Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review - A Princess of Mars

The Barsoom Series (John Carter of Mars), by Edgar Rice Burroughs
1. A Princess of Mars * * * *

From Goodreads:
"The first published book by the creator of Tarzan of the Apes that introduced the world to intergalactic Civil War soldier, John Carter. 

Two years before Edgar Rice Burroughs became a worldwide celebrity with the publication of Tarzan of the Apes and its twenty-two sequels, which together have sold more than 30 million copies, he published the futuristic sci-fi romance, A Princess of Mars. A Princess of Mars tells the story of John Carter, a Civil War veteran who inexplicably finds himself held prisoner on the planet Mars by the Green Men of Thark. With Dejah Thoris, the princess of another clan on Mars, John Carter must fight for their freedom and save the entire planet from destruction as the life-sustaining Atmosphere Factory slowly grinds to a halt.

A Princess of Mars is the first in Burroughs' eleven book Barsoon series, following the continued adventures of John Carter."

My Thoughts:
I tried to read A Princess of Mars before we went to see the movie adaptation John Carter, but I didn't quite finish it in time.  I'll talk about the movie later though.

The story follows the adventures of John Carter, a Virginian gentleman who has been prospecting in the American southwest shortly after the civil war has ended, and has somehow been transported to Mars, or, as he soon learns, Barsoom, as it is called by the inhabitants of the planet.  Initially a captive of the barbarian four-armed Green Men (Tharks), he soon becomes involved in the politics of the planet, when the Tharks capture Dejah Thoris, a princess of the Red Men (a more humanoid race) from the city of Helium, and John Carter falls hopelessly in love with her and helps her to escape.  Dejah Thoris was going to be forced to marry the son of her Helium's greatest enemy, and ran away to avoid her fate, before meeting and also falling in love with John Carter.  As John battles against her enemies, the Zodangans, in an attempt to save her from her fate, he manages to unite the barbarian clans of the Tharks and becomes the greatest warrior in Barsoomian history, eventually saving the day, the princess, and the maybe also the entire planet, but perhaps at the cost of his own happiness.

Though ERB began writing it in 1911, A Princess of Mars was originally published as "Under the Moons of Mars" in 1914 as a serialization in the  magazine "The All-Story."  Several years later in 1917 was the first time it was published as a novel under the current title, and the book proved popular enough that Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) went on to write numerous sequels and other SciFi/Fantasy novels. ERB and the Barsoom series influenced many later generations of SciFi writers, and elements of his stories can be seen in many later novels and movies, and I think it's important to keep in mind that John Carter & Dejah Thoris came long before Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, for example, and not the other way around.  Many of the SciFi/Fantasy and Space Opera elements that we take for granted in our current fiction originated with ERB over 100 years ago.

The writing style  is very formal when compared to today's novels and evokes the romance of the early part of the 20th century, while still being eminently readable.  Veering at times into more of a travelogue than a story, interspersed with sword fights, air speeder chases, and epic battles, taken together as a whole, A Princess of Mars forms a completely enjoyable story of the classic Hero's Journey archetype.

I'm giving A Princess of Mars 4 stars.  I'm not sure how I managed to avoid reading it all these years, but now that I have read it, I can honestly say that I wish I had read it sooner.  Some might dislike the plot holes and false science present throughout the book, I can only caution readers to remember that it was written over a century ago, long before our powerful telescopes and Martian probes and rovers proved what the Red Planet is actually like, and to enjoy the story based on its own merits.

Have you read A Princess of Mars?  Disagree with my rating?  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!


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