Nancy Drew, Meet Nancy Drew

It still seems bizarre to me that there are two very different versions of The Hidden Staircase, both attributed to Carolyn Keene. Oh, I know there’s no Carolyn Keene and that both versions were written by ghostwriters (ghost—ha-ha!), but it’s still wrong for there to be two different books with the same title and same listed author. Anyway, I read both versions and here’s what I thought of them:

The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (1930 copyright)
Grade: A

Nancy visits an elderly woman whom she helped in The Secret of the Old Clock. The woman introduces Nancy to Rosemary Turnbull. Rosemary and her sister live in an old house they call The Mansion, which seems to have suddenly and inexplicably become haunted. Nancy takes a liking to Miss Turnbull and decides to go and stay at The Mansion for a while and investigate the supposed haunting.

This version has its scary moments. The Mansion has no electricity and no phone. Imagine being stuck in a large, unfamiliar house with no lights in the middle of the night while there’s a ghost around! The way Nancy solves this mystery still gives me the goosebumps. I wouldn’t call it high literature, but I think it’s great reading for girls. I concede there are parts of it that would probably be viewed as racist by modern audiences. Still, I would have left the book as it was. IMHO, if you’re old enough to read Nancy Drew, you’re old enough to start having discussions about American history, slavery, racism, and social inequality.

The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (2001 printing)
Grade: C+

Nancy’s friend, Helen, asks for help with a family mystery. Helen’s great-aunt and great-grandmother live in an old house called Twin Elms, which seems to have suddenly and inexplicably become haunted. Nancy and Helen decide to go and stay at the house for a while and investigate the supposed haunting.

In this version, Nancy is rarely alone and there are no moments of real terror (for her or for us). The way the mystery unfolds is simplistic and unbelievable. For example, the police chief calls Nancy to the station and begs her to question a couple of uncooperative suspects. He says, “You may not know it, but you’re a very persuasive young lady. I believe that you might be able to get information . . . where we have failed.” When Nancy talks to the suspects they immediately spill their guts. And then she runs into another bad guy in what ought to have been a scary place, but he just decides he was wrong for what he did and gives himself up! Really? I cannot claim 100% objectivity, since I love the original, but I can’t imagine how anyone thought this version was an improvement.

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