“A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Several people have asked me what my thoughts were on the John Carter movie and how it compares to the original books.  Of course, I hadn’t read “A Princess of Mars,” and I hadn’t gone to see the movie, and so I was at a complete loss.  I was delighted to find that “A Princess of Mars” is available as a free Kindle e-book and bumped it to the top of my list.

The story is told from the perspective of John Carter, a Confederate veteran who went West after losing the Civil War.  He ended up being chased into a scary cave by some Indians and was knocked unconscious.  He woke up  naked on Mars, known asBarsoom by its inhabitants.  Because of the the difference in gravity between the two planets, John Carter is basically superhuman and is capable of heroic feats of strength.

At first I was a bit turned off by the fact that no explanation was given for John Carter’s abrupt teleportation to Mars, or why John Carter could be teleported but his clothing could not.  I wanted a bit more detail, or at least a plausible theory as to what happened.  However, as the story progressed I just went with it and started enjoying John Carter’s adventures as he endeavored to win the hand of the equally naked Martian princess Dejah Thoris.  You see, nobody on Mars wears clothing.  It makes for a better story.  You’re not just imagining John Carter fighting off dozens of men in hand-to-hand combat… that’s too easy!  He has to be completely vulnerable while fighting to make his feats mean even more.  And Dejah Thoris… we know she’s hot because we’re imagining EVERYTHING.  The Michael Whelan cover above provides a very modest depiction of her charms.

The writing in “A Princess of Mars” reminded me a lot of H. G. Wells as far as the general style goes.  Today’s sci-fi and fantasy novels tend to be written in the third person.  “A Princess of Mars” is told as if John Carter is talking to you while having a glass of scotch by the fireplace.

This is the kind of book that you read as a fun adventure, not really for deeper meaning.  There’s a bit of a critique of collectivism, but it seems to be there mostly to create a difference between two different races of humanoid Martians.  If the book were written a few years later, I’d assume that it was a jab against the Soviet Union, but Burroughs wrote this in 1917.  The book is mostly about the action and it follows the general hero-rescues-damsel-in-distress model, but the obstacles John Carter faced on Mars were pretty creative.

I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for some classic sci-fi, and I’m planning on continuing to read the series.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on ““A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  1. Richard

    Naked warriors fighting is very similar to epic Greek poems. I mean half the time Odyssey’s was naked when he fought many things.

  2. Evelyn

    I made the mistake of seeing the Disney film first before I read the novel and then I back tracked myself and I realized just how much depth I missed out in as well as the film itself lacked. I loved your review though – it reminded me of one I heard yesterday on this literary radio show I like to keep up with called The Book Report. I’m not sure if the show is carried on all AM stations across the country, but I know there is a list of the stations on The Book Report’s website as well as archived past shows — you might be interested in checking out yesterday’s archived show since the host discussed this very novel 🙂

    • Thanks for the info! I think the book was a lot of fun, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t have a lot of depth. It’s more of a creative adventure type of story. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t expect it to be anything that it isn’t. I’d like to see the movie eventually to see what it’s like, but I probably won’t get to it right away, lol.

  3. I’ll have to check this out — thanks for writing about it! Your description reminds me a bit of Heinlein’s Glory Road — have you ever read it? It’s also written in the 1st person. It’s one of my favorite books, and I can’t recommend it enough.

    • You’re welcome! I haven’t read any Heinlein yet, although he’s someone that I would like to eventually read.

  4. Very fun review, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It is a fun book (and from the few I’ve read beyond this that fun continues). It really is all about going on a grand adventure and just going with whatever Burroughs throws at you. I love the feel of these books, they pack a nice sense of wonder that sometimes gets lost in contemporary science fiction. John Carter and Dejah Thoris are a couple of characters you can’t help but cheer for. I’ll be interested to see what you think of the film whenever you get a chance to see it.

    • Thanks! I’m excited to see the movie and hope it lives up to the book. I didn’t expect that this would be as much of a fun read as it was, but ended up discovering a delightful story! A sense of wonder describes the story’s mood perfectly. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next one.

  5. I have a weakness for classic sci-fi and fantasy, There’s something really engaging about the way they’re written once you get over the initial awkwardness. I like imagining an old man telling me stories.

    • Mhm. And that dimension always makes me wonder whether it actually happened or if the narrator is playing with the gullibility of the younger generation. I like that kind of writing style a lot. It’s a bit sad that more people don’t write like that today.

  6. I like to describe anything by Burroughs as “a ripping good yarn.” It always is–and it’s rarely more. There is a lot that Burroughs isn’t, but he’s so GOOD at what he IS!

    • I agree! It ended up not being quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it a lot and am planning on reading more. 😀

      • Great! I love seeing a new person reading Burroughs. Numbers 2 and 3 are good, continuing John Carter’s story, and my favorite is 7, Fighting Man of Mars–pretty much independent of the others, so it’s possible to jump ahead. 😉

        • Awesome. I’m excited to read more of them. I didn’t really care for the ending in the first book, so I had to at least glance at the second one’s synopsis to make sure that he could go back. I need the semester to be over like now so I can read all of the books that I want to!

  7. I have this on my TBR pile to pick up and read before I eventually see John Carter (at this point, that will be on DVD or BluRay)

    • I don’t think I’ll around get to the movie until it comes out on DVD, even though there are some theaters near me that probably still have it. I don’t generally make it to see a movie in theaters more than a couple times a year. I’ll be curious to see how the two compare though. In general, I’ve heard good things from people who read the book first and bad things from people who haven’t.

  8. You have written a great review, Grace. Well done!

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