- Probing Pioneer Girl Sleuths:Puck Larsson and Nancy Drew in 1950s Girls' Book Series in Sweden
Some heroines belong to one's girlhood in a special way.1 When I—a Swede born in 1952—look back, one of these lingering characters is a dedicated girl sleuth. In my great book-consuming period around eleven years of age, like many juveniles I devoured popular story series by Enid Blyton (The Famous Five and The Secret Seven), Helen Wells (Cherry Ames), Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew), and others. In my memory this reading has merged into an image of a brave crime-investigating young woman and, without doubt, it once served as a nurturer of adventurous dreams and hopes of future options.
Even if this figure is not shaped by a single heroine, it is not so strange that Nancy Drew stands out more clearly than the other protagonists. She embodies the girl sleuth of all times and we are constantly reminded of her, since the stories—eighty years after the original launching of the series—still constitute a huge success in Sweden, too. In November 2009 there were 183 titles about Nancy available in Swedish, and many of them have been printed in numerous editions. A "List of Best-selling Books" on Wikipedia claims that approximately 200 million copies have been sold worldwide. Even if this should be taken with a grain of salt, the estimation seems credible. Furthermore, since the second wave of feminists rediscovered the heroine in the 1970s, extensive scholarly literature about the series has been produced. Critics and academics have underscored Nancy's intelligence, endurance, and courage and claimed that she has served as an important role model for themselves and others (Christian-Smith; Dyer and Romalov; Lundin; Paretsky). The queer aspects of the character have been underlined (Inness; Marshall) as well as her passionate quest to help victims of economic injustice (Boone). Others, like Ilana Nash, have questioned [End Page 24] the grounds for making the heroine a feminist icon, but nobody can doubt Nancy's influence on generations of readers.
Yet there were and are less well-known adaptations and variations of the girl sleuth in juvenile fiction that may deserve some attention. If we compare the appearances of the subgenre in different national contexts, we can examine how the formula has been affected by local circumstances, politics, zeitgeist, and so on.2 In this paper I consider the Swedish crime solver, Puck Larsson, who seems to follow in Nancy's footsteps. The series—seven novels—was written by Uno Modin and published between 1951 and 1958 under the pseudonym Tony Wickers. According to a recent study of girls' books in Sweden, Puck is the first teenaged girl detective in a series written originally in Swedish (Theander 155). By contrasting the initial Puck story from 1951 with the first about Nancy, launched in Swedish the year after, my aims are to find out if the Swedish girl sleuth was modeled on her American predecessor and to highlight and discuss noteworthy similarities and differences in the narratives. Basically, I am interested in the method of impact and in the "machinery" of the subgenre and the reader appeal—what Linda K. Christian-Smith has called "the ideological struggles for young women's hearts and minds" ("Politics" 192).
In arguing that the Nancy Drew stories are "packaged desire" involving "young women's desires for independence," Christian-Smith points out a vital facet of the power that these stories possess and that make them political in a broad sense. That the genre has been regarded as political in a more conventional meaning is clearly shown by the fact that a few early translations of the Nancy Drew books in Norway were banned during the Nazi occupation (Skjønsberg). From a discourse perspective inspired by Michel Foucault and others, the competition on the popular market can also be seen as a struggle for power that goes on at many levels: in the production of the narratives as well as in the marketing business and in the interplay between the texts and the readers. With this context in mind, comparing the constructions of the two protagonists' heroics...