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Review: 100th Anniversary of John Carter, a Princess of Mars, and Barsoom

Updated on May 16, 2013
Cover art by Frank E. Schoonover from A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, McClurg, 1917.
Cover art by Frank E. Schoonover from A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, McClurg, 1917. | Source

John Carter Fan-Made Trailer

The Purpose of Barsoom

Most well known for his Tarzan series of novels and the movies, animation, and television series that followed from them, Edgar Rice Burroughs was also a science fiction author at the beginning of the 20th century. He not only offered futurist technology and transportation into other dimensions and time travel, but also offered the challenge of discarding racial stereotypes and other prejudices.

Not only are his novels entertaining reading that can engage teenagers and help to raise levels of reading ability in vocabulary introduction, comprehension, and abstract thinking, but also can instruct youth in the long history of racial prejudice and strife and the fact that it need not continue. Burroughs offers not only a scientific future, but also a possible harmonious future among the races of the Universe, let alone on the Earth.

A Princess of Mars is the first of the Barsoom series, published orignally in 1912 and offered free online at Project Gutenberg as well.

Books Into Movies - How Good Is This One?

4 stars for John Carter Of Mars

Diversity in Science Fition Literature

The novels Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about Mars, or Barsoom, as the locals called it, demonstrates a certain tolerance by placing the protagonist John Carter among Martian races that represent Earth's whites (giant apes), Native Americans, African Americans, and Asians. The books seem to be the pre-Star Trek® bid for racial equality and acceptance of diversity (this, despite the fact that African American Nichelle Nichols was the only regular cast member that worked without a contract.).

The Barsoomians that Carter first encounters, are indeed green as much Earth folklore predicted, but very tall, with two torsos stacked on on top of the other and four arms. The better for fighting with multiple weapons.

A Princess of Mars is the story of Virginian and former Confederate Captain John Carter, He is transported through the supernatural into another dimension and onto the Red Planet. He falls in love with the Princess, who is of a race that looks like his own, but all suffers conflicts with the different races he discovers on Barsroom. These include the Red Men, the two-torsoed Green Men (Tharks), and the White Apes (Therns). He seems to get on with them all and introduces the author's readers to the idea of racial tolerance way back in 1912, just 50 some years after the American Civil War. Blacks and Women were not even voting yet at the time and circa 1912, Charles Darwins' works and the King James translation of the Bible were vigorously applied toward the end of preserving the status quo of that injustice. Burroughs meant to defeat that injustice in his literature.

Green Men of Mars - Computer Game

Racial Liberation

Edgar Rice Burroughs presents the Pirates of Barsoom as representative of a race of Black Supremacists having super-powers. The author does not diminish them to fearful slaves, but raises them to the level of dominant, handsome warriors that raid the Therns and kidnap the females.

The tribe or nation's Goddess Issus is also black, which was shocking for the period of 1912. American racial attitudes of the early 20th century were definitively White Supremacist and WASP (white Anglo-Saxon protestant) in nature, but Barsoom held forth strong, justified races of different colors and ethic origins.

It is interesting that John "Uncle Jack" Carter is chased and cornered in an old Arizona gold mine by Native Americans, has an out of body experience in which travels on the currents of the cosmos to Mars and is able to get along with the Red Men there. it is also fascinating that Jack Carter has always been a man of 30 or older and had no childhood. He speaks someone stereotypically of other races on Earth but learns to befriend them elsewhere and this may be owing to a lack of childhood indoctrination with prejudice. Perhaps that picked up in the Civil War could be easily shaken.

As Jack Carter is somehow suddenly transported into the gold mine once more after several years, he awakens in a sad state of having riches all around him but no Dejah Thorus. He longs to return to Mars and to her. All of this is likely a statement against capitalism gone to the extreme, Western Industrialism hitting a shrieking high note in America and England the the early part of the 20th century, with stress related illness and family breakdown increasing geomtrically in  proportion to the increase in wealth in the results. 

Illustration Montage - A Princess of Mars

Ed Burroughs of the Solar System

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) had a vivid, forward-looking ikmagination. He also lived halfway into the 20th century, but not long enough to witness Sputnik and the start of US Space Program. He could have written unlimited volumes about all of that as Earth began its real outreach past its own atmosphere with manned gondolas such as automotive battery-operated Stargazer.

As a writer, he began his career late, at the age of 37 with A Princess of Mars. He created not only John Carter of Mars, but also Carson Napier of Venus, David Innes & Abner Perry on Pellucidar at the core of the Earth center and Tarzan of the Apes, who many people still know as Olympic swimming gold medalist Johnny Wiessmuller.

It may not be the best of his Mars series of 11 books, but I like it and I've put Princess on the same shelf with the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis. Many readers are entranced wihthe Princess's name - Dejah Thorus. It rolls off the tongue and sounds much better than the movie serial Space Patrol's Tonga - African sounding but pinned on a white woman.  I think "Tonga" as a name belonged more in Johnny Weissmuller's other series, Jungle Jim.

1940s Animation from Bob Clampett (Bugs Bunny / Beany & Cecil)

Martian Futures

A Princess of Mars and the Mars Series influenced two of my other favorite authors - Robert Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Spaceship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land) and Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451).

In 2012, the "last year of the world" reported by many calendars interpreted erroneously, A Princess of Mars was finally released as a full-length feature film. Renamed John Carter of Mars, it has given rise to several fan sites and talks of possible sequels.

One of the earliest spacesuits imagined,1898, in the adventure book "Edison's Conquest of Mars" by Garrett P. Serviss.
One of the earliest spacesuits imagined,1898, in the adventure book "Edison's Conquest of Mars" by Garrett P. Serviss. | Source


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Yes! There are some fantastically good books from long ago that no one today knows.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      5 years ago from The High Seas

      Love the books, love the Frank Frazetta art, love the comic books (read them as a kid), love it all. I wish more people had read these.

    • wtaylorjr2001 profile image

      William H Taylor 

      6 years ago from Binghamton NY

      This is a powerful hub. Your ideas about the possible influence of the society of that time rings true to me. Media is both a reflection of and an influence on the society in which it exists. The Christian church ruled most of the medieval period, and one factor in accomplishing this was through the control of media. The only real opposition was the moors. This was repeated, though for evil purposes, with Hitler's use of propaganda in the Third Reich. Burroughs, with his introduction of, what I believe to be, ideas of modernism helped solidify the flow of the society towards a modernistic future. Once again thank you for a great post. I hope it's ok if I link to it.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I wrote a Hub about Superman in just such an aspect of the Christ story a while back. Makes sense. Thanks!

    • MickeySr profile image


      6 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

      Patty ~ if we're talking strictly physical abilities, Superman is (eventually) original - I don't think any fictional character before Superman had such an abundant collection of powers. But as literature, I think Hercules as confronted with tasks only his strength could accomplish, Moses being raised by foster parents to rescue a people from harm, Jesus coming to this planet as a savior, and yes, even Zorro adopting a meek persona to conceal his true heroic identity, and other tales and heroes, were all in the background of the eventual appearance of Superman.

      My oldest son, Mickey Jr, has written a good deal about storytelling, Superman in particular, and the Christ-like imagery and parallels of this visitor to Earth who left his father to be raised as the son of another and grow-up to rescue us from danger.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I see the Scarlet Pimpernel predates John Carter by 7 years, since pub. date I found is 1905. Doc Savage - 1933 - maybe an influence, but did he leap tall buildings?- His Fortress of Solitude must be an influence, however; that seems clear. I don't know about Zorro - secret identity, yes, tho; pub. 1919 I think.

      Did any of the classic Greek and Roman gods or goddesses leap about to heights? - I can't recall. I must be leaping-obsessed.

    • MickeySr profile image


      6 years ago from Hershey, Pa.


      Certainly much, from Hercules to Moses, can be traceable as influential in the development of the Superman character, including Burroughs' John Carter of Mars stories - however many 'experts' I think would point to Doc Savage & Zorro as the most immediately influential sources. 'Doc', or, Clark Savage, the "Man of Bronze" had no super-powers but did have his own Arctic 'Fortress of Solitude'. And, while The Scarlet Pimpernel I believe was the original fictional character to use a timid alter-ego persona to protect his anonymity, I think Zorro was a good bit more in America's early 20th century cultural sensibility.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Well, is IS science fiction and it is over the top in places, but it's fun. Carter has Superman's powers before Superman ever appeared in a comic book, so maybe Carter was the role model for Superman back in 2012.

    • gabrielthomas72 profile image


      6 years ago from Shrewsbury, England

      I've just completed reading Princess Of Mars, as I wanted to have a comparision ready for when I go and see the film. This is going to sound strange, but there are parts of the story, that seem 'far fetched'. There are sections of the story that seem to have Carter being immortal! And he seems to be able to evade thousands of Tharks even when he is the centre of their attention! I loved the premiss of the story and wanted the fantastical, but it was OTT in places for me.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I attended a press screening of the 2012 film "John Carter" this evening - it opens March 9. Filmed in UK and the Utah national parks, the 3-D film is incredible and I like it better than many of the Star Wars saga installments. It should be an Oscar contender.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Don't miss the new film to be released soon: John Carter in early March 2012.

    • visionandfocus profile image


      7 years ago from North York, Canada

      What a fascinating novel by one of the giants of SF. And that's an awesome vid! I will have to get hold of a copy of the book even though it's probably out of print. Wish me luck! And thanks for a great write-up. Voted up!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I read the Tarzan series in middle and high school, but not Barsoom until I was an adult. Didn;t know they existed before that. I wish I had all of them, myself.

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 

      10 years ago from Canada

      I loved ERB also. I had all the books and now my brother has them, lol. I also like Frank Herberts *Dune* series.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Hi Shadesbreath, Brainy Fan! - Frank Frazetta also did llustrations for the Barsoom series of novels (and a calendar series, I think), but I see a lot of Boris Vallejo's work on the covers of fututist paperbacks when I visit vintage book shops. That 1940's footage is amazing, isn't it? I had not previously known of it. Too bad the animated film was not done at that time -- Clampett was an expert in producing that media, but then Bugs & Daffy were always my favorites.

      FoursX2 - Thanks for reading! I did read Tarzan as a youth, but Barsoom only as an adult and I'm going to read all of Burroughs again.

    • FoursX2 profile image


      10 years ago from Laguna Niguel, CA

      Edgar Rice Burroughs was my all time childhood favorite. Great hubpage!

    • Shadesbreath profile image


      10 years ago from California

      Wow, way to resurrect an old memory. I think I read that series in eighth grade. They are so good even just as great stories, and they were so formative for me personally. That video clip of the illustrations montage is great, and many of them seem to evoke Boris Vallejo who I know worked in the 60s and 70s, but I don't believe did work for this series in that clip you have. Anyway, really fantastic treatment of this series. If I wasn't already your fan I damn sure would be now.


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