|John Carter, contending with some of those damn, dirty white apes.|
"Presently a cry went up from the section of the stands near by - 'Rise slaves!' 'Rise slaves!' it rose and fell until it swelled to a mighty volume of sound that swept in great billows around the entire amphitheatre."
Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known as the creator of Tarzan. He grew up in Chicago, and wrote his most famous stories in the early 1900s. The first of his stories to be published was "Under the Moons of Mars." Tarzan, his later creation, appeared shortly thereafter.
As the book cover above indicates, I recently read both "The Gods of Mars" and "Warlord of Mars," which together form the second volume in Burroughs' "Barsoom series." Burroughs chronicled the adventures of John Carter (a.k.a. the "Warlord of Mars") up to 1941.
In The Gods of Mars, John Carter returns to Barsoom (Mars) after a multi-year absence. He soon finds himself in the clutches of a Martian "goddess" and her fanatical priesthood, which leads to a rebellion against a theocracy that has ruled Mars for countless ages.
The Warlord of Mars (the second half of this book) is a much simpler story. In this tale John Carter must rescue his lady love Dejah Thoris from a pirate. In the course of his pursuit he's led on a not-so-merry chase down rivers, through catacombs, and to the remote polar region of Mars.
As you might have guessed from the above descriptions, Burrough's John Carter stories aren't exactly science fiction. They are instead labeled "science fantasy," though in my opinion placing the "science" before the "fantasy" is being generous. As an example of world building, the John Carter series is a lot closer to Lord of the Rings than to Foundation, and many - if not all - of John Carter's exploits fly in the face of any scientific understanding of the world(s). He's a lot closer to sword and sorcery than to science fiction, and many of his adventures hinge upon both a superhuman prowess in battle and an extraordinary series of coincidences.
As his adventures fall firmly within the realm of pulp fiction, it should also come as no surprise that plot holes are a common occurrence. The thing in The Gods of Mars that struck me most was the length of his imprisonment. John Carter himself states that he was imprisoned in a dark cell for more than 300 days... and yet after his imprisonment he is in perfect health - able to fight multiple foes at the same time. How could he have remained sane for all that time, much less healthy?
In Warlord of Mars there is a different problem. The villains take great pains to explain both their plans and private thoughts at every opportunity, and John Carter, of course, is always there to overhear them. At a point near the end this tendency toward narration becomes especially ridiculous, and borders on self-parody.
These flaws aside, the influence of these stories on later writers is obvious. One example is Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers series, which shares with Burroughs' stories elements such as a race of immortals controlling a world behind the scenes, "astral" projection between worlds, and a fondness for Wild West tropes. Yet where Farmer was big on narrative ideas and weak on action, Burroughs is just the opposite.
Robert E. Howard is another example. I doubt that his Conan (or Kull) stories would have existed in the absence of Burroughs, and Howard in many ways builds upon the template set forth in Burroughs' earlier stories. In this case, the chief difference is in the character of the protagonists. John Carter is a romantic where Conan is a brute. John Carter engages in swordplay where Conan hacks people to pieces. John Carter pursues love where Conan just fucks. I hate to say it, but I find Conan a lot easier to relate to, and I think the greater familiarity with Conan speaks to the fact that a lot of other guys feel the same way.
There are also the movie adaptations. Disney released "John Carter" several years ago, and less reputable sources produced "Princess of Mars," a straight-to-DVD version. The Disney movie is BORING and could have done with more bloodshed. The straight-to-DVD version is even worse, but I think Antonio Sabato Jr. and Traci Lords probably look (and act) a lot more like the characters Burroughs imagined. You can, by the way, watch Princess of Mars in its entirety on YouTube.
Besides movies, the John Carter stories have also been adapted into comic books. Of these there are many, and some of them are very good. John Carter even appears in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and several companies (including Marvel) have offered their versions of the character.
|In the books, Dejah Thoris is also (almost) nude.|