“A Princess of Mars” – Movie vs. Book

“The book is better.”

This phrase has been said, written, or otherwise communicated many times by movie-goers who had the fortune of reading the book before seeing the movie based on it.  It’s a cliche only in that it is usually correct.

In the case of John Carter, the Disneyfied movie version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the cliche holds.

First, let me say to non-readers that the movie is a fun little jaunt.  My husband, who is a speculative fiction geek who hasn’t read the book, found the movie reasonably entertaining, with decent action scenes and some cool aliens.

Yet, there are some negatives.  I’m going to sidestep movie criticism, because you can find that in many fine reviews on the Movie Review Query Engine or RottenTomatoes.   One of the main complaints is that the movie is “stale” due to the fact that filmmakers have stolen many ideas from A Princess of Mars.

What I will address are two key differences between the book and movie that show the book is so much better:

John Carter, Book Version is Cooler –

John Carter represents an archetypal great adventurer.  The honorable rebel without a cause.  After being on the losing side of the Civil War, he travels to “Arizona territory” to seek his fortune and more adventures.  Thus, when he finds himself on Mars, with no idea how he got there and no idea how to get back, John Carter adapts.  After being captured by the green martians, he endures being treated as a child and a weapon in order to learn green martian language and culture.  He then uses his knowledge, gravity-based superpowers, and formidable fighting skills to rise within the ranks of green martian society.  Once Dejah Thoris is captured, he selflessly puts himself on the line to protect her–and then his green martian friend Sola as well when her innate compassion makes her fall out of favor with other green martians.  This isn’t to say that John Carter always succeeds initially, nor that he always saves the day.  However, he gives it his best shot–and the result is a character with enough integrity and charisma to carry the novel.

The movie switching things up by giving John Carter a wife and family.   Silent flashbacks tell you they came under attack while he was away in the war.  He travels to Arizona disgruntled and cynical is because of their deaths, not because he enjoys adventure.  He stumbles into Mars via a technological energy portal–and when he gets to Mars, he’s entirely focused on getting home.  He doesn’t care a whole lot about anyone other than himself.  It takes the selfless actions of Sola and  Dejah Thoris to draw him out and give him a new love and a new cause to fight for.

While movie John Carter might be easier to relate to, the bitter-antihero-turned-savior plot is pretty tired, especially in cinema.  Perhaps it’s hard for today’s people to believe in a genuine hero/adventurer.  However, the success of Captain America would argue against that.  I understand that the complexities of the real John Carter might be hard to bring to the big screen–therefore, go for the book!

Second Reason to Read the Book: the Characters are Cooler in General

The curse of adapting a book to film is that all the little back-stories, little character-development vignettes, extra fight scenes and dramatic confrontations, are either compressed or cut in order to squeeze the whole story into just two hours.  If the movie is dubbed an “action film” then even more is cut in order to make room for fight scenes.  Now, to be fair A Princess of Mars is an action book.  There are plenty of great fights and battles in it.  However, it is also love story, a tale of reconciliation of two people-groups, and an intimate look at the alien species in another world.  The movie simply can’t do justice to this–the best it can do is a science fiction action movie with a little romance and redemption.

Final Recommendation?  If you really want to see a movie, and you can’t wait until the Hunger Games, you could see worse than Disney’s John Carter.  However, the book is better.  Go ahead and give it a read! It’s free on Project Gutenberg.

Next Up: humanism in A Princess of Mars vs. humanism in Disney’s John Carter – and what’s this “JC” about anyway?


Taste of the Fantastical 

Some movie critters–who’s cutest?


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?