing the price to fifty cents), the books seemed more respectable to parents yet they were still affordable to children. Despite worries about meager profits, the format was a success. The format allowed publishers to release a “breeder” set of three books at one time to provide a market test, of sorts, of the series’ possible success (O’Rourke).
The demand for Stratemeyer’s books was beyond his capacity. He decided to create a syndicate; he would provide the outlines for the stories, and then have other authors write the books under pseudonyms. His syndicate grew and by 1926, thirty-one series were in full swing. Stratemeyer, still not content, noted the popularity of detective books with adults. This was the beginning of the Hardy boys. With the success of the series, and the prevalence of the women’s movement, he decided to expand even further. Nancy Drew was “born” in 1930(O’Rourke).
In the late 1940s, Julie Campbell was the head of a literary agency. While attending a meeting at Whitman Publishing Company, agents were told to encourage writers to write fast-paced stories which would be inexpensive to publish. After the meeting, Campbell sent Whitman the outline for the first Ginny Gordon book. Because of that, she got a contract to write not only Ginny Gordon, but Trixie Belden as well (White).
Campbell thought Nancy Drew books were “badly written and entirely unbelievable” (Bittner). Campbell once said,
(They were) so unrealistic, with such absurd lurid plots, and then she breaks the first rule and always screams that she is Carson Drew’s daughter to get out of a scrape. The rule is that when kids get themselves into a scrape, they must get themselves out without help from adults. (Knight)
Trixie Belden, as a series, is better than Nancy Drew.
Trixie Belden is more realistic than Nancy Drew. She has very real friendships, and is a strong female character. Trixie doesn’t run for adults when she has a problem (although sometimes she should).
Trixie Belden is a “not-quite-pretty 13-year-old” who is not ready to give in to being a teenage girl yet (Greenlee-Donnell). She is a tomboy at heart, but she has occasional “lapses” into being a girl (Knight). She is nowhere near “glamorous” (Greenlee-Donnell).
Trixie is also closer to the age of the target readers (Mason). Trixie rides her bike, walks, or rides a neighbor’s horse to get around, and works for the money she has. She knows the value of a dollar, because in her family, everyone works for what they have. She is not gorgeous, beautiful, or any of those other words: she has freckles and uncontrollably curly hair. She will bob for apples without worrying about her hair (Greenlee-Donnell). She sometimes experiences accidental bouts of femininity, but it does not last long (Knight 4).
Trixie has very real friendships. Her friends are not cookie cutters of her, but are individuals themselves. Her best friend, Honey, came from old money, and was shy and timid when they first met. Her other good friend, Diana, was rich as well, but her father had gotten wealthy in a very short time span (probably on the stock market). Jim, Honey’s adopted brother, came from an abusive family where his father died when he was ten. He later ran away, which is how he got involved with the story. Dan was another who had a troubled past. Before moving to town, he lost both of his parents and became a part of a street gang in New York City. They were a group of friends who supported each other no matter what, but had the occasional conflict. Conflicts are not isolated to the friends. As with all families, Trixie and her brothers argue and make up on a regular basis.
Trixie is “sharp and shrewd”, “determinedly independent”, enthusiastic, stubborn, and sympathetic (Mason). She also has trouble with math, and was tutored in several subjects throughout the series.
Lower class people were not automatically criminals, or to be looked down on. In several instances the redeeming characteristics of people “less fortunate” than herself are discussed. In “The Mysterious Code”, the Hakaito brothers are Japanese vegetable farmers. They are portrayed as generous and as good farmers, even if they do mispronounce a few words, including Trixie’s name. In “The Mystery of the Blinking Eye”, the Mexican fortuneteller is a sympathetic character, although her poem is scoffed at by some of Trixie’s friends (Knight 205).
In early editions of Nancy Drew, minorities are shown in unfavorable and stereotypical ways. According to “Nancy Drew: Girl Sleuth, Girl Wonder”, the practice continues to recent times. “‘Greek Odyssey’ (1992) is about terrorism. The villains are dark-skinned people with unusual names (Mashti, Rashid, and Shara). In this instance, the series is appealing to prejudice against Arabs, a group that many Americans feels is acceptable to discriminate against.”
Nancy Drew was actually a forerunner in the girl detective genre. Nancy is the ideal we all wanted to be: beautiful, smart, privileged. She also, despite having lost her mother at a very young age, had no shadows in her eyes, no issues with which to deal. Life was as it was, simply put. She almost always succeeded at what she did, and was almost always right. She never had to worry about money, or gas, or what had paid for the clothes on her back. She had everything a girl could want.
Things came easily to Nancy. Clues were discovered everywhere she turned (O’Rourke). She had the “perfect” boyfriend, but didn’t have to worry about another girl stealing him.
Trixie Belden has come and gone, and come back again. In 2001, Random House bought Western Publishing. Finally, she would have the opportunity to shine again! Editors at the publishing company were long-standing Trixie fans, and fought to have her published again, to bring her to light for a new generation.
Nancy Drew has survived for seventy years. This does not mean that she is the best, only that she is more well-known. With the Stratemeyer Syndicate behind her, she had opportunities and resources Trixie did not. Now, it is Trixie’s turn.
Trixie Belden is better than Nancy Drew. She is the friend any child would want to have, and she has the kind of fun any child would want to have. She has the same problems any child would have, and by reading through her problems, children could solve their own.