Long ago, in my grandparents’ basement, among the boxes of old toys and china, I found an ancient paperback pulp novel of Zorro. I took it home with me and read and reread it. So dashing! So handsome! And thus began a life-long love for the original masked avenger.
Zorro by Isabel Allende. Read by Blair Brown.
Zorro Vol.1 by Matt Wagner, Isabel Allende, and Francesco Francavilla
I am a little slow in reading Isabel Allende’s book – the hardcover book came out in 2005. I am grateful to my love for discovering that my home library (as opposed to the one where I work) has the book on audio – a format in which I’m much more willing to take on longer works these days.
Rather than telling the stories of his adventures in Alta California, as did the original novel I read, Allende’s version is an origin story, starting with Zorro’s parents. Alejandro de la Vega, Zorro’s father, is a Spanish soldier turned landowner, while his mother, Regina, is a half-Indian half-Spanish woman, formerly the Indian warrior Toipurnia. The young Diego’s milk brother, Bernardo, is from the same tribe as his mother, so despite the class differences from the Spanish point of view, they consider themselves full brothers. Diego and Bernardo study with Diego’s Indian grandmother, the tribe shaman, and eventually travel to Spain, where Diego studies with a legendary sword master. The tale is beautifully told but a little on the verbose and slow-moving side; there is action, but on disc 9, Zorro is still traveling back from Spain. The original story, lends itself well to this Alexandre Dumas-style pacing, and to the racial and sexual equality themes that are there in plenty. Blair Brown does graceful work narrating the audio book, with fluid pronunciation of the many Spanish words. This is a noble and engrossing effort from Allende.
More recently, based in large part on the Allende novel, but drawing on other Zorro retellings as well, comes the comic book version. (This is what first attracted my love to the Allende.) Allende’s basic story is there, somewhat simplified, but where Allende tells the story strictly in chronological order, the comic book series intercuts the stories of Diego’s early years with the adventures of the grown Zorro. This, together with the painted artwork, makes the comic feel more exciting than the book. The book is narrated by a character we meet halfway through and are not sure is the narrator until the end, while the graphic novel is clearly narrated by Bernardo from the very beginning. I wouldn’t want to miss either of them – but if you have to pick for yourself, the Allende version will give you a more nuanced, literary version, while the Wagner will go straight for the swashbuckling adventure.