Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Trixie Belden and the brand-new series

Somehow I've never gotten tired of rereading the Trixie Belden books. They certainly have their share of improbable coincidences and cries of "jeepers" - but they're fun.

The first book in the series, The Secret of the Mansion, was first released in 1948. From the first line, you can see why it was a hit with girls of a certain age:
"Oh, Moms," Trixie moaned, running her hands through her short, sandy curls. "I'll just die if I don't have a horse."
That's right. Mysteries, horses, rich best friends, and a dash of not always following the rules.

And just how is Trixie going to get that horse? In the first chapter, it's arranged that Trixie will earn $5 every week for doing her chores. In 2007 dollars, that's an allowance of $45.95, which undercuts Trixie's ongoing moaning about her family's comparative poverty.

But when you live in Westchester County, well, your perspective shifts a little.

Within a few pages, the horse has been pushed down Trixie's list of priorities. (You may notice that this is not an uncommon occurrence in the books.) Her neighbor, both a miser and a hermit in her opinion, is taken to the hospital, leaving his house available for exploration. And Manor House, bordering the other side of the Beldens' Crabapple Farm, is occupied by a family with a thirteen-year-old daughter - shockingly, the same age as our heroine.

Honey Wheeler is the quintessential poor little rich girl:
"It's not nice at all, Bobby. I can't remember when I didn't want to be like other people... When I was little, my nurses never let me play in the dirt the way Bobby is now, and I was never allowed to go anyplace by myself for fear of being kidnapped... I hardly ever saw my father and mother until I got sick. And now they've bought this big old place just for me. But what good is it? What good is anything if you're never allowed to have any fun?"
Bobby, of course, is Trixie's always-around, in-need-of-a-speech-pathologist, occasionally-useful-plot-device little brother.

While Trixie and Honey's friendship blossoms, we're introduced to two more essential characters: Miss Trask, the governess who'd be quite content to see her charge become independent, and Jim Frayne.

I'll hold off on sharing Jim's usual descriptor until the next post - for the half-dozen who both care and don't already know - but in this book he's a runaway, and also the great-nephew of Trixie's miser-hermit neighbor.
"I hitchhiked part of the way and walked the rest, sleeping in the woods, because I didn't have any money, you know. I wasn't sure exactly where my uncle lived, and I didn't dare ask anybody, but by luck, this morning, as I was walking along the road, I noticed the faded letters on the mailbox at the foot of the driveway."
Even for abused children, it really was a simpler time. (Consider that Jim's abuse is almost never brought up again in the books, and he clearly doesn't suffer any psychological scars. Not the way his character would be written today.)

Oh, and Jim's logic: "But, anyway, you don't go around socking older people. You just beat it."

Honey is often the reasonable, well-informed, and worldly half of the detective agency. This time, not so much:
"Of course you don't have to go back. You can come home and live with my family. My father'll adopt you. I've always wanted a brother, and Daddy's got lots of money so you can have a horse and a dog and anything else you want. Nobody'll ever beat you again."
But Jim knows that's not going to work. He stands to inherit if it turns out his great-uncle does in fact have some sort of wealth, and he's on the run from his stepfather. (It took me many, many readings before I realized that "Simon Legree" was a reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin. The hazards of literary allusions in children's books...)

The three spend some time riding, exploring the old mansion, and such. And the tension just keeps increasing, until Jim decides he needs to run off again.

You were wondering how Trixie's detective mind works? This sort of deductive reasoning is not uncommon:
"Oh, joy!" she cried triumphantly. "I'll bet this fits a treasure chest. Now all we have to do is find the chest."
Trixie also jumps to conclusions when she meets people. After Jim disappears again, his great-uncle's lawyer turns up looking for him. Within half a page, she decides he's completely trustworthy:
"Even if Jim didn't want anyone to know he was still alive, she knew she could trust this man and that he would be a real friend to Jim."
And sometimes it's that simple for Miss Belden. Not this time, though. The Secret of the Mansion is really Part I of the two-part introduction to the series. Next up: Trixie gets to demonstrate that she can blow off housework even when the house in question is a trailer - a red one.

Bonus: I haven't read through this yet, but it looks like someone's put together Trixie research. Something else for the reading list.


PJ Hoover said...

Loved loved loved Trixie Beldon. And I always wanted a boyfriend named Jim after reading these.
I can't believe it was 1948.
Were these ghost written? The author came to my school in 6th grade, and she wasn't that old.

Sarah Rettger said...

I think - and I'll confirm this when I write up the next book - that the first six were written by Julie Campbell, and the rest were done by various writers using the name Kathryn Kenny.

Kelly said...

Nice post, Sarah! I remember liking Trixie, but I don't remember anything about the books :)

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