Friday, August 14, 2009

Book Review: Gullivar of Mars

A return back to Mars but a different type of Mars.

Gullivar Jones is a United States Navy man, dealing with regular problems. Bills are mounting, his true love Polly is off with her parents and his detail is currently stateside. One day though his life turns around when a strange man seemingly drops out of the sky dead, leaving a strange rug. Too late to save the man, Gullivar takes the rug homes and discovers its secret. It's magic and when Gullivar suddenly proclaims he wants to go to Mars, well be careful what you wish for. Arriving he suddenly is introduced to the Tither people, a race of people who seem to worship laziness. After several days of wining and dining Gullivar begins to fall for the Princess Heru when she is suddenly captured by the Whither people, an ape like society. Gullivar takes off to rescue his love but has to make a trip down the River of Death and several more villages before finding her. But will a closing comet end his quest. And will he ever pay his bills?

Published in 1905 under the title Lieut. Gulliver Jones:His Vacation, author Edward Lester Arnold's novel was apparently unknown to most readers until the 1960s when Ace Books published a paperback edition with an introduction by writer Richard Lupoff (who wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure) where Lupoff speculated that Burroughs' Barsoom and Lester's Mars share many similarities. Some balked at the comparison while others saw it as a possibility. Indeed Gullivar of Mars does have several striking comparisons with Burroughs' novels. Our hero is a military man who arrives on Mars and immediately falls in with a local tribe. He risks his life to rescue a beautiful princess who is worshipped by her people. Even the River Iss is predated here with the River of Death and the beliefs of the people that's where you go when your time is up.

On the other hand there is much difference as well. Gullivar Jones isn't some sword wizard like John Carter nor does he gain super abilities. The Tither people (who Lupoff in his intro to the edition I read suggests seems inspired by the Eloi of HG Wells' The Time Machine) are almost pre-hippies, doing nothing but smiling and completely unwilling to raise arms against their enemies. By comparison The Whither people are not the Tharks, creatures that our hero eventually wins the trust of but rather just brutes. Even Mars is portrayed differently. Instead of the arid desolate planet Burroughs' describes, Lester's Mars is a lush planet filled with rivers and vegetation.

But the novel is still a fascinating fun read, owing more to Jonathan Swift (why else would the hero be named Gullivar?) than the pulp writers of Burroughs' era. Fans of John Carter of Mars will at least enjoy the novel and see the beginning of the Martian adventurers that would become commonplace later. Rating: **** out of 4.

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