Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review - The Mark of Zorro

Ah Zorro. As a kid, I remember really enjoying Disney's Zorro series with Guy Williams. More recently I've had a lot of fun with the new Antonio Banderas movies. However, I'd never read any of the original adventures so I decided it was high time I change that. Being very familiar with the character as presented in TV and film, I found a few things surprising as I read his first adventure The Mark of Zorro - The Curse of Capistrano.

Firstly, I was a little bummed that I already knew about the character because the author holds back and doesn't reveal Zorro's true identity until the very end of the novel. I obviously knew who Zorro really and had a hard time trying to force myself to forget. Based on the characters in the story and the way things played out, I suspect it still would've been fairly easy to guess at his identity, but I suspect it would have made the experience a bit different.

Another difference that I found interesting was the stark similarities to another literary hero with a secret identity…The Scarlet Pimpernel. Like the Pimpernel, Zorro's true identity is kept secret by the hero's acting like a complete "fop" or "dandy." Don Diego feels faint over the slightest exertion and nearly swoons at the mention of any type of violence or bloodshed. He is Perciville Blakeney taken to an even greater extreme.

Probably the biggest distinction (and somewhat a disappointment) was that the Zorro of the novel was a bit less of a swashbuckler than in the recent productions. While the recent movies had Zorro bounding around fighting dozens of soldiers at a time, the Zorro of the book is certainly an adept swordsman but he forces situations into a very equitable one-on-one fight by forcing other would-be-attackers into corners or holding them at bay with his pistol. While he is still an imposing force and certainly daring to be confronting soldiers in their own garrisons, the action sequences left a bit to be desired and were considerably less tense and exciting than I had hoped for.

That general sense of "less than hoped for" sort of sums up my reception to this story. Again, this is likely due to my being tainted by the high action of recent film productions. This is a well crafted story that brings together latin american romance with the fun adventure of an unknown hero standing up for the rights of the poor and oppressed. The character development was interesting but fell into stereotypes at times…again, this could be partly due to film and tv reproductions. These characters were likely not as stereotypical in the early 1900s and in fact I suspect that this book helped form some of the stereotypes we now enjoy in our media today.

Generally I'm glad I read it. I was surprised at the end of the book to see Zorro essentially hang up his cape, hat and mask and state that he would no longer be riding as Zorro. It appears this was intended to be a single book adventure with no long term plans for the hero. The popularity apparently led to additional novels by the same author as well as some additional stories by other authors. I'm curious to see if the continuing stories have more adventure or intrigue. Eventually I may find out.


3.5 out of 5 stars


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4 comments:

Brian Miller said...

that is pretty cool...i am sure the same effect can be had with the John Carter movies coming out and the original burroughs....i bet at the time it was a pretty cool literary device for them not to know who zorro was...

Man of la Book said...

I've read this book many moons ago, but I must re-read it.

Have you read Isabelle Allende's Zorro?

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

Phoenix said...

I've never read any Zorro books, actually, and I love the movies... hmmm, very interesting, I might have to check this book out! Thanks for a great review.

Okie said...

@Brian / Phoenix - thanks for the comments

@Man - I haven't read Allende's Zorro but I saw it recently at the bookstore and thought about picking it up. Now that I finally read this original, I'm actually more intrigued to try it out.