My favorite childhood author: Caroline Keene

During our childhood years, I believe most people will go through an intense girly or boyish phase where if you watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you will not touch Polly Pocket toys. For me, that girlish phase was also reflected in the choice of books I read which included the Nancy Drew series and admittedly, the Sweet Valley series.

This blog post will be mainly dedicated to Caroline Keene, author of Nancy Drew. I was a huge fan of the teenage sleuth during my senior years in elementary school and went head over heels the entire series, making sure I read all that was available in the library.

So when I did my little research for this post, I realized that Caroline Keene was merely a pseudonym. In another words, this name never existed and she was technically not a real person. Instead, Keene represented a group of ghostwriters employed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate who published this series of books.

I must say I was honestly surprised by my finding because for many years, I have always imagined Keene as an American old lady, a bit like Agatha Christie. So my shock is best summarized by a 1999 interview done with the deceased Mildred Wirt Benson, who was one of the ghostwriters of the Nancy Drew series.

Reporter: I just talked to my mother and told her that there was no Carolyn Keene. She had never known.
Benson: That’s like saying there’s no Santa Claus.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by Edward Stratemeyer, is a well-known producer for numerous popular children book series, including the Hardy Boys and the Tom Swift series. The book empire ran a tight ship with numerous guidelines and one of them was for books to be written under pseudonyms. This helped ensure authorship continuity and anonymity so as to effectively disguise the various ghostwriters who were involved in the production.

But when Benson broke ranks in the 1980s to stake claims her heavy involvement with writing the Nancy Drew books, it was then the secrets to the Stratemeyer empire gradually unraveled. (For more about Benson, click on this BBC article)

Since then, the syndicate has been involved with multiple legal disputes about authorship of the Nancy Drew series composed of more than 100 titles. This largely stemmed from the fact that these books were manufactured in a factory line style where the story outlines, character profile, manuscripts and editing were streamlined and done by different people.

Cynthia Adams Lum, great granddaughter of Edward Stratemeyer claimed her great grandfather gave detailed story outlines and character profile for the series while the ghostwriter just filled in the ‘flesh’ of the story. Benson herself said she wrote about 20 titles.

Movie inspired by the Nancy Drew series
With all the hubbub and controversies, I was gladly ignorant of them, allowing myself to immerse in the gripping plots and witty conversations of the Nancy Drew series.

The young, female detective epitomized for me as the perfect, modern lady who was confident and intelligent, brave but sensible. Drew was at times criticized for being a too perfect character, sharing impeccable relationships with her friends, father and boyfriend. Nonetheless, it does not hurt reading about a role model and her great work as an aim for young readers to admire and work towards.

Even though I must say I am unable to recall the plot of any Nancy Drew books, she left an indelible mark on me, for as I grew up, I still love reading detective/thriller books. If you have read any of my previous book reviews, (click here if you have not) you will know how much I am obsessed with Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, Jo Nesbo and Steig Larsson, and I guess it all started off with Nancy Drew.

So dear girls, (since I am assuming that the boys read Hardy Boys instead which I never did) did you also enjoy reading Nancy Drew as much as I did? Share your experiences down in the comments below.

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7 thoughts on “My favorite childhood author: Caroline Keene

  1. I can still remember reading by flashlight under a blanket, Nancy Drew mysteries, until the wee hours of the night. Thank you for your wonderful post about one of my favorite childhood authors, Carolyn Keene. Reading her books opened up a whole new world for me of intrigue and mystery.

  2. I also really enjoyed Nancy Drew. My grandparents bought Nancy for me and the Hardy Boys for my brother. My brother and I are very close and good friends, and I always thought Nancy and the Hardy Boys could have been the same. As a child, I always assumed they were written by the same author or by a husband/wife team because of their similarities.

    I just discovered your blog today, and am enjoying it immensely! Keep on keeping on!

      1. You might be happy to know that I have just finished my ersatzes edit of my historical fiction book: “Will the real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up.” Its about the creators and creation of Nancy. There is a bit a controversy in the story, so it is kind of interesting! If you follow my blog: ckbooksblog.wordpress.com, I’ll let you know when it comes out.

  3. Do you have any contact information for Cynthia Adams Lum? I am writing a book about Nancy’s creators and I would like to ask Cynthia a few questions.
    Thanks!
    Christine Keleny (christinekeleny(at)yahoo(dot)com

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