Wednesday, March 21

Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1916)

1972 SFBC edition
Art by Frank Frazetta
(and see below)
By Edgar Rice Burroughs  (The Barsoom Series #4, All-Story Weekly serial 8-22 Apr 1916, book 1920)

This fourth in the “John Carter of Mars” series actually focusses on his and Dejah Thoris's son, Carthoris, and the red Martian princess and “banth-whisperer” introduced in The Gods of Mars, Thuvia of Ptarth By the end of Warlord of Mars it was, I think, pretty apparent they were smitten with each other (or perhaps I read that into the text with foreknowledge of this book). But when we begin here, their undeclared love seems fated not to be consummated, because Thuvia's father, Thuvan Dinh, has promised her to his and John Carter's ally, Kulan Tith of Kaol. But there is another suitor, Astok, son of the Jeddak of Dusar, who is not willing to take “no” for an answer – and has a grudge against Carthoris. Thus is executed a plot whereby Astok means to steal Thuvia away and place the blame on Carthoris.

Art by Frank Frazetta
And so the adventures begin, which take Carthoris and Thuvia to a remote region of Barsoom, where they first encounter the Lotharians, a strange remnant of the old Barsoomian auburn-haired race that had once ruled much of the planet, now reduced to a few hundred who espouse a strange philosophy regarding the very nature of reality – or actually competing philosophies which share in common the ability to manifest images of and even ultimately to materialize objects and even persons from their minds. The competition is between the “Etherealists” who believe that there is no such thing as matter, only mind, and the “Realists,” who accept the existence of matter as a creation of mind. (I wonder how much this has to do with the strange doctrines of Theosophy that seem to inform certain aspects of Burroughs' fiction, especially his Barsoom series, first noticed, I believe, by Fritz Lieber way back in 1959 and discussed here). Such a distinction matters little to their enemies, local green Martian barbarians who periodically attack their city and are turned back by legions of Lotharian archers who rain on them very lethal hailstorms of arrows because they have no reason to believe they are not real. In the course of their escape, Thuvia is stolen away from Carthoris by Dusarians while the warrior ends up meeting the fulfillment of the Lotharians' mental development in Kar Komak, a memory of the greatest archer of ancient Lothar, who has indeed taken on independent material existence. Carthoris and Kar Komak become allies and by the end of the book have rescued Thuvia from death at the hands of Astok – or rather at the hands of one of the Dusarian nobles because Astok is not man enough to do his own evil deed to hide the infamy of his actions that have set the great city-states of Barsoom at war with one another.

Art by Frank Frazetta
In the climax of the story, as they escape Dusar toward Ptarth in Astok's own racing airship, they come to the aid of a downed Kaolian airship besieged by green Martians, saving Kulan Tith himself. Overwhelming numbers of Lotharian bowmen pour from the small airship – many times over more than it could possibly hold – and rout the attacking green men in an unforgettable sequence that is followed by Kulan Tith's realization that Thuvia's heart truly belongs to Carthoris.

'Take back your liberty, Thuvia of Ptarth,' he cried, 'and bestow it where your heart already lies encchained, and when the golden collars are clasped about your necks you will see that Kulan Tith's is the first sword to be raised in declaration of eternal friendship for the new Princess of Helium and her royal mate!'” (1972 SFBC ed., p. 124)

Such is the nobility of the best of the red Martian warriors.

1973 Ballantine Books ed.
Art by Gino d'Achille
Like the entire series, this is at least the third time I've read this novel. The first was in the early 1970s in the Ballantine Books paperback editions with the beautiful covers by Gino d'Achille. In my memory, this was indeed one of my favorite of those covers. The second was a few years later when I acquired the series as a six-volume hardcover set from the Science Fiction Book Club – which I still prize for the powerful covers and interior art by Frank Frazetta (well, except for the sixth volume, by Richard Corben, I believe – and although I know he's considered a great artist that volume must not be representative). The basic production quality of SFBC books of that era may have been inferior, but I would not trade the vision of Barsoom presented by Frazetta for anything. Between the two of them, d'Achille and Frazetta formed the mental image of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars that I will likely carry to my grave. Nevertheless, my current reading has been predominantly in ebook form, the free Kindle format available from Project Gutenberg. I find the convenience of carrying a library with my on my iPod Touch mostly overwhelms even the sensation of holding a real book in my hands and turning real pages. I don't think that ebooks will ever completely replace physical books, but in just a couple of years I have gone from a conviction that ebooks would never be for me to doing a large part of my reading on my iPod Touch – as in this case, even if I have the physical book I will often grab a free or inexpensive ebook format simply for the convenience of always having it handy. (It's great for doing quick word searches as well.)

Full Painting by Frank Frazetta
As to the story told here, although some of the later tales in the series I remember less fondly, as far as I'm concerned Thuvia is right up there with the opening trilogy as a rousing tale of adventure and romance. I am struck by how the real age difference obviously meant little or nothing to Burroughs' Martians who hatched from their eggs presumably somewhere near fully grown and aged little over their typical life-span of a thousand years. It's unclear how much time has passed since Warlord of Mars; Carthoris would seem to me to have still been somewhere shy of twenty Earth years in age. Thuvia had, for an unspecified reason, taken the pilgrimage down the River Iss fifteen years before John Carter first appeared on Barsoom, therefore if I'm counting it right somewhere on the order of thirty-five years prior to Gods of Mars where she is introduced, having spent all that time in slavery to the Therns. Presumably she was not newly hatched when she took that ill-fated pilgrimage. It's impossible from Burroughs' own writings to know how old she really is, but the Dynamite comic series Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris introduces her as a youthful princess in Ptarth four hundred years in the past. Admittedly that's not canon, but in Dynamite's main series, Warlord of Mars, Thuvia has now made her appearance in their adaptation of Gods of Mars, so in that version of the stories there is a considerable age difference. But what does that matter when the “older woman” is all-but-eternally young and beautiful?

Kaor! – and thanks for reading!

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