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Book Reviews A Princess of Mars

Published on May 1st, 2015 | by Michaela Buckley


A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs

When I first watched Dune, I turned it off after 20 minutes.

I had heard that it was rubbish from the internet, but it didn’t put me off reading the novel, I had watched the series when it came off and passed off my reaction to the film as a result of Lynch hitting a bad one. But after reading the novel, I went back to the film and decided it was actually amazing. It’s a faithful adaptation for the most part so why wasn’t it well received? For someone who has read the book, the film is a pretty recap of the book, but for most people it’s a slurryfest of confusion and banality.
Now, over 20 years later, John Carter hits our screens and I can say that basically the same thing is repeating itself.

On first glance, Princess of Mars is a simple pulpy book that shouldn’t warrant little more than passing attention, however upon reading it, I found it more like the seminal books of old from the likes of H.G. Wells and Verne.
The film, once again, portrays an accurate and representative version of the Barloom (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ in-verse name for Mars) we love, but without the context and more importantly the time to sink into the characters and world we’re introduced to, this goes horribly wrong. John Carter came out as a bit of a mess, a perfectly watchable mess, but one nonetheless. People aren’t willing to sit through something which takes too long to get into, nor do they want to be introduced to any cheesy style of sci-fi unless it has a tag of the independent about it. Disney is too mass market to get the demographic that matters when it comes to this old-style sci-fi.

Following John Carter, what can be considered a Confederate dream, he fought on their side during the war and later became a gold prospector, he appears to be naturally heroic and often imposes his worldview on others, similar to most other fiction of the era, albeit with a distinctly American voice. The adventures that follow Carter’s appearance on the planet Barsoom, are based on his interference with the planet’s ongoing war between the Red and Green Martians, the Reds of which resemble humans.

Princess of Mars cover

John Carter ends up spending time with both races, during which time he becomes more related with the Red Martians, particularly Dejah Thoris, whom he saves from the Green Martians, he soon finds out that, quite prophetically, she is a princess and has significant political import to both races. I like to think that a random alien has a high chance of meeting the Queen when she is out for a midnight adventure in London, because god knows how dull and short a story about meeting most Londoners would be.

Politics is something welcomed but little expected in a book of this age, the understanding of the culture not only plays a part in Carter’s acceptance by both races, but the dominance of the leaders rely upon having him in their midst.
The inevitable quest to save the princess from being forcefully married to an evil leader of an opposing faction of the Red Martian creates the invigorating climax to the novel, Carter uses his knowledge of the people to win and the novel ends with his return to earth under as dubious means as when he reached Mars.

Although not quite as timeless as its predecessors in science-fiction like The War of the Worlds, it has been more influential in the realm of television and cinema than any other sci-fi out there, building a framework for action adventure and also being the main book in most of the golden age writers libraries. Perhaps better enjoyed as a child (oviparous humans is rather disconcerting as an adult female), the novel was uncommonly enjoyable, intriguing and exceeded expectations, although I am not terribly eager to read the sequels any time soon.

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