Book Review: “A Princess of Mars” by Edwin Rice Burroughs

Mars. The great big red ball of wonder that has NASA scientists in raptures over whether there is bacteria or not in the ice caps.

If they only knew. It turns out that one John Carter had made a trip to the Red Planet way back in the 1800s, right after the Civil War. Upon his return, and death, he left all of his documents to a nephew, Burroughs, who faithfully published the curious stories.

In this way we are introduced “Princess of Mars“, a charmingly old-fashioned bit of science fiction/space opera by the “nephew”, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I was first drawn to this story through the upcoming movie John Carter, produced by Walt Disney Pictures.

Now, normally I am the first to be scornful of anyone who sees images of a movie before he or she reads the actual written work, but I have two good excuses: 1.) I didn’t mean to and 2.) I didn’t actually see the movie.


Back to the story. Weary from his exploits as a masterful fighter in the Civil War, John Carter is ready for a change. He heads out to scout a gold mind in the Wild West, and via a nasty encounter with Indians, ends up in Mars through some kind of astral projection. There he finds a planet that is very much alive with conflict between the warmongering, reptilian green martians and the only slightly less warmongering, humanoid red martians. Supplied with new abilities that make him a valuable ally, John Carter must use all his wits to stay alive–and, in turn, win the heart of the beautiful princess Dejah Thoris.

This book was one of the first I downloaded to my eReader off of the Project Gutenberg website.   I was one of the best surprises I’ve ever experience in fiction. The plot is solid, the characters are interesting, and the planet suitably alien and fierce. In the style of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Burroughs takes time and care to invest his aliens with their own unique culture and customs. Every moment, the reader is conscious of the stark differences between martian ways and human ways. This greatly helps raise sympathy for and identification with the protagonist. I also enjoyed the thoughtful way Burroughs uses the martians to examine what it means to be part of ones race and yet apart.  He also explores the power of love to redeem an individual–as in the case of Sola, a green martian who doesn’t share her race’s inbred cruelty because her own parents fell in love and raised her compassionately.

My venture to the Red Planet had a few black marks though.  At times, John Carter is overbearing and patronizing.   This is a man’s man, and the story glories in his abilities to take down opponents much larger than him.  His physical prowess is conveniently a boon among the martians, and easily wins him accolades. Also, while on one hand the story praises the redeeming power of love, it has no problem with John Carter using massive amounts of violence to achieve his ends.  This book has a hefty body count, although the author skims over the gory details.

Ah, and one brief aside: martians, green or red, do not wear clothes.  Therefore, if you Google “Princess of Mars“, you will find some covers with Princess Dejah Thoris in various stages of not-wearing-clothes.  While the images regrettably may be designed to titillate, I assure you that in the book little is made of martian nudity other than a passing aside.  It’s played as cultural thing; the martians think it odd that the humans bother to wear clothes.

There is very little mention of God or faith in this novel.  However, that doesn’t mean things can’t be looked at through a redemptive lens, so a post about that will be forthcoming.  In addition, this weekend I plan on seeing the movie John Carter, purely for research and recreational purposes.  Next week I’ll be posting up a review comparing the two.

So stay tuned and stay focused, less you too be sucked towards another planet.  Hey, it happened to John…

As always:

Read the Extraordinary.  Responsibly.


Taste of the Fantastical 

So, who is your favorite martian?

These guys from “Santa Clause Conquers the Martians”?
This guy from the oldie TV show “My Favorite Martian”?
The infamous invaders from “Mars Attacks”?
Or good ol’ Marvin the Martian?

4 thoughts on “Book Review: “A Princess of Mars” by Edwin Rice Burroughs

  1. I personally thoroughly enjoyed the movie “Mars Needs Moms” and I must say the rebellious hippie Ki is my favorite martian of all times. She’s just too funny and I love all the colors.

  2. I haven’t actually read much Mars fiction, aside from Oxygen by John Olson and Randy Ingermanson and Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis. I tend to gravitate more toward fantasy than science fiction, although this one sounds interesting. You give such nice, thoughtful reviews!

    1. Thanks! I try, even though I’m often doing them at 11 pm, after the school planning is over.😉

      I’ll have to check out “Oxygen.” I’ve developed a taste for Mars fiction!

      I understand about the fantasy/science fiction divide. I was raised first as a scifi junkie myself (well, and fairy tales), and the fantasy crept in when I was a teenager, first with Lord of the Rings, and then other stories. The thing is, a lot of so-called “science fiction” is actually “space opera”–it’s considered more fluffy, more character-centered/new alien species-centered, and less hard-edged than proper science fiction. In some ways, it has a lot more in common with fantasy!

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