A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars
By Edgar Rice Burroughs

So, for graduation I received a Nook. I pondered the countless possibilities for reading. Usually it’s difficult for me to choose what to read when I’m having a decisive day; now I was faced with an infinite array of books in a new format. I finally settled on a classic that I had never before read: The first of the John Carter books, A Princess of Mars.

John Carter is a Civil War hero out prospecting for gold when he finds himself on Mars. I find it a sign of a different writing style that his transportation is never explicitly given; I can’t imagine a story today functioning that way. Yet, he finds himself on Mars, and the adventure goes forward!

Carter mixes it up with four-armed green savages, great white apes, the red men of Mars, and is nearly assassinated at the atmosphere factory. He also falls in love with the titular princess of Mars. Unsurprisingly, she falls in love with him as well. Who could resist a hero that would put John Wayne and Chuck Norris combined to shame?

Carter is very much a “standard” hero; he’s strong, good-looking, decisive, and generally of good morals (as long as you don’t mind him killing bad guys). Yet, he’s not the star, though he’s the main character.

No, the world is the star.

Burroughs built a world that invites the reader to discover Mars in all its glory. We travel with Carter as a prisoner and yet chief among the green men of Mars. We learn their rituals and their culture as he does. We connect the dots in the ecology of Mars. We learn of international diplomacy. There’s so much that Burroughs packs into this novel that I’m surprised it isn’t a great deal longer.

At first, I thought that this story, in the end, would present a series of events connected only by Carter and his love for the princess. He goes out among the green men of Mars, get involved with a war between various factions of the red men, and on and on. Yet, by the conclusion of the novel, Burroughs ties it all together rather in a climactic series of battles, bringing every plotline to a satisfying finish.

I am slightly amused by the prose style. The opening of the novel includes rich descriptions of the various characters and species, and nearly every battle has a play-by-play description as Carter faces off against various enemies. Yet, approaching the conclusion of the novel, each confrontation gets less and less page space, until a climactic battle facing off between Carter’s ally and one of the major antagonists is finished in the space of a sentence. It’s almost as if Burroughs said to himself, “They already know who’s going to win and we’re just waiting to see how it all ties together, so let’s get this out of the way and move on.” Now, while I thought it was odd to finish off a major adversary in the way Burroughs did, it certainly fit in to the larger flow of the story, so I don’t mark this as a bad thing, simply odd.

If you’re looking for a fun adventure and don’t mind leaving modern story-telling devices behind, pick up this novel. You’ll find it cheap or free, since it’s public domain, and it’s well worth the read.

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2 thoughts on “A Princess of Mars

  1. Much of Burroughs work was done for the ‘pulps’. As such there is always a limit to the number of words–my guess is that he ran out of room! His writing always drew me in–he’s a good story teller (when he wrote originally and now). There is a reason there is a new comic book series retelling this tale and about 5 months ago a Syfy Sat. night movie that was actually well done. Try Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (one of my old favorites).

    1. I need to read more Burroughs; I believe this is the first time I’ve actually read his work. Your explanation of the quick ending does make a lot of sense, though! I suspect I’ll read more Mars before I move on to any of his other works, though.

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