Elijah Meeks's Reviews > A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Jan 05, 2010

it was amazing
Read in August, 1987

The Mars series of Burroughs are classic adventure novels and their setting on the dying Red Planet allows Burroughs to move away from the racialist dogma found in the Tarzan series. While falling into a classic paradigm of the great hero who overawes and out-competes the "natives", it contains such moments of great humanity, even for people who have four arms and tusks, that I always find it uplifting. The style of Burroughs' adventure writing has always appealed to me and his stories create a living world without devolving into anthropological essay. I must confess that his love of glory, honor and indomitable human spirit, while seeming archaic and filled with machismo, are always refreshing to someone who lives in this post-modern world.

As an academic, I've been struck on re-reading this book and others in the series and seeing how Burroughs describes a dying planet that forces its inhabitants into an ever-more militaristic and combative relationship with each other. John Carter is not just a great swordsman, but an injection of spirit into a hardened and long-suffering community. Ultimately, his theme of reconciliation between historically antagonistic groups is beautiful, even if it sometimes gets ignored because of all the swordfights and exotic locales.
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Matt "While falling into a classic paradigm of the great hero who overawes and out-competes the "natives"..."

One of the interesting things about Burroughs interloping heroes is that they very quickly cease to become interlopers and become natives themselves. John Carter ultimately identifies himself as a Martian and ultimately professes complete disinterest in the affairs of the Earth. Indeed, with his very great lifespan, the fact that he recalls having no childhood, and his capacity to interbred with the egglaying martians, it's I think fair to say that its hinted that he may well have always been a Martian interloping on the Earth. In any event, I think it fair to say that if John Carter overawes Mars, that Mars also overawes him. Likewise Tarzan is underwhelmed by England to the point of being openly contemptous of it and returns to Africa. If either hero overawes the natives, it's equally true that they overawe pretty much every group of natives - including what is ostensibly their own native culture - whereever they go.


Elijah Meeks I think you're absolutely right, Matt. John Carter especially, but also Tarzan, are mythical heroes (Though the Warlord of Mars seems to be something even more than that, a kind of Hercule to Tarzan's Axxilles). Mostly, I wanted to point out that I'm aware of and agree with the biggest criticism of Burroughs: that he presents the black African as a true savage--unredeemable and animalistic. In contrast, even the Green Men of Mars are presented as more fully redeemable (it is their geography that seems to have set their destiny) but you can't avoid the fact that a white man from Virginia came to the unwashed, ignorant, ever conflictive masses and brought peace (through superior physical prowess). I'm uncomfortable with it, and need to reconcile that message with what I see as a transcendental work. Ultimately, as John Carter renounces his earthlinghood, it may be some kind of sign that Burroughs himself has sloughed off the colonialized nationalism of his time, so that John Carter, the quintessential Virginian becomes a citizen of the world/solar system.

I do not think the same could be said for Tarzan, though I'm only familiar with the first couple books of that series.


Matt "I'm uncomfortable with it..."

I'm not. My first impression based on the choice of hero, an ex-Confederate officer of Virginia, was that John Carter was a 'Mary Sue', and the ERB was himself a Virginian of landed Southern slave owning family. If this was the case, I think you could be a little bit forgiven for thinking that ERB is writing a simple tale of racial supremacy and not looking at the text closely. But in fact, ERB is a member of a prominent abolutionist family and his father was a Union officer. And I think that forces us to at the text a little closer. I see John Carter, quintessential Virgianian, as deliberately chosen to be a subversive vehicle for a message - indeed a whole bundle of themes - that was in his day far from politically correct.

It's been a while since I read through the Tarzan books, but I think you do even those a bit of a disservice if you think ERB presents the black African as a true unredeemable savage (Chief Muviro, for example). Heck, ERB doesn't even present the animals as being unredeemably animalistic, and by the time you get very far into the series it becomes clear that if there is one group of people ERB does think are unredeemable savages it is the Germans. Tarzan kills alot of 'Huns'.

I'll be honest about what I get uncomfortable about. I get uncomfortable when people are uncomfortable with say the story of a White man going to Mars and overawing the natives, but who would praise the same story if a Black man had been the protagonist? Aren't they the same story? Likewise, I get uncomfortable when people are uncomfortable with the story of a White man going to Mars and overawed the natives, but who would not feel disturbed if a alien man - white or whatever - came to Earth and overawed the natives. Isn't it the same story? Does it change so much if we make this protagonist look or not look like 'us', whoever 'we' are? Must we identify with the character who looks like 'us'? If so, I'm doomed, because there isn't a redeemable Holy Thern in the entire story. The 'blond' white guys are the only race in the whole series that lack any sort of virtue or heroic representative. The 'black' hero at least is able to overcome his ingrained cultural racism.


Elian Nice review I just wish people could write good about good books not about every single mistake. all I saying is Iove this type f books.

I saw more than billonths of time the movie and stilled liked it nonstop

Your'e review was amazingly right and I agree so thank you !.

via... Kindle


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