Saturday, September 22, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Mark of Zorro

I've been compiling the new issue of Ruudinsavu (= Gunsmoke), the official magazine of the Finnish Western Society. I've been dreaming about the issue dedicated to the Zorro phenomenon, to the movies and comics and other stuff that's been made about him. It seems like it's now coming true, with me writing the article on Johnston McCulley who originally invented the character and wrote the first stories about him.

McCulley wrote four novel-lenght stories about Zorro, but weirdly enough only the first seems to have been published in book from. Can this be true? And the first one, originally "The Curse of Capistrano", later published as The Mark of Zorro, the title of the Douglas Fairbanks film of 1920, is now available only in the POD edition from Wildside Press. (It's okay, but it has an ugly cover, with McCulley's name written wrong ("McCully") and the book has some formatting and scanning errors.) How can this be? McCulley died in 1958, so his work is technically still under copyright - except seemingly for The Mark of Zorro, since I don't think Wildside Press is paying anyone anything for the rights of book. Is there a problem with McCulley's heirs? I notice Googling around that there's been talk about the collected Zorro short stories coming from Black Dog Books, but so far nothing.

Back to the actual book. "The Curse of Capistrano" was published in All-Story Weekly in 1919, making Zorro one of those long-living heroes originated in the pages of a pulp or other fiction magazine, just like Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes. The story was fast made into a movie and hence the book was getting to be known as The Mark of Zorro.

The book is entertaining, and though it's dated in many ways (Zorro never kills anyone, except one guy in a duel and that's perfectly alright for everyone concerned), it's still a quick read. McCulley uses a highly sophisticated style, one he probably thought suits the early 19th century Spaniards, and at times it's a bit too funny - unintentionally. The book's also staged like a play, with far too few scenes for action and too many of them take place indoors. There are some good battle scenes to make up for the staginess. The basic gimmick - that Zorro and Diego Vega are one and the same guy - is basic knowledge to everyone now, so the book loses one of its advantages at first sight.

I'd really like to read the other McCulley Zorros, but it seems it's almost impossible, unless I pay some real money for the old pulps they were published in. (Make sure to note these Zorro tie-ins from Sandra Curtis that to my knowledge have never been published in English.)

The weird things don't end here, by the way: McCulley's Zorro was never published in Finnish. We've had only the movies and the Disney TV show and Steve Frazee's novelization of it.

Other Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here.


Evan Lewis said...

This is a GREAT book. The second novel, "The Further Adventures of Zorro," was published in both hardcover and paperback back in 1928, but is mighty expensive today. The fifth novel (albeit a short one), "A Task for Zorro" was published in 2002 as the third volume of the ill-fated Masters Edition project. The good news is that Classic Heroes of Germany plans to reprint the entire series - all five novels and 59 stories in hardcover volumes, beginning this month. More info here:

Juri said...

I didn't know there was a volume three in the Masters Edition series! I found out only about the two first one.

Juri said...

And thanks for the link to the German book, looks very nice indeed! That's certainly good news.