Friday, January 13, 2012
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
In honor of the fact that I saw the trailer for the new movie, John Carter, the other night, I bring you a true golden oldie, in this first book of the Barsoom series by Burroughs. This story was first serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1912, and later published under its current title. Burroughs begins the tale with a type of preface which seems to have been a stock gimmick in those days, claiming that he received a manuscript in a secretive fashion after the passing of John Carter from this world, containing the story. I wonder if Joseph Smith read the pulps, it might explain a lot.
John Carter is a protagonist who claims to have no recollection of his antecedents, remembering only having been a soldier for many years, most recently fighting in the Civil War. After the defeat of the Confederacy, he and a fellow combatant head for Arizona to prospect for gold. They discover a large lode, but when his buddy heads back to town to file the claim, he is ambushed by Indians, and Carter's attempt to rescue him ends with Carter fleeing for his life, taking refuge in a cave, where he is somehow mysteriously (astral projection, anyone?) transported to the surface of Mars.
He is captured by a tribe of four-armed green barbarians, but manages to improve his status when he fells one of the warriors with one blow, so is awarded provisional status as a member of the tribe. The green martians have just made the pilgrimage to one of their egg incubation sites, where they claim their young after a five year interval, and so Carter is fortunately able to learn the language with the young martians, as well as study the martial arts, being cared for by a member of the entourage of one of their chieftains, Tars Tarkas.
The green martians are beings without the finer sentiments of love, affection, kindness or compassion, but Carter is able to impress them by his skills in winning the loyalty of the traditional riding beasts, the thoats, and of the beast set to guard him, a toad-like dog analogue, Woola, with his affectionate treatment of the animals.
The tribes have long been at war with other tribes of green martians, as well as the other races of Mars, including the red martians, who are more civilized, and who guard the ancient technologies of Barsoom, preserved from a time before the seas of Mars dried up. When the daughter of the ruler of the largest group of red martians, Dejah Thoris, from the city of Helium, is captured by the green tribes, Carter is smitten by her beauty, and becomes her protector against the cruelty of the green men.
I had no idea the sentiment had been around for so long, but Burroughs, in an early passage, says: "In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people; they have no lawyers."
In his attempt to help Dejah escape the clutches of her captors, and traverse the harsh Barsoomian lands to return to her people, Carter has many wild adventures, however improbable. A true classic.