I can honestly say that I did not spend my teen years obsessing over any bands, singers, or actors. Not any current actors, anyway. A couple friends and I devoted all those energies to the 1957 Zorro television series and later to any version of The Three Musketeers we could find at Hollywood Video. Having a friend who worked at a movie store was an amazing set up for classic movie fans like ourselves. In an instance of the stars aligning in the best possible way, I was falling in love with Spanish literature (including the great Isabel Allende) when Zorro: A Novel by Isabel Allende (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) was published in 2006. The book combined my adolescent love for Don Diego de la Vega and my burgeoning appreciation for Latin American literature.
Zorro: A Novel takes place well before the action of the 1957 television series or the 1998 film. It functions as the origin story of Diego’s relationship with Bernardo and his first experiences fighting injustice in disguise. I loved the idea of a young Zorro story, but I also longed for more swashbuckling. Zorro as we know him didn’t show up until the end. (Yes, I know. That’s the whole point of an origin story.) That’s not to say that the novel is lacking what makes other Zorro stories so compelling. There is tragedy, but also humor. There is plenty of injustice, but we also see Diego begin to push back. When his maestro asks if Diego actually believes life to be fair, we get a perfectly Zorro response: “No, maestro, but I plan to do everything in my power to make it so.” As I would expect from Allende, this is a more realistic portrait of Zorro’s world than most, but she uses friendship and just enough bravado to keep the book from feeling too heavy.
I recently listened to the Overdue podcast episode about The Scarlet Pimpernel. (Why yes, I do love that swashbuckling defender of justice as well.) As the hosts were discussing the literary merits of Baronnes Orczy’s work, they discussed all of the masked heroes that grew (at least in part) from the pattern set by the Scarlet Pimpernel. Both Zorro and Batman (my favorite of the modern super heroes) follow the same outline as the Pimpernel: Foppish playboy by day, masked defender of justice by night. It was both enlightening and a little funny to realize that all my favorite protagonists fit the same mold. So much for highbrow literary tastes.
Although I read thousands of pages of Spanish and Italian literature in the original in college, my copy of Zorro: A Novel is the English translation. I recently picked up the original version at my local library, however, and have been working my way through. I’m a little rusty, which breaks up the flow of the story somewhat, but Allende’s writing is worth it. Although if I’m being perfectly honest, I really just want to go back 15 years and spend my summer afternoons watching the old black and white version with friends.
Any other Zorro fans out there? If so, what else should I be reading to fill the void when I finish this reread?