Will Byrnes's Reviews > A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Some years back David Bowie asked the musical question, "Is there life on Mars?" Had he read A Princess of Mars he might have known the answer.

Back in the early 60’s I fell in love. Not with a girl, (well, there were one or two cracks opened in that young heart, but we do not speak of that now) but with reading. And the brazen hussy that led me down that path was none other than Edgar Rice Burroughs. Of course there were others, all vying for my immature attention, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, and plenty more from that gang of idiots. I remember the glee I felt when a parcel would arrive, the soft packaging that sprinkled to the floor if you opened the pull-tag a little too energetically. Lift the treasure to your nose and inhale deeply. No, wiseass, no glue involved. No glue actually needed. Paperbacks, Ace and Ballantine mostly. This was the way I got one of my first scents of the lifetime of reading that awaited. It was intoxicating. Prime among the treasures to be found in those bags were the Barsoom novels of ERB. I followed the adventures of John Carter the way readers of a certain detective followed his exploits in issues of The Strand. Reading ERB as a kid was one of the best things about being a kid. So one might imagine the anticipation bubbling up when I learned that a film was in the offing. Good, bad or mediocre, this was must-see territory. And to prepare it seemed that, fifty years after having first encountered Barsoom through books, it was worth giving at least some of the books a second look.

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Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in the film

John Carter, a soldier (Civil War veteran), mercenary, and apparently occasional miner, begins on Earth. He is trapped in a cave by hostile forces, when he wishes himself, pretty much, to Mars, the god of his profession. The film of course had to come up with a better excuse than that. He is taken prisoner by a group of Tharks, a race of six-limbed, twelve-to-fifteen foot tall green warriors (think taller, thinner, ancestors of Klingons), led by one of their less bloodthirsty sorts, a fellow named Tars Tarkas.

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Tars Tarkas - from the film

TT was most impressed by JC’s fighting prowess and his ability to leap tall building in a single bound, a benefit of having muscles adapted to the much higher gravity on a different planet. (ERB’s hero appears twenty years before that Kal-el character, and Jerry Siegel has said that JC was indeed influential in the creation of that better known super-guy.) Tarkas and Carter find common cause eventually and thus begins a beautiful friendship. TT had put a guard dog (actually a Shetland-size, many-tusked critter called a calot ) in charge of JC. But as the locals treat their gigantic ferocious domestic critters rather harshly, it turned out to be receptive to JC’s kinder treatment, so we add a loyal-to-death pet, with the blood-curdling name "Woola" for our hero. Can the girl be far behind? Not a chance.

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Woola - from the film. What a cutie!

After the Tharkian horde does battle with a race of human-like sorts, they take a prisoner, a female. Dejah Thoris is princess of the city-state of Helium (and no she does not speak with a silly-high voice) and of the book title, and is notable for her regal bearing, smokin’ looks and courage under duress. (The film pads her resume with some science credits) Having established his warrior cred by kicking several Tharkian butts, JC has some wiggle room among Thark society and manages to learn a fair bit. He is, naturally, curious about the new resident.

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Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris - from the film

Oh, there is one other item missing from the checklist, the baddie. Well, there are several, a crude Thark leader, monsters aplenty, but most of all a professional sneak-thief-liar-betrayer of a Thark named Sarkoja, who does all she can to foil TT and JC in whatever they might want to do. All she lacks is a broom and some striped socks. [The film includes her, but substitutes a different evil-doer for many of the story’s later intrigues.]

Ok, so this is not exactly great literature. Sweden will not be calling any time soon. Carter finds himself in a seemingly endless series of battles, large and small. People are captured. People fight. People flee. Friends help friends. Baddies behave badly. No one really changes much. Oh, they rise in rank and esteem, and prove their mettle, and some character is revealed in time, but really, nothing is told about these people that we did not know very early on. There is silliness and many shortcuts are taken. ERB makes use of deus ex machina so much he must have had a mechanic on call. Carter learns that a large amount of Martian communications occurs via telepathy and bingo, he is telepathic too. What luck! Also, Martian language has devolved to mostly a single tongue. No, really. And he learns it in a twinkling, with the help of a kindly female Thark named Sola. Whenever someone needs a rescue there is always a rescuer, either now or eventually. The cavalry comes riding over the hill a bit too often to avoid eye-rolling. The fights are pretty much pro-forma, with almost mandatory nods to the honor and skill of the thousands of opponents, after, of course, Carter knocks them out or kills them with a single blow to the chin. Puh-leez.

In between, Burroughs offers bits and pieces of his vision of life on Mars. We learn how Thark children are joined with parents, get some info on Barsoomian visions of death and afterlife, consider a bit the problem of scarce air, and may wonder at the ancient human ruins now occupied by other species. They have some nifty tech on Barsoom as well, having discovered a special 9th ray of light that is used for energy. Radium is a useful power source as well. Airships of all sizes speed about, but seem to function mostly as boats with negative draft. There will be swashbuckling.

There are some elements in the book that do not travel well through the years. The women have some wonderful qualities but there is little e-quality to be found. Also, slavery is still a very active element of Martian society, and while ERB shows sundry characters shackled to those chains, and does his best to free those, he does not seem all that upset about the institution. In one commentary on communistic elements of Tharkian society, ERB notes
Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in your owning nothing in common.
This was published in 1912, so a quote like this might not have stuck out so much back then. Of course there are many much more ancient items that seem quaint today, such as
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.
I guess ownership is in the eye of the beholder.

Social systems seem to be widely of the royal persuasion, although combat figures large in determining leadership in some groups. And just as girls have been led to hope for a prince to come to the rescue, so here our hero is not panting after any ordinary female. Dejah is a bona fide , card-carrying princess.

Then, there are some elements that might stand up rather well. Carter applies his knowledge of animals to persuade the locals to treat their beasties much better. The moral superiority of races is not at all determined by color, or in this case, even sentient species. Honesty, motherhood, and I am certain that if the ingredients grew there, apple pie would come in for some ERB support. Courage is also a highly valued trait. Physical prowess in battle is paramount here.

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Frank Schoonover's cover illustration for the first book version-from Wikipedia

Ok, so bottom line. This is a very dated book. It is, after all, one hundred years old. It contains antiquated, sometimes offensive notions. Many of the characters are pretty thinly drawn. But this was not intended to be a thoughtful, adult novel. It is pulp fiction, literally, as Barsoom made its first public appearance in All-Story Magazine in 1912, and its focus is on three things, action, action and action. Burroughs was appalled that people got paid to write the trash that appeared in such publications and said, “I could write stories just as rotten.” If that is ok with you, then A Princess of Mars is a fun read, a buddy movie with a bit of love interest, (no real sex, although a fair bit of nakedness) a lot of fighting, capturing and being captured and escaping, a nifty vision of a faraway place. Overall, good fun. It helps to be a ten-year-old boy. Look at those cavemen go.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

The home page for Edgar Rice Burroughs, the corporation, where you will learn that
A Princess of Mars was originally published as “The Moon of Mars” under the pseudonym Norman Bean in All-Story Magazine as a six-part serial, February through July 1912.
He had first submitted it to All Star as Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess

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You can read A Princess of Mars on Gutenberg

Here is another, hyper-texted version, which includes links to other such volumes in the Barsoom series.

Or listen to an audio version here

10/25/16 -National Geographic is producing a documentary series about our favorite red-tinted neighbor (no, not the lady across the way who got too much sun. Put those binoculars away NOW). Coverage in the latest issue includes a whole passel of things Martian. Enjoy. Mars: Inside the High-Risk, High-Stakes Race to the Red Planet

From the August 2017 National Geographic - This Is What a Martian Looks Like—According to Carl Sagan - By Natasha Daly

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Painting by Douglas Chaffe - from the above NatGeo article
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 28, 2012 – Finished Reading
April 2, 2012 – Shelved
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: fantasy

Comments Showing 1-50 of 50 (50 new)

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message 1: by Steve (new)

Steve Sounds like a pleasant journey down the memory lanes of Mars.


Will Byrnes Probably canals


message 3: by Steve (new)

Steve Ah, of course. That makes more sense.


Mike Every time I think I should write a book I read something that reminds me I just don't have the skills. This review of yours is one such piece of writing. I don't know what you do for a living, but if you're not a writer, you should be.

I too have great memories of opening packages of books as a kid. Loved the smell, the feel and the escape or knowledge they offered.


Lynne King Will, what an absolutely wonderful review and of course I've just purchased the book. Got it for nothing on Amazon.fr with Kindle. Amazing value!


Will Byrnes Thanks, Lynne. Barsoom holds a special place in my heart, and I actually liked the film.


message 7: by Cathy (new)

Cathy DuPont Will:

How did I miss this? Such fun to read. I laughed more than a couple of times. You're just plain funny, friend.

I agree with Mike (#4) that you should be writing.


message 8: by Alec (new) - added it

Alec Hensley What is the best barsoom book?


Will Byrnes Oh boy. That's a very tough question. Consider that I read these things over forty years ago, and only re-read this one and Gods recently. It often seems that the first book in a series holds a special place because that is where we meet our new literary friends for the first time. If you have not yet read Barsoom, I would definitely begin with Princess. It has been so long since reading the others that I no longer feel qualified to offer an informed opinion.


Forrest I'm glad that someone as well-read as you enjoy voyaging to Barsoom as much as I do! An excellent, insightful review!


Reshal Suryawanshi I had read this book long ago.After reading your review I think I should reread it..!!


message 12: by Will (last edited Jul 24, 2016 03:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Forrest and Reshal. Despite some archaic elements, aPoM is pretty interesting. I have read, BTW, that Disney's rights to JC have expired, so there is at least some hope that someone else might have a go at making films of these tales eventually.


Deborah Butler Bailey Are your books fake or really


message 14: by Murf the Surf (new)

Murf the Surf love this book more than life itself. I've even read up to book five or six I think.....Murf


message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes I read them all, or at least almost all, as a kid, but only the first two recently.


message 16: by Margitte (new)

Margitte It's not my type of genre, but enjoyed your review, Will. So informative and interesting!


message 17: by 7jane (new)

7jane Some years back David Bowie asked the musical question, "Is there life on Mars?"

The answer would also be yes if one ate a Mars bar, as the Undertones song "Mars Bar" suggests (and also comments on wanting to kill (jokingly) Bowie for questioning the bar's power of life *lol*). :)


message 18: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Margitte.

The Undertones song is news to me. Great addition. Here is a link to the song.


message 19: by Carol (new)

Carol Very entertaining review and not exactly what I was expecting from you today.


message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Carol


message 21: by Percy Jackson (new)

Percy Jackson it sound like down the memory lanes of mars! maybe there is life...


message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Deborah Butler Bailey wrote: "Are your books fake or really"
I am not certain what you mean, DBB. If you are referring to items mentioned in the review, all the books I listed are indeed real, although I cannot say if they are all still in print.


message 23: by Hanneke (new)

Hanneke Such a fun review, W! The only books of Edgar Rice Burroughs I read in my youth were the Tarzan of the Apes books. I do not think any of his sf books were ever translated in Dutch. I do not recall having seen them. Would have undoubtedly loved them! I was crazy about those Tarzan books though, wanted to join him in the jungle, swinging from tree to tree! I still have those books, small bound books in linen covers.They were translated in really weird archaic Dutch which only enhanced that mysterious world for me.


message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, H. What a strange experience that must have been, reading Tarzan through such an odd lens. I guess it all worked though. If you like this sort of thing. H. Rider Haggard wrote a few you might enjoy.


message 25: by Hanneke (new)

Hanneke I have so many books to read, I doubt if I would ever read these sort of books again. I was around 11 or 12 years old when I loved those Tarzan books. I might still read "She' by H. Rider Haggard which has been on my shelves forever. That might be a really strange book that I could enjoy reading. Or 'The Princess of Mars' of course, would have to order that book from the States, I assume.


message 26: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes I know what you mean. It is why I stopped at re-reading at number two in the Barsoom series. While I enjoyed them as a kid, and still enjoy them, I read other things these days. I am sure APoM can be had for Kindle, but I do not know if it is readily available in print. I included a link in the review to Gutenberg, where you can read it for free on line. In English of course. I do not know if it is available in Dutch.


message 27: by Bhavya Govil (new)

Bhavya Govil looks like a pretty good book will.


message 28: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Dated, but yes, pretty interesting


message 29: by Hanneke (new)

Hanneke Thanks, W, for that tip. I'll get that book from Gutenberg. I'll read it in English. I do not read books in Dutch when they are originally in English. I only read books in Dutch when they are written in Dutch and Dutch translations from French, German, Italian and Spanish books which are too hard for me to read in the original. I could do German, but it would be not my preference.


message 30: by Henry (last edited Jul 27, 2016 01:59AM) (new) - added it

Henry Avila Under the Moons of Mars, I read twice and many others of the series ( a great title for 1912) and the other title, A Princess of Mars, just as good, wonderful review, and makes me want to read it again... Will. The film was disappointing, bad script, directing, and actors... Oh well.


message 31: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Henry. While I thought the film would have been well served to stick a bit more to the original material, I recognize that I am very much in the minority in thinking that it was actually not bad.


message 32: by Lawyer (new)

Lawyer What fun, Will. I also fell in love in the 60s. With the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was fortunate to have a wonderful Uncle. Woodrow Gaskin Burke. He had fallen in love with Burroughs as the novels were originally published. Recognizing my love of reading, Uncle Woody would always have a few Burroughs stacked up on top of his chest of drawers when I came to visit. Over the span of a few years I traveled through Africa with Tarzan, Mars with John Carter, and journeyed to The Land That Time Forgot, and The People That Time Forgot. Perhaps it was the world of Pellucidar that captured my imagination the most. Your review brings alive many glad memories for me. It's time I returned to more than one of these worlds, thanks to your leading me to reminisce.


message 33: by Will (last edited Jul 28, 2016 12:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Lets not forget the Amtor (Venus) series. What luck for you to have had such a source. Many of the books are available on Gutenberg, so if you feel a need to scratch that itch, it should be possible to do it cost free. Of course, there is nothing quite like holding the books themselves, but we do what we must.


message 34: by Hanneke (new)

Hanneke Will and Lawyer, I got The Princess of Mars on Gutenberg and there is plenty more of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Reading Lawyer's post, it is so nice to see that we all loved to read Burroughs when we were finished with the children's books and moved on to adventure stories!


message 35: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Sometimes the children's books do not find us as kids. I read the Mary Poppins books when my kids were small, (and I was not) and found them quite lovely.


message 36: by Hanneke (last edited Jul 28, 2016 03:12AM) (new)

Hanneke I never read Mary Poppins either. I loved The Five series of Enid Blyton. Would read them again and again. Then on to the Winnetou books of Karl May and the Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Were the Karl May books popular in the States? Perhaps not, as they were just an idealized German version of the Wild West. So funny that Karl May never even set a foot on American soil and wrote dozens of books about cowboys and indians!


message 37: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes I do not know the Karl May books, but there may be others who have.

ERB never set foot on Mars, Venus or Pellucidar, yet managed to come with tales for each. I expect May learned what he could and just made up the rest.


message 38: by Hanneke (new)

Hanneke Yes, of course, you entirely right. Interesting to learn that Karl May was unknown in the States. His books were tremendously popular in Germany and here in Holland as well. Everybody grew up with Karl May books. So you see, there is definitely a difference what kids were reading in Europe or the States. We never had much science fiction books either in Europe. I would have loved them!


Ramaiah Yarlagadda The story was nice


message 40: by Cheri (new)

Cheri Oh, Will, I loved this review beyond words. It made me recall all those days ago thumbing through paperback books at the newstand / bookstore. I'm buying this for a certain soon-to-be-nine year old boy.


message 41: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes loved this review beyond words
Apparently not, but thanks anyway. That lucky boy is in for a real treat.


Robert French When my mother passed away in the late 90s, I inherited a box of 56 Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks. These were Ace and Ballantine versions, mostly published in the early 60s with a typical cover price of 50 cents. Some of these I read while in high school, but most of the paperbacks are in pristine condition. Well, except for some that my twin sister wrote her name in... how dare she!! I did offer them back to her but she did not take the bait, so they are all mine...forever and ever. I also have two original edition Tarzan hard covers, but in average to poor condition. After reading your reviews I think it is about time I return to the jungles of Tarzan, to the Earth's Core, John Carter's Mars and all those wondrous places that Burroughs created.


message 43: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Sounds like we have many of the same Ace and Ballantine books. Pretty cool that yours are in decent shape. Enjoy your trip. We will be expecting postcards.


message 44: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Karishma wrote: "Btw I messaged you some days ago."
A reply is on its way.


message 45: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Karishma wrote: "Great review. Haven't read this one yet."
Thanks, Karishma


Snickers Fantastic review!


message 47: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Snickers wrote: "Fantastic review!"
Thanks, Snickers


message 48: by Michael Fierce (last edited Mar 01, 2017 01:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael Fierce I love all the offensive stuff. So tired of everything being so PC, which is trending and tending to make fiction too self-conscious, boring and homogenized. And F anybody who wants to argue with me on that. Nice review ('cept the part bout callin my faves idjits -- shame on you, brutha Will!).


message 49: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Michael Fierce wrote: "I love all the offensive stuff. So tired of everything being so PC, which is trending and tending to make fiction too self-conscious, boring and homogenized. And F anybody who wants to argue with m..."
Michael, Michael, Michael. How quickly they forget. That ref was not a put-down but a form of praise.


Michael Fierce Will wrote: "Michael Fierce wrote: "I love all the offensive stuff. So tired of everything being so PC, which is trending and tending to make fiction too self-conscious, boring and homogenized. And F anybody wh..."

I knew that but I still cn't look at all my heroes in the same sentence as idiots! It's too painful! :D


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