“Yes, I was a fool, but I was in love, and though I was suffering the greatest misery I had ever known I would not have had it otherwise for all the riches of Barsoom. Such is love, and such are lovers wherever love is known.”
Happy early Valentine's Day folks! With the most romantic day of the year upon us let's take a moment to look at one of the most enduring love stories in fantasy and science fiction: Captain John Carter of Virginia and Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium.
As much as the cool monsters, big battles, bloody sword fights and scantly clad inhabitants seem to get the most attention, it is easy to forget that at its heart A Princess of Mars and its first two sequels are love stories. Its that love for Dejah that drives Carter to pursue his goal of returning her safely to her people but also his willingness to risk his life, to lay down his sword for her. After all how many men do you know ready to bring down mountains, Tharks and Therns just to prove his heart to a woman?
In the recent years I've been running this blog and conversing with fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I have discovered more and more female fans of Burroughs than I previously thought and it seems what draws them to it is the romance, of a man with chivalry fighting for a woman with dignity. Before sci-fi didn't have much romance, as Jules Verne and HG Wells didn't seem interested in that. Maybe they thought it was two separate genres, romance and sci-fi. Or maybe Burroughs was ahead of his time in making sure to appeal to both genders. There is a sense of devotion to Dejah that Carter expresses that is rare for a pulp hero, especially compared to Robert E. Howard's Conan or Doc Savage, who always felt that love was not something for him.
I know that one of the major failings for me with the John Carter movie-among many-was that the love story got the short end of the stick, so to speak. With Carter rewritten as a sullen widower more obsessed with his cave of gold and Dejah too interested in her 9th Ray quest, a large percentage of the film was taken up with them bickering, deceiving or Carter telling her it's not his problem. Now this could have been worked on for a sequel (after all Han and Leia didn't really get romantic until The Empire Strikes Back) but it was clear that Andrew Stanton and company didn't get the appeal or the heart of the story. It wasn't about evil shape shifting Therns trying to control Barsoom. It was about...well let's give Captain Carter the last word:
"it was love, love for Dejah Thoris, a power that would work greater miracles than this you have seen.”
Or to quote another person: All you need is love. So have a happy Valentine's Day and find the romance.