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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Edgar Rice Burroughs of Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novel may be titled A Princess of Mars, but the author does not center his story upon heroine Dejah Thoris.  Nor does he spend significant time giving the backstory of everyone the protagonist meets on his adventures.  Instead, the major character in the book is indisputably John Carter.  He reaches Mars, where he is captured by the Tharks (not little green men, but six-limbed, fifteen-foot-tall green men).  When the Tharks capture an airship from the city of Helium (populated by normal-sized, red-skinned humans), John falls instantly in love with Dejah.  Everything he does thereafter is geared to win her love, free her from captivity, and return her to Helium.  Instead of yearning to return to Earth, John Carter embraces his changed circumstances for what they are, not what he would like them to be.  In doing so, he reminds me of Number One in “The Cage,” such a strong female character that she repelled women who previewed the original “Star Trek” pilot in the 1960s.  

An omnibus edition from the
Science Fiction Book Club

A Wikipedia article suggests that an animated feature film adaptation was planned in the 1930s, but ultimately rejected by MGM.  Mention is made of the highly successful live-action Flash Gordon serials produced by Universal during the same decade.  Having revisited two of the serials this year (the thirteen-episode “Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers” and the fifteen-episode “Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars”), I imagine that a “John Carter” adaptation, given a similar treatment for people of that era, would have stayed closer to Burroughs’ original plot structure than the new movie.

Another cherished SFBC omnibus
of adventures on Mars, 

also known as

Alas, I cannot judge what might have been, but only what is.  While I enjoyed rereading a novel I haven’t read in three decades, I cannot say that I found the book difficult to put down.  It took me roughly two weeks to read the one hundred-and-eighty page novel, as opposed to a week for the three hundred page Heat Rises, the third novel by the eponymous Richard Castle.  Does this mean that A Princess of Mars is less compelling that a modern mystery written by a fictional novelist?  More than likely, my relationship with the original material has less to do with its merits than where I am in my life.  My interests have expanded and evolved since I was a teen.  In my High School days, my discovery of Edgar Rice Burroughs proved monumental.  A Princess of Mars prompted me to read more of the Mars series, the Venus series, and his Tarzan novels, along with numerous other works.  His fiction inspired me to write, and my first, fumbling efforts occurred during that period.  His ability to spin stories of adventure, featuring strong, intelligent heroes and beautiful heroines, as well as his prolific storytelling abilities, made me want to model my life and talents upon him.  Even now, thirty years later, I find that I cannot be dispassionate or objective about Edgar Rice Burroughs.  For he played his part in molding me into the man I am today.

These SFBC editions are made extra-special
by cover art and interior illustrations
 from the incomparable
Frank Frazetta

While Disney’s new “John Carter” movie may not rival the success of such franchises as “James Bond, “Star Wars,” or “Flash Gordon,” it’s a fun, enjoyable movie that I’ll no doubt watch again in the future.  I just hope that children who see the movie enjoy it enough that they search out Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original work in bookstores and libraries.  For, while his novels may have aged, they’re still worth reading.  

Some might even find his stories inspiring.

Of course, after reading this,
I had to buy a paperback of
 Tarzan novel #13,
Tarzan at the Earth's Core!

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