This week, in my quest to read all my Nancy Drew Mysteries, I’m up to volume #34, The Witch Tree Symbol (OT) (AbeBooks) RT (Amazon) (AbeBooks), which is one of the first novels where very little action takes place in River Heights. That’s right, Nancy and the gang are taking a road trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to visit an Amish community.
“When a neighbor asks Nancy to accompany her to an old uninhabited mansion, she finds a witch tree symbol that leads her to Pennsylvania Dutch country in pursuit of a cunning and ruthless thief. The friendly welcome the girl sleuth and her friends receive from the Amish people soon changes to hostility when it is rumored that Nancy is a witch! Superstition helps her enemy in his attempt to get her off his trail, but Nancy persistently uncovers one clue after another to outwit her dangerous adversary.”
For the first time that I’ve noticed while reading the Original Text, Nancy’s age is mentioned as 18. When the series first started in 1930, her age was always listed as 16. Most volumes don’t mention a specific age, and just mention teenager. By the time this book was first published in 1955, making Nancy 18 made her an adult who could do certain things that a 16-year old couldn’t do, giving her even more freedom than before.
One thing about this Nancy Drew book was that there weren’t too many coincidental mysteries that all led to the same bad guys. There’s only two mysteries in the book: who stole the antique furniture from the home in River Heights, and the whereabouts of Manda Kreutz, an Amish girl who left home after telling her parents she wanted to explore the world that the girls met when they first arrived in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The thief is suspected to be a man named Roger Hoelt, so before even going to Pennsylvania, Nancy has a pretty good lead. It certainly helps her suspicions when Hoelt goes as far as hitting her dog, Togo, with his car (Don’t worry, Togo was just shaken up. It is mentioned prior to that Hannah had let the dog out without a leash and Nancy didn’t think it was a good idea to have Togo running loose in the neighborhood).
There’s a lot of sleuthing and eating in this book. Many foods are mentioned, and Bess takes some grief for working up an appetite more than once. But when eating with Manda’s parents, the girls barely made a dent in the feast and Mr. Kreutz says they have “city appetites.” George retorts that’s true, except for Bess. And then Mr. Kreutz defends Bess by saying, “In Amish country, we like a little flesh on our maidens.” (pages 45-6)
Nancy and the girls are surprised by a visit from the guys, Ned, Burt, and Dave, who don’t seem to have jobs or school. Usually it’s one or the other. Based on conversation, it’s revealed it’s August, also judged by the picking of carrots, beets, and an apple picking production late in the book. For anyone looking for a predictable timeline for Nancy Drew books should just forget about it. They do not go in sequential order, and sometimes it’s summer, sometimes it’s fall, a few take place in the winter. But if you go in order, you’ll realize that years have past in just a few books time.
As for Ned, he just can’t seem to take the hint. He’s hinting at marriage, but Nancy wants nothing to do with it. (pg 116) “Suppose you and I go to the barn dance in one of them?” (a carriage). “All right,” she said. “But we’ll have to use an open-top buggy,” she explains, because closed carriages are only for married people. “I’ll take one of those closed jobs after I graduate. What say, Nancy?” She pretended not to understand and then deflected with a joke about him giving up worldly pleasures to marry an Amish girl. Poor Ned.
I don’t know enough about Amish culture to know how accurate the information is, but it was probably accurate at the time of writing (1955). There have always been Nancy Drew books that teach a little something while Nancy is solving mysteries, and this book is no exception. Lots of German phrases that are then translated, as well as describing the two different types of Amish people, which are described as Church Amish and House Amish. Again, I have no idea how they identify themselves now, but one thing’s for sure: the majority of Amish people of both types are seen as good people.
As for peril in The Witch Tree Symbol, besides Togo getting hit by a car by the bad guy, George gets her foot stuck in what turns out to be a sinkhole, Nancy is hit in the back of the neck by an Amish boy’s slingshot rock and gets knocked out, and finally, the carriage Nancy and Ned procure overturns and sends Nancy and Ned flying, but they’re uninjured.
Overall, I’d rate this book four out of five stars. I’m not crazy about the original artwork even though it’s more colorful, because I have the matte PC (picture cover) and not the dust jacketed version, so part of the witch tree is cut off. With the current artwork, the witch tree is front and center.
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