When I saw the commercial for John Carter during the Stuporbowl, it was pretty much settled; I had to finally read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. I had to trek to the “local” BAM (Books A Million, dumbest name ever for a bookstore) to find a copy, and even then, I could only purchase the Mars Trilogy. This worked out great, considering all three books were pretty much the same story with cliffhanger endings.
A Princess of Mars is very Sci-Fi, and a bit Mary Sue. John Carter, a “fighting man” from Virgina, is inexplicably transported to Mars after hiding in a strange cave to avoid getting killed by Native Americans. On Mars, he finds that he has prodigious strength due to the lesser gravity of the smaller planet. He then proceeds to punch, stab, and slice his way into the hearts of all the red planet’s many warring races with his combat prowess and chivalric ways.
This is pretty much it. A Princess is about his time among the green Thraks; barbaric four-armed monstrosities. During his imprisonment, he learns of their ways, makes some green friends, and meets the titular princess; Dejah Thoris; of the humanoid red race on mars. His plans to escape from the Thraks and take her back to her native Helium go awry, of course, and the pair bounce in and out of the clutches of various Thrak clans, covetous red men of other nations, and marauding martian fauna. It all ends when Carter brings together a horde of Thraks under the leadership of his friend Tars Tarkas (whom he helped overthrow the Thrak’s current chief) and red men from Helium to assault the red nation holding Dejah captive , except she’s really not captive, just beholden to stay there based on martian marital law. However, if her betrothed is dead, well, she’s fair game again, so Carter sacks the city to get the girl.
I guess they were jerks anyway.
Carter gets a few years with his lady friend, and becomes a prince of Helium. Unfortunately, something happens to the machines that make the atmosphere, and he must call upon his experience in an earlier situation to save all of Mars, after which, he finds himself back in the cave on Earth.
The next two books, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars is basically the story of him, once again, being magicked back to Mars and searching for Dejah Thoris. It is a rolling adventure, based on the ol’ “and then, and then, and then” formula, with little overarching story other than he is searching for his woman and trying to get out of one crappy situation after another. First he finds himself in martian heaven, which turns out to be a pretty sh*tty place run by Holy Therns; the white men of Mars and the a**holes behind a whole religious scheme which has the other races sending fresh slaves their way every once in a while. Then, while dealing with them, he runs afoul of the black men of Mars, the Firstborn, who end up being the bigger a**holes who really pull the strings on the whole thing, and eat Therns for breakfast. In and out of the clutches of a**holes Carter constantly goes, with one attempt to find his princess foiled after another. Finally, he finds she has gone to where he first started his second adventure on Mars, and he once again leads a coalition of forces to rescue her, only to have Dejah slip through his fingers and into a prison which opens only once a year.
Thus begins A Warlord of Mars; essentially the real ending for Gods. After the conquering of the Therns and the black men, John looks for a way to free his lady, following a rebel Firstborn and the former leader of the Holy Therns, as they know a way to get to the princess so they can get revenge on Carter. They escape to the frozen wastes of Mars with her, and Carter follows. He meets, and comes into conflict with the yellow race of mars. Yay. It ends again with a coalition; this time with black, red, green, white and yellow folks all coming to save the day, because John is so damn cool. The evil guys are beaten, and John gets the girl. Finally. He is even made “Warlord of Mars”.
Now, I want to clear one thing up; I know all stories are a series of things that happen. The Mars books really take this to a new level though. It isn’t quite as bad as stream of consciousness, but there are just so many things that happen to John, it boggles the mind. The dude can’t get something from the fridge without finding, fighting, and then befriending a new race. He then fights their enemies and a few martian monsters. It is almost maddening.
Don’t get me wrong. The stories are interesting enough. I can imagine when A Princess was written in 1912, it was pretty crazy stuff. The characters are cool, though there isn’t much character development. Not even for John. He is a bad-ass from start to finish. He is a practically invincible ultra-human. He is so cool, that everybody who isn’t flat-out evil is filled with bro-love for him the moment they see him fight off 100 men single-handedly. There are a few moments when it looks like he might be in trouble, but they’re far and few between. If the plot didn’t constantly throw things his way, the book would be over in three pages. He is much too powerful for the one or two conflicts of most novels. He grimly goes about his bloody business like most of us eat dinner, and he loves it. At the end of Warlord, he has killed thousands of martians in single combat. There are no namby-pamby emotional conflicts here. It is almost refreshing, come to think about it. I’m getting tired of whiny heroes.
He does some good things too. He brings together the entire planet. At the end, all men; green, black, red, white, and yellow are friends, where before they were enemies. Of course, their friendship was cemented in bloody civil war and conquest, but that’s how it goes on Barsoom.
Now I’ll have to watch the movie, which looks to me to be an adaptation of all of the books into one movie. Maybe they threw some other books in the Barsoom series in too. There are more written than the three I have read. I have hope for the movie too, because it is the first time a movie adaptation could be a two-hour CGI fight scene and remain faithful to the source material. It will probably just end up pissing me off, though, because any movie that crams a bunch of books into one film usually sucks. I hope, at least, they don’t throw in a bunch of emotional conflicts.
That would be the worst.