A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I finished reading A Princess of Mars just before New Year.  I’ve read this book as one of my reads for the Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Sci Fi event and also Stainless Steel Droppings 2015 Sci Fi Experience.

I’m glad I finally got round to reading ERB and whilst I don’t think this is going to be one of my all time favourites it was a good read.

This is like an adventure story really, there’s plenty of action and fighting, a damsel in distress, aliens and war – all set on a different planet that is slowly dying.

The plot – in a very summarised way is: John Carter is a gentleman and soldier out of Virginia who, at the conclusion of the war turns to prospecting and then in the most unusual circumstances finds himself transported to the planet of Mars (Barsoom). Here he falls into the captivity of a strange race of aliens called Tharks.  The Tharks are a tall race, up to 15 feet apparently, with green skin.  They value fighting and strength above all and have little value for feelings, compassion or love.  Carter befriends one of this race called Tars Tarkas and in fact begins to gain a reputation as a warrior as his muscles and strength are greatly increased upon Mars due to the change in gravity.  Carter, at first bides his time.  He learns a little more of this race from Sola – a member of the race who is charged with looking after him, and also guarding him along with a strange, dog like creature called Woola.  As time progresses Carter’s standing within the community changes and he almost has free will to roam (within reason) but all changes when the Tharks capture a young woman, a princess of Helium called Dejah Thoris.  Helium is populated by a human like, red skinned race who appear to be the dominant factor on Barsoom.  They live in great cities and appear organised unlike the Tharks who are portrayed as uncivilised, savage and warlike.  Carter finds himself rather enamoured of the Princess and following this the main thrust of the story is one of rescue, escape and recapture!  I won’t go overly much into the plot as it’s already fairly well discussed elsewhere.

The story takes the form of a travelogue narrated by Carter.  I enjoyed the writing and particularly the detail concerning the planet and it’s inhabitants.  There was certainly never a lack of action and the story was taken forward at a fairly rapid pace swiftly moving from one fairly unique situation to the next.

In terms of the characters I confess myself a little perplexed.  I wouldn’t say they made a great impact on me really which is an unusual feeling to have – particularly when the main aim of the story revolves around our hero of the piece rescuing the object of his affection – I just felt oddly detached from both characters.  I’m not saying I disliked them, because I didn’t, they just came across a little bland somehow – in fact that’s probably a little harsh sounding as I think that the plot and the adventure feel definitely took centre stage.  For me personally, I felt like Tars and Sola came across with more personality and I found I enjoyed their personal stories.  Curiously I also found myself liking and caring for the strange dog like creature called Woola who had become very attached to Carter during the time he was in the Thark’s captivity.

On the whole I found this an enjoyable and easy story to read. I think you need to pick this up with the age it was written clearly in mind as the writing and storytelling that we are now used to has definitely evolved.  And, curiously, if you normally avoid sci fi stories – as I tend to do a little, usually because I think they’ll go over my head! – well, you’ll have to forgive me for saying the sci fi element is a tad skimpy, I mean, okay, it’s set on Mars and there are different races involved but if you’re expecting any eye openers in terms of different technology – or for that matter the whys and wherefores of how and why Carter found himself mysteriously transported to Mars – then you may be disappointed.  I can’t say I suffered the lack of such detail but just thought I’d chuck this in there for your general consumption.

Overall I thought this was an entertaining read, I didn’t love it but I enjoyed the narrative style and I certainly had no problems in completing the book.  I would definitely recommend this – I think it’s worth reading for a number of reasons, not least of all the impact it has since had on sci-fi fiction.

29 Responses to “A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs”

  1. brideofthebookgod

    I’ve never really wanted to read ERB (my husband loves him) but I did enjoy the film version which was unjustly maligned in my view

    • lynnsbooks

      I also quite enjoyed the film – I hadn’t read the book at that point so it might be interesting to go back and have a rewatch. This is the first by this author – in fairness I probably wouldn’t continued with this series although it was enjoyable enough as a standalone.
      Lynn 😀

  2. otakutwins1

    I loved the movie ^^ and I started reading the book, but haven’t finished it yet…but thanks for the review 😀

    • lynnsbooks

      No problem – I might very well go and watch the movie again whilst the book is still fresh in my mind! Hope you enjoy it.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Greg

    This was a favorite of mine as a younger person, and I always got a kick out of ERB’s way of describing Carter as “the best swordsman of two worlds” or Dejah Thoris as”incomparable”, as the books progressed. A little over the top. 🙂 If I remember right the next one is good just in terms of the sweep of it, and I think Chessmen of Mars is my favorite, although the beginning is weird- after the first five I lost interest pretty quickly, and even today they don’t hold up as well for me- but I agree, this one is a classic.

    • lynnsbooks

      I’m glad I read it – I like reading the classics – even if just to see the difference in writing styles. I thought this was a very readable adventure. I think the good thing about this book – the actual story doesn’t feel dated does it? Probably not phrasing that very well but I suppose what I mean is that whilst our writing and reading styles have moved on the story itself isn’t actually dated – because there’s nothing as such to date it – no descriptions of products or clothing or technology, etc – which sometimes when you read older vintage type sci fi – and you’re actually reading about all sorts of futuristic ideas – that haven’t actually happened – it can pull you out of the story a little. And, yes, I know what you mean about the descriptions by Carter. He did rather carry on about his abilities but I took it with a pinch of salt and found it slightly amusing 😀
      Lynn 😀

  4. fence

    I quite enjoyed the book when I read it. I always meant to read more in the series, but as of yet, haven’t gotten around to it. I must do.

    And the film was great fun, wasn’t it, no idea why it was so panned.

    • lynnsbooks

      I really don’t understand why the film seemed to be so poorly reviewed. I will definitely watch it again, having now read the book, to see if there’s any obvious reason.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Redhead

    I loved the scene where Sola is talking about her parents and her childhood, and Woola is just adorable.

    • lynnsbooks

      It was actually a really endearing part of the story – that’s why I liked Sola and Tarka. Woola is an excellent little critter – I loved him/her – whatever!
      Lynn 😀

  6. Lisa (@EffingRainbow)

    This book fell sadly flat for me when I read it, though I really enjoyed the film. Usually it’s sort of the other way around, LOTR notwithstanding. 😉

    • lynnsbooks

      I’m going to watch the film again to see how it compares. It’s like I said, I don’t think I’ve come away from it thinking I’m going to rave and gush but it was definitely readable and I’m pleased to have read it. It’s amazing how these challenges make me check out of my comfort zone albeit temporarily!
      Lynn 😀

  7. Julie

    I’ve had the entire set of these books loaded on in my Kindle for a long time now. Since I do love Sci-Fi, I cannot explain why I haven’t read one of them yet. Now that I’ve read your review I think, after my current book, I’ll at least give this one a shot. Thanks!

    • lynnsbooks

      I’ll be interested to see what you make of it. It’s interesting the change of style in writing to the present day.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Carl V. Anderson

    I’ve read the first three of these, and loved them. They are very pulp, to be sure. Not a great deal of character development, instead they are just types, but I like them nonetheless. I’m also a big fan of the movie. I felt they did a great job of capturing the spirit of the books and am sad Disney did all they could to kill it, marketing wise, before it was ever released. Odd.

    At any rate, I’m glad you gave them a try. It is from an interesting time in the past, where there was still some hope that maybe we would find life on planets in our solar system. There is something fun about reading stories written before we had the knowledge that we do today.

    • lynnsbooks

      I quite enjoy reading a good bit of pulp every now and again to be honest. And I did enjoy this, I liked the narrative style and found Carters voice quite amusing! I really liked the film and I’m not sure why it was so badly received – especially as most people I know also seemed to like it so it is odd.
      I do like reading the older books – it is interesting just to see the difference in style but books like this, written when they were definitely opened up such a lot of new routes for fiction so you have to hand it to the like of ERB.
      Lynn 😀

      • Carl V. Anderson

        The movie got really good reviews overall once it was out, but it had gotten so much negative press prior to opening, in large part because of poor marketing decisions Disney made, that people didn’t go out and see it once it was released, so it lost a ton of money. Which is too bad, as I would have loved to see sequels.

      • lynnsbooks

        Thats bad of Disney! You’d think they’d be the experts! I read your write up at the time about the film – which was very positive and made me want to watch it. Although I didn’t go to the cinema to be honest which is a shame!
        Lynn 😀

  9. romeorites

    I saw the movie the other day and it was COSMIC! The media really slated it and as we all know it is considered a large flop. To this I yell, CONSPIRACY! I really want to read the ERB book after seeing the movie. And your review confirms this for me 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s a good adventure read and from what I remember I think the film pretty much is bang on track so I don’t understand why it was so badly received. I was thinking I’d watch it again now I’ve read the book. I hope you enjoy it.
      Lynn 😀

  10. Tabitha (Not Yet Read)

    I would hadn’t thought this would just be a fantasy but aliens. The travelogue narration style sounds interesting. That cover reminds me of Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonya movies.

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s an interesting cover for sure! The other cover choices were ones with a skimpily clad dark haired beauty on the front – clearly the Princess. The people on Mars didn’t go in much for dressing – in fact Carter himself had no clothes when he transported there – kind of puts me in mind of the Terminator!
      Lynn 😀

  11. jessicabookworm

    I haven’t read anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs and though I didn’t think to put any of his work on my Classics Club list I would like to read some of his work. I did watch the resent film adaptation which I enjoyed.

  12. Danya @ Fine Print

    I loved the film, but I haven’t read the book yet…bad book blogger! Sounds like the world building left something to be desired in a few spots but ERB is an author on my “must read” list, so maybe I’ll read this one day.

    • lynnsbooks

      I would definitely recommend reading it. I quite like old fashioned writing styles so that didn’t put me off at all although it’s nothing like the writing style we’re used to now – and I think it may come across in parts as maybe not totally PC but.. you have to take into account when it was written. I really enjoyed the film and I’m going to watch it again now so that I can compare the two.
      Lynn 😀

  13. cherylmahoney

    Yay, always glad to see someone picking up (and liking) Burroughs! I find your comment on John Carter and Dejah Thoris interesting, but not entirely surprising…I love Burroughs for his scenery (literally–such cool alien worlds) and his adventure, but characters are not his strong suit. There are exceptions, but most of his books basically star the same people under different names… (Or the same names–his two most famous heroes are John Carter and John Clayton!) If you want to read more Mars, I highly recommend Fighting Man of Mars–Book 7 but pretty stand-alone, and by far and away the best of all Burroughs’ heroines. 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks – I’ll take a look at No.7. When I picked this up I thought it was a standalone and tbh even after I realised it was a series I was thinking of stopping after 1 – not because I didn’t enjoy it but simply when I originally chose to read it I never intended taking on ‘yet another’ series! As it happens I may pick up more – but just not be in a rush about it.
      Thanks for the recommendation though – always good to know.
      Lynn 😀

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    […] A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – John Carter finds himself with a very unusual dog like character called Woola – fiercely protective and with three sets of teeth quite a formidable character. […]

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