Stratemeyer Syndicate but make it gay

Sydney takes a look at the new “Drew-niverse” shows Nancy Drew and Tom Swift on the CW — and how they are putting unapologetically queer spins on beloved, classic characters.

Stratemeyer Syndicate but make it gay
Nancy Drew 

by Sydney Bollinger

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, along with Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys, and other much-loved long-running children’s book series were originally published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate until Simon & Schuster bought the company in 1987.

These books were by no means “high-brow” but did provide children with endless entertaining stories (many of the principal characters are featured in multiple book series).

They have also stood the test of time — and still are part of public fascination. For generations, people have grown up with these stories, seeing multiple transformations of their favorite character in their lifetime.

In 2019, The CW premiered Nancy Drew, a modern take on the girl detective and at long last introduced a queer character to Nancy’s circle. In season 2 of Nancy Drew, audiences watched a backdoor pilot for the new Tom Swift TV show and you guessed it — it’s also gay.

The question of George Fayne

illustrated book cover of three women looking at a golden locket
Cover of Nancy Drew book. L to R: Bess Marvin, Nancy Drew, George Fayne

As a kid in a small, rural town, I didn’t really understand queerness in any meaningful way — and was much to young to begin applying queer theory to a character in my favorite children’s book series. Still, though, I always had a sense that there was something different about George.

Perhaps Nancy’s best friend George Fayne was just styled after a 1920s flapper and then no further effort was made to expand upon her characterization. She was the foil to Bess, her ultra-feminine cousin who just so happened to be a good mechanic. Nancy, ever the perfect leading lady, took up a seat right in between the cousins/her best friends — the best of both worlds, so to speak.

Over time, though, George’s characterization stuck out more and more. Her insistence at going by a boy’s name, tomboyish clothing, and short haircut all point to lesbian stereotypes, yet — just as her friends — George’s male romantic interest was always in the periphery.

When applying modern understanding of queerness and sexuality to George over the many series of Nancy Drew books, it’s easy to see the giant flashing “GAY” sign over George’s head.

So, when The CW announced its new Nancy Drew series in 2019, everyone’s first though was that George will obviously be a lesbian.

Right?

The CW’s Nancy Drew flips expectations

women in a striped blouse and denim jacket
Maddison Jaizani as Bess Marvin on Nancy Drew

Wrong.

Nancy Drew fans are always awaiting the next adaptation of our favorite teenage sleuth — usually with limited success. Early adaptations often stripped Nancy of her feminist fire and/or followed a more police-procedural format (and that’s not our detective). 2007’s Nancy Drew starring Emma Roberts nearly hit the mark, but the CW’s series is a home run.

With its much-needed updates to the nearly 100-year-old characters, the network’s adaptation brought fresh faces, modern sensibility, and the supernatural to Nancy’s world.

It didn’t, however, gives fans a long-awaited lesbian George. Instead, we were introduced to a queer Bess!

In many ways including Bess as the series’ principal queer character subverted the expectations of both fans and first-time viewers alike — because just like in the books TV Bess (played by Maddison Jaizani) is a feminine dream, and unapologetically so.

Making Bess queer helps redefine what a queer woman looks like, especially since the concept of a “lesbian” on TV is often portrayed a certain way; in a sense, you can see that a woman should be considered queer. Bess isn’t like that.

Why not?

As queer characters get more and more screen time on TV, it’s important to show queerness across the spectrum.

Moving away from stereotypes and allowing more authenticity is what makes Bess one of the best characters on Nancy Drew. Her queerness is part of her, sure, but she also is so much more than just the “gay friend.” Each season she grows more powerful and is even more integral to the mysteries the Drew Crew must solve.

So, while Nancy Drew may not have queered the titular character, fans finally got what they wanted — and during season two of Nancy Drew, the Drewniverse was expanded to include Tom Swift, another Stratemeyer Syndicate property.

Tom Swift brings queerness front and center

Black man wearing a black suit looking off screen
Tian Richards as Tom Swift in Tom Swift

Introduced during a backdoor pilot in Nancy Drew for the titular series, Tom Swift is the newest addition to the Drewniverse — and also the first Black gay man to lead a network TV series.

In the books, Tom Swift is a genius inventor. His adventures revolve around areas of technology and science, likely to encourage boys into the new and fast-evolving fields during the early 1900s. The series was often ahead of the curve on predicting future technological developments, including portable movie cameras and sending photos by telephone.

This new Tom Swift (played by Tian Richards) has the same inventor mind and technological know-how, but has been updated for a modern audience.

Reimagining this well-known character into a powerful (and diverse) Black gay man allows the show to not only dazzle audiences with its glorious science fiction, but also dig deep to the emotional heart of what it means to navigate the world as Black and queer.

Just like its sister show, Tom Swift is a fun (and necessary) watch — endlessly smarter and more creative than most of The CW’s offerings — while never letting go of a focus on “real life” social issues and emotional storytelling.

What’s next for gay TV?

My Nancy Drew/Tom Swift fangirl heart can only hope for more gay Stratemeyer Syndicate shows. The Hardy Boys? Cherry Ames? YES PLEASE.

In the meantime, though, I’m just happy to see more and more queer stories front and center.


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