- A classic action and adventure ~
A Princess of Mars was the first book by Edgar Rice Burroughs to feature the character John Carter. It led to an 11-book series featuring his adventures and became the basis for the 2012 movie. Carter is a war-weary former military captain during the Civil War who is inexplicably transported to Mars. He quickly (and reluctantly) becomes embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions among the inhabitants of the planet.
Full of swordplay and daring feats, it remains the best example of 20th century pulp science fiction.
Honestly, I doubt this book would have appeared on my radar if I hadn’t been trawling Audible and seen it was narrated by MacLeod Andrews. I was intrigued enough to give it a go.
Acclaimed as the precursor of the science fiction novel, having been first published in the early 20th century, and also considered classic pulp fiction, it tells the story of John Carter who was a Confederate Captain during the American Civil War, and seems to be immortal. He describes himself at the start as being ‘a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty.’
After the end of the war John Carter and his friend and fellow officer, James Powell, decide to prospect for gold in Arizona. As Powell left the camp to purchase better equipment he was set upon by the Apache. Carter rescues him and manages to escape but he is too late, Powell is already dead. Taking shelter in a cave Carter experiences strange sensations and while gazing up at the red dot in the sky that is Mars, inexplicably finds himself transported there naked, leaving his clothed body in the cave.
I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I was not asleep, no need for pinching here, my inner consciousness told me as plainly that I was upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you that you are upon Earth. You do not question the fact; neither did I.
The story is obviously dated, with ideas and customs which would be considered old fashioned, derogatory at best today, but are of the time. It’s packed with machismo and lots of action sequences, sword fights, slaying, full on battles, captures and daring escapes. But considering the date the story was written the world building is very acceptable. Mars is peopled by various races, the Tharks led by Tars Tarkus and the inhabitants of Hellium whose princess, Dejah Thoris is the love interest. John finds he has super human abilities due to the lower gravity on Mars and these he uses to full advantage during his continuing fight for survival.
John Carter is a great protagonist, a man of principles and a totally larger than life hero. He sees beyond outward appearances, accepts the inhabitants of Mars for who and what they are and is open to friendships. He brings his love of animals to bear on the weird and wonderful Martian creatures, showing the fierce warriors more will be achieved by kindness than cruelty. This also extends to the warring between the races. There’s nothing he can’t do, from learning the Martian language in double-quick time to being able to converse telepathically. The first all action super hero?
The prose is also very dated but listening, it wasn’t so bad. Macleod Andrews does a smooth job and stays in the character of John Carter, a Virginia gentleman, throughout. I didn’t realise initially this was the first of more than 10 books in the series. I’ll probably listen to more if Mr Andrews narrates. The foreword from Edgar Rice Burroughs is a nice touch. He’s talking about John Carter as a person he knew.
He was a splendid specimen of manhood, standing a good two inches over six feet, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with the carriage of the trained fighting man. His features were regular and clear cut, his hair black and closely cropped, while his eyes were of a steel gray, reflecting a strong and loyal character, filled with fire and initiative.
Edgar Rice Burroughs goes on to say he was charged with taking control of the estate if anything happened to John Carter. When Carter was found dead, his wishes were carried out as per his instructions, down to his tomb being equipped with a lock which could only be opened from the inside.
Edgar Rice Burroughs started writing his Martian adventures in 1911. Even though science claims there is no life on Mars his stories remain vibrant and timeless tales, because Burroughs knew the appeal and power of the Martian myth. Writers like Ray Bradbury and scientists like Carl Sagan have acknowledged that Burroughs’ Martian tales were the wellspring from which their own careers arose. ~ From edgarriceburroughs.com