A Princess of Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs
A Princess of Mars Cover

Interesting, but not a "must read"


A Princess of Mars, the first in the John Carter of Mars series, follows John Carter in his first adventures on Mars. From gaining the respect of the green Martians, to winning the heart of a princess, Carter's adventures are epic in scale.

I started A Princess of Mars as a quick read between other books, not realizing that it is a full-sized novel, and, thanks to the fact that I was reading it as part of the Sense of Wonder ebook, which is thousands of pages long, I didn't know exactly how long it would be. Which is to say that, while I was waiting for this book to get good, I thought it might end at any moment. Fortunately it did get good enough to carry me through to the end.

I'm not the person who could write a scholarly essay on A Princess of Mars in literary history (though there is a brief essay on the subject in Sense of Wonder, which is one of the reasons I picked it up and am enjoying it so much), nor am I the person to break down its racism, sexism, classism, etc. I can tell you that I felt it was worth it as a piece of science fiction history and was fun once it got going.

There are a lot of things that keep this from being a "must read", but the primary one is that it starts far too slowly. I can deal with a slow beginning if it pays off, but this one doesn't. I could have started the book at the moment he meets Deja Thoris, the Princess of the red Martians, and not have missed much. Perhaps Burroughs should have been as succinct with his descriptions of how John Carter came to be on Mars as he was with the final showdown of the hero green Martian chieftain and the villain green Martian chieftain:

There was no alternative. That decree was final, and so Tal Hajus drew his long-sword and advanced to meet Tars Tarkas.
The combat was soon over, and, with his foot upon the neck of the dead monster, Tars Tarkas became jeddak among the Tharks. - location 3345

When I wanted Burroughs to be succinct he drew it out, when I wanted him to tell me more the story was brief.

It is not so irritating though that I could not persevere and there were times when the book was beautiful. So I'll leave you with this:

And thus in the midst of a city wild conflict, filled with the alarms of war; with death and destruction reaping their terrible harvest around her, did Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, true daughter of Mars, the God of War, promise herself in marriage to John Carter, Gentleman of Virginia. - location 3499