Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Review: A Princess of Mars


A Reviewer's Note: This review I decided to keep as is.

Published in the pulp magazine All-Story with the original title Under the Moons of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs' first entry in his 11 book series introduces us to John Carter, the former Captain Jack Carter of the Confederacy who as our story opens has set out with his fellow calvaryman James Powell to seek his fortune. After finding a vein of quartz Powell departs to get equipment only to be killed by savage Indians. When John attempts to save his friend he is pursued into a cave where a strange gas renders him unconscious. Awaking later he finds himself separated from his body and then suddenly astral projected across the universe (sorry couldn't resist) and discovers long before David Bowie asked, that there is life on Mars.

Once on the red planet, John discovers he can leap tall building in a single bound and has the strength of several earthmen. That helps when confronted by the Tharks, a vicious race of six limbed green Martians. John earns his way into their tribe and gains the respect of Tars Tarkas and Sola, a female assigned to watch after him. Before arriving into the kingdom of Thark, the green men capture the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. With plans to turn her over to their leader Tal Hajus, John attempts to rescue the princess whose he has fallen for. But before happiness can be found, there is escapes, an arena of death and an arranged marriage to prevent in order to be together.

I'll say it now. A Princess of Mars is one of my favorite novels of all time. A combination of adventure and romance it was a welcome find when I was 12 years old when space fantasy was confined to the first Star Wars trilogy. Obviously if you are reading this site you must either love the book and series as much as I do or just wanted to know more about it. Hopefully Andrew Stanton and his team can do the same justice that Peter Jackson did to The Lord of the Rings.

Some thoughts and ideas

--First up the copy I read is the Penguin Classics series version, which uses a piece of comic art from the Marvel series. As typical for a lot of art it portrays Dejah Thoris as a scantly clad white woman in chains. No wonder so many were up in arms at Stanton's comment that the film will be rated PG-13. No hot babes in chains.

--Also included in this copy was an essay by Penguin editor John Seelye. Among his comments there is notable comparisons of Burroughs' Mars to HG Wells' Martian invaders, its influence on Star Wars and Superman and his comment that we have our own John Carter on the big screen, a man named Harrison.

--From the prologue credited to John Carter's nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs "our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he walked on." I doubt that will appear in a Disney production.

--Some discussion has popped up about who Thomas Haden Church who has been rumored to be attached to the film will play. Some have suggested casting him as Powell. Considering he's dead 3 pages in and has no dialogue that would seem a waste of his talent.

--As stated on page 10, "I stood but naked as at the minute of my birth." Yep John Carter arrives on Mars starkers. The question is will he show up in the movie that way or wearing his bvds or fully clothed. I know a bunch of Friday Night Lights fans will show up just to see Riggins' Riggin if they read that.

--He can leap tall buildings...I wonder if ERB ever joined the list of other writers and publishers who dragged DC and Siegel and Schuster to court for copyright infringment.

--A complaint about his female characters is that they are weak or just objects to be objectified or won as spoils of war. While it's true Dejah Thoris is no Ellen Ripley she isn't like the heroines portrayed in Robert Howard's Conan stories or other pulp stores. She delivers a rousing speech hoping to convince the Tharks to join her people to save the planet. Plus Sola is a strong character and Burroughs even has a villian Sarkoja who would love to seen torn apart as Tars Tarkas vows at one point towards the end.

--The one real sexual event of the novel is Tal Hajus' threat to have his way with Dejah before returning her body to Helium. That's it you pervs.

--At one point John Carter learns about the birth cycle of Barsoom. Its not many men who can say they fallen in love with a woman who was hatched.

--Woola stuffed dolls. Coming soon to the nearest Disney Store.

--Tusk to the groin and the bloody aftermath. Again I doubt that will show up in a Mouse House flick.

--Is it just me or does Than Kosis sound like some medical condition.

--How many things did George Lucas borrow from this. We have Jeddaks, Padwars, John Carter's ability to avoid having his thoughts read (a la the Force has a strong influence on the weak minded) and even at one point Dejah's ability to avoid mind reading. In an earlier version of Star Wars Princess Leia was supposed to be able to do this.

Rating: **** out of 4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm listed as "Anonymous," but I'm Xenophile.

Yeah, I don't think we're going to get tusk-to-the-groin disemboweling in a PG-13. I'd be more shocked that it was there at all than by the violence or gore.

Well, we DO know that John Carter and Dejah Thoris do the deed, because she lays an egg soon after they are married.

Man, that's going to be something to deal with.