Jacob Proffitt's Reviews > A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Mar 26, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi, fantasy
Read from March 10 to 11, 2012

I read these first in the 7th grade. I remember seeking them out and being eager to get the next after finishing each. When I realized that I remember searching the school library for the books more than the books themselves, I figured it might be fun to give them a new look. Since at least the first couple are old enough to be in the public domain (because Disney can't profit from them and bribe congress into extending copyright another couple decades), I picked up a copy at project Gutenberg.

And surprisingly, neither the age of the work nor my own, eh hem, maturity have diminished the sheer enjoyment of the story. Burroughs tells a ripping tale that never slows down enough to lose your interest. The pseudo-scientific/magical elements are mostly black-boxed enough that you really don't care that modern science makes the tale impossible. Who cares about the Mars rover when you have green-skinned, four-armed aliens coming at you with swords?!?

Yes, this is pulp fiction at heart. John Carter learns the language of Mars in a week. Dejah Thoris is present pretty much just to motivate John Carter into danger and derring-do. Tars Tarkas and Kantos Kan provide armed support when the action needs to be kicked up to the next level. And pretty much all the bad guys are irredeemably evil for no more reason than that's how they are.

But offsetting these sketchy elements is a depth of imagination that makes you want to ignore weaknesses in order to just enjoy the story. Burroughs creates not just creatures of dread and wonder, but societies and technologies that are both fun and interesting to explore. And I think that's the heart of the genius of these books. Burroughs enlists our inner sense of wonder to bypass our defenses and sell us his story. And he does it so gently that I can't resent him for it afterwards.

If you're willing to let go of your expectations of great literature, these books are a delight. If you're going to be all strict and stuff, you probably shouldn't bother. Parts of me wanted to rate this book a 3 because I liked it but recognize the weaknesses of its pulp-fiction heritage. Other parts wanted to rate it a 5 because I enjoyed it so much I really couldn't put it down. I compromised by giving it 4 stars for a great story that I can't recommend whole-heartedly.
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