REVIEW: The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley

REVIEW: The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulleyThe Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Published: Penguin Classics (1919), Paperback, 272pg
Source: Library
Genres: Action, Adventure, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Originally titled The Curse of Capistrano in its 1919 debut, this exciting tale achieved immortal fame thanks to Douglas Fairbanks's 1920 blockbuster film, The Mark of Zorro-- a cinematic triumph that inspired Johnston McCulley to retitle his novel and dedicate it to Fairbanks. Set in Mexican California during the 1820s, the story follows the career of Don Diego Vega, by all appearances an effete and foppish aristocrat. But Vega's timorous reputation is nothing more than a mask to conceal his alter ego: a California Robin Hood known as Zorro, whose swift blade strikes down those who exploit the poor and oppressed. The inspiration for dozens of film and television adaptations, The Mark of Zorro remains a paradigm of swashbuckling adventure. (from Goodreads)

A coworker of mine is pretty obsessed with Zorro, and after a while she interested me enough to try and read one of the books. I’m familiar with some of the movies, and I like sword-fighting dashing young heroes who always have something witty to say, so I figured it was a pretty safe be that I’d like The Mark of Zorro.

The Mark of Zorro is the first Zorro book, and it was originally published serially. Serialized stories are almost always action-packed, exciting, and rather wordy– think Alexandre Dumas or the Sherlock Holmes stories. Every chapter either ends on a note that moves the story forward and wants to keep you reading. In The Mark of Zorro, the chapters tended to end on a “and then something shocking and/or exciting happened!” note, which meant the book moved like lightning. I was not actually expecting to like that formula, though, so imagine how surprised I was when I found myself eagerly reading chapter after chapter like a pigeon who found a stash of seeds.

It was so exciting! I’m going to use that word a lot, but that’s exactly what The Mark of Zorro is. It’s exciting, and romantic, and it hardly has any of the horrible early pulp fiction problems that I hate.

It was also rather wordy in some places, like I said. That’s because serial novelists got paid by the word (think Dickens), so while some parts are fantastic and energetic, other parts are just too much. I think I skimmed most of them, now that I think back on it. The first page is a real killer in too-much department, but don’t let it fool you– the chapter ends in a really great way.

About Zorro/Don Diego– was I not supposed to know that they were the same person? There’s a big reveal/explanation at the end of the book, but, like…I already knew all the stuff that’s being explained! Would people reading it for the first time and with no previous knowledge of Zorro not really have figured it out during the course of the book anyway? Hm. No idea.

Anyway, I actually really like Zorro/Diego. Diego I found funny and somewhat campy and he lightened the novel up a lot. Zorro was dashing and exciting and everything I could want in a hero, really.

His love interest, Lolita, was fine for the most part, but whenever the two of them got together there were even more exclamation marks than when they were apart, and it got quite distracting. But I loved how Zorro wooed her, and how Diego kept striking out. I didn’t expect to like their romance so much, actually, since I tend to despair of any strong women existing in a pulp novel. But Lolita is quite strong, and I liked her.

The plot is good, too, with lots of those sword fights I love and lots of vengeance against bad dudes, which I also love. It ends rather abruptly, and in a way that I think meant Mr McCulley wasn’t planning on writing any more Zorro novels. It was a bit surprising, that, especially since the Zorro in the movies is always taking such pains to hide his identity.

Anyway, I really, really liked The Mark of Zorro! I was pleasantly surprised, and I’m glad I read it. I’m definitely going to read some other Zorro books.

Read: November 20, 2009

Watch The Mark of Zorro 1920 movie with Douglas Fairbanks for free! (IMDB)

A solution to that bit at the end that I had concerns over: “Due to public demand fueled by the film, McCulley wrote over 60 additional Zorro stories starting in 1922. The last, The Mask of Zorro (not to be confused with the 1998 film), was published posthumously in 1959. These stories ignore Zorro’s public revelation of his identity.” From Wikipedia.

Here’s a complete list of those stories, by the way.

0 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley”

  1. Oh my God, I am ALL ABOUT THIS. I cannot express in strong enough terms my love for early 20th century adventure novels. Have you read Rafael Sabatini, and Baroness Orczy, and PC Wren and Anthony Hope? WONDROUS. I am going to the bookshop and buying this TODAY and it’s going to be my Thanksgiving treat and I am confident that I will love it.

    1. No, I haven’t! But I am familiar with them, mostly because of the old movies with Errol Flynn and whatnot. 😀 But I’m definitely going to have to splurge and buy some more 20th century adventure books, because all I’ve got here is The Three Musketeers and that is NOT ENOUGH

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