A Princess of Mars

I don’t really re-read that much stuff unless something calls for it years later. Case in point: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 novel, A PRINCESS OF MARS, and its resulting series. The film adaptation, JOHN CARTER, crashed and burned last month as one of Hollywood’s biggest flops ever, plus Library of America has released a new hardcover edition with a pulp-inspired cover and an introduction by novelist Junot Díaz. So I figured I would revisit the time spent on Barsoom — that’s Mars, for those of you who don’t know.

Burroughs is probably the pulp master, having created not one but two distinctive characters in the genre, one being Tarzan and one being PRINCESS’ hero, John Carter, a Civil War vet who is mysteriously transported to Mars, where he is met by alien creatures called Thraks.

These Thraks are giant, green, four-armed, lizard-like beasts. Carter soon finds out he has some sort of super strength on Mars. (Sound familiar, comic fans? An alien who comes to Earth and discovers the same?)

Carter rises to power and respect in the tribe because of his newfound abilities. The Thraks actually capture a beautiful red Martian princess named Dejah, for whom Carter has fallen, so he goes off to save the damsel in distress, leading to him having to sacrifice himself for the better of the planet.

I have long loved this type of stuff, from its aliens to its swordfights. How cool is that? If you’ve never read any Burroughs, shame on you. Carter comes back for two more books before the series switches to other characters in an 11-book franchise.

Library of America simultaneously has re-released Burroughs’ TARZAN OF THE APES with the same treatment. —Bruce Grossman

Buy it at Amazon.

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Comment by Slade Grayson
2012-04-09 09:41:28

Loved the John Carter series. Good pulp-action fun. Which is where the movie went wrong (yes, I saw it). They watered it down to make it more family (and franchise) friendly, and added in an unnecessary subplot. Still, although we may never see a sequel to “Indiana Jones on Mars,” at least we will always have reissues of the much better books.

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Comment by Breezy
2012-04-09 12:37:15

Loved the books and the film. Some of the changes were a little odd, but I can understand why they were done. The book was originally written as a serial publication, so it often follows John Carter for long stretches at the expense of all the other characters. Still, both are great fun.

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Comment by Tom Johnson
2012-04-10 08:21:21

I was introduced to the John Carter comic books in the 1950s, but didn’t read the novels until the 1960s when I was in my twenties. They were so great I started hunting up everything I could find by Burroughs, including Tarzan. This led to Doc Savage and every clone of ERB I could get my hands on. I haven’t seen the movie yet. I live fifty miles from the nearest theater. So I will likely wait for the DVD. But I do intend to watch it. I never expect much from a movie, so I won’t be disappointed. I’ll just put it down as an attempt at entertainment. Hopefully, I’ll be surprised.

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Comment by Patricia Eimer
2012-04-10 09:21:08

I read these when I found them during cleaning out my parent’s attic when my Dad died. Loved the books but that movie was painful to watch. Next time I’ll just go to the dentist and ask for oral surgery without anesthesia instead so I don’t have to see a good book destroyed.

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Comment by Sanford Hausler
2012-04-10 16:42:16

Isn’t in Tharks, not Thraks. Surprised no one else caught that.

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Comment by Sam
2012-04-11 13:46:38

Darn, Sanford beat me to it. Yes, it’s Tharks, and the Tharks are only one tribe of Green Martians, though that’s not made explicit in the first book.

A Princess of Mars is pretty awesome, I will say. I’ve read it multiple times and I enjoy it thoroughly each time. It completely blows my mind that someone could take such rich, exciting material and turn it into a completely mediocre CGI-fest.

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