Monday, August 22, 2016


Johnston McCulley's tales of Zorro represent just a fraction of all the pulp fiction he wrote about Spanish or Mexican-ruled California. In fact, McCulley didn't become a prolific writer of Zorro stories until relatively late in his career, after many other pulp markets had dried up or died on him. If anything, he seemed reluctant for a long time to return often to the character that gave McCulley his place in pop-culture history. Maybe the character gimmick we now identify with Zorro -- the hero who pretends to be a dull fop in civilian life -- bored him. Yet he remained fascinated by the setting and the period, and during the 1930s especially wrote numerous swashbucklers set in what this 1936 Argosy exploitatively calls "Zorro-Land." That tantalizing label tempts us to think of McCulley setting all his California creations in a "universe" where his heroes might have interacted with each other, depending on chronology. I doubt whether the thought ever occurred to him. Here was a writer who was happy to write tales of the lisping thief Thubway Tham ad infinitum (or nauseum), but when it came to Old California it seems that McCulley really preferred to come up with a new concept for a hero, to start over from scratch, as often as editors would let him. And in fact there's a freshness to these miscellaneous California chronicles that's missing in the later Zorro stories I've read. I'd rather give this Don Peon a try than have old Don Diego go through his paces yet again. I probably will give at least this first installment of the Don Peon serial a try, since I must have this issue to complete Eustace L. Adams's serial Brave Men Die Hard. For my trouble I'll also get novelettes by Cornell Woolrich and Donald Barr Chidsey (the latter apparently outranked by McCulley if by few others in this period), short stories by James Francis Dwyer, Allan Vaughan Elston, Frank H. Martin and Theodore Roscoe, and a serial installment from Arthur Hawthorne Carhart. Not a bad package, theoretically, and probably not expensive despite McCulley and Woolrich's canonical names. Perhaps we'll have a chance to discuss this issue at greater length sometime....

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