‘Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark-blue convertible. She had just delivered some legal papers for her father.
“It was sweet of Dad to give me this car for my birthday,” she thought.’
I remember reading Nancy Drew when I was younger, lapping up battered copies from second hand bookstores. I think my relishing of crime novels might have sprung from reading of her detectiving. However, rereading the first book in the series now, The Secret of the Old Clock, makes me a little bit nauseous. I mean, just have a quick read of the first two sentences that I’ve copied out above. An ‘attractive’ girl of eighteen? Got given a convertible for her birthday? The first chapter describes her as having blonde hair and blue eyes, as being sympathetic, not a gossip, and having a good ‘intuition’. Perhaps this is a character for young girls to look up to, but to me, at the ripe old age of 23, she seems too… perfect. No one is as perfect as she is in reality. And that makes her… irritating. She is annoyingly perfect. And she is also a bit boring in her perfection.
The most interesting characters, I think, are flawed. They have something wrong with them. One of my favourite characters, Philip Pullman’s Lyra in His Dark Materials, is a pathological liar, headstrong and stubborn. Cat in Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life? Weak-minded and follows his sister’s lead to a fault. Odo Hirsch’s Hazel Green? Incredibly nosy and inquisitive. But that is what makes them so interesting! They aren’t cardboard cutouts, showing us how good we should be. They’re a bit naughty, a bit wrong, a bit crazy, a bit – a lot – more real. No one wants to be friends with the perfect blonde girl whose father bought her a convertible and is polite ALL the time. They want to be friends with the girl (or boy) who gets herself in trouble.
And after all, in many cases, stories are born out of people getting themselves into trouble.