John Carter vs. A Princess of Mars (Part I)

Before this month, I had never heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It seems he was a pulpy writer from the Golden Age of SF.  He also invented that jungle vine-swinging hero, Tarzan.

Why do I bring him up?  Well it seems Disney has taken it upon themselves to make the first ever movie adaptation of A Princess of Mars, an epic fantasy novel set on a 1910’s to 1930’s era conception of Mars.  Despite credit as an inspiration for many alien monster-containing movies and TV shows, nobody has before taken the initiative to turn this adventure story into a big-screen feature.  The film is called, John Carter, named after the protagonist of the story.

Now as a newly initiated volunteer for LibriVox, the group dedicated to transliterating public domain works into audio format, it occured to me that this 1911 classic (likely in the public domain by now) had probably been recorded previously.  I looked around and found that it had!  In fact, it was done as a collaboration first, then handled by a solo reader after that (the link above is to the latter recordign).  I’ll be talking about LibriVox a little more in a future post.

So I’m now about half-way through the audiobook, well read by Mark Nelson in a tone that very much matches the no-nonsense demeanor of John Carter himself.  It’s a really interesting action story that clearly influenced a lot of future works.  It also has some antiquated ideas.  Aside from the period-correct idea that Mars was potentially inhabited either now or in the past, strong notes of anti-communist rhetoric resonate throughout the book.  Also, the human female in the story (the only one, as far as I have read) is so slight and dainty that she could scarcely protect herself by any way other than feminine guile.

I’m interested now in what Disney will do with the book.  There is very little aside from classic swordplay violence to tone down for their younger audience.  Also, almost all the characters in the story are naked aside from some slight armor, so it’s unlikely that that will be fully maintained either.  Aside from these two things, I expect that much of the epic adventure will survive.  It seems from the ads that the delicate flower of the female protagonist has been converted into an intelligent and fierce female warrior, but that isn’t an awful change, as the literary depiction of her can be somewhat grating in the face of modern feminism.

Now all that remains is for me to finish the book and watch the movie at some point.

Click here for Part II of this article.

[“A Princess of Mars” book cover is in the public domain | “John Carter” poster image copyright Disney]

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