Although we must have seen The Mask Of Zorro a hundred times, when we chance upon it on TV, we still watch. And I don’t mean absentmindedly. We sit and stay glued. Sam and Alex were very young when they first saw it and they were so smitten that we bought a VCD copy so they could watch it over and over again.
Why? I don’t exactly know. Maybe, it’s the humor. Maybe, it’s the swashbuckling adventure. Or, perhaps, to idealistic children, the triumph of good over bad has an uncanny attraction. Or, perhaps, considering that they had the same obsession with The Mummy, maybe, it is the underlying legend and mythology that really drove them. Alex, especially. The Mummy was the starting point of her interest in Egyptian mythology; National Treasure was her introduction to the Knights Templar.
Last Sunday, The Mask Of Zorro was on TV on an HD channel. Oh, man, a favorite film on HD… Alex never stood up until the credits started rolling. And, as the credits rolled, she turned around to ask me (I was cooking) where the story of Zorro came from. Legend, I said. Like Robin Hood and even King Arthur. The names Diego de la Vega and his alter ego, Zorro, originated from a series of stories published in the early 1900s but it has always been widely believed that Zorro is based on the real-life Joaquin Murrieta, also known as the Robin Hood of El Dorado, who has been alternately portrayed as a folk hero and a ruthless bandit. In The Mask Of Zorro, Joaquin Murrieta died as a young man and his brother, Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), eventually took over the identity of Zorro from the aging Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins).
Most Zorro stories (and movies) are about the adult De la Vega and his adventures as Zorro. I only know of one book that tells the story of Zorro from the time before Diego de la Vega was born: Isabel Allende’s Zorro: A Novel. In short, a prequel (no George Lucas did not originally coin the term although “prequel” largely became mainstream because of Star Wars).
Allende’s novel details the meeting between Captain Alejandro de la Vega and the Indian warrior Chief Gray Wolf who was later Christianized, became his wife and the mother of Diego. The book is a fascinating read as Allende has a knack for narrating a myth with real historical events as a backdrop. Very apt in telling the story of Zorro since the legend of the bandit/hero (at least in the context that his story is based on the life of Joaquin Murrieta) grew as a result of racial discrimination during the California Gold Rush. If you’re a Zorro fan, you might want to read Allende’s book. It literally brings Zorro to life.