When a Civil War veteran John Carter finds himself on Mars, or as the locals call it Barsoom, he discovers that the dying planet and its harsh deserts are home to warring species, adventure at every turn, and Dejah Thoris, a princess who will steal his heart at first sight. But can they overcome the dangers and be together?
Back when I was first looking at Burrough's bibliography and feeling terribly intimidated by the sheer quantity of titles I couldn't make up my mind as to which book of his I should read to see if I liked his work. Fortunately my Coursera professor made the choice for me when he put A Princess of Mars on the Fantasy & Science Fiction syllabus. Thanks, Professor Rabkin!
I can see why Burroughs became so popular back in the day - the first novel he published had adventure, fantastical creatures, a valiant hero and a beautiful heroine, admirable values and a happy ending. It is also an easy and fast read, which makes for a perfect escapist novel. To top it all off Burroughs ended the book in such a way that made me want to find out what happened next, especially since there is obviously a mystery of John Carter's very existence, which reminds me of Wolverine, an immortal superhero with a severe case of amnesia. If his success is any indication his consecutive novels followed this winning formula and most likely improved upon it to keep the readers from getting bored.
I was definitely not bored with this book, what with the plot moving along nicely, Carter constantly getting himself into new trouble and his lady love keeping him on his toes. Even the generally one-dimensional characters didn't spoil the fun, it was much too interesting to observe Burroughs imbue his Martian characters with very earthly traits. And it was definitely interesting to see how our society has changed since Burroughs' time, particularly when it comes to the role of women. I'm sure that if this book was written now Dejah Thoris would not have been sitting there in all her voluptuous glory, waiting to be rescued, she would have been plotting her own escape. It was also interesting to see Burroughs' social commentary on capitalism and socialism with Dejah Thoris' passionate monologue condemning the Green Martians' "everything belongs to everybody" system, making his position that much more obvious.
While I won't rush out to the Project Gutenberg website to get my hands on more Barsoom novels in the near future I will definitely pick up the sequel should I want a few escapist hours in the company of familiar characters.