The Message in the Hollow Oak is one of the books in the Nancy Drew series in which the first version, written in 1935, and the second version when it was re-written in 1972 bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever. I don’t know how they managed to get two mysteries out of the same title, but regardless the story is one that made me a bit uneasy.
Nancy Drew takes on a mystery at the behest of a detective friend of her Aunt Eloise Drew. Boyce Osbourne is a detective who has a group of friends who tackle unsolved mysteries as a hobby. This year, they took their vacation to central Illinois where they took on the legend of Pere Francois, a missionary in that area in the late 17th century. He left behind clues hidden in oak trees to some sort of valuable message. The detective club was unable to finish following the path over the course of a week, and now Boyce is asking Nancy to finish what they started.
He also warns Nancy about Kit Kadle, a man also in search of Pere Francois’s message who will resort to unscrupulous means to stop anyone else from getting it.
Nancy is unsure of doing this since her best friends Bess and George are unable to accompany her at first. “Special friend” Ned Nickerson comes to her rescue by hooking Nancy up with a cousin of his who is working an archaeological dig in the area for Paulson University.
In between her time with the students at the dig, Nancy hunts for clues. Soon her friends join her, although this causes friction between Ned and a student named Art who has become used to helping Nancy out and has developed feelings for her.
There are some of the usual issues that go along with Nancy Drew books. First of all, despite the fact that the previous book, The Clue of the Broken Locket seemed to have Nancy and her friends going forward in time once again, that’s stopped here. That book took place at the end of the summer. In The Message in the Hollow Oak on page 58 when Nancy tries to reach Ned: Right now he was working on a summer job, selling insurance. So once again it seems for the sake of convenience the timing has changed. The previous book is referred to at the beginning of the book as is the next one at the end, so these would seem to indicate they should be sequential.
On the plus side, when Nancy goes to help out on the dig as part of her room and board, she’s not already a pro. Initially, she watches everyone else, then begins to copy what they are doing sifting through the earth. Even when she has uncovered a bone as the other students are using the proper scientific names to describe the bone, she is lost with the nomenclature. It’s much more realistic.
However, later on, Nancy can translate French. It would have been believable had one of the students translated for her, but it’s there that she understands French with it never having been mentioned before.
However, the biggest issue I had was the fact that the students are excavating an “Indian burial mound.” Even putting aside the terminology which is no longer politically correct, it sort of bothers me that no one seems to give the thought that they are essentially digging up a Native American cemetery. The remains aren’t being reburied either but are assembled into full skeletons for display. This bothered me the same way I imagine people would be disturbed if the students were digging up a cemetery in one of our hometowns where our relatives were buried.
In fact, in 1990, our government passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act which provided for museums to return the same things the students are digging up here to the tribes for reburial. That would definitely make the book dated, and I would hope that any more recent reprints of this would include at least an explanation of that fact. In any case, this is definitely a book that needs updating.
There’s one student who has issues with Nancy being there, and in some ways, I do understand her point of view. After all, once Nancy arrived there were a number of intrusions on the dig including one attempt to steal some of what these students had worked so hard to unearth. There’s also a kidnapping, and Nancy thinks nothing of asking the students to help her and delay their return, even when they are told they need to be back at the dig at a certain time. I could understand being upset that my summer project was hijacked by someone who’s not even attending any college but arrives there and starts bending everyone to her will. At least the girl, who’s written in a way we aren’t supposed to like her, is actually attending college. It wouldn’t hurt Nancy to start thinking about it as well.
This book is fine for the tween market, although I think there could be some discussion about the acts that were committed against Natives of this country and how we still had no respect for their burial sites even into the 1970s. At least Nancy’s actions are somewhat more believable, even if there are still issues with time.
Previous book in the series (link): The Clue of the Broken Locket
Next book in the series (link): The Mystery of the Ivory Charm