Posted 24 May 2009 in Books by Catriona
Why, yes: I have spent the afternoon adding more books into Delicious Library. This time, I hit a patch of girls’ detective stories (my other guilty pleasure, along with girls’ school stories), and it occurred to me that more modern reprints of the old classics tend to lack most of the charm of the 1970s’ hardbacks.
It’s partly the format: I loved the hardbacks when I was a child, because they felt like real books to me.
But it’s partly the comparatively hideous cover illustrations (and I realise, as I say that, that the 1970s’ covers were hideous in their own way).
But take this 1974 edition of Nancy Drew’s The Moonstone Castle Mystery:
It’s true: Nancy does look disturbingly like Grease‘s Rizzo in a bad wig here. But other than that, the cover has everything you could ask for. Girl detective in a prominent position! Easily identifiable best friends (sporty brunette) George and (plump blonde) Bess! Person who is possibly Carson Drew in a suitably distant position! Looming castle! Man who may or may not actually be a statue! Whistler’s mother!
What more could you need?
Compare that to this 2000 edition of a brand new Nancy Drew adventure, The Mystery in Tornado Alley:
Hmm. I can’t even tell which one of these blonde girls is Nancy. I’ll assume it’s the one in the pink polo neck, but where’s my red-headed girl detective? And if that girl next to her is plump, boy-chasing Bess, I’m going to be more annoyed than I was by the fact that when they re-jigged the Hardy Boys mysteries, the first book showed them investigating the death of faithful long-time girlfriend Iola Martin in a car-bombing.
(For the record, I was quite annoyed about that.)
Actually, the more I look at this, the more questions come to mind:
- Why is Nancy wearing those hideous high-waisted shorts, at least five years after they were in fashion?
- Has she realised that if she’s that close to the tornado, she’s probably dead already (in a metaphorical “Achilleus at the end of The Iliad“ way, rather than actual zombie fashion, of course)?
- Why is she gasping in horror and staring off to her left when the tornado is actually behind her?
- Shouldn’t the tagline read “Nancy is swept into a tornado of danger”? Because, according to Wikipedia, a tornado is really a specific subset of the broader category that is whirlwind, so I suppose the pun works, but it just seems a little weak. Much like some whirlwinds.
And the publishing gap between reprints doesn’t always have to be broad for the covers to take a sharp dip in quality/amusement value. Take this 1975 edition of the Dana Girls’ Winking Ruby Mystery. (The Dana Girls were an attempt to cash in on the success of Nancy Drew: they were published under the same pseudonym as the Nancy Drew books—Carolyn Keene—and this was their twelfth adventure.)
Honestly? I love this cover, around which I constructed the following imaginary conversation:
LOUISE DANA: Heavens! The idol!
JEAN DANA: Louise, why am I holding this . . . well, I don’t know what kind of tool this is, actually.
LOUISE DANA: Its eye! It’s a ruby!
JEAN DANA: Couldn’t I at least have the shovel? At least I know what’s that’s called. Or is that a spade? Should I call that a spade?
LOUISE DANA: But one of the eyes is missing!
JEAN DANA: I mean, anyone can see by comparing my lustrous blonde locks to your pixie cut that I’m not the tomboy in this family.
LOUISE DANA: Someone has been here before us!
JEAN DANA: Fine. Don’t listen to me. I’m just going to stand here and practice my sultry face.
Compare that to this 1981 edition of Mystery of the Stone Tiger:
Well, Jean still looks intensely bored. But now Louise’s expression says nothing so much as, “What was that?! Did I just walk through a spider’s web? Is the spider on me? Get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off!”
The vampire in the background is fairly awesome, I suppose. But I remain unconvinced by that overgrown garden—give me the apparently post-apocalyptic setting of The Winking Ruby Mystery any day!