Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Mark of Zorro

Book Review

The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley.

While at the library some time ago, I happened to pick up the 1940 remake of the original, but silent, movie The Mark of Zorro. We watched as a family and we enjoyed it for the most part. We had to do a bit of educating the kids about old movies and the way they used to be made, but that was fine.

The movie was good. So I started to think I should read the original book. That's not the order I usually do these things, but no harm done. Not yet.

I searched my local library catalog for the book. No luck.

Next, I tried interlibrary loan. Yep, I could get it, but there's no telling how long it would take to arrive at my local library. Request it, I did.

It only took a week or two. Not bad, compared to other requests I have made through the system. Finally, I could dive into the most original version of that infamous, sly "fox"!

And almost immediately I thought I understood why my local library did not have a copy of it.

The Mark of Zorro

I really need to start paying more attention to these signals. I think my library has an internal filter for bad books. This analysis is not based on a sample of one. It is, actually, based on a sample of two. Not trustworthy statistics, but I'm starting to see a trend.

If it isn't in my local library system, it isn't a good book.

Originally the story was titled The Curse of Capistrano, written in 1919, and published in serialized installments of a magazine. The book form wasn't published until after the success of the 1920 silent movie. Huh, no wonder.

The writing in the original story is terrible. Horrendous. Horrible. Horrid. Horrific. Horrifying. Right from the start.

What makes it so terrible, you ask? Well... where do I start?

Generic and extremely brief dialogue. Poor organizational structure. Telling the reader what was meant, instead of showing. Restating events from another omnipotent viewpoint (one should be enough!). Little, if any, setting description. Completely fictional and mixed up geography and historical time periods and proper names. Out-of-voice, flamboyant, pretentious, ostentatious word choices sprinkled amongst the rudimentary prose.

Is there anything else that could be wrong? Actually, yes, but it was the only good thing about the book.

Plot. The plot is what kept me going. Slowly, but going. The book has got plot.

I persisted. I kept reading.

I renewed the book once, but that still wasn't enough and I was at the limit for my interlibrary loan. It had to go back. In spite of not being done with it yet.

Luckily for me, it is old enough that I found it on Project Gutenberg. I downloaded it to my phone and finished reading it there.

I'm not a fan of reading on my phone, but yet again, I persisted. I had to know how the story ended.

Does he reveal his identity? If so, how do the other Zorro stories begin? If not, how do you wrap up the story without leaving things hanging?

Luckily for us, we have good moviemakers that turned a terribly written book into a good movie. This is probably the one time I will wholeheartedly recommend "just go see the 1940 movie" to anyone who asks.

As for the other Zorro stories that came after the original, I'm clueless. There are other books, other movies, other plots. But I don't know anything about those.

Plot is the only reason we have an enduring hero by the name of Zorro.

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