Review of A Princess of Mars By Edgar Rice Burroughs


Let's get the summary of the story out of the way:


John Carter, a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War, goes prospecting in Arizona after the war's end. Finding gold, he and a friend end up having to escape from Apache Indians. Evading pursuit by hiding in a sacred cave, he is mysteriously transported to Mars, called "Barsoom" by its inhabitants. On Barsoom he finds that he has great strength and superhuman agility as a result of its lesser gravity. He soon falls in with a nomadic tribe of Green Martians, called Tharks, who are the planet's most warlike people. They, liek quite a few animals on Barsoom have six-limbs and they are green-skinned. In fact, nearly all the inhabitants of Barsoom are fierce, wild and war-like as one reads on in the series (I am reading Gods of Mars now), some more than others. Thanks to his strength and military prowess, Carter rises to a high position in the tribe eventually as a chieftain and earns the respect and eventually the friendship of Tars Tarkas, one of the Thark chiefs.

The Tharks capture Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, a member of the humanoid red Barsoomian race. The red Barsoomians, or Martians inhabit a network of city-states and control the desert planet's canals, where its agriculture and most of its water is located. Carter rescues Dejah Thoris from the tharks to return her to her people.

Carter becomes embroiled in the political affairs of both the red and green Martians in his efforts to keep the princess safe, eventually leading a horde of Tharks against the city-state of Zodanga, the enemy city-state of Helium. He eventually becomes Prince of Helium, and the two live happily together for nine years. However, the sudden breakdown of the Atmosphere Plant that sustains the planet's atmosphere endangers all life on Barsoom. In a desperate attempt to save the planet's inhabitants, Carter uses a secret telepathic code to enter the factory, bringing an engineer along who can restore its functionality. He falls into a coma from asphyxiation, only to awaken back on Earth, left to wonder what has become of Barsoom and his wife the princess.

There's, of course, a lot more to it but that is the gist of the story. I had no idea what to expect from the story. I'd read how influential Burroughs's writing has been for early science fiction writers and even modern writers in the genre. Shamefully, though I have always called myself a writer of speculative fiction, until this month I had never read Edgar Rice Burroughs or any of the other early, classic science fiction authors. I aim to correct that this year.

The exoticism, the adventure and the strangeness and the larger than life characters brought me back to younger days. A Princess of Mars reminded me of  a wilder, more savage Star Wars. I saw The Empire Strikes Back first because I was too young to see Star Wars when it came out way back in the day, and I remember being so blown away by it. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever experienced at that time. A Princess of Mars truly brought that feeling back and now I know why. George Lucas was also influenced by this author. It's hard to get that innocent, wistful, excited feeling from a lot of spec-fic these days. A Princess of Mars reminded me of that vastness, larger than life stakes and characters and the exoticism of locales and planets and worlds. I really enjoyed this story and I am looking forward to finishing the entire Barsoom series. As a writer I admire his battle scenes and intend to study these more carefully.

Burroughs, like Tolkien, (my favorite author) seems to have been one of the prime inspirations for early speculative fiction. I can see where he might have had some influence. Black trees on Mars? Or another world? I have that in several of my books. Water on Mars? That's in my own series I'm writing now and in others, certain races made to work and slave so that others may live in high style and luxury? (actually this is in Gods of Mars) I've seen original series Star Trek episodes that tackle this issue and also read books with such themes; stories about adventures in space and the exploration of planets, romance and adventure in stories was certainly influenced by him. Many other things that I cannot recall now. Certainly he's had an effect on me and I had never read him before. This website: The John Carter lists the many varied and deep influences his work has had on science fiction books and film and even scientists and their work.

It was one of the most thrilling and fun stories I've read in a long time. No heavy politics, no unnecessary back story and it certainly is not tomb of a book. Fast paced and witty, humorous and full of adventure it also reminded me in scope and pace of some of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. It's sort of what some would call Dying Earth science fiction except it takes place on Mars. Barsoom when John Carter enters it, is a planet nearing the end of its vital existence. The atmosphere is waning and there is very little water left on the planet. I realize that I am not a great reviewer and I tend to ramble on so I will finish by saying that I really liked the story and I am glad that I decided to go back to my roots in regard to science fiction. Mostly to fill up the well of creativity and inspiration again. After having written three fantasy tombs n a trilogy - on mars no less - I find the well running a bit dry. A Princess of Mars was an inspiration to many people over the decades and it continues to be one now, especially for little old me.