The Trixie Belden Mysteries, 1948-1986
I originally wrote this tribute back in 2015 when Trixie turned a timeless 85 years old. But I decided Trixie deserved a 90th birthday year mention too, even a resurrected one. My feelings haven't changed about this delightful series, so I left the original review mostly intact, just updated references as necessary. If you want to know more, here is a website (I'm not affiliated, just found it and thought it was cute!) and an article from Mystery Scene too.
Ready? Gleeps, I hope so!
The Most Fun Ever!
( Quote from Book 7 Trixie Belden and the Mysterious Code)
And they were fun. The Trixie Belden Mysteries were an exciting blend of the happily unrealistic and the enjoyably believable. With the help of her family and friends, Trixie thwarted con-men and thieves, saved lost souls and rescued the injured while volunteering at the hospital and organizing charity events. I liked Trixie’s world. There was reassurance there. In the end, the bad guys lost and the good guys won. It’s the way it should be in fiction even as it can’t always be in life.
Trixie Belden, a spunky, sandy-haired, and freckled faced 13 year-old, burst onto the literary scene in 1948 with “The Secret of the Mansion” (pictured above). Julie Campbell wrote the first six mysteries, then relinquished her creation to Random House. For the next four decades, under numerous authors using the Kathryn Kenny pen-name, the mystery solving adventures of Trixie and the Bob-Whites of the Glen, a “secret” club consisting mainly of Trixie, her brothers Mart and Brian, and friends Jim, Honey and Di were chronicled in 33 additional sagas. When “The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost” appeared in 1986, it signaled the end of new Trixie Belden exploits. The series disappeared until the early 2000’s when fan loyalty resulted in a brief re-printing of the 39 existing books.
Despite the numerous ghost authors creating inevitable backstory inconsistencies (to which I was oblivious as an enamored tweenie), the honest appeal of Trixie Belden never wavered. One could identify with the down-to-earth and imperfect Trixie. I certainly did. She often had realistic calamities like continually putting her foot in her mouth. Further, growing up middle class on Crabapple Farm in fictional Sleepyside-on-Hudson in New York, Trixie had to earn money by doing dreaded household chores. I had to do that too.
Sure, Trixie was too impetuous, a bit meddlesome, and lacked some basic common sense at times, but her imperfections made her all the more relatable. In the end, she did the right thing by finding the courage to overcome her fears and the confidence to act on her beliefs. Trixie’s maturing self-awareness of who she was, what her faults were, and how she could improve, made her more than a two dimensional “schoolgirl shamus”.
Ahead of Her Time
To be sure, it was a different world in the mid 20th century with the unfussy settings and lack of technology. The language and references were a bit dated and a tad sexist and definitely not “PC” by today’s standards. But even so, nothing was truly shocking or unexpected. In fact, Trixie was refreshingly ahead of her time. She refused to stay in the “this is what girls do” box (don’t ever dress her in pink) and fought against meanness and stereotypes.
Trixie was also naturally independent and hardly ever had full-time adult supervision. In Book 2, the Red Trailer Mystery, for example, she and her BFF Honey wandered alone on horseback for hours in search of a runaway friend armed only with a map and a picnic lunch! The Trixie Belden series reflected the era by allowing unsupervised time, mishaps and all, something that might be considered almost criminal today!
But this was the norm when I was a kid too. Such free time helped develop resilience, self-assurance, and conscientiousness. Through her exploits, Trixie also learned responsibility, compassion, and self-reliance. These themes were threaded throughout the series along with such ‘practical’ skills as how to treat a snake bite (suck and spit), make the juiciest hamburgers (bread crumbs and milk), and be prepared (always have a clean handkerchief and a penknife).
Relevant and Meaningful Today
I still have a battered partial collection of Trixie Belden, the cheaper drugstore version bought with that hard-earned allowance. The last book I purchased was the Mystery of the Missing Heiress, published in 1970. Unfortunately, by the time the next book in the series came out in 1977, I had moved on. But I could never let go. Although I've donated hundreds of books over the years, including an entire Agatha Christie set or two, I've kept Trixie, dragging those poor 16 books through various moves across the country and over the Pacific. They now sit safely on top of my bookcase as I write, a gentle reminder of another time.
I believe they still have value and relevance though, even in today's tech-obsessed times. While the mysteries were entertaining, the interpersonal relationships were the true heart of the series. Language and standards may change, but the need for connection, as evidenced by our current Social Media fascination, is timeless.
So, here’s to Trixie, still "spunky" even as a Nonagenarian . I hope the spirit that wove through her books never fades. Goodness knows we could use some more of her courage, kindness, and optimism in 2021 and beyond! I mean, Jeepers, don’t you think?