June 4, 2014 3 Comments
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs was first published in serial form in 1912. It was published as a complete work in book form in 1917. I read this in 2014 – so quite some time after it was first released. I feel like between 1912 and 2014 several generations of humans have read and reviewed and commented on this work. Allegedly, it influenced a whole slew of authors and writings. So, what could I add to all that has been said already? Whatever could be said, has most likely already been said.
I read this book in several formats: on my Kindle, in an omnibus, and in a single-copy format. Whichever format was closest at hand, I picked up and read. There have been heaps of editions for this novel. I think the most famous are the Michael Whelan and the Frank Frazetta covers. The digital copy that I read included the original 1917 cover art.
This novel is quite full of action and adventure – bursting with it, really, to the point where, as a reader, I was exhausted with the non-stop action. However, in the first quarter of the novel, there is a good deal more speculation and the story has a drop’s worth more explanation than the last chunk. For example, in chapter one (On the Arizona Hills), our intrepid hero John Carter shares with us:
My mind is evidently so constituted that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without recourse to tiresome mental processes. However that may be, I have never regretted that cowardice is not optional with me.
I think that little quote from early in the novel basically sums up John Carter’s personality and worldview – and therefore explains all of his actions and choices henceforth. I think there are about a dozen ways to interpret this personality. Impulsive and rash are examples of an unflattering interpretation. I think this blends, though, with Carter’s odd and extreme “love” for Dejah Thoris. It is love at first sight with these two. Perhaps the love is born of some overprotective masculine view of a “damsel in distress,” but it seems to morph into some Helen of Troy for whom a thousand ships are launched scenario. After all, we are told – repeatedly – there is nothing that Carter won’t do for his beloved Dejah. This love element is believable and honest. But after awhile, by chapter 20 or so, it gets tedious and I started to think: “Hey dude, seriously, this chick is not worth all this.” What is so great about Dejah? She is a hot babe. And she’s a princess. Other than that, she’s pretty dull and pathetic. Carter kind of agrees with this, too. After all in chapter eleven he is conversing with her and after she shares her opinion he thinks:
It was good logic, good, earthly, feminine logic, and if it satisfied her I certainly could pick no flaws in it.
Feminine logic. Which is not really logic at all, is it? It’s basically belief/emotion. Certainly not rational and scientific. Now, let’s not be too picayune, but do compare this comment to the earlier quote wherein Carter admits that his is a rash and impulsive mind – not given to “tiresome mental processes.” Maybe he just really bonds with this “feminine logic” stuff? Don’t tell him I said that, he is an indefatigable swordsman!
In chapter sixteen we are given another gem of Carter’s savvy ways with women:
I verily believe that a man’s way with women is in inverse ratio to his prowess among men. The weakling and the saphead have often great ability to charm the fair sex, while the fighting man who can face a thousand real dangers unafraid, sits hiding in the shadows like some frightened child.
And there you have it. . . .
Well, the reason I mentioned most of this is because this romance is actually the motive and driving force of the plot. Not, believe it or not, the thirst for survival or the desire to return to Earth. Carter is perfectly thrilled to stay on Mars forever – as long as he has his Dejah Thoris. So, I guess it’s a decent idea to understand the motives for this whole thing.
The action in the book is non-stop. It reads like the most action-filled comic book, just one scenario after another involving magnificent feats of daring, physical ability, and bravery. Climbing, flying, chasing, running, swordsmanship, jumping, etc. John Carter is beyond Olympian-level awesome at everything. I think I got a bit tired toward the end – back and forth among tribes and warriors, back and forth, back and forth. I don’t know; I feel like Burroughs probably spent more time on the first half of the book than the second. Nevertheless, it is easy to see how this novel lends itself to live-action film. And it is typical of pulp-adventure stories, so the amount of action is not surprising. But the interesting facets, peppering the novel during Carter’s exploits, are cool – and could easily draw in a reader who is searching for imaginative science fiction. For example, the Atmosphere Machine. I need more about that.
Anyway, I intend to read the next in the series – eventually. No hurry here.