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The Mystery of Complete Rewrites… September 26, 2011

Posted by shannonmuir in analysis, Books, fiction, novels, publishing, rewriting.
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Right now one of the items I am working on is  a spec for an anthology set in the 1930s. As part of this I wanted to be able to see some mysteries for young women set in the time period, in particular Nancy Drew. However, it is not as easy as just going to the local bookstore or online reseller to just order a copy (though I did buy some this way). Why is that? Many of the Nancy Drew titles encountered mild to moderate revisions, and in 8 cases entirely new stories were written and released under the same titles years later. I wondered exactly why some of the titles would be redone from the ground up. It’s pretty well known that all of them received tweaking in some form to get rid of outdated or potentially offensive references, but why completely substitute manuscripts in a well known series?

Doing this research gave me the opportunity to find out the answer.

I knew of the revised manuscript situation many years ago, when my mother handed down her copy of book #14, THE WHISPERING STATUE, in the same “yellow spine” I knew all my books in.  However, it only carried the original copyright from the 1930s, as it would not be revised until the massive overhauls of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I noticed different art, but as a kid I was used to the concept of different editions. Then I looked at the words. I’d checked out this book from the library before, and this was not the story I’d known! It had five more chapters for one thing. Looking at the manuscript, I can only imagine that they found the backstory of one fo the guest characters perhaps not suitable for young impressionable girls, but even back then when I read it – unsure of why it was different – I enjoyed that version as well as the first one I’d read.

Now as an adult, I’ve gotten my hands on #12, THE MESSAGE IN THE HOLLOW OAK. I’ve not gotten far but the rewrite reason is a bit more apparent. The plot is kicked off by Nancy Drew winning a prize as a result of listening to a radio serial. Both the radio serial and the type of prize received date the premise in a time period and a simple tweak here and there wouldn’t fix it. Thereby I can see why it was rewritten. The Nancy Drew books also managed to find ways to weave in “ads” amongst the text for other titles as Nancy thought of past cases. From that, I’ve gained a pretty good idea why the book right before this, #11  CASE OF THE BROKEN LOCKET, also got rewritten. A war veteran features prominently in that story – and the rewrite period is during the height of the Vietnam War, where very likely the idea of any book about any war past or present might not be considered “able to be sold”. The rewrite involves a singer and based around the recording industry. The two are nothing alike, just as in the case of THE MESSAGE OF THE HOLLOW OAK where that rewrite involves a French explorer and Native Americans and Nancy just happens to be invited to the area by an aunt to kick off the story. It makes me wonder at what speed the replacement texts were written and how well they hold up to the more dated texts they replace.

It is a mystery I will enjoy trying to solve…

I know from doing the Orson Card Scott analysis of other cases where text rewrites have happened, and I know of other authors like Katharine Kerr and Katherine Kurtz who have released expanded editions of original manuscripts, but I wonder if any of these complete manuscript substitutions have happened more recently in history?

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