In 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs, now better known as the creator of the character Tarzan, began his writing career with A Princess of Mars, a rousing tale of pulp adventure on the planet Barsoom or Mars. Several sequels followed.
The novel tells of earthman John Carter of Mars. A form of teleportation mysteriously transports him to the planet Barsoom, where he encounters both formidable alien creatures resembling the beasts of ancient myth and various humanoids.
As mortals knew him
Carter stood 6′2″ tall and had close-cropped black hair and steel-gray eyes. His character and courtesy exemplified the ideals of the antebellum South. A Virginian who served as a captain in the American Civil War, he struck it rich by finding gold in Arizona after the end of hostilities.
While hiding from Apaches in a cave, he found himself mysteriously transported to Mars, where he subsequently had many adventures. The less intense gravity of Mars compared to Earth gave him demigod-like strength.
The immortal being
Burroughs portrays John Carter as an immortal being. In the opening pages of A Princess of Mars, the author reveals to the reader that Carter can remember no childhood, having always been a man of about thirty years old. Many generations of families referred to him as "Uncle Jack," but he always lived to see all the members of the families grow old and die, while he remained young. After travelling to Mars, he seemed to find his true calling in life as a warrior-savior of the planet's inhabitants.
His "death" actually represents leaving his inanimate body behind on Earth while he travelled about Mars in an identical body. Carter revealed that he mastered the process of travelling to and from Earth and Mars and could travel between the two at will. Accordingly, his Earth body lies in a special tomb that can only be opened from the inside.
The humanoid "Red Martians", "White Martians", "Yellow Martians" and "Black Martians" resemble Homo sapiens in almost every respect except that they reproduce oviparously. The warlike "Green Martians" have four arms and tusks, and stand approximately four meters tall.
Many Barsoomians generally display warlike and honor-bound characteristics. The technology of the tales runs the gamut from dueling sabers to rayguns and aircraft, with the discovery of powerful ancient devices or research into the development of new ones often forming a plot device. The natives also eschew clothing other than jewelry, providing a stimulating subject for illustrators of the stories.
Although loosely inspired by astronomical speculation of the time that pictured Mars as a formerly Earthlike world now becoming more inhospitable to life, Burroughs' Barsoom tales never aspired to anything other than exciting escapism.
The tales seem somewhat dated today, but they showed great innovation for the time of writing, and the exciting stories caught the interest of many readers, helping to inspire serious interest in Mars and in space exploration. A Princess of Mars was possibly the first fiction of the 20th century to feature a constructed language; although "Barsoomian" was not particularly developed, it did add verisimilitude to the narrative.
Many later science fiction works, from the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers films of the 1930s, to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, to the Star Wars films, to the Mars trilogy of Kim Stanley Robinson, also offer nods in Burroughs's direction. Robert A Heinlein's novel The Number of the Beast and Alan Moore's graphic novels of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen directly reference Barsoom.
The comic strip
With the Tarzan comic strip a popular success, newspapers began a comic strip adaptation of A Princess of Mars drawn by Edgar Rice Burroughs' son, John Coleman Burroughs. Never as popular as Tarzan, it ran in only four Sunday newspapers, from December 7 1941 to April 4 1943.
John Carter appeared in one of the last Sunday Tarzan comic strip stories, drawn by Gray Morrow.
The comic books
The comic book The Funnies included a John Carter serial drawn by John Coleman Burroughs, which ran for 23 issues. Then, in 1952, Dell Comics published three John Carter comic books, adapting the first three books, drawn by Jesse Marsh, who was the Dell Tarzan artist at the time. They were numbered four color comics 375, 437, and 488. They were later reprinted by the successor of Dell, as Gold Key comics 404, 410, and 407. DC Comics published John Carter as a backup feature in its Tarzan series, issues 207 - 209, after which it was moved to Weird Worlds, sharing main feature status alongside an adaptation of Burroughs' "Pellucidar" stories in issues 1 - 7; it again became a backup feature in Tarzan Family 62 - 64. (A non-John Carter Barsoom story also appeared in Tarzan Family issue 60.) Finally, Marvel Comics began a John Carter series in 1977, which lasted for 27 issues (and saw three annuals published).
The film, John Carter of Mars, is in pre-production by Paramount Pictures. It is tentatively scheduled for release in 2006. Jon Favreau has been signed to direct this movie, taking over from Kerry Conran. The original script by Mark Protosevich was re-written by Ehren Kruger. Reportedly, however, Favreau is selecting a new writer to bring the script back closer to the original work.
- A Princess of Mars (1917)
- The Gods of Mars (1918)
- The Warlord of Mars (1919)
- Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1920)
- The Chessmen of Mars (1922)
- The Master Mind of Mars (1928)
- A Fighting Man of Mars (1931)
- Swords of Mars (1936)
- Synthetic Men of Mars (1940)
- Llana of Gathol (1948)
- John Carter of Mars (1964)
The American copyright of the five earliest novels has expired, and they appear on a number of free e-text sites. The Australian copyright of the remainder, not including John Carter of Mars (1964), has also expired and they too appear online.
- Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Web Site
- Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
- A Guide to the Mars Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs
- A Barsoom Glossary
- Template:Isfdb series
- The Master Mind of Mars (1927) Zip file Text file at Project Gutenberg Australia
- A Fighting Man of Mars (1930) Zip file Text file at Project Gutenberg Australia
- Swords of Mars (1934) Zip file Text file at Project Gutenberg Australia
- Synthetic Men of Mars (1940) Zip file Text file at Project Gutenberg Australia
- Llana of Gathol (1948) Zip file Text file at Project Gutenberg Australia