Friday, May 25, 2012

Review of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


I enjoyed reading the planetary romance A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, first published one hundred years ago in 1912.  I had the additional pleasure of reading the novel from the 2009 Fall River Press edition with an interesting and insightful introduction by Mike Ashley and the original, beautiful illustrations by Thomas Yeates. 

Mr. Ashley proclaims that Mr. Burroughs “revolutionized science fiction” with A Princess of Mars, and that Mr. Burroughs was the father of the planetary romance form.  He goes further, opining that Burroughs’ type of fantasy world building “would not be repeated until J.R.R. Tolkien created Middle-earth.”  I will go even further and say that the achievement of Mr. Burroughs is, at least in terms of originality, greater than that of Mr. Tolkien.  Mr. Tolkien wrote of:  the small but otherwise man-like hobbits, man-like elves, and manned-up faerie tale dwarves, as well as trolls, goblins, and wraiths--all original twists on things familiar.  Mr. Burroughs gives us:  the six-limbed green Martians, the egg-laying humanoid red Martians, and the eight-limbed beasts of Mars.  Even further, Mr. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is different from the actual planet earth, but he could take for granted the flora, fauna, atmosphere, and physics of his world; Mr. Burroughs had to invent everything about Mars from scratch. 

Of course, as when today’s reader enjoys the works of Jules Verne, it is interesting to note, with our knowledge of the actual outcome of what to the author was the future, the things the author predicted correctly and, perhaps more so, the things that the author did not.  As Mr. Ashley points out, in 1912, it was widely believed that Mars could sustain life.  Sadly, our robot probes have proven this assumption to be incorrect--there are not, nor were there likely ever, any intelligent beings or indeed any animal or plant life on Mars--no Tharks, no ruined cities, no red men of Helium, no canals flowing with water and tall trees reaching into the crimson sky.  I must say that I cringed when Mr. Burroughs’ John Carter remarked casually that the mountains of Mars are not tall and that the winds of Mars rarely blow and are gentle when they do.  However, I found it easy to overlook these blunders, as the other aspects of this fictional Mars were so compelling.  If you want “real,” read Kim Stanley Robinson. 
About the only cause for disappointment in A Princess of Mars is its length.  At about 150 pages, it is a short novel by today’s standards; perhaps this is why this particular bound edition also contains the sequels The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, both of which I anticipate reading with further pleasure. 

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