Trixie Beldon and me

By Sally Carpenter

I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but one Christmas my parents gave me the first two Trixie Beldon books, “Secret of the Mansion” and “The Red Trailer Mystery.” Since then I’ve gone on the acquire the first 15 books of the series, all in the original (and cheaply made) Whitman hardcover editions.

I liked Trixie because, at the time, she was much like me. Thirteen-year-old Trixie lived on the family farm in Sleepyside-on-Hudson in upstate New York. My parents didn’t have a farm, but we lived in the country on a big plot of land, with fruit trees in the backyard and cows grazing in the field next door.

Trixie had two older brothers who teased her a lot; so did I. One of Trixie’s brothers was 11 months older; one of my brothers was a little more than a year older than me.

The Beldon family had a pet dog; I had a cat that we took in as a kitten from the barn cat of the neighbor across the road.

Trixie wasn’t good in math; arithmetic was never my strong subject either. Trix has to do household chores and help with the farm work, which she often grumbled about. I had to dry dishes and pick up the fallen fruit outside with the same enthusiasm. For a brief time I mowed the lawn but couldn’t push the X*%$#@ lawnmower up the hill.

Trixie’s best friend was Honey Wheeler, a rich girl who moved into the Manor House down the road from the Beldon farm. I didn’t have a best friend who lived nearby, but I pretended that Honey lived in the house atop the hill east of my home.

Trixie had short curly blonde hair. As a kid I had short curly brown hair, which has since grown out to long curly brown and gray hair.

Like my favorite sleuth, I didn’t think I was pretty. We share many of the same insecurities. I didn’t go sleuthing on mysteries, but I loved reading about Trixie’s travels and adventures.

I belonged to Girl Scouts, 4-H and the church youth group. Trixie made her own club, The Bob-Whites (they used the bob-white whistle to alert other club members), comprised of her brothers and friends. The BWs main purpose was to do good deeds for others and raise money for charitable causes.

The Beldons were comfortable but not rich. Trix had to earn her allowance. The Bob-Whites had to raise the monies they needed for their service projects and clubhouse repairs. My parents likewise watched their pennies.

Unfortunately, Trixie never achieved the fame of that other girl sleuth, oh, what’s her name. Trixie only last 39 books; no new stories are being written. Nancy Drew has gone on to well over twice that number as well as spin-offs and new variations of the character, with more new books each year.

I always wanted to see a Trixie Beldon movie, but one never came to pass. Just as well. If a studio tackled Trix today, they’d update her, give her a cell phone and MP3 player, have her talk about her personality issues with a school counselor, and make the Bob-Whites hang out at a mall instead of meeting in their homemade club house.

When I got older I read a number of Nancy Drews and, with apologizes to all of you Drew fans, the character never appealed to me in the same way as Trix.

I admire Nancy’s smarts, perseverance and bravery. But she never seemed real. In the early books Nancy was 16 years old but she didn’t attend school. Later she aged up to 18 and a high school graduate, but she never mentioned her school days. She didn’t attend college, hold a job (yet had unlimited funds to spend) or even help out around the house.

Nancy had no life outside of sleuthing. She didn’t belong to any clubs or sororities She had two best friends, Bess and George, but their personalities are not developed beyond “chubby” and “tomboy.” Nancy had a dad and a housekeeper, who mainly stay in the background.

The Drew books focused on solving the crime; the Beldon novels were more interested in the characters and their lives/interactions.

Trixie has a full range of friends, family and townspeople, all with distinct personalities. Her friends have interesting backgrounds. Naturally, school plays a big part in Trixie’s life, although in many of the books she’s either on a school vacation or traveling out of state.

Trixie’s biggest drawback is that she’s too young to drive. Her mobility is limited to where she can walk, ride a bike or ride a horse. She must rely on her oldest brother or another adult to drive her. So most of her sleuthing is limited to her town or family vacations. Nancy Drew has her own roadster and drives with abandon, seemingly without having ever put more gas in the car.

The Hardy Boys have them all beat. Frank and Joe not only drive but even ride motorcycles, pilot motorboats, and fly airplanes. No doubt they could man a space ship if the need arose.

Regardless of preference, all of these “juvenile” mysteries serve a good purpose: to encourage children to read and to present young characters that overcome obstacles, use their brains, and solve puzzles. Many fans of Trixie and Nancy grew up to pen mysteries of their own.

While I tip my hat to Nancy Drew, my heart belongs to the girl sleuth who struggles with her math homework.




Book review: ‘The Mystery of Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth on the Couch’

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By Sally Carpenter

What does Nancy Drew have in common with fairy tales, virgin goddess and Jungian psychology? Quite a lot, actually.

I found this book by a happy accident years before I began writing mysteries. I wasn’t even a Nancy Drew devotee. I saw the book on a shelf when I was browsing in Catholic bookstore in Chicago and on a whim bought the book.

The author is Betsy Caprio, a Jungian psychologist. In an engaging manner she examines the psyche of the girl sleuth. Despite Nancy’ constant upbeat manner, she has a dark side that craves adventure and danger. In fact, according to Caprio, Nancy displays many characteristics of an adult child of an alcoholic!

The Drew books play out several universal archetypes: the virgin goddess comprised of strong feminine energy and who is complete without a man; the fairytale princess who is always young, beautiful, and dresses in lovely clothes; the eternal teenager who never ages and is free of the responsibilities of school, job and family; and the paradise setting of River Heights, squeaky clean on the surface but possessing a dark underworld of crime.

Caprio gives a brief history of Nancy’s creation in 1930 by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the publishing firm that also produced the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift Jr. and more than a hundred wildly popular juvenile adventure series. Over the decades the Drew books have gone through numerous ghostwriters, changes in Nancy’s character and story elements, various cover designs and even complete revisions of the older titles.

Caprio demonstrates how the Drew stories follow the “hero’s journey/quest,” a storytelling format dating back to ancient epics and legends. Simply put, the journey has: Invitation to the Quest (Nancy is asked to solve a mystery); Road of Trials with warnings, foes and helpers; “Death” Experience (Nancy is tied up, imprisoned or stranded), and Rebirth with order restored, a reward/gift for Nancy and glorification of the heroine.

Caprio ends her book by showing readers how they can be a “detective” and search for “clues” in understanding their own life’s journey using Jungian psycho-spiritual development.

The book is full of illustrations from Drew books through the years, showing how the girl sleuth has changed in appearance.

Some fans may not appreciate the negative aspects of Nancy’s personality, but to me this helps to balance the girl’s annoying cheerfulness and incessant do-gooding.

The book is full of insights into the elements that comprise a good mystery and a multi-layered heroine. I plan to reread the book soon to find tidbits I can add to my own writing.

Caprio’s book is out of print, but used and new copies can be found on Amazon and possibly in used book stores.