YOUNG WORLD

Mystery solved?

SWAPNA DUTTA

Mystery solved?

If I were to ask you who the author of the Nancy Drew series is, you would promptly reply ``Carolyn Keene'' without the least hesitation. But who was Carolyn Keene ?

There never was anyone called Carolyn Keene. It's a name, selected by Edward Stratemeyer, owner of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, in 1929 when the first Nancy Drew book appeared. Several authors, women and men, have been ghostwriters for the series, keeping it alive, helping it ride the crest of popularity. But Carolyn's identity was a well guarded secret and it took nearly 50 years of investigation to find out the truth about her.

When Harriet Adams, Edward Stratemeyer's daughter, took over the Stratemeyer syndicate in 1930 she organised her own production by retaining the three popular series Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew weeding out the rest.

Harriet Stratemeyer Adams let it be known that Carolyn Keene was her pseudonym and she was credited with having written all the Nancy Drew books between 1930 and 1982, the year of her death. After she died, the newspapers were full of the ``passing away of the real-life Carolyn Keene for more than half a century''. But that was not true. Although Harriet did write a few of the Nancy Drew stories in her later years, after 1953, that was long after the character of Nancy Drew was firmly established. The one who had actually created the characters and had written 22 of the first 25 books was Mildred A. Wirt Benson.

Mystery solved?

Why was the actual authorship kept a secret? At the time when the series was first introduced jobs were few. Ghostwriting became common and it was easy for syndicates to make their authors sign away their rights. They had to take this oath of silence. And their contract clearly stated that they would never have the right to contradict whatever the owners chose to say. Most authors, including Mildred Benson, took the oath and the contract seriously and never thought of letting out the truth when Harriet Adams told the world that she was the author of the Nancy Drew series.

Even the staff of the Stratemeyer syndicate did not know who the ghostwriters were.

After Harriet took over as the ``new'' Carolyn Keene the personality of Nancy Drew changed considerably. Many readers wondered why Nancy had suddenly become less outspoken and brassy. Or why the plots suddenly seemed too homogeneous as compared to the earlier stories. Apart from Mildred there were many others Carolyn Keenes, but the readers were not to know their names.

Mystery solved?

The whole issue of writers came to light when one of them, Walter Craig, broke his contract of silence and sent the Library of Congress a list of all the books he had ghostwritten for the syndicate, including the Nancy Drew ones. This again brought on the wrong assumption that perhaps Walter had actually written all the Nancy Drew books. But the discovery prompted many literary sleuths to unearth the real story of authorship and finally people came to know who they were. In fact, there was actually one Nancy among them who had graduated from the Drew University.

Nancy Drew fans might be happy to know that Mildred Benson, the original Carolyn Keene, was like her creation. Like Nancy, she was adventurous and had wide ranging interests. She travelled extensively. Her interest in archaeology often took her to exotic places that she has described in her stories. She was a licensed pilot and often flew herself to her destinations. She was also the first woman to graduate from the University of Iowa's School of Journalism and was the first woman to get a masters degree from there. The Secret of the Clock was her first Nancy Drew book. The last one she wrote for the series was The Clue of the Velvet Mask. . It was Nancy's self-assurance and self-reliance that made her so popular with her readers.

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