Monday, April 17, 2017

Nancy Drew and Penny Parker: Separated at birth

I've been meaning to read some of the Penny Parker mysteries for
something like five years now. And I finally got around to it, reading the first one, Tale of the Witch Doll. 

My interest in Penny Parker comes from the fact that the series was written by Mildred Beson, who also wrote the first several Nancy Drew books. So, after I read Tale of the Witch Doll, I immediately read The Secret of the Old Clock, the first Nancy Drew book so I could compare the two.

This wasn't just to compare one of Benson's later works with her most famous one. You see, Nancy Drew was a product of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. That was one the earliest book packagers for children's books. 

Now, I didn't know what a book packager was until I found out about the Stratemeyer Syndicate. That isn't a publisher but an organization that supplies books for publishers. In fact, as I understand, the existence of syndicate was a a secret to the public until some lawsuits in the 70s.

Since many of their early books are now public domain, I have read a number of them, including the first series they produced, the Rover Boys. And, let me tell you, these are some of the most formulaic books you have ever seen with some of the flattest characters ever to see print.

Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters after him had very strict guidelines that their authors had to follow and they kept very tight control over the books. While I have heard their series very accurately described as extruded book product but I will say this for them. You know exactly what you get when you pick one of them up.

Honestly, I've pretty much only read them when I want to turn my brain off.

And, I will say that the Penny Parker of 1939 is a slightly deeper character than the Nancy Drew of 1930. The plot was more complex and I would even say that the book was a shade darker, not that that's saying much.

BUT I have two caveats.

One: The Secret of the Old Clock was just the start of Nancy Drew. Benson wrote over a dozen more Penny Parker mysteries but Nancy Drew would go on to be a multi-media phenomena that continuing on to this day. That's definitely something.

Two: The Secret of the Old Clock is easily the best Stratemeyer Syndicate book by a long ways. Now, I haven't read a Hardy Boys book since I was ten, so I can't compare Nancy Drew to their other big hit. Seriously, it is light years ahead of The Rover Boys at School. 

While I am sure I will read more Penny Parker, I also will read more of Benson's Nancy Drew.

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