Wednesday, August 31

The Gods of Mars (The Barsoom Series #2, 1913 serial, 1918 book)

Art by Frank Frazetta
By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Picking up the Dynamite Warlord of Mars comic book series inspired me to take back up with the original prose series. I read them all many years ago, at least twice that I know of. First in the Ballantine paperbacks with the Gino d'Achille covers, then in the Science Fiction Book Club edition of the 1970s with the great Frank Frazetta covers and interior art – which is the very copy I'm reading now, the second volume in that edition, containing both the first and second stories, a copy I acquired (according to my note on the inside front cover) on 6 September 1977. I had actually started rereading the series early last year, 2010, with the first story, A Princess of Mars, via the Kindle app on my iPod Touch, but finished it about the time we headed off for a family vacation/historical tour of England and Scotland (June 2010) which meant I was wanting to read something more British – so I set The Gods of Mars aside at that time after only a chapter or so in favor of Sherlock Holmes stories during those few times I had a little while to actually read during that very busy couple of weeks. So a couple of weeks ago I picked Gods up again.

Art by Gino d'Achille
There are so many places you can find good synopses, reviews, and the like for this monumental and foundational series of “planetary romance” (so I've seen the genre called) that I'm not going to go into a lot of detail. Wikipedia gives a pretty good overview. Basically, in this story Burroughs' fictional persona and framing narrator discovers that his “granduncle” John Carter, believed dead for the last dozen years, had instead been back adventuring on the red planet, discovering that the strange religion of the Martian or “Barsoomian” peoples was based on a great lie from which he himself manages to escape – discovering his son Carthoris along the way. But John Carter then discovers that his princess, Dejah Thoris, after ten years of grief for her vanished prince, had herself fallen captive in the hellish Barsoomian “paradise,” and he leads a coalition of the red and green Martians to rescue her and expose the great deception for all to see. However, in the end John Carter and Dejah Thoris are reunited for only moments before treachery rips her from him, consigning her to a prison which is only accessible on one day per Barsoomian year. His last glimpse is of a fellow prisoner, madly jealous for “love” of John Carter, plunging a dagger toward the breast of Dejah Thoris, while a third prisoner, who no less loves John Carter but recognises that his heart beats only for his princess, makes to cast herself between the attacker and her victim. As the chamber closes, John Carter hears a scream, and must wonder in whose fair bosom the dagger had found its mark.

Interior art by Frank Frazetta
What a cliffhanger! This story and the next, Warlord of Mars, are the two most integrally connected of the Barsoom novels, essentially continuing right one from the other. 34 years since my last reading, I remember very few details of the story, only the broad strokes, and am consequently enjoying it all anew. Among other things, I had forgotten that Thuvia, Maid of Mars (the title and central character of the fourth novel in the series) had actually made her first appearance in this story.

Scanning the IMDB entry for the upcoming John Carter movie reveals that other characters who only make their appearance in this second novel (e.g. Matai Shang) are part of the cast of characters. I guess that movie is incorporating characters and story elements from more than just A Princess of Mars. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It seems to me that that novel alone has plenty of material for an epic film, which could be the beginning of a great series of films. I hope they don't try to cram too much in and end up with a confused mess. This is of course, a movie I will approach with my usual cautious, hopeful hesitance. Never underestimate Hollywood's ability to screw up a great story – which seems to happen all too often in this kind of adaptation.

Like the story, I'll be proceeding directly into Warlord of Mars.



  1. These stories are great! My oldest son doesn't enjoy reading very much, so I introduced him to John Carter in Princes of Mars and we read it together. Now, we're doing the same with Gods of Mars.

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  3. Yes, they are. I tried to encourage my son to be a reader by introducing him to Burroughs through Tarzan of the Apes. He liked that well enough but lost interest in Return of Tarzan. Thanks for stopping by. By the way, I'm also a "New Catholic" - relatively speaking - in my case having converted 25 years ago I've now spent just over half my life in the true Faith. Cheers!
    [This replaces my earlier comment which gave away a gift idea I've got for someone whom I'd forgot knows about this blog! I thought I could just edit, but unfortunately not....]

  4. I can't find your e-mail address anywhere so I'll shoot this as a comment:

    You might appreciate this link for the digitized collection of Catholic comics "Treasure Chest of Fun and Facts." Check it out.

  5. Thanks - that's interesting. BTW, I've added my email link to the profile page.