Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 A Princess of Mars is the classic "sword and planet" novel, and the classic early popularization of astronomer Percival Lowell's notions of a Mars whose supposed "canals" denoted intelligence on an ancient, drying, slowly dying world. H.G. Wells's prior The War of the Worlds was an earlier offshoot of Lowellian theories, of course, but it was Earth-focused, with tantalizingly little detail of the Red Planet and its inhabitants. Burroughs, however, transports readers to a fantastical Mars, or Barsoom in the native tongue, imagined and rendered with care: layer upon layer of creatures, races, nations, customs, jewels, ornaments, and leathern trappings meant solely for our diversion and delight. Intellectually deep it is not, but the book remains well worth reading for those interested in the beginnings of science fiction.

Protagonist John Carter, according to Burroughs' purportedly serious Foreword introducing the "strange manuscript" left to him by this "Uncle Jack," is "a splendid specimen of manhood, standing a good two inches over six feet, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with the carriage of a well-trained fighting man," and possessed of "manners [that] were perfect, and...[the] courtliness...of a typical southern gentleman of the highest type" (1981 Del Rey paperback, page 5). Such characterization is not of the modern taste, nor is the too-easy mention that prior to the Civil War--for the manuscript does not come to the fictionalized Burroughs until 1886--the family's "slaves fairly worshipped the ground he trod" (page 5), nor is the really weird idea that Martian science makes miraculous use of a "ninth ray" beyond the seven "rays" of the red-orange-yellow-blue-green-indigo-violet spectrum we know (page 112), nor always is the pulp-era narrative style and stagily declamatory character speeches that predate even the first issue of Amazing Stories by over a dozen years. And yet still...

Still, this is Barsoom. This is Book I of the eleven-book saga. This is the literary face that launched a thousand rocketships, and burnt the topless towers of sword-and-planet Ilium. When Captain John Carter of Virginia during his postwar prospecting for gold in Arizona swoons from strange fumes in the cave from which he has fled attacking Apaches and then is inexplicably "drawn with the suddenness of thought through the trackless immensity of space" to "Mars, the god of war, [which] for [him], the fighting man,...had always held the power of irresistible enchantment" (page 20), we are off on a marvelous ride. In addition to the local color, of course, there are adventures and swordfights and aerial battles and cliffhangers aplenty, all in the name of what, generally, is just and honorable. Oh, yes-- And there's a princess, too. Though naturally dated, A Princess of Mars nevertheless remains an entertaining 4-star read for anyone ready for immersion in the glories of SF of yesteryear.

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Reading Progress

May 22, 2021 – Started Reading
May 25, 2021 – Finished Reading
May 28, 2021 – Shelved

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