Everybody has a hero (very often, more than one!). Mine is a strange sailor with a strange name:
Corto Maltese, a cult favourite in one of the best European graphic novels, is a veritable legend in twentieth century literature. He’s a traveller – a sailor who combines Mediterranean looks with Anglo-Saxon culture. Corto, meaning “quick” in Spanish, was created in 1967 by Hugo Pratt, a native of Venice. Corto is an anti-hero who prefers his freedom and imagination to wealth. He is a modern Ulysses who takes us travelling to some of the most fascinating places in the world.
His adventures are set during the first thirty years of the 1900s, between Venice, the steppes of Manchuria, the Caribbean islands, the Danakil deserts, the Amazon forests, and the waves of the Pacific.
Between 1917 and 1918, he is in Europe. Arriving from South America with a world war in full swing, Corto lands in Venice the Mysterious. He then leaves for Ireland and goes through the South of England, before finishing up in France. He turns up somewhere, out of the blue, as an observer. He meets some friends, his mere presence polarizes events, then he leaves… and nothing is the same again.
One of my favourite Corto’s adventures is reminiscent of Celtic legends, Shakespearean moods and turn-of-the-century fears of a German invasion of England.
A Mid-Winter Morn’s Dream is set in England at Stonehenge and Tintagel, around December 21, day of the winter solstice, precisely because Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream takes place on June 24 (the Feast of St. John) when we celebrate the summer solstice.
In the area of Stonehenge, Oberon, Puck, the fairy Morgana and Merlin come together to defend Celtic Britain from the invasion of the Nibelungs, Valkyries and all the other Germanic Trolls. They wake Corto Maltese, who had fallen asleep, and help him find the German spy Rowena, who was planning a submarine attack on the allied high command at King Arthur’s castle in Tintagel.
Like King Arthur, Corto Maltese defends Shakespeare’s England and her dream of freedom against a German invasion. The Celtic enchantment is preserved: it will never die, so long as there is a Corto dreaming in Great Britain or little Brittany.
If you want to let yourself entangle in Corto Maltese’s life and adventures, your local bookshop is the best place to start from. However, you can find lots of useful information in Corto’s official website (cortomaltese.com), where I have experienced the joys of cut and paste for this post 😉 .