The History of YA Amateur Sleuths: Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys
"Reading fulfills a hunger we all share, a need to make some sense out of life, and to do it through words - not through the pictures that fly by in movie theaters and on the television screens, but with images we develop in our own imaginations, at our own pace. That's an experience only a book can deliver."
~ The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, 2007
Books, like fashion, like films, like almost anything in the world set and follow trends. It has crests and troughs like waves hoping to crash into the right shore. Nowadays, Young Adult (YA) novels are a hit, whether romance, dystopian, or real-life drama, but the YA fiction genre wasn't always around. It emerged in the midst of the transitional period from books to television sets as objects of leisure and entertainment. Merchandisers and producers figured out that the adolescents and teenagers are a gold mine of a market.
The man who saw this, way before TV shows and products began aiming at young adults, was Edward Stratemeyer, who began producing a series of adventure and detective fiction that would introduce into the world the stories of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.
Teens at the Helm of Crime-Solving
I've read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys back in my grade school and high school days. I've always loved stories of mystery, intrigue, and adventure where the ones who get to do all these were adolescents like me (back then). Sadly, Philippine literature was lacking in that genre. Undaunted, I delved into the classic hardbounds in our library and came upon a teenage sleuth who solved cases with her wits and stength, without needing a guy to save her from every danger. Yes, it was old, but back then I thought it was worth a try. I read Nancy Drew, and I also read her counterpart, brother amateur detectives Frank and Joe Hardy. Overtime, I found Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories in the modern setting. Unfortunately, when my high school journey ended, so did my habitual reading of the adventures of the young detectives.
The Boom of YA Novels
I went to read more sophisticated novels and I hungered for more adventures with more intrigue, treachery, danger, drama, tragedy, and action. I looked for high fantasy and epic fantasy books. I devoured Stephen Kings, Dean Koontz, Mitch Alboms, and more recent works. The era of Harry Potter propelled adventure fiction into the silver screen, once again drawing on teenage characters. Of course, after the HP era, more YA books were produced in mass numbers. Twilight Saga paved the way for a comeback of the romance story set in the supernatural world of mythical creatures once thought evil. Now, a sub-category of YA fiction is the dystopian future where survival of morals and the existence of justice and equality are constantly threatened by a tyrannical government.
What's so special about these teen detectives?
I have to say that until I had read The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, I had all but forgotten of the series that had spanned for more than six decades, since the 1920s, of teenage detectives. There was a reason I fell in love with them back then. I remembered those reasons now, and I have found more reasons to love them, and continue reading their adventures.
The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were very popular because they were breakthroughs in the field of "children's literature". The genre aimed at teenagers was not even a genre yet. The Hardy Boys were not hampered by cliques, locations, money, or natural talents when it came to helping out innocents scammed of their money or kidnapped heirs. They were boys who could think on their feet, had good friends, didn't smoke, drink, or steal. They were praised and respected by everyone. They were not weighed down by homework and sports clubs, yet they emerged as heroes. Nancy, meanwhile, was wildly popular because she gave the girls a taste of control and freedom in a man's world. Nancy was a girl who wore the right clothes and had the right virtues, but she was no goody-two-shoes. Stood up for herself. She never backed down from her opponents, even if they were men or adults or people in authority, especially when she knew she was right. She also didn't need a man to protect her from the dangers that her sleuthing brought. It's rare nowadays to see original fiction novels about teens without powers sleuthing to solve crimes.
The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew loved adventure, solving mysteries, and helping people. True, they're not like the very dynamic characters of the YA novels today with complicated romances or worlds to free or people to lead, but they're the characters who teach us that good will triumph over evil. and that even young adults without a chosen fate or powers can do their best to help others.
For me, the best lesson they teach is this: that adventure is waiting just around the corner.
Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, here I come for a splashing reunion! And for those who have never heard of read a Nancy Drew of Hardy Boys book in their life, it's time to start reading and relearning the thrill of childlike adventure these pages of a legacy of years of literary trends will bring you!
From Past to Present
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