Nancy Drew is arguably one of the most famous and beloved fictional sleuths—the girl detective who captured the hearts of millions with her innocent curiosity and crime-solving acumen. She first appeared in the 1930 book The Secret of the Old Clock, and while many characters and series have come and gone, Nancy Drew has remained. She’s become a cultural touchstone, and a role model and inspiration for girls and young women all over the world. There’s no denying that Nancy Drew, with all her clever determination, has staying power. How much do you know about the fascinating history of the Nancy Drew series? Let’s dig into it.
A Brief History of the Nancy Drew Books
Nancy Drew was created by the prolific author and publisher Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate book packaging company. He conceived of Nancy Drew as a female counterpart to his popular Hardy Boys series. The series officially called the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, ran from 1930 to 2003. It contains 175 novels, beginning with Nancy Drew and the Old Clock (1930) and ending with Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland (2003).
The books were ghostwritten by a collection of authors and published under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Mildred Wirt wrote the very first Nancy Drew book, as well as many of the subsequent novels published in the 1930s. Edward Stratemeyer’s daughters Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier created the outlines for many of the early novels. Harriet Adams was deeply involved with the series, and authored many of the novels, beginning in the 1950s and until her death in the 1980s.
The long-running series moved through several publishing houses over its 73-year lifespan. The first 56 books were published by Grosset & Dunlap. Starting in 1979, the series was published by various imprints of Simon & Schuster, until it finally ended in 2003. It is possible to track subtle changes in tone, subject matter, and theme as the books moved around among publishers. The series underwent a massive overhaul starting in 1959; all the earlier books were revised. This was partly to eliminate the racism that was present in the earlier stories, although in some cases, this simply meant that non-white characters were erased from the text. In the 1980s, modern technology began to appear, and the books were also shortened in length.
What made Nancy Drew stand out amongst literary detectives? Though she changes quite a lot throughout the series, often reflecting the cultural mores of the time period, Drew has always been determined, bold, and unafraid to speak her mind. She uses her charisma to solve crimes, firmly creating moral boundaries. Nancy Drew always fights for what is right and believes victims of crimes should unquestioningly have justice. In a culture that loves to imagine its heroes with capes and superpowers, Nancy Drew stands out as the quintessential girl next door…who always fights crime with a magnifying glass and an iron will.
Nancy Drew Adaptations & Spinoffs
Over the years, Nancy Drew has been adapted into several movies and Nancy Drew TV series, as well as three spinoff book series. Here are some of our favorite Nancy Drew stories:
Nancy Drew, Reporter (1939)
In this adaptation of the Nancy Drew books, Drew persuades her neighbor to help her in solving a murder.
The Nancy Drew Files (Spinoff Series, 1986–1997)
The first Nancy Drew spinoff series ran concurrently with the original series. This series has a more contemporary feel, with a bigger focus on romance and danger. The series ran for 11 years, and includes 124 novels—a new novel came out just about every month.
Nancy Drew: Girl Detective (Spinoff Series, 2004–2012)
After the original series ended, Simon & Schuster replaced it with this new series, which, unlike the earlier books, is told in the first-person from Nancy’s perspective. Nancy and the other main characters are updated as well. Many fans didn’t like the significant changes in the characters’ personalities, and the series was canceled in 2012.
Nancy Drew (2002 TV film)
This 2002 made-for-TV film adaptation, starring Maggie Lawson, is set during Nancy’s first year of college at River Heights University. After she witnesses a football player fall into a sudden coma, Nancy, along with her best friends Bess and George, uncovers an extensive campus conspiracy.
Nancy Drew (2007 film)
This 2007 adaptation is only loosely based on the original novels, with its own unique plot. Emma Roberts stars as Nancy Drew. She and her father Carson have just moved to Los Angeles for Carson’s new job; he encourages her to use the fresh start to focus on school and friends, rather than solving crimes. But Nancy is much more interested in the famous unsolved mystery of the house they’ve just moved into, where a famous actor died years before.
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (2019 film)
This 2019 film is an adaption of the second novel in the Nancy Drew series, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. It features Sophia Lillis as Nancy Drew, and follows her adventures as she investigates a haunted house in Chicago.
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (TV Series, 1977–1979)
This TV series at first included stories about both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, alternating storylines in alternating episodes, sometimes focusing on Nancy Drew and sometimes on the Hardy Boys. The various characters from the two series then met in intersecting storylines, but Nancy Drew was dropped entirely after the second season.
Nancy Drew (TV Series, 1995)
This Nancy Drew TV series only ran for a partial season. The series is based on the Nancy Drew Files series, and follows Nancy, now a 21-year old college student in New York City, as she solves crimes while attending school to become a criminologist.
Nancy Drew Diaries (Spinoff Series, 2013–present)
New Nancy Drew books are still being published as part of Simon & Schuster’s new series, the Nancy Drew Diaries, which began in 2013.
Nancy Drew (TV Series, 2019–2021)
The latest Nancy Drew adaptation first aired in 2019 and ran for three seasons. Like the 1995 TV series, it differs significantly from the original books. Rather than focusing on smaller mysteries in each episode, the show focuses on one larger investigation. Nancy is preparing to head off to college but ends up having to stay in her hometown of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, thanks to her involvement in a murder case.
Sleuthy Books to Read if You Love Nancy Drew
There's a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. There seems little chance of the murderer being caught—until her makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans...
Five years ago, high school senior Helena Kelly disappeared from her backyard in Dexby, Connecticut, never to be heard from again. Her family was left without any answers—without any idea who killed Helena, or why.
So when eighteen-year-old Seneca Frazier sees a desperate post on the Case Not Closed message board, she knows it’s time to change that. Helena’s high-profile disappearance is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It’s the reason she’s a member of the site in the first place.
Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, she agrees to spend spring break in Connecticut working on the case with Maddy Wright, her friend from Case Not Closed. However, the moment she steps off the train, things start to go wrong. Maddy’s nothing like she expected, and Helena’s sister, Aerin, doesn’t seem to want any help after all. Plus, Seneca has a secret of her own, one that could derail the investigation if she’s not careful.
Alongside Brett, another super-user from the site, they slowly begin to unravel the secrets Helena kept in the weeks before her disappearance. But the killer is watching . . . and determined to make sure the case stays cold.
On early May mornings, Charly Poisson, the chef of La Fermette, loves prowling his fields through clusters of buttercups for young nettles to make his finest spring tonic … until he comes across a most unappetizing discovery — the thawed remains of a murdered man. Was the victim, soon identified as a philandering local, killed by an irate husband? Charly knows he should be slicing, not sleuthing, and leaving the mystery to the very able Klover Police Department. But helas, that’s before he gets a taste of Fabulous Foods, a culinary supplier whose additive-heavy shrimp are so fresh, they bounce. Now to investigate this fishy outfit and serve up justice, Charlie will have to leave his cozy kitchen…and face the heat of a killer’s ire.
It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”