Monday, June 25, 2007

The Case of the Missing Sidekicks

I’ve been interested in the new Nancy Drew movie because, like a lot of now-adult women, I was a big fan of the books when I was a kid. They were actually hard to come by, unlike many other books. My grandmothers gave me them for my birthdays, or sometimes I got them from a friend, but they were relatively expensive hardcovers, so they were never acquired casually. And the library, the source of all my other reading material, didn’t have them – couldn’t keep them, they said, when I got up my nerve to ask. They were checked out and never returned so often that they didn’t buy them any more. (As someone who had thought about doing the same thing with a few of her favorite books, I completely understood.) By the time I had an allowance, and could support my own book habit, I had moved on, but I still remembered them with great fondness.

I liked the mysteries, of course. Nancy – and the game of Clue that the Coopers left behind in the basement cabinets when they moved – are probably the source of my life-long fondness for the genre. I liked the fact that Nancy’s father was a lawyer, and was thoroughly annoyed that my father never brought home the kinds of cases that Carson Drew had. I liked the fact that Nancy had her own car –I even had some of the early versions of the books, in which the car was a “roadster.” I didn’t know exactly what a roadster was, but it sounded good. (And now that I do know, I still want one.)

The thing I liked best, though, was that, if you wanted to play Nancy Drew, there were parts for three girls. This was important, because my best friend had a big sister who was just two years older than we were, and the three of us always ended up playing together. This was great when it was board games, like Monopoly or Clue or Life, but harder when it was something imaginary. Take Star Trek, for example. There was only one girl in the cast, Lieutenant Uhura; Spock was an OK part, and I always liked Scotty, but none of us really wanted to be Kirk or McCoy, and you kind of needed Kirk to run things. (This was complicated by the fact that none of us had ever actually seen the show. We were going by a Big Golden Book that I had bought in the supermarket.) Sherlock Holmes was equally problematic: only two good parts – one, really, though our Dr. Watson always had more sense than the original - unless we could persuade the big sister to be Moriarty, which she wisely refused.

But Nancy Drew…. Nancy Drew had three parts, Nancy and her best friends and co-investigators, George and Beth. And they were all girls, so nobody had to pretend to be a boy to play. (Yes, George was a girl.) Admittedly, my best friend usually claimed Nancy for herself, because it was her house, and then her sister and I would argue over who got to be George, but even if you got stuck with Beth, she wasn’t all that bad. She was still part of all the investigations, and she wasn’t really a “fraidy-cat,” just a little squeamish. (Or at least that’s how I remember we tacitly agreed to portray her.) My friends’ house had a semi-finished walk-out basement, and there was an area where you could pretend you were in a mine tunnel. Nancy, George, and Beth investigated a lot of lost Wild West gold, especially after my family went on a western vacation and I read about rustlers and miners and the like.

So you can imagine my shock as I read the reviews of the new movie, and didn’t find a single mention of young actresses playing George and Beth. In fact, all they talk about is that dorky Ned Nickerson, and some kid named Corky. What’s happened to George and Beth? How can you do a Nancy Drew movie without them? And why aren’t any reviewers – even the ones who claim to have liked the books when they were younger – mentioning this omission? Have Beth and George been written out of the books, too?

And that would be a shame, because their presence was important, particularly at a time when there weren’t very many books for girls in which more than one girl was allowed to have an adventure – in which girls were allowed to be friends and have adventures.

It’s even more a shame that none of the reviewers have noticed the Missing Sidekicks.