Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nancy Drew and the moral imperative of novelists

Ooooh, very fancy-sounding headline, no? This article at The Daily Beast got me thinking:

It's all about the enduring love that generations of girls and women have for Nancy Drew mysteries. Although Carolyn Keene has long since passed away, a new generation of writers are still working under her name, and the books are still selling. (I actually caught the tail end of these Keene wanna-bes during the end of my Nancy Drew reading days, and didn't find them to have the same charm as the originals.) Not to mention, the newer ones lacked current the fab cover art of the originals. Nothing says childhood to me like those visuals of Nancy with her titian pageboy, tiptoeing through the woods with a clock (The Secret of the Old Clock) or running away from a burning house (The Clue in the Old Diary).
The article brought to mind high-speed chases, done Nancy Drew-style. Remember those? She'd be chasing some bad guys, and she would always accelerate, until she was "driving as fast as the speed limit allowed?" Even as I nine-year old, I found this unbelievable. As fast as the speed limit allowed? Come on! How fast was she driving before? And were the criminals accommodating enough to also not exceed the speed limit? That must have been a hell of a high speed chase, with both parties cruising through the suburbs at 35 mph.
Of course, Keene's reason for doing this is obvious: She didn't want to give children the idea that breaking the law was OK. Nancy Drew was a heroine, and heroines didn't behave badly. Keene can perhaps be forgiven her prudishness because she was writing for children. But you see the same attitudes among works meant for adults, too. How else to explain the push for safe sex in romance novels that was all the rage a few years back? For a while, novelists were even trying to invent ways to make people living 200 years ago practice safe sex, which always seemed silly to me. So what do you guys think? If a character is presented as a heroine, can they be allowed to get away with some bad behavior? Or is it the character's job to be a good role model, even for adults?
I say no. I don't think adults need role models anymore: If you're 30 years old and still morally weak enough to be seriously swayed by something a fictional character does, I think you've pretty much failed to develop any moral underpinnings.


Anonymous said...

Why is it, I wonder, that genre novels so often seem to feature protagonists of impeccable morality? I find such supernatural wholesomeness very annoying. A little blemish would add a touch of realism, no?

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