A few decades back, Agatha Christie novels were often "bridge books" between children's and adult novels for younger teenagers who enjoyed mysteries. "Why, of course, Gail," you may say. "No sex, no obvious violence. Perfect for the young. And that's why they're passe today. Teenagers like sex and violence. Who doesn't?"
I don't think the lack of sex and violence was any big draw for young readers even when they had less sophisticated reading materials to attract them than they do today. What Christie novels had to offer was an orderly universe that had been thrown into chaos by violence; a universe for which order was then restored. Teenagers may like sex and violence, but children like the reassurance of order. And back in the day, Christie novels were reassuring for adolescents who were making the transition from childhood to adulthood. The books were filled with adults who were always made to pay for their transgressions. If we were going to have to join the adult world--and it certainly appeared that we were--it was nice to know that there was a moral order that we could rely upon.
Of course, now even the young know that bad guys sometimes win. If Christie is unfashionable with the young today (and I have no idea whether or not that is true), the lack of belief in a moral order is a more likely reason than the lack of sex and violence.
All this is on my mind because this summer Masterpiece Theatre is running another series of Miss Marple adaptations. Is this an opportunity to get, say, twelve- to fifteen-year-olds interested in this character?
Miss Marple has sometimes been described as an avenger. Geraldine McEwan plays her with a sort of glee, an intensity that makes you believe that this old lady really is someone you'd want helping you out if you were in trouble. The two-part episode that concludes tonight includes a hot, young 40's or 50's era blonde and flashbacks to her childhood, so you do get someone for the young to relate to.
These new productions play fast-and-loose with the Miss Marple mythology. Last season's episodes included the information that as a young woman Miss Marple had been in love with a married man who was lost during World War I, a detail I don't remember from the books. And evidently she has been added to two Christie book adaptations, though she did not appear in the original novels.
But those of us who haven't read the books since we were teenagers aren't going to remember every detail, anyway. (Well, the married-man-thing was hard to miss.) And teenagers who haven't read them yet aren't going to know--at least, not unless they become interested enough to read the books for themselves.