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10 April 2012

"E" is for...


   Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 - 1950) was an American novelist, most famous for his Tarzan and John Carter of Mars series, although he wrote more than seventy books in his lifetime. While Tarzan is a great character and a fun read, he properly belongs to pulp adventure. John Carter, however...

I own this edition.
I own this one, too.

   For many VSF enthusiasts, John Carter's Barsoom is Mars. Flying ships, vast deserts, warring city-states, swordsmen, beautiful women, huge four-armed Green Martians, and on and on. The first novel in the series, A Princess of Mars, was published in 1912. It introduced us to the world of Barsoom and many of its important features: the red and green Martians, the city of Helium, the hordes of the Tharks and Warhoons, the flying ships held aloft by the ninth ray, and the incomparable Dejah Thoris. In all, Mr. Burroughs would write 11 Barsoom novels. 

   Burroughs also wrote about Lost Worlds (The Land That Time Forgot) and a hollow Earth, Pellucidar (At the Earth's Core and its sequels). Pellucidar is another favorite setting among the VSF gaming crowd, with the weird pterodactyl Mahar ruling the barbaric humans. Finally, from a VSF perspective, Burroughs also wrote about Venus, or Amtor, as it is called there. His hero, Carson Napier, who is somewhat more cautious (and scientifically minded!) than John Carter, the fighting Virginian cavalryman.

   I doubt that anyone would ever call the works of E. R. Burroughs great literature. But that's okay. As long as they can call the novels fun to read - and I can't imagine a young man who wouldn't like to read these stories if they read at all - then the books have done their real job. A hundred years after the first printing of the John Carter books, Disney films released a live-action film of, essentially, A Princess of Mars, titled John Carter of Mars (2012). While it seems it was destined to be a financial failure due to massive cost overruns and poor marketing, just the fact that it was made shows the enduring escapist fun to be had from Barsoom.
Who's a good calot? Woola is! Woola's a good calot!


Frank Chadwick said...

It certainly was the formative series of books for my view of of VSF. I encountered them in sixth and seventh grade and before then my exposure to VSF had been Classics Illustrated comics of Wells and Verne as well as the early films of some of those stories. The books of the Barsoom series were the first full-blown VSF books I read -- devoured would be a better description -- all in the Ace and Ballantine paperback re-issues which came out at that time. I remember passionate arguments among my firends as to which series of covers was a better depiction of Barsoom. The Ace covers, we decided, were better for the people and general look of the land, but the flying ships on the Ballantine covers were without peers.

Ralph E. Vaughan said...

It's unfortunate the "John Carter" film was not more faithful to "A Princess of Mars," but many people who saw the film said they were going to seek out the original books, so all is not lost. Personally, the ERB series I enjoy as much (if not more) than the Barsoom series is that of Carson Napier on Venus, perhaps because he got to Venus by being something of a Wrongway Corrigan, something all of us can identify with. The Tarzan books, though entertaining, never attracted me as much as his interplanetary yarns.

J Womack, Esq. said...

Ralph: I have to agree with you in regards to the Tarzan books. Although I loved the Johnny Weissmuller movies as a kid, and the books were fun, they never caught me like Barsoom did.

Elderac said...

I love ERB's Mars series. I felt the movie was a resonable presentation of the story and enjoyable to watch. I think they have created some plot holes with the way they handled the Therns, but I guess they won't have to dig themselves out of those holes now. Too bad, I have waited for decades for a decent John Carter movie. Sadly, their bungling probably means Disney won't make another. Perhaps it will make enough that another company can pick up the property and make a decent, affordable movie. We can hope.

As much as I love Barsoom, when it comes to gaming, I prefer the Space:1889 version because it makes Mars and the other worlds more accessable for the common man.

That won't stop me from reading the books again.

Maybe one day, I might get past the Jewels of Opar.

Mark "Geo" Gelinas