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The Anti-Nancy Drew: Revising the Girl Detective

by Ethan Tussey

by Patricia Nelson for IN MEDIA RES

Since Veronica Mars premiered in 2005, the titular character has been unable to escape comparisons to another famous teen detective: Nancy Drew. A pop culture icon since the Nancy Drew book series began in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock, blonde, perky and intrepid Nancy has spent the last 80 years jetting around in the cultural imaginary in her roadster, her cousins Bess and George and boring boyfriend Ned Nickerson ever at her side.

With the release of the Veronica Mars movie this year, Nancy Drew references have continued to pervade conversations about the series. USA Today recently called Veronica “a latter-day and much hipper Nancy Drew,” while The Hollywood Reporter dubbed her “the Nancy Drew of the new millennium.” Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas has even expressed his hope that Veronica will replace Nancy Drew as the “queen of teenaged sleuths,” stating that “Nancy Drew has had a corner on the market for the last 70 years, I would love if Veronica got [the] next 70.”

Notably, what these comparisons tend to have in common is that they imagine a direct lineage: Nancy, the girl detective’s past; Veronica, her future. Nancy, the old-fashion teen sleuth; Veronica, the modern one. Both strong female characters who make things happen, role models for the smart and fearless girl of a particular cultural moment who takes the solving of mysteries into her own hands.

But what this conversation erases – and what the attached clip gets at – is precisely what I think is interesting about Veronica Mars for many viewers. By design, Nancy Drew is moral, generous, kind, popular with everyone except the worst bad guys, and likable to a fault. But increasingly throughout the series, and carried over into the film, Veronica has been harder to digest. Although she has qualities of the intrepid, quippy girl detective, Veronica is also damaged and at times cranky, irrational, and difficult to like. She can be petty and wrong. She self-sabotages. She makes bad choices. She hurts other people, intentionally and unintentionally.

This difficult nature is at the heart of the character. Far from being a new incarnation of a beloved and iconic trope, Veronica may be something different altogether – and that might be exactly what inspires so much fan devotion to her. Should we be calling her not the new Nancy Drew, but the anti-Nancy Drew?

Veronica Mars and Girl Detectives

A clip from Veronica Mars

from Veronica Mars (2005)
Creator: UPN
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey