Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tharks, Red Martians, and a Man Named John Carter

Not so long ago I finished reading the sci-fi classic A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I don't want to go into all the details of the story, so if you want to learn more, you should check it out on Wikipedia. And if you still have the urge to give it a read after seeing what I have to say and learning more about it, you can find A Princess of Mars and the rest of the books in the series for FREE over at Project Gutenberg.

Let me admit one thing first. It took me a while to finish this one. Why? Well, although it is a classic and deserves to be read mainly due to that fact, it is extremely outdated. When I started it around Christmas last year, I would read a chapter, set it down and forget about it for a couple of weeks before picking up on the next chapter. And this went on for a handful of months until August (gasp!). I was over halfway through the book and just decided to finish it.

Now, you're probably trying to figure out how outdated this book is. For starters, it was written by the same guy who wrote the Tarzan stories: Edgar Rice Burroughs. And a lot like in the Tarzan series, women are seen as inferior to men in A Princess of Mars. Men are the warriors. Men are the rulers. Women don't go to war. They stay behind and make the supplies. Women are nurturing, though emotionally unbalanced whereas men are emotionally stable, yet may be destructive. One more point that showing the age of this story is the inadvertent racism, however this is kind of hit or miss with A Princess of Mars. But that's what you get when you read a book written close to a century ago. Times have definitely changed. And, as I'll discuss tomorrow, Dejah has stepped it up a beat in the new film.

The only other thing that dragged for me was the dialogue, and this is a trap that current authors usually don't fall into. A Princess of Mars is filled with paragraphs of seemingly endless dialogue. Today, dialogue is often quicker to the point and comes in much shorter bursts, so I don't know if this is really a a preferential or generational issue for me. After all, I may not have liked it because I'm simply not used to it.

Other than that, I can see why this book is a classic. The descriptions are spectacular. Just check out this quick example from the third chapter when Carter discovers the Thark hatchery:
Five or six had already hatched and the grotesque caricatures which sat blinking in the sunlight were enough to cause me to doubt my sanity. They seemed mostly head, with little scrawny bodies, long necks and six legs, or, as I afterward learned, two legs and two arms, with an intermediary pair of limbs which could be used at will either as arms or legs. Their eyes were set at the extreme sides of their heads a trifle above the center and protruded in such a manner that they could be directed either forward or back and also independently of each other, thus permitting this queer animal to look in any direction, or in two directions at once, without the necessity of turning the head.
And if you think that's a fun description, they get even better with the battle scenes, but I'll let you find some of those for yourself. But these are the big reasons why I think this one is a classic and why future generations ought to continue reading it.

Come back tomorrow and I'll compare the recent film to the book. There are quite a few differences.

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