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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

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Carolyn Keene
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Russell H. Tandy, Mildred Benson, Carolyn Keene

The Hidden Staircase – ND2.11

The Hidden Staircase - Carolyn Keene  The Hidden Staircase - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene 

Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Hidden Staircase simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below!



1930 Chs 1-7 vs 1959 Chs1-2


The Hidden Staircase is a two-part mystery, with each seemingly unconnected to the other, and this structure makes for a more rambling, disjointed sort of story than in the first book. The more obvious mystery that Nancy takes on by request has to do with a apparently haunted house, where strange occurrences are frightening the two old women who have lived there for decades. The second mystery involves danger to Nancy’s father, Carson Drew, who managed the (now disputed) purchase of some riverside property for a railroad bridge construction project.


1930 Nancy is feeling bored and restless with her everyday life following The Secret of the Old Clock when a strange man, Nathan Gombet, rings the doorbell, walks in uninvited, and accuses her attorney father of underpaying him on the sale of his property, and demands the deed back. He then pushes past her into Carson Drew’s office and starts rummaging through his desk. He storms out after Nancy physically jerks him away and threatens to call the police. 1959 Nancy is blissfully gardening when the stranger, named Gomber in 1959, shows up with warnings that Nancy’s father is in danger. He tells a more convoluted story about representing a group of landowners who were “gypped” when their property was purchased for a railroad right-of-way. Nancy tells Gomber to leave when he becomes rude and insolent.


1930 Nancy rambles around River Heights visiting old friends from the previous mystery story and picking up clues about the Gombet mystery. She is introduced to Rosemary Turnbull, an “elderly maiden lady”, and asked to solve the mystery of the sudden “haunting” at her home, The Mansion, where she lives with her twin sister Floretta.  For the past couple of weeks there have been strange thumps and creaks and shadows. They’ve heard untraceable music and found valuables missing. Rosemary sensibly doesn’t believe in ghosts and wants to find out what’s going on, but Floretta is afraid and wants to sell the house. They’ve asked the police to investigate, only to be laughed at and told that it was probably just a prankster. 1959 Nancy finds out about the other mystery right away, when her friend Helen Corning brings her Aunt Rosemary over to tell her about the strange and frightening events, similar to the 1930 version, at her home in Cliffwood where she lives with her mother, Miss Flora. They tried calling the police, who essentially dismissed it as two old ladies having the vapors, even after the sisters found they had been robbed of several pieces of jewelry. 1930 Nancy drives Rosemary home and does a preliminary investigation after they find Floretta in near hysterics over a diamond pin that went missing from her room while she was letting the ice delivery man into the kitchen. She is doubtful she can solve it, but promises to try. 1959 Nancy won’t make commitments until she talks to her father.


Dated plot points: The revised story will later substitute a yard man for the ice delivery man as the distraction during which Floretta/Miss Flora has jewelry stolen from her room, since people generally no longer need to have ice delivered by the 1959 re-write. In fact, I had to look up ice delivery since I wasn't sure what it was, how it was used, and how the whole thing worked. It was fascinating reading, and I'm glad I was born in a time of modern refrigerators and icemakers. 


Without that knowledge and the historical perspective, it would be easy to miss that the 1930 author specifically mentions that Nancy has an “electrical refrigerator” at home.  This isn’t key to the plot, but it does illustrate that Nancy is a modern girl from an affluent family, as do other details, such as Nancy having her own blue roadster and a home with a double garage. Really, the concept of electrical gadgets as cutting edge technology is sprinkled throughout these chapters, such as Grace Horner’s dressmaking business being so successful that she can upgrade to an electric sewing machine - from the kind with a foot treadle, I assume.


The relative lack of residential phones in 1930 also has Nancy doing a lot of motoring around in her roadster and personal visits in parlors rather than the 1959 phone chatter.


Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase: