Sunday, October 24, 2010

Isabel Allende's Zorro

I have a confession to make: I've never read a real Zorro novel by Johnston McCulley. From the classic Zorro movies I've seen only the seminal Tyrone Power version from 1941. (I'm not even sure if I've seen any of the Antonio Banderas versions.) But even with this minimal grasp of the matter I can say Isabel Allende's prequel to McCulley's Zorro (2005) is a bit boring attempt that never reaches the feeling of high adventure that would be required. I read the book, because Allende is included in the reference book of historical writers I've been working on. (The reference book is late and it feels like I'm never getting it out of my hands. Aaargh!)

Allende has done her work pretty carefully, but it seems she's been watching only the films and hasn't read McCulley's novels (from what I can gather). She makes the historical references quite accurately, to my mind, and she develops Diego de la Vega's character carefully. I thought the part in the Spanish War against Napoleon was the best part in the book - exciting, enthralling, adventurous. But the problem with her book is exactly that: there's not enough adventure. I'm sure many McCulley fans would like Allende's novel more if it just had more sword fights. You feel like Allende was thinking she was doing a serious historical novel, like many of her other novels are, and remembering every now and then that this is supposed to be a swashbuckling adventure. Paradoxically, her more serious, more literate historical novels are more entertaining than her Zorro. (That said, I must admit that I just dropped one of her books, Portrait of Sepia: too repetitive, too much familiar aspects, too much lecturing about the history of Chile.)

It's a small wonder none of McCulley's Zorro stories were ever translated in Finnish - I'm not really sure why this never happened. There have been some abridged versions in some obscure Disney anthologies not many friends of literature would dare to look at, and I think I've seen one version in an old Finnish pulp magazine in the fourties. Would it be about time?

We had the Disney TV series in Finland of course, and Steve Frazee's novelization of that, cut into shorter chunks and published as separate books - I loved those books as a kid and I think I loaned them out of the library at least five or six times. Given that, it's a small wonder that I never sought out any of McCulley's Zorros. (And I'm really not sure whether I ever saw the TV series as a kid.)

Did you know that this early nineties TV series of Zorro also had a series of paperback novelizations? By the series creator, Sandra Curtis, published under the byline of "S. R. Curtis"? Curtis is known to the Zorro aficionados for her non-fiction book Zorro Unmasked. Six of Curtis's novels were published in Finnish in 1992, when the series was on the Finnish television, but they are not mentioned in the Wikipedia article for Zorro. I had an opportunity to ask about these from Sandra Curtis herself and she admitted the books have never appeared in English language, albeit there have been many translations in many languages. Haven't read any of these, but I've been going to, since I'd like to run a Zorro issue in Ruudinsavu/Gunsmoke, the magazine of The Finnish Western Society. (I did a bibliography of the paperbacks and posted it on the Pulpetti's bibliographic section here.)

1 comment:

Bill Crider said...

I've read McCulley, and I've read the Allende book. I agree with your assessment of the latter.