Mike Hankins's Reviews > A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Jan 16, 12

Read in December, 2011

Edgar rice Burroughs is a writer you might be familiar with, even if you don’t recognize the name. If you’ve ever heard of Tarzan, you’re familiar with his work. But before he wrote of everyone’s vine-swingin’ adventurer, Burroughs wrote of another superhuman swashbuckler: John Carter of Mars.

A Princess of Mars is the first in the Barsoom series (Barsoom being another name for Mars) which is about to hit the big screen in the new Disney film. It’s a fine example of Pulp Fiction: escapist adventure stories designed to be quickly consumed and quickly forgotten. In this sense it achieves everything it sets out to do. It’s essentially a male power fantasy wrapped in some rudimentary sci-fi trapings. John Carter, a Virginian tough guy, gets magically teleported to Mars, where he discovers that because of the weaker gravity, he essentially possesses superpowers. He can run fast, punch hard, lift heavy stuff, and yes, leap tall buildings in a single bound. He finds himself involved in a series of violent conflicts between some giant green aliens and some humanoid martians. He falls in love with the beautiful and perpetually naked princess Dejah Thoris, and has some predictable yet exciting adventures to save the planet and steal her heart and/or her virginity.

There’s really not much else to say about the work other than this brief plot summary. There’s little-to-no thematic development, and the characters are pretty much ciphers there to fill their roles. It’s the literary equivalent of a vapid action movie, but I don’t mean that to sound too negative because it is a very well done vapid action story. It may be predictable and shallow, but it’s also exciting and fun. The setting is interesting and the action is fast-paced and awesome. Carter isn’t the type of character that you’re supposed to care about, he’s meant to be a vessel that the reader vicariously puts themselves into. He’s like Indiana Jones, you put yourself in his spot and think of yourself having those adventures. Dejah Thoris is just there for minds-eye candy and she does a good job of that. She’s written as an almost hilarious contradiction of male-fantasy: the appearance of feisty independence wrapped in neediness and submission.
Like the average super-hero comic book, A Princess of Mars gives the fifteen-year-old male everything he wants in spades. That’s not necessarily a slight, it’s a fun book, meant to be a special-effects laden summer blockbuster. It’s a great way to get away from the boredom of life on a Saturday afternoon. Just don’t expect a cerebral science fiction masterwork and you’re sure to have a good time.
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