Premise: Captain John Carter is a Civil War veteran, and when his friend comes across a band of Indians the friend is killed. John Carter goes right into the middle of the Indian camp to find his friend, then heads into the hills to escape death. In the ensuing chase, John Carter enters a mysterious cave where he falls unconscious and he is transported to Mars.
On the Red Planet, or Barsoom as the locals call it, he encounters a savage green alien race and quickly becomes respected among them. Though he resembles the red men, he has incredible physical abilities that set him apart from all others on the planet. Because of a lower gravity and his muscles attuned to the pull of the Earth, he can leap great distances and has much greater strength than those around him. With these abilities he gains respect, but when he meets Dejah Thoris, princess of the red men of Helium, he immediately falls in love.
For the love of the princess, John Carter is willing to traverse a savage land, face strange creatures, and throw himself into battle against men, both red and green, in order to save her. It takes traveling to a planet millions of miles away for John Carter to find friendship and love, but it very well may cost him his life.
Themes: A Princess of Mars really is a love story. After spending most of his life without love, or any real close relationships at all, John Carter finds his love on another planet. It is for this love that he is willing to do anything and give everything, including his life.
Appearances are not what they seem on Barsoom. One cannot judge someone for being green or red, male or female, or even between creatures of varying size and ferocity. We discover that those coming from different tribes, or even within the same tribe, must be judged as individuals and not by the reputation or past of the entire group or race.
A Princess of Mars is also an adventure about sacrifice and loyalty. John Carter fights for himself and for his goal of protecting the princess and fighting for her love, but he also fights for friendship and the common good of all creatures on the planet. He must discern his allegiances within and between battling factions and the different races on Barsoom.
Pros: There is much swashbuckling adventure and excitement in A Princess of Mars. We also find chivalry that is difficult to find in today’s fiction. A Princess of Mars has an optimistic view of the world and sees the goodness in people. Burroughs’ writing is full of action and the pacing is great, even when it glosses over details at times. With a cliffhanger ending, it still felt complete and just the right length.
Cons: There are a few instances where things just so happen to move the plot along in favor of John Carter. Call it deus ex machina or coincidence, but at these points it seemed almost lazy on the part of Burroughs, though it did help the quickened pacing when used. It may be the time when A Princess of Mars was written, but it is thoroughly sexist. Even the savage green Martian women are considered fairer and weaker. For example, where perhaps a few of the green men could probably have dispatched an entire pack of wild dogs, a dozen females armed with daggers fare much worse.
Recommendations: With its quaint look at interplanetary travel and alien worlds, the ideas in A Princess of Mars are still grandiose and forward-thinking. Burroughs was well ahead of his time when he wrote the Barsoom series, perhaps if not in scientific terms, then in human nature and fantastical storytelling in general. His inspiration for other stories in the genre to follow make A Princess of Mars a groundbreaking work of fantasy and science fiction. This is a must read for fans of the genre.
Disney’s Edgar Rice Burroughs website
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Buy John Carter of Mars: The Collection (first 5 books in the series)
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