[Upfront: Spoilers ahead. Lots of spoilers about the Aglaeca. Also, we cite Wikipedia a lot because we have deadlines. Lots of deadlines.]
The CW’s Nancy Drew debuted October 9, 2019. Based on the book character who first appeared in 1930’s the Secret of the Old Clock. While the book series traditionally remained free of supernatural elements, CW’s Nancy Drew leans heavily into mystical occurrences such as ghosts, demons, ESP, and related aspects.
One of the many plotlines in season 1 and season 2 is the Aglaeca. While initially presented as a dangerous creature that humans could make deals with, it is later revealed that the Aglaeca is the spirit of a woman named Odette Lamar who was brutally murdered by men who then stole her wealth. Compounding this pain was that Lamar’s financial contribution to the founding of Horseshoe Bay was reduced to a footnote.
While the fallout of surviving/defeating the Aglaeca is too complicated to summarize here, an important element is that the main characters promised Lamar to document and share her story so that people know what truly happened to her. Currently, Nancy Drew depicts Lamar no longer as the monstrous Aglaeca, but as the spirit of a human woman angry and struggling with the reality that her life was cut short.
A Beowulf Connection and Feminist Revisions
For most viewers, Aglaeca is just another cool sounding name for a creature. For those who were too into literature in high school and/or spend too much time online, Aglaeca sounded familiar. This familiarity stems from Aglaeca being echoing a name given to Grendel’s mother from Beowulf.
If you want an awesome summary of Beowulf, here is one from Thug Notes.
Relevant to this piece is that Beowulf (the protagonist of the story) kills Grendel, the first monster in this epic poem. However, this monster’s death is avenged by its mother when she retaliates for the death of her son by killing a single nobleman. Not willing to let a monster’s mother have a victory, Beowulf and his men find and kill Grendel’s mother.
This connects back to CW’s Nancy Drew because Grendel’s mother is first introduced in connection to the word “aglæcwif.” This is sometimes spelled as “aglæc-wif,” “aglæca,” or æglæca.”
However, the connection between Nancey Drew and Beowulf is more than just similarly spelled Aglaecas, it is how the nature of these characters have varied once a feminist lens was deployed. For one, while Grendel’s mother is often depicted as a clear monster, there has been a growing chorus of writers who point out that she embodies many heroic characteristics.
For example, prominent Beowulf scholar Frederick J. Klaeber (who lived between 1863 and 1954) translated “aglæcwif” as “‘wretch’, or ‘monster, of a woman.’” Later scholars would point out that Klaeber overlooks that Grendel’s mother is introduced as “ides, aglæcwif.” Given that ‘ides’ means “well-respected and dignified woman,” modern academics have begun to present a more complicated vision of Gerendel’s mother; depictions which still frame her as Beowulf’s adversary but that don’t reduce to just being a monster. Evidence of this can be seen in how aglæcwif and its variations are now defined. According to the 1994 version of Dictionary of Old English from University of Toronto, āglāc-wíf (noun) is now translated as “female warrior, fearsome woman”; āglæca (adj.) is defined as “formidable, awe-inspiring”; and āglæca (noun) is described as “awesome opponent, ferocious fighter.”
Feminist readings of Beowulf and other Old English stories not only enables readers to revisit these texts and further appreciate their complexities, but what is happening with Grendel’s mother echoes how The CW’s Nancy Drew approaches history and gender.
(Bonus connection: Grendel’s mother lives in a cave beneath a lake and Nancy Drew’s Aglaeca is so connected to the sea she even has her own sea shanty.)
Nancy Drew vs. The Monsters of Patriarchy
Nancy Drew has been a feminist icon since she was first published in 1930, and The CW’s version of the character is no different. For instance, the show has addressed the dangers of slut shaming on various occasions. A primary season 1 mystery orbited around the death of a woman named Lucy Sable who was driven to death due to the community shaming her for being sexually active. And this spirit only found something akin to peace once this tragedy was brought before the public.
As mentioned above, the Aglaeca was only defeated when her past was presented to her and the characters swore to properly document her history as well as reminding her that she was more than her trauma. Though the Aglaeca was a primary foe for the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2, the character reflects the show’s trend of using the supernatural to highlight the dangers of sexism. Another threat reflecting the dangers of sexism being the Burning Bride,
The scene of the Aglaeca’s defeat can be watched here.
The Aglaeca is the only character in Nancy Drew to have a direct connection to literature and legend over a thousand years old (…for now…we’re looking at you Medusa and Hellawes…), but she signifies how the show is internally and externally connected to a legacy of women who have been unfairly demonized.
You can check out all of our coverage on Nancy Drew here.