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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

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Ruth Franklin
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 Bungalow Mystery
P.M. Carlson, Russell H. Tandy, Carolyn Keene
Progress: 204/204 pages
The First Discworld Novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic
Terry Pratchett
Progress: 121/352 pages

The Hidden Staircase – ND2.6

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 17-22; 1959 Chs 18-19


FINALLY we get to the hidden staircase, and the pace really picks up as all the random plot elements start to converge. But not before we spend a lot more time in 1959 with Nancy and the police tracking down the men who kidnapped her father. Acting on clues that Nancy gave them, they’ve picked up one of the men, but can’t get a confession from him. So naturally (?!?), they ask Nancy to do the interrogation. She is of course successful, by using her feminine wiles to appeal to his sense of decency and shames him into cooperating because he’s really just a good guy who fell in to bad company and is now heartily ashamed of himself.


1930 Nancy, convinced that Gombet is her “ghost”, decides to confront him directly, but conceals her plans from the frightened old ladies. After they fall asleep, she sneaks out of the house through a window, armed with a flashlight and her gun. Gombet is leaving his house just as she’s getting there, so she decides to break into his house and explore rather than questioning him. She sees a “surly-looking creature” (Gombet’s servant) through the window and avoids the kitchen, then tries all the windows until she finds one to the cellar that’s open. Excitement ensues as she sneaks around, trying to avoid getting caught by the servant, until she accidentally falls through a hidden door in an upstairs closet and all the way down a hidden staircase.


1959 Nancy, having spent all the valuable page space dancing, cooking, cleaning, eating delicious meals, and investigating her father’s disappearance, doesn’t get to have fun sneaking around a house that she’s broken into, avoiding detection by a scary servant. Partly because the later revisions deal with the earlier racist stereotypes by just making all the characters white, and partly because 1959 Nancy is too virtuous to engage in illegal breaking and entering. Instead, she wheedles a realtor into giving her permission to explore, despite the house already having been sold to (surprise!) Nathan Gomber. Once again, Nancy lets other characters engage in the shady ethics while she profits from it. She’s like a mob boss keeping her hands clean by letting lesser people do her dirty work. Anyway, similar to 1930, Nancy finds the hidden door upstairs and falls down the staircase, then she and Helen go exploring, eventually coming to another stone staircase, but are confronted by a man telling them to stop.


1930 Nancy’s time in the tunnel is a lot more fun, because she’s down there alone at night and nobody knows where she is, and it’s dank and smelly and there are rats, and her flashlight battery is fading, but she bravely marches on until she comes to another stairway that takes her up to… a trapdoor in the attic floor at The Mansion! Nancy sleeps in the next morning and wakes to find that the sisters have finally caved to Gombet’s demands and have verbally agreed to sell the house, but Nancy reveals that Gombet was the ghost and shows them the hidden stairway. They all go exploring together, and discover all the hidden entrances to explain all the ghostly happenings. Then Nancy and the old ladies pile into her little roadster and roar off into town to report to the police.


Dated Plot Points: Nancy is trapped in the hidden passageway with no way to call for help, so I’m not sure how this would work in a modern adventure story. I suppose their mobile phones might get no cell reception underground, or maybe Nancy’s phone could have smashed when she fell, and Helen could have forgotten to bring her phone? Also, I loved that the 1959 girls would go exploring a dilapidated old mansion wearing skirts, and even more so that those skirts would have pockets AND those pockets would big enough to carry their flashlights in. I don’t believe they had mini maglites in those days, so these would have been bulky, heavy devices.


Considerations: It has always bugged me, and still does, that the books use a single “p” spelling for kidnapped. “Kidnaped” instead of “kidnapped”, although apparently either spelling is correct. Doesn’t make it right though.


Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:









ND2.7 (pending)