Melissa Proffitt's Reviews > A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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May 04, 12

bookshelves: own, science-fiction, action-adventure, classics
Read in May, 2012

I couldn't believe how much I liked this book. I thought it would be your typical early-20th-century Anglocentric sexist thinly-veiled allegory of Western cultural dominance. Then I got over myself. Like H. Rider Haggard (a near-contemporary of Burroughs, and probably a more direct influence on the Barsoom novels than Jules Verne or H.G. Wells) Edgar Rice Burroughs has some attitudes that modern readers find uncomfortable, but in the context of his time, he's a remarkably liberal thinker.

John Carter is strong but generous of spirit, a powerful warrior but respectful of women, a staunch defender of what he believes to be right, and completely aware of his weaknesses instead of pretending they don't exist. I think his personality is best defined by how he becomes a "chieftain" among the green Martians totally by accident. Among the Martians, status is gained by killing other warriors, usually only for that purpose; John Carter kills to defend himself and then others, completely unaware of how green Martian society works, but doesn't change his behavior once he learns the truth--even though gaining status would help both him and Dejah Thoris, the titular princess. His falling in love with her is so sweet--there's something very touching about a strong man who's completely at a loss before the woman he loves.

Burroughs's world building is at times inconsistent, but since this novel was originally published serially, it's not surprising that he changed his mind about stuff between issues. It was incredibly easy to lose myself in the story, and the only thing I couldn't quite believe was that John Carter was able to control his physical urges even though he and Dejah Thoris were naked the whole time. Seriously? I could buy Dejah Thoris being unaffected on the grounds that it's how her people live, but a red-blooded Virginia boy? Who came from a time when women showed almost no skin below the neckline? Maybe that makes Burroughs even more of a liberal thinker than I thought.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Jed (new) - rated it 1 star

Jed L Just read your thoughts on this book after reading it... and you shouldn't get over yourself. Racism is racism in any time or period. Here Burroughs is clearly attempting to compare the green men to Native Americans and show that only "noble savages" have any worth from them. He purports that whites are the dominant race both on this planet and on others and excuses their behavior, slaughter and destruction in the same way he excuses John Carter's massive killing spree throughout Mars. Just like Tarzan of the Apes, we should throw down this book for its racism and forget it, we as a people are trying to move past racism, not bring it back.

Joshua Putman I do not agree with Jed. Context is context. I wouldn't throw down this book. I too thought it was an entertaining read.

message 3: by Jerry (new) - added it

Jerry Owens While Burroughs often reflects the racism of his day at other times he is rather progressive for his day by overcoming that racism. I think his treatment of the green men shows that progressiveness. Yes he does show them inferior to the red Martians in technology but in other ways he glorifies their attitudes and ethics. In one of the later books he makes the pure white race on Barsoom to be the bad guys and the Black race to be the more superior. While Burroughs stories became repetitive in their plots at times Burroughs often touched on philosophical subjects. I think many readers miss this side of his writing. Most of all however Burroughs writing makes you feel like you are there. One quote I read about his writing is: "In a Burroughs novel when it rains you get wet."

Melissa Proffitt That's a good quote. I agree.

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