299 Following

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

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)
Ursula K. Le Guin
Whisper Network
Chandler Baker
Progress: 54 %
Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison
Progress: 28 %
The Mystery at Lilac Inn
Carolyn Keene
100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories
Gary Raisor, Richard Chizmar, Al Sarrantonio, Avram Davidson
Progress: 70/512 pages
Leading Change
John P. Kotter
Peanuts Classics
Charles M. Schulz
Progress: 66 %
The Bungalow Mystery
Carolyn Keene
Progress: 192/192 pages
The Bungalow Mystery #3
Carolyn Keene
Progress: 192/192 pages
The Mystery at Lilac Inn
Russell H. Tandy, Mildred Benson, Carolyn Keene

The Hidden Staircase – ND2.2

1930 Chs 8-9 vs 1959 Chs 3-4

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 Nancy plays a game of tennis with Helen Corning, who fusses at Nancy for being so secretive while solving The Secret of the Old Clock. Nancy just smirks to herself and says nothing about her current mystery, because Helen is a “natural born gossip”. Carson Drew has gone to Chicago on business trip and plans to stop in Cliffwood to see how Nancy is getting along with her haunted house mystery.


1959 Action and danger kick into high gear as Nancy and Mr. Drew are almost crushed by a runaway truck at the bridge’s construction site, and Nancy displays her sleuthing skills by deducing from a few footprints that a short man must have deliberately released the emergency brake and run away. Nancy and Helen drive to Cliffwood in Nancy’s blue convertible, and Helen shares her BIG SECRET that she’s engaged to some guy she’s been having a long-distance relationship with for the last couple of months and the two girls spend the entire trip excitedly talking wedding plans. Mr. Drew’s trip to Chicago is similar, except he’s there to look for Willie Wharton. 


1930 Nancy is again home alone when someone leaves a threatening letter for her on the porch. “The message was brief, but its words carried an import of veiled violence which mystified and frightened her.” But after pondering the threat and the old ladies’ plight, Nancy decides that the ghost must not actually be very brave if it was afraid to have her on the case. She’s frightened but undeterred, determined to expose the shenanigans, and decides that she’s not only going to bring the gun but also enough ammo to “annihilate an army”.


1959 Nancy and Helen arrive at Twin Elms in Cliffwood to find Aunt Rosemary and Miss Flora upset over a revised version of the incident with the missing jewelry. 1959 Miss Flora is a very different character than 1930 Floretta. Instead of a drama queen ready to believe in ghosts, she is dainty but stately with a gentle smile and formal manner. However, she serves the same purpose in driving the plot because her frail health will have her collapsing or near collapse whenever the “ghost” is up to tricks, instead of Floretta’s collapsing in hysterics. Similar to the original version, Nancy investigates all logical means by which an intruder could have entered, taken the jewelry, and left without detection, but finds no clues. At one point, the radio in Miss Flora’s room seems to turn itself on while everyone is downstairs. Nancy concludes that the motive for the strange occurrences must be robbery but is puzzled as to why a thief would want to expend so much energy trying to scare the old ladies, too.


A key plot device is introduced in the 1959 book that will be introduced much later in the original 1930 version is the twin/duplicate home next door to The Mansion/Twin Elms. Riverview Manor was built by the brother of the original owner of the Turnbull house, but the families became estranged after their sons quarreled and the other home has changed owners multiple times over the years, and now has been vacant for a long time. Nancy notes that secret passages were common in colonial homes, but Aunt Rosemary and Miss Flora have never heard that their home has any.


Considerations: There are some nice descriptions of Twin Elms in the 1959 revision, which is similar to 1930 The Mansion in that it is a grand old home that has become a little shabby over time as the family fortune has declined, but is completely lacking in the enjoyably spooky atmosphere of the 1930 version. One of the descriptions was of a “candlewick” bedspread, an unfamiliar term that delighted me when I looked it up, because I remember being fascinated as a girl by the same style of bedspread in my grandmother’s guest room.


Cult of Domesticity: One striking difference in the 1959 books is the significant amount text devoted to demonstrating that Nancy, despite her intelligence and determined, inquisitive nature, is still compliant with the virtues of feminine domesticity. Nancy and Helen are described preparing almost every meal and cleaning up afterwards. They change into fresh dresses immediately after getting dirty while exploring the house for clues. The actual meals themselves are described in detail – this in particular always stuck in my memory of the stories when I read them as a girl. Dinner after church: Sherbet glasses filled with orange and grapefruit slices, followed by spring lamb, rice and mushrooms, fresh peas, and for dessert, chocolate angel cake with vanilla ice cream.  Luncheon at Twin Elms: chicken salad, biscuits, and fruit gelatin (yaassss jello desserts in 1959!).


Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase: