Monday, January 18, 2010


By Edgar Rice Burroughs
White Rocket Books
208 pages

When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his interplanetary adventure back in the early days of the 20th century, knowledge of our solar system and the planets that made it up was limited. Most scientist of the time subscribed to the theories of astronomer Percival Lowell who speculated that Mars had at one time been vibrant with life much like our own Earth. He believed that over a period of millions of years Mars’ oceans had receded turning the planet’s surface into an arid, dying landscape. Lowell also speculated that the supposed Martians had built canals thousands of miles long to bring water from the polar caps to irrigate the remaining arable land.

Such fanciful visions of the Red Planet would have clearly fueled Burroughs imagination and in 1911, at the age of 35, he began writing the exploits of a unique ex-Confederate officer named John Carter. Carter, while prospecting for gold in the Arizona desert, dies and his spirit is magically transported to the dying planet of Mars where he is given a second life; one of fantastic adventures among the varied races of Mars. Burroughs imagined two distinct intelligent races vying for control of the world they called Barsoom.

The first of these that Carter confronts are the green men, standing an average of eight feet tall, possessing four arms and having huge tusks and bug-like eyes. Among these humanoids, Carter allies himself with the mighty warlord, Tars Tarkas and the soft hearted female, Sola. It is Tars and his clan who indoctrinate him into the savage society he has miraculously stumbled upon. No sooner does the ex-soldier learn the Martian tongue and the ways of the green men, then he meets the more human-like red men, who are identical to Earthlings save for their deep red coloring. Among these, Carter meets the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, one of the major principalities of the red men. The two quickly fall in love and Carter pledges his life to saving her from the green men and returning her safely to her people.

A PRINCESS OF MARS is by no means a science fiction novel, although it has been labeled such ever since its debut in All-Story Magazine Feb. 1912. It is a planetary romance, which is more a fantasy and usually includes lots of sword fighting and swashbuckling activity. I first encountered this book and its sequels as a teen-ager, which is when most readers generally discover Burroughs’ works. At that time I saw a great deal of romantic chivalry imbued throughout these Barsoomian tales, wherein Carter was a noble warrior who lived by a strict code of honor reminiscent of medieval knights. They are still lots of fun to read even though modern astronomy has long since dispelled most of the Red Planet’s mysteries. Robotic Rovers have found no evidence of ancient civilizations of any hue. Still, the fantasy those adventures weave still entertain.

It was by sheer coincidence that at the same time I was rediscovering Burrough’s antiquated romances, that James Cameron’s block-buster science fiction film AVATAR exploded on the cinematic scene. Sitting in an I-Max theater, watching this wholesale creation of the alien world of Pandora, I couldn’t help but think of Burrough’s Barsoom and smile. Cameron and Burroughs are souls cut from the same cloth, dreamers who looked at the heavens and were not content with the limits of science. They both dared to venture beyond and wonder what if? A PRINCESS OF MARS is a classic well worth revisiting. Kudos to publisher Van Plexico for releasing these new, wonderful designed editions from White Rocket Books.


Michael Brown said...

I never got into Tarzan (tho I have read and enjoyed many of the comic book versions of him), but really got into Burroughs other series. The first was the Barsoom books, after which I got into the others (Venus, Moon, Pellucidar, etc).

Kathulos said...

I was about 12 when I discovered ERB's John Carter stories. 35 years later I still recommend them to anyone who will listen.

If you enjoy action, adventure, heroes and villains, you really, REALLY, need to check these stories out.

Dan_Luft said...

I was always more of a Pellucidar fan but I now realize how lucky I was to grow up in the late 70s/early 80s when you could walk into a Waldens or Dalton's and pick up almost anything ERB wrote for $2.25. And you might get a great Frazetta or Krenkel cover to boot. I doubt that most of Burroughs's books are in print at the moment and, if they are, they are released by harder-to-find, niche publishers.

Ron Fortier said...

Thanks everyone for chiming on on this great pulp classic. I had a blast rereading it after all these years. Maybe later in the year I'll be able to get to the sequels. If time allows, ha.