The Message in the Hollow Oak (Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #12)

I remember the Revised Text (RT) of Message in the Hollow Oak very well, but had never read the Original Text (OT) until now. As happened from time to time, the OT is a completely different story from the RT.

Nancy wins the deed to a piece of property in Canada in a radio contest. It just so happens that Carson Drew is working on a case for a Canadian lumberman who also happens to have a house in River Heights that he rarely uses. The man says he knows of an elderly woman coming to town, who would be headed in the general direction of Nancy’s new property and would probably gladly chaperone her. (Remember, in the OT, Nancy is only 16). Once again, Bess and George are invited for another exciting adventure.

Before they even leave town, the bad guys show up, Tom Stripe and Raymond Niles. First they try to steal her deed, then trying to buying it from her. It turns out that this tract of land may contain gold, so of course Nancy must check it out.

The young ladies and their chaperone, Mrs. Donnelly, take a train to get to Canada. How quaint. That’s certainly something you don’t read about every day, unless it is Murder on the Orient Express, but it fits perfectly for 1935 when this text was written.

On the train, Nancy meets an authoress named Annette Chap who is very successful in whatever she writes, whether it’s articles or radio shows or screenplays. Before Nancy can find out more about this mysterious middle-aged woman, the train jumps the tracks and all are thrown about. Annette is injured severely and it’s touch and go for a while. Mrs. Donnelly is also injured and requires a hospital stay.

For some strange reason, at the hotel while waiting for Mrs. Donnelly recover, Bess starts to sleepwalk and heads outside on something like a fire escape. She’s got something clutched in her hand. Nancy, who learned how to lasso in Secret at Shadow Ranch, happens to find a rope and lassos it around Bess, who wakes up, dropping the paper she was holding. Even though it is the middle of the night, there’s a man down in the garden who picks up the paper, which turns out to be Nancy’s deed to the property.

Nancy places an ad in the paper to recover the deed and finds out a man named Ranny has it. She visits the farm and retrieves it. She also visits Annie Chap in the hospital and Annie tells her about The Message of the Hollow Oak, where she used to slip notes for clandestine meetings with her boyfriend, Norman Ranny. Could it be that the Rannys are related? Of course they are, because this is a Nancy Drew book! It turns out Chap put a note in the oak to meet Ranny in a nearby town so they could elope. She waited two days and Ranny never showed up. Ashamed to go home, Chap headed to the big cities where she earned her living as an authoress (really, the use of the word happens repeatedly so I feel I must, too.) Ranny went away to the war (World War I for you young folks), and they never saw each other again. Nancy hurries back to the Ranny’s farm and asks to borrow a picture of their son. The parents have no clue why, but oblige.

Once Nancy, Bess and George get to Canada, they are dogged by Stripe and Niles. They hire a guide to take them through the wilderness to Nancy’s land and oh, on the way, just happens to be the Chap property where Annie’s grandpa lived. They encounter a prospector who also knows the area well. He’s got a bushy beard and hair, but Nancy feels there is something familiar about him. It’s Norman Ranny, hiding out in the woods. He returned from the war and didn’t want to deal with people, so he made his home out in the Canadian wilderness. Stripe and Niles are headed in the same direction.

Really, I lost count of how many times the young ladies were out in the wild and kept running into people. For an area of dense forest and a river cutting through it, I wouldn’t expect it to be that well traveled. They lose their guide, only to find him some miles away, wanting revenge on Tom Stripe, with whom he has a history. Then they run in to Stripe and Niles again. And again.

Back to civilization the girls go, and Nancy sends a telegram to her father. He decides to come see for himself, as well as continue the investigation into the Canadian lumberman’s case. A third villain appears with a prospecting crew on Nancy’s land. Norman Ranny brings Nancy to the hollow oak, where they find a message from Grandpa Chap, who has buried his worldly possessions beneath the tree because the bad guys are going to kidnap him. Carson Drew calls in the sheriff and a posse’, who essentially do nothing and eventually leave the men to prospect for gold on Nancy’s land and without searching for Chap.

Nancy agrees to give her land to the crooks in exchange for Grandpa Chap, that is, if they know where he is. Carson Drew thinks she’s crazy, but signs the necessary papers as her legal guardian. The prospectors go away for a while, presumably to get Grandpa Chap, which they do. With everyone safe, that gives Nancy the opportunity to dynamite a dam (!!?), flooding the very area where the men were hunting for gold. But not before finding the cache of hidden gold nuggets and taking them.

Turns out all the bad guys were also the bad guys in Carson Drew’s case, and Nancy is left with a bag of gold nuggets for her trouble.

I really liked this volume, and couldn’t see why it couldn’t have been modernized to have a TV contest or magazine contest having Nancy win the deed to the property. And while there were no racial or social stereotypes, there was a whole lot of sexist remarks from Niles to Nancy, which surprised me since Mildred Wirt wrote the book.

The RT of The Message in the Hollow Oak is something else entirely.

“Folks is funny,” said Clem. “They make such a to-do about takin’ care o’ cemeteries but they sure ain’t got no respect for the skeletons o’ folks that lived around here three or four hundred years ago.” This. I loved archeology when I was a kid, even before I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, so it is no wonder The Message in the Hollow Oak Revised Text stood out as one of my favorite Nancy Drews. But as an adult, I have an entirely different feeling about digging up ancient Indian burial grounds.

Nancy heads to the archeological dig in southern Illinois after a group of professional detectives failed to solve the mystery of The Message in the Hollow Oak. Legend has it a French explorer named Pere Francois left a treasure in a Hollow Oak somewhere in Illinois. Francois was one of those explorers like Father Jacques Marquette who tried to convert the indigenous tribes to Christianity, so there’s that modern problem with the story, too. (There’s also a mention of Nancy and Aunt Eloise going to church, which happens in at least every other book of the RTs.) The archeological dig will be her home base because it is a group of college kids doing the excavating.

The bad guy, Kit Kaddle, is mentioned before Nancy even takes the case. The professional detectives that were searching for the treasure only gave up because they ran out of vacation time, and since Nancy is never in school or has a real job, she’s the perfect person to take the case. Bess and George will be joining her a week later if she hasn’t solved the case already. Ned, Burt and Dave are taking a break from their summer jobs and will come visit, too.

There’s a guy named Art at the dig who is very helpful shuttling Nancy to one place or another on his motorcycle. When Ned and the rest of the gang show up, things get a little tense, but Nancy and Bess think foisting Ned’s cousin Julie Ann on Art will suddenly make him change his feelings.

As in most Nancy Drew books, food and feasting is mentioned. Usually it is something like steaks and potatoes and ice cream sundae for dessert. Not this time. “My wife Hortense,” Clem said, “makes the best beaten biscuits you ever ate. Then she opens ’em up and puts a little fishball inside.” Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound appealing at all!

Some of the time, Art and Julie Ann tag along with the gang to do some sleuthing. Eight people traveling around in a pickup truck. I also thought the local helicopter pilot commanded something like TC’s chopper in Magnum P.I., but it must be a huge helicopter like the president’s Marine one because it has to carry EIGHT PEOPLE plus the pilot.

The gang travels on a towboat along the Ohio River near the Mississippi, and into Kentucky searching for clues. Little bits of geography or local history are woven in to the story. (The same thing happened when Nancy landed in St. Louis–she did some sightseeing before heading to the archeological dig).

Kit Kaddle and his helpers cause a bit of trouble at camp, and end up kidnapping a college kid who was standing guard. He’s also suspected of kidnapping one of the professional detectives who gave up the search for the treasure.

George exclaims “Hypers!” for the first time in the books, I believe. Unless she says it in an OT text later on, but I’ve been waiting 12 volumes for it. My friends and I would use it sarcastically often.

Nancy and the gang follow the clues from one oak to another across southern Illinois. Pere Francois has left a metal plate in each oak, and bark has grown over them, so they just need to find old oak trees with a bulge on one side. An arrow points the direction one needs to go to find the treasure.

Somehow the gang recovers the missing college kid, the missing detective, catch Kit Kaddle’s partners, and finds The Message in the Hollow Oak and the treasure, a copper hunting horn with Limoge work. Inside are a solid gold chain and cross, a signet ring, and a surveyor’s box. Kit Kaddle follows them and holds them at gunpoint for a few minutes, until the local police, who had been trailing Kaddle, show up and take him into custody. He of course, in Scooby Doo fashion, explains how he trailed both the professional detectives and Nancy and Co.

I thought the OT was better than the RT, even though I have fond memories of the RT as the second Nancy Drew I ever owned.

For more information about my favorite sleuth, check out Jenn Fisher’s Unofficial Nancy Drew website, which has a wealth of information.

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