Thursday, September 25, 2008

Girl Detectiver Power!

Wow, that discussion of teen detective books really triggered some response. I had no idea there were so many other Trixie Belden fans out there. I'd never seen the Judy Bolton books, so I'll have to look those up. Now I'm picturing libraries across the country being swarmed by adults checking out children's mystery series books. My branch does seem to have a pretty complete collection of Trixie Belden, so I may grab a few on my next trip. The mildly embarrassing thing is that I was in the drama club in high school with the children's librarian at that branch, so I can't just sneak in and be anonymous about it, and she's not a close enough friend that it's something I could laugh about with her. Then again, she is a children's librarian, so I suspect she reads more than her fair share of kids' books as an adult, even for fun, so she'd probably understand. Or I'll schedule that library trip to coincide with children's story time, so I won't have to go past her at her desk to get to the children's books.

I did find some web sites about the Trixie Belden series, and apparently all the romantic hints were dropped in the last round of books, so I guess we didn't get that development, after all. I also found out that there is Trixie Belden fan fiction, and I'm almost afraid to look. If it's like most other fanfic out there, about 95 percent of it will consist of either:
-- the boys getting it on with each other
-- the various boy/girl couples Expressing Their True Feelings for the first time (possibly followed by getting it on) or else one of the characters hearing a song on the radio and thinking about their feelings for another character
-- a new kid (who bears a suspicious resemblance to the author) moves to the area, joins the group, gets romantically involved with the author's favorite character, and usually is the one to solve the mysteries
-- a couple of the characters get lost in the woods/stranded in a cabin/trapped in an abandoned mineshaft cave-in/kidnapped, etc., with one of them badly hurt, leading to the Expression of True Feelings and lots of cuddling while they wait for rescue

About two percent will be mystery-type cases like in the books, possibly with a little more character development and relationship development than exists in the books. The rest will fall into the "other" category and may involve day-in-the-life stuff with no mysteries at all, missing scenes from the books, or else some of the darker, more twisted stuff like rape and abuse (especially likely since one of the characters was abused).

I suspect that if they were written today, or if Random House, which is reissuing the series, decided to commission new books, the non-development of the relationship aspects would change, as they've discovered that the ongoing relationships are a big part of what keeps readers hooked on series. Not that any of these series, even the entirely static Nancy Drew, were unsuccessful. Or that readers weren't looking for that back then, as I know from my futile effort to find the last Nancy Drew book so I could see if Nancy and Ned ever did anything beyond going to fraternity dances together. But it does seem like the way to make these series relevant to today's kids isn't to make them racier. In fact, I think the almost corny levels of wholesomeness are part of their charm, since life these days is racy enough and the wholesomeness is an escape from that stress. Rather, to get kids hooked on these kinds of books now, the trick would be to build in some growth, change and development, especially on the romantic front. Really, that's where the suspense actually lies. We know that Our Heroine is going to solve the mystery, escape the clutches of the villain and save the day. But we don't know if she's going to have to make difficult choices that could affect her friendships, if she's going to get grounded for failing algebra, if she'll let herself admit that she likes the boy next door or if she'll ever kiss that boy next door. Even for books like the Harry Potter series, which had tons of plot developments that weren't a given, a lot of the discussion seemed to be "Yeah, yeah, Voldemort taking over the world, have to stop him, whatever. But I wonder if Ron and Hermione will actually admit that they like each other."

Hmm, note to self: look into whether they're thinking of commissioning new Trixie Belden books for a new generation, and if they might be looking for people to write them ...

But first, I have to write some of my own stuff, and I've now done all the plotting and planning, so today's when I start actually rewriting. And it will be MAJOR surgery.


Angie said...

Did you ever read the Nancy Drew Files? There were more serial elements to those than to the original Nancy Drew series. They were my mystery series of choice as a preteen. :)

Carradee said...

About the fan fiction, you never know. The fan fiction based on one of my favorite authors, a little-known Christian sci-fi writer, tends to be remarkably better than average.

Book… surgery… *fights a tic that wants to start* Poking around Internet to avoid thinking about… Ulgh…

Feel any better now? ;-)