Saturday, July 02, 2011

John Carter of Mars

When I was kid I read quite a few Edgar Rice Burroughs novels starting, as most people do, with the Tarzan books. I love the jungle tales but my favorite by far was ERB’s first fantasy creation John Carter of Mars. I read the first three books of this series of eleven tales several times soaking up every detail and reveling in the action and adventure of a long dead Martian world being visited by a Civil War soldier from Virginia. The story was so much of a different time and a different place that it captured my imagination in a way that a lot of other stories just could not. I stopped reading the series and re-read the first three so often because they formed a complete little trilogy that told of John Carter’s mysterious trip to ancient Mars, his meeting with the fierce Green Men, his befriending of the mighty Tars Tarkas and his rocky romance with the gorgeous Princess Dejah Thoris. The third book ends in classic fashion with a fantastic battle and the saving of the entire planet. What more could you want from early 20th century pulp science fiction? I still have my original copies of the first four books in the series and they are still in pretty good shape. I try not to be too rough on my paperbacks knowing that someone else may one day get to enjoy them. The reason I never read the rest of the series when I was younger is because after the third book Burroughs shifted focus from John Carter to other characters starting with a couple of his and Dejah Thoris’ children- son Carthoris is front lined in the fourth book and daughter Tara in the fifth. I wanted more of the adventures of John Carter so had to satisfy myself with the then just wrapping up Marvel Comics series that told more of the stories I wanted at the time. Good stuff!

A few years ago I decided to read the rest of the series and started trying to track down the other seven books- with one caveat. I wanted to have the entire run from the same printing I bought my first four. The reason for this is simple- I love the Michael Whelan covers for all eleven. They were how I visualized the stories and characters (complete with nudity!) and I wanted to have them as the reference art as I read these new-to-me Martian tales. This was pretty easy to do as I frequent used books stores regularly but one book has remained out of reach for almost ten years now. I can’t find a copy of the eighth book ‘Swords of Mars’ with the Whelan cover to save my life. I don’t know if this one was printed in lesser numbers or if there was some great destruction of them at some point but I have yet to find even a ragged, water-stained copy anywhere. Well, I finally gave up last week in Pittsburgh and picked up a copy of that book from an earlier paperback printing so I could finally read it and then finish the other three to complete the series. I’m still on the outlook for a Whelan cover version so if you spot one for a good price let me know.

The first Martian Tales book was serialized in magazine format in 1912 and first published as a complete novel in 1917 so it is kind of exciting that next year on the 100th anniversary of the story a live action film of John Carter is coming out. There have been a number of attempts to bring these stories to the big screen but all have ended in failure before anything was even filmed. The visualization of ten foot tall, four armed green warriors and six legged beasts of burden can now be realized with modern CGI so technology has caught up with ERB’s imagination. Let’s just hope they find a way to do the story justice and not turn it into some kind of knock-off of whatever is ‘hot’ right now. Done well this could be a film for the ages but done poorly it might be just another forgotten failure. My fingers are crossed.

Oh! In the meantime there is a new comic book adaptation of the first story that I’m really enjoying. It's called 'Warlord of Mars' and expands on the original tale giving more detail for each character and motivations. Usually this kind of thing would irritate me but its done quite well and after seven issues I’m still loving it. If you’re a fan I recommend this series from Dynamite Entertainment. I can’t wait for issue #8.


Marty McKee said...

I have a full run of the Marvel Comics series, which I treasure because I know they'll never be reprinted.

The Asylum made a John Carter movie called PRINCESS OF MARS. For an Asylum movie, it's not bad. Of course, that means it's not really good, though I applaud that some care and effort to be faithful went into it and it doesn't appear to be typical Asylum cynical trash. Though clearly Traci Lords is way miscast as Dejah Thoris.

Rod Barnett said...

I'm aware of the Asylum film but can't bring myself to watch it. I just can't.

And I've been putting together a complete set of the Marvel comics over the past few years. I've just been keeping my eyes open and picking them up when I find them cheap- 50 cents here and there. Only two left and I have them all. Oddly, the Annuals were easy to find.

Rhatfink said...

Those are great covers and are indeed the same editions that I read.

Here's an ebay listing for Swords of Mars.

Rod Barnett said...

I know I'm being a picky bastard but that copy seems to have too much wear.

I'm so sad.