I picked up this slim paperback at the Literacy Services of WI Book Sale earlier this year. I knew Edgar Rice Burroughs had created “Tarzan” and had heard of, but never read any adventures of, his other famous creation – John Carter of Mars. Since there had been a flopped attempt at bringing John Carter into a blockbuster movie this summer, I thought it might be neat to read the original source material, and see what that was like!
I was coming into a story already in progress, as I had found volumes 3-5 at the book sale, but not 1 or 2. There are, in fact, ELEVEN volumes of “The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs”! I figured that like with comicbook reading, I could jump into the story and figure things out as I went. As I entered the story of John’s adventures, he was trying to figure out what had happened to his wife, who was trapped inside a stone temple. The entrance to this temple only opens once a year (every 687 days on Mars!), so John was trying to find another way in. At this point too, John has been Mars (or Barsoom, as the locals call it) for 20 Earth years!
What made this book entertaining to read was the compelling story, as well as the way it’s written. This story was originally published in serial format, in 1913-1914. What a different time that was for the world! Really, imagine it – at the time of publication, our planet hadn’t seen its first World War yet, and Burroughs was dreaming of adventures all across the Red Planet. The style of writing at this time too, is very different from our 2000s. Very descriptive, intense, full of feeling and thought, the heroes and heroines of this era were unique in how they were shown, I think.
+”the risk was great, but not too great when the fate of a world’s most wondrous woman was at stake.” (John, describing his wife, Dejah Thoris)
+”Imagine if you can, a huge grizzly with ten legs armed with mighty talons and an enormous frog-like mouth splitting his head from ear to ear, exposing three rows of long, white tusks. Then endow this creature of your imagination with the agility and ferocity of a half-starved Bengal tiger and the strength of a span of bulls,a nd you will have some faint conception of Woola in action.” (John, describing his faithful animal companion)
+”To my astonishment and horror her head went high, and as a look of utter contempt touched her finely chiseled features she turned her back full upon me. My body is covered with the scars of a thousand conflicts, but never in all my long life have I suffered such anguish from a wound, for this time the steel of a woman’s look had entered my heart.” (John, aghast, when in disguise, his wife did not recognize him)
+”Now my sympathies have ever been with the weaker side of an argument, and though I knew nothing of the cause of the trouble I could not stand idly by and see a brave man butchered by superior numbers.” (John, about to enter a fight)
Burroughs describes Barsoom in vivid and in-depth detail. He knows the geography of the entire planet, as he envisions it, from the Lost Sea of Korus to the Temple of the Sun to the Carrion Caves to the Great Ice Barrier of the north. He knows the Martians’ culture, their honor system, their multiple races with a single language, and even their religions. It’s impressive to see how well conceived Mars is by Burroughs.
The story follows the many twists and turns as John races across the planet, from pole to pole, trying to rescue his wife. What’s neat is that for how much machismo he demonstrates in all his battles, his mind is ever on one goal – rescuing Dejah Thoris. Burroughs shows no hesitation in describing how deep John’s love is for his wife. For me, he describes John as a pretty well-rounded character – deep in his emotions and feelings, and strong and deliberate in his actions.
I enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading the TWO other volumes I found at the book sale: “Thuvia: Maid of Mars” and “The Chessmen of Mars”. If you’d like to read these books, you can get an omnibus through Boswell Books or check out some of Burroughs’ books from the Milwaukee Public Library!