Diana Lynch: Can a Secondary Character Have Brains as well as Beauty?

by Jenni Johns, submitted for publication in The Whispered Watchword in December 2001.

Think back to the Trixie Belden books you’ve read. What do you remember about Diana Lynch?

“Oh, she was the pretty one. Um… she liked Trixie’s brother Mart.”

What else did she do?

“Um, well…her family was rich and she had a set of twin brothers and a set of twin sisters.”

So what else was there to Diana Lynch? Was it possible for a secondary female character to have both brains and beauty? In the case of the Trixie Belden series, the answer is no…and yes.

Diana Lynch was introduced formally in #4 The Mysterious Visitor although she was mentioned in an earlier book, #2 The Red Trailer Mystery, as an old friend of Trixie’s. She was the pretty, unhappy girl who was not coping with her family’s sudden wealthy status and was befriended by the Bob-Whites after Honey Wheeler noticed how unhappy she seemed. The reader was told that Diana and Trixie used to be friends until Diana moved to the Lynch mansion, just down the road from Trixie’s home, and after an initial visit, Trixie felt too uncomfortable in Diana’s new home to continue the friendship. No wonder the poor girl was unhappy!

What is ironic is that Trixie quickly became firm friends with wealthy Honey Wheeler, despite being initially put off by Honey’s girlish behavior, but maybe her initial attraction to Honey was the stable of horses Honey’s father owned. But I digress…When Di was introduced as a character and became a Bob-White, there was no apology from Trixie or an explanation of why their friendship went bad, they simply became friends. Maybe that happens with 7-year-olds, but 13-year-olds? I don’t think so.

Diana never played an important role in solving the mysteries that Trixie and Honey stumbled across, however, she did sometimes deliver them. Di’s uncle, the impostor and the real Uncle Monty, delivered two mysteries in the books written by Julie Campbell (#4 The Mysterious Visitor and #6 Mystery in Arizona). Additionally, in later books, it was Di’s parents who made it possible for the Bob-Whites—minus Dan—to travel to Williamsburg, Va., to solve #14 The Mystery of the Emeralds. It was also Di’s butler’s disappearance that started #26 The Mystery of the Headless Horseman. However, that was usually the limit to Di’s involvement in the mysteries, and Di, like Dan, often found herself written out of a mystery because the author didn’t know how to fit all of the characters in.

For the most, Diana Lynch was portrayed as the stereotypical female. She was pretty, not terribly bright, couldn’t remember lines in a school play, liked boys and had dreams of being an air stewardess. She often frustrated the headstrong and impatient Trixie, although it was obvious that Trixie felt sorry for her because she gave Di jobs to do as a Bob-White to make her feel important:

After a vote was taken and everyone agreed to the plan, Trixie asked Di to write to the Heart Association, offering their services. Di was the quietest member of the group, and Trixie liked to give her things to do to make her feel that she was really an important member of the Bob-Whites.
(The Mystery of the Emeralds, p. 34-35)

However, Diana appeared as confident and outgoing as the other Bob-Whites in social situations. In #9 The
Happy Valley Mystery, Di is happy to be surrounded by boys after a basketball game, and she laughs and teases them in a carefree and friendly manner. However, she was portrayed again as the stereotypical female who did little else but look pretty and bat her eyelashes at boys.

Finally, an author came along who was determined to portray Diana Lynch in a different light. Joan Chase Bowden is known to have written four books from the Trixie Belden series under the Kathryn Kenny pseudonym, the first being #26 The Mystery of the Headless Horseman. In this book, Di is given a more prominent role and the author sets her up to clash with Trixie on a number of occasions:

Trixie glanced at her sharply. What was wrong with Di? She had a funny lah-di-dah tone in her voice that Trixie had never heard her use before. It was almost as if—that was it—as if Di was playing a part on the stage.

And the role she's playing is Lady Diana of the Lynch estate, Trixie thought. She was not sure she liked it. (p. 51)

Di suddenly has an opinion and puts her trust and loyalty to Harrison, her family’s butler, before Trixie. Trixie’s theory that Harrison is a thief causes a rift between the two girls, and Trixie can’t understand the change in Di’s behavior. Jim suggests that Trixie might be jealous because Di is in charge for once and that doesn’t sit well with our super sleuth, who could handle the attention Di received for being pretty but couldn’t cope when Di took charge and she had to take a back seat for a change.

The education of Diana continues in Bowden’s next book, #27 The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon. Di knows about loans and collateral and explains how they work when Trixie laments about not being able to ask her father, a banker, for advice (p. 124-125). Trixie must have forgotten all about loans and collateral from #5 The Mystery Off
Glen Road, when she used her diamond ring as collateral to hold Brian's car until they earned enough money to buy it. So was Di’s developing intelligence at Trixie’s expense? Gone were the throwaway lines of the helpless female character, which were replaced by meaningful dialogue that showed insight and understanding:

“Maybe it’s the room she’s always had ever since she was a child,” Trixie said thoughtfully. “And did you notice what she said downstairs?  ‘For once I agree with my brother,’ she told us. It almost sounds as if the two of them don’t always get along with each other.”

Di smiled. “You should be able to understand that, Trix. You don’t always get along with yours.”

Trixie’s face went red. Of course, Di was right.

(The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon, p. 49)

Bowden shows another, more vulnerable side of Di in #30 The Mystery of the Midnight Marauder when she writes to the school’s Miss Lonelyheart, fearing that no one would ask her to the Spring Dance. Now this isn’t the Di of #9 The Happy Valley Mystery who knew just how to act with the boys swarming around her. However, maybe the problem is that in past books Di has always been portrayed from Trixie’s point of view, and when an author chooses to let the character speak for herself, the reader instantly sees a lot more depth in the character.

In the last book that Bowden is believed to have written for the series, #32 The Mystery of the Whispering Witch, the reader is treated to yet another side of Diana. Di is surprisingly brave and levelheaded, and doesn't seem at all perturbed about visiting the supposedly haunted Lisgard House. She volunteers to accompany Trixie, Honey and Fay and does a little investigating of her own even after the witch is heard:

To her surprise, Di said nothing. Then, when Trixie turned her head to look, she noticed that Di wasn’t even there. She had moved quietly to the study door and was gazing curiously around the little room.

“Di?” Trixie called.

Di had already taken several steps into the study, but now she retreated hastily. “I just had to see where the witch died,” she confessed.
(p. 152-153)

This is quite unlike the scared, frightened Di portrayed in #25 The Sasquatch Mystery, and the reader is impressed by her calm, sensible manner. Di also provided some vital clues by revealing that the furniture in Lisgard House was fake. Was Honey too scared to notice? It seems strange that the "newly rich" Di would know more about antiques than Honey. Bowden has Di play the role of the detective for the first time, which allows Di to make a meaningful contribution to solving the mystery without antagonizing the main female characters.

Sadly, in the remaining books in the series, Di returns to the role of a secondary character with little dialogue and no meaningful input into the stories. Bowden did complete the manuscript for what was intended to be book 41 in the series, The Mystery of the Flying Mermaid. This may have presented another opportunity for Di to shine, but unless Golden Books decides to continue the series after a 15 year hiatus, we will never know.

Even Julie Campbell, the author who introduced the character, did not allow Diana Lynch to ever have the depth or intelligence of her other female characters.  Bowden managed to portray Diana Lynch as another worthy female character who could contribute as much as the characters of Trixie Belden and Honey Wheeler did to the books. While other authors struggled to even incorporate Diana into the stories, Bowden made her role significant and demonstrated that a secondary character with both beauty and brains can be allowed to stand alongside the female protagonists without the world coming to an end.