The newcomer was a man of thirty-three, maybe thirty-four, and therefore a little older than his companion. He was of average height, very fit, his skin incredibly white, his features regular, his eyes gray and cunning, his lips mocking, and thin, a sign of an iron will. On first sight it was clear he was European, not only, but he belonged to some southern race.
Who is this mysterious stranger?
Now, let me take a circuitous way.
Two nights ago I pitched a story for a forthcoming anthology by ProSe Press. The book will be called The Further Adventures of Ned Land, and it will feature… well, the further adventures of the harpoon-man from Jules Verne’s 20.000 Leagues under the Sea. The same character that in the 1954 Disney movie was portrayed by Kirk Douglas.
Now, I’m a big fan of both Disney’s film and of Douglas’ character – so as soon as I saw an opening, I threw myself in.
Will my pitch persuade the editors? We’ll see.
But after emailing my pitch, as I was having a glass of ice-cold Moroccan spearmint tea to toast a work well done, I started thinking about other out-of-copyright characters that it would be worth resurrecting for a series of all-new adventures.
And granted, there’s an awful lot of pulp characters out there that have fallen into the public domain, and would really deserve a comeback, but, what about Yanez de Gomera?
For the uninitiated, Yanez first appeared in Emilio Salgari’s Le Tigri di Mompracem (The Tigers of Mompracem), an adventure novel first published between 1883 and 1884 as a serial in an Italian magazine, and later as a book in 1900. The novel is the first in the cycle that Salgari – sort of an unlikely, very prolific proto-pulp author – dedicated to Malaysian pirate-prince Sandokan.
Emilio Salgari could be generally described as Raphael Sabatini and E.R. Burroughs rolled into one, with a liberal splash of Verne for good measure, and he specialized in exotic and historical adventure, with some occasional forays into science fiction.
A melancholic, melodramatic author, Salgari infused many of his work with a tragic sense of doom that many find “operatic” and therefore distinctively (if cliché) “Italian”. Today the subject of learned collectionism and of a certain amount of censorship due to his politically incorrect stories, Salgari was required reading for boys and girls up to the 1970s.
And in case you are wondering, here’s the Wikipedia summary of the novel:
The Tigers of Mompracem are a band of rebel pirates fighting against the colonial power of the Dutch and British empires. They are led by Sandokan, the indomitable Tiger of Malaysia, and his loyal friend Yanez de Gomera, a Portuguese wanderer and adventurer. After twelve years of spilling blood and spreading terror throughout Malaysia, Sandokan has reached the height of his power, but when the pirate learns of the existence of a beautiful girl, nicknamed “the Pearl of Labuan”, his fortunes begin to change.
Yanez started his career as Sandokan’s sidekick, in an interesting reversal of the cliché that places a “native” sidekick by the side of a Western hero in exotic locales.
Yanez de Gomera – whose description opens this post – is a Portuguese corsair, world traveler, and adventurer, and plays the role of the cool, level-headed guy counterpointing Sandokan’s passion and fiery temper.
As the series progressed, Yanez took more often center-stage, so much so that most of the later books in the series see him as a full-fledged protagonist.
The character was famously portrayed by French actor Philippe Leroy in a 1970s smash hit TV serial based on Salgari’s books, one of the shows that marked a generation (yes, mine).
Leroy brought his own mark of Gallic irony and cheek to the character, in what remains today as the definitive interpretation of Yanez.
To be completely honest, I have a very short fuse for the late Mr Salgari, whose depressive temperament (he died by his own hand at the age of 49) often caused his stories to take a very dark, overly melodramatic tone and a most decidedly tragic bend.
And yet, I have the standard five-novels collection of his masterworks on my shelf as anyone writing adventure in Italy has – because Salgari in Italy was, and probably still is, the name of adventure.
And, still being completely honest, I can’t stand heroic lovelorn Sandokan, but I always liked Yanez, so there.
And thinking in terms of “let’s write something new”, Yanez is an ideal character for a modern reprise1 – he is smart, cool, ironic, equally good with a gun or a sword. Always impeccably dressed and chain-smoking, he is the second best sailor in the whole of the Malaysian seas, he is a master of disguise and he will end up, as the novel progress, as a White Maharajah, marrying beautiful Thuggee slave/dancer/princess Surama (Salgari had a weak spot for exotic princesses, and so do his characters).
Also, and most importantly, Yanez is a man with a backstory, with travels and adventures that stretch beyond the boundaries of the novels.
It would be easy to see him at play in the South China Sea, in Macau or in Hong Kong.
It might be worth a try.
The main problem would be that
a . the international readership would probably appreciate the adventure stories, but would not relate to the character, not knowing his origins and legend.
b . the Italian readership (at least those readers over 35 years of age) would recognize the character and relate to him, but adventure fiction would have no market hereabouts.
A nice bind.
And yet, Ned Land is not a household name either, and yet there’s an anthology about him coming out one of these days.
See what I meant when I said that the more one has to do, the more one gets weird new ideas that demand one’s immediate attention?
- indeed, I already used both Sandokan and Yanez as unnamed characters in my Eroi dei Due Mondi, in which a bunch of historical and fictional characters find themselves on a very Burroughs-esque Mars, in the late 19th century. ↩