Allende looks at the masked hero's beginnings and gives them a somewhat more mystical, more spiritual bent, with a half-Indian mother and a grandmother who is, essentially, the tribe's medicine woman. Diego Vega's mute assistant, Bernardo, becomes his "milk brother," the son of his Indian wet nurse. She eventually manages to tie Zorro's development to the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and Jean LaFitte, and even the restoration of the Spanish crown.
Still, once she gets Diego back to California after his Spanish education, many of the events of her story parallel those of Johnston McCulley's original novel, The Curse of Capistrano, although details of names and specific actions may differ. And, despite her "literary" background, she is not above a sly pop-culture reference:
To thrill the children, he whistled, and his mount whirled and reared; then he pulled out his sword and flashed it, making it glint in the lantern light, and sang a verse that he himself had composed during the idle months in New Orleans; something about a valiant horseman who rides out on moonlit nights to defend justice, punish evildoers, and slash a Z with his sword.
Isabel Allende's Zorro, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden, is now available in paperback.