Book Review: A Princess of Mars

Book Name: A Princess of Mars
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
First Published: 1912
Original Title: Under the Moons of Mars

In 1911, thirty-five year old Edgar Rice Burroughs suffered a dilemma. His business ventures had failed miserably and he needed more income to support his wife and two children. Being a fan of serial novels, he often told himself that he could write a better story than what he saw published in those pages. As he worked at his brother’s stationery company, he penned a novel on the company pads during his off-hours, telling no one but his wife about it. In the end, he was too embarrassed by the tale to put his name on the manuscript.

The All-Story magazine bought his first story as a six part serial in 1912 and named it Under the Moons of Mars. Due to the typesetter believing that the author’s pen name “Normal Bean” was a typo, the author was listed as “Norman Bean”. The humble serial would become the inspiration of a new sub-genre in science fantasy, the planetary romance. Stories by Burroughs became popular with the public quickly and by 1914 two of his serials were re-printed as novels. His Tarzan of the Apes series was novelized first, followed by his first serial, renamed A Princess of Mars. The Barsoom series featuring John Carter of Mars was born. The novels have since not been out of print for the last 100 years.

A Princess of Mars is the fictional travelogue of Captain John Carter, a Confederate soldier who prospects for gold in the American Southwest after the civil war. After an attack by Apaches, he is mysterious transported to the planet Mars. There on Barsoom, as the planet is known to the natives, he shows great physical prowess as the lighter gravity of the red planet allows him to leap about to the amazement of the four-armed, and tusked men known as Thrak. His skills in battle become renown to all Barsoomians as he gradually battles his way to the top of their society. Driving John Carter to fight is his love for the beautiful princess, Dejah Thoris. The captain spends much of the novel in pursuit of and in rescuing the princess as she is captured by various lustful villains.

I first discovered A Princess of Mars during my early teens at the public library. It was a well-worn, earmarked copy with a four-armed green giant battling a smaller, sword wielding man on the cover. Despite the novel having been written at least half a century before I was born, I was pulled in by the myriad of battling cultures, the intriguing scientific imaginings, and the emergence of love and friendship overcoming the hatred that drove all these different colored people of Mars.

John Carter is a charming narrator in this tale filled with anti-gravity cars, majestic city-states, giant riding thoats, and barbarians of many races. A southern gentleman of the old school, I found his way of offering the hand of friendship to the Barsoomians, a pleasant contrast to the way men are often portrayed in present day. He did not shirk from the violence around him and had the fighting skills to hold his own, yet through it all there was a sense of knowing that things did not need to be this way. His spreading of the concept of peace to the Barsoomians put me to mind of how people must have felt during the First World War, which started the same year that this novel became popular, when their world had gone insane with unheard of violence and war on a scale previously unknown, similar to the fighting that was protrayed on Barsoom. The voice of reason in John Carter was a counterpoint to those feelings that the First World War must have created and struck a chord with readers of his day.

I found the feisty, far from helpless, Dejah Thoris to be intriguing. Women from that era of writing normally did not have such spunk and did not look at the hero with equality as she did. While she does spend much of the novel being captured by powerful villains, she shows herself to be a woman of principle, every bit as much a creature to duty and honor as the hero. I can understand why Dejah Thoris has captured the hearts of so many generations of young men.

I hope you’ll consider reading A Princess of Mars and the rest of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. You can find the ebook version for free at Project Gutenberg, or check it out at your local library.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: A Princess of Mars”

  1. Thanks for posting, Lowiczanka! “A Princess of Mars” and its two direct sequels are on my all-time favorites list as well. It was one of the reasons that I decided to feature it as one of my first book reviews here on No Wasted Ink. I read your film review of the Disney film “John Carter” and learned a great deal about Edgar Rice Burroughs that I never knew. I hope other visitors here will also give your link a look. :)

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