Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reading John Carter of Mars

I have now read the last of Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels and it's been a long trip.

I read the first John Carter of Mars novel 'A Princess of Mars' at the age of 11 or 12 and now more than 35 years later I finally finished all 12 stories. If you've ever read one of these books you know they're very fast reads so why did it take me almost four decades to finish the entire run? Quite simply, I did not want it to end. I knew that once I finished the stories that Edgar Rice Burroughs had originally pinned between 1912 and 1943 I would be done with them which I considered a sad event. But I also knew that finishing them would free me up to be able to read some of the authorized continuations done by other writers. The various pastiches are a field of great interest to me and I have one collection of them called Under the Moons of Mars already in the To Read pile.

Another reason that I didn't finish the novels much faster than I should have is that I was trying to collect the entire run of 11 books from one particular printing - the printing that I bought when I was a youngster first discovering these pulp adventures. These are the Del Rey versions printed in 1979 or 1980. These had cover artwork by Michael Whelan and a more eye catching series of images I can hardly conceive. The depictions of John Carter and the various creatures of Barsoom have always been how I've pictured those characters and beasts when I read the books and I really wanted to have the entire set of that run. But since I couldn't find book 8 for years I read up to that tale and held off. For some reason 'Swords of Mars' is very difficult to find - I suspect because it features John Carter returning to the series as the main character instead of a background presence. I hunted for years thinking that I would eventually run across a copy for a decent price but it never happened.

So, a couple of years ago I finally gave up, decided I was tired of waiting and bought a different edition just so I could read the story and get on with the rest of the run. I still hope to eventually find a copy with the Whelan cover but that can wait.  

These two final stories were both shorter than average and were an odd way to end the series. Not that ERB planned to end the series this way but it's still kind of odd. The first of the stories is 'John Carter and the giant of Mars' and I really enjoyed it. The story is completely insane but as it is a fun sequel to a previous story - 'The Synthetic Men of Mars'. How could I not get a kick out of a story that climaxes with several thousand rats being dropped onto an army via parachute! Madness! It turns out that this particular story might not have even been written by ERB but by his son John Coleman Burroughs. It still has enough of the flavor of the previous tales even if it is pretty short. The last story is 'The Skeleton Men of Jupiter' from 1943 and was intended as the first in a series of novelettes to later be collected in book form the same way the previous John Carter book was. It ends with the plot completely unresolved and the intended sequels were never even written. That makes it a little frustrating but since there have been several attempts by other writers to craft endings for the story I now get to dive into those! This should be fun.

1 comment:

Brian Lindsey said...

Well, now that you've finished the Barsoom series, there's always "Pellucidar" and "Carson of Venus"... Or have you read those already?