A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I recall this book as being one of the most read books on my shelf, when I was a teen. Since then I’ve gotten it out every few years to further enjoy it. I've never really sat down to try to understand what it was that I like so much about the book ,or for that matter the whole series of books; so here I am again reading it just to see if I can uncover its secret and ultimately to enjoy it once more.
I have to say that reading Edgar Rice Burroughs is simply something I do for the pleasure of the read. The writing is simple and engaging and the main characters are always the chivalrous gentlemen and though there are some elements of the female characters that display strength; they generally are treated as secondary characters that must be protected by the main character.
These novels are written in that style of writing from way back when there had to be some new peril waiting for the hero: just around the corner. And truthfully that hasn't changed much. Told from an engaging first person point of view A Princess of Mars tells the story of a Virginian gentleman who, after serving in wartime, has tried to make his fortune looking for gold. This story takes place back in the old west in a time when there are still savages about; and when some of those overtake his partner, he comes too late to the rescue but has to do the honorable thing and retrieve his friends body and this leads to his discovery of a cave that contains some mystery.
It's this mystery that transfers him from Earth to Mars where there are fighting men, men of honor, mad men and all types of beasts but most of all there is the one woman in the universe that John Carter might fall in love with; almost at first sight.
The story starts with a prologue that might not work well in today’s market,; though I only say that because you don't see them like this these days. It does serve its purpose even if it starts a bit slow; in that it builds up a sense of mystery about this man John or Jack Carter. He’s a solitary brooding sort. A man: who, in some time past, was known to enjoy the playful company of children and had a playful spirit of his own.
And so one has to wonder at the story of what has changed him so.
The meat of the story is an engaging tale that John tells of his adventures in prospecting that led to his greatest adventure of all and to a place that would forever be stamped upon his heart as his home. John is constantly trying to paint himself as a normal man; yet throughout even the episode of the capture and death of his partner in mining, the reader gets the building impression of a man who doesn't turn from danger when there are other obligations. Regardless of his own admission to usually have the common sense to avoid danger when there is nothing at stake; we always see him as a man of action and honor. These are two things that he will need for his future.
In a way the world of Mars or Barsoom was made for a man like him. He arrives amongst the Tharks and though he is clearly not a red man of mars he otherwise looks like them and the Tharks take him prisoner. In the odd culture they have, though he's a prisoner, his ability to act is not so limited and this will be to his benefit later when the red Barsoomian Princess Dejah Thoris is taken prisoner and he comes to her defense without thought about consequences. But all of this is part of the world building as we will see since John must move up in rank while a prisoner of the Tharks, so that he may earn the respect of Sola, his keeper, and the cheiftain Tars Tarkas, one of the Tharks who captured him. Ultimately these twoTharks are destined to be his friends.
One qualm I might have with the story is the love at first sight between John and Dejah. Well maybe when I was a teen I might have accepted this as a given. But it moves the story along because the primary goal for John is to keep his beloved safe from all the peril around them. The love story does not go without several hitches, often caused by a lack of understanding of customs among the Martian peoples. But even as he blunders through those, John continues to make friends of even some who might be enemies of his friends and this is important to the story because he will use all of this to bring those close to him together in a diplomatic way that might never have occurred without his presence.
At every turn there is more peril and more to push a distance between him and the one he loves while sending him on further adventures that will ultimately lead to his final settlement of everything. Throughout all of this, despite what he does achieve, he makes it clear that his goal has been somewhat selfish, in that it is all designed to break down all barriers that might keep him and Dejah Thoris apart.
Yet in a certain form of creative irony the story moves forward best when Edgar Rice Burroughs thinks of the worst perils and stumbling blocks to place in Johns way, as he goes through the story, and though there are the quiet periods those are always punctuated by bursts of the fervent activity of fighting an uphill battle just to be together. And that is what happens for the first several novels in this series. One comes to feel great empathy for these two lovers and their plight to have a life together.
Overall this still is mostly a novel I read for the entertainment and that is helpful since the science has never been quite the king from the very start. Though there are some interesting concepts; such as the anti-gravity that keep the massive ships floating in air and the notion of a dying Mars whose atmosphere is being produced by a chemical and mechanical apparatus that is subject easily to any form of vandalism or catastrophe, leaving all the races to a slow death through hypoxia.
A Dystopic Dying Earth type of tale that is lightly veiled in a Science Fiction Fantasy adventure that is contemporary to many other such marvelous tales.
A recommended reading both for the pleasure and some nostalgic value with a slight window once again into the thoughts and attitudes of the early 1900s.
Another Classic SFF from one of my all time favorites.
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