Going to Mars: Word by Word: A Princess of Mars

What do you get when you mix a Civil War hero with barbaric Green Martians, ferocious beasts, and a breathtakingly-beautiful Red Martian Princess? A novel of interplanetary romance and an action-packed adventure called A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB). Our first stop on our journey to Mars, Word by Word.

Princess of Mars, Trilogy book cover, lynettemburrows.com

Written in 1911, this story had several working titles: “My First Adventure on Mars,” “The Green Martians,” and “Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess.” Re-titled “Under the Moons of Mars” it was published under the byline Norman Bean as a monthly serial from February to July 1912 in All Story Magazine. Norman, aka ERB, was paid the extravagant sum of $400.

When I sat down to read A Princess of Mars, I made a conscious decision to overlook certain things. Societal views of the roles of men and women were quite different in 1911 from what we think of today. Some word choices that were perfectly acceptable then, have considerably different usage today. To present-day readers, turn-of-the-century writing traditions of asides, addressing the reader, and explicit foreshadowing seem archaic and heavy-handed. ERB, a writer of his time, used all of those traditions. He also used the device that the story was a manuscript written by the hero, Captain John Carter. This made the asides, etc. much less intrusive to me as a reader. Overall, I found that the tale still holds the charms of a wish fulfillment story where the hero is all the things a man could wish to be and the princess is alluring and in need of rescue.

The Summary

At the end of the Civil War Captain John Carter of Virginia had a handful of worthless Confederate dollars. Broke, he and a friend went to seek their fortune in Arizona. After savages kill his friend, he attempts to save his friend’s body from mutilation by hiding in a sacred cave. There he is overcome by a ‘delicious sense of dreaminess.’ When he wakens, Carter is in a strange, exotic land he knows at once to be Mars.

Before Carter can explore much of this new land, he is captured by fearsome, twelve-foot tall Green Martians. Over time he earns the respect of Tars Tarkus, a warlord of one of the Green Martian clans. But when the beautiful Red Martian, Dejah Thoris Princess of Helium, is taken captive by the Green Martians, John Carter falls in love.

Carter battles Green Martians, warring factions of Red Martians, and ultimately saves not only his beloved Red Martian Princess, but also unites the Green Martians, frees the besieged city of Helium, and ultimately saves the entire planet. And loses his love.

The Science

The planet Mars that Burroughs created for his story has little relation to what was known of the real planet even in 1911. In reality, gravity on Mars is about 1/3rd that of Earth so John Carter would be about three times as strong as the inhabitants of Mars. In the story, John Carter can launch himself thirty feet into the air and a hundred feet from his point of origin. Who doesn’t want to do that?public domain image of Mars from space, Going to Mars book reviews, lynettemburrows.com

ERB’s brief descriptions of Mars include some attempts to explain the variances from reality. There is a massive radium powered plant that manufactures the breathable atmosphere. Water from the melting polar caps is piped below ground to water a narrow strip of vegetation and crops. The moss-like vegetation that covers most of the planet is mostly water and sustains the various native beasts that wander the planet’s surface.

Throughout the book, there are glimpses of exotic people, animals, and customs. The barbaric culture of the Green Martians is in stark contrast to the ancient buildings they inhabit. Constructed of ‘gleaming white marble inlaid with gold and brilliant stones’ and filled with ‘evidences of extreme antiquity’ the buildings and their furnishings were proportionately small for the Green Martians.

The Red Martians are smaller, more human in appearance. Those from Helium are responsible for the scientific knowledge that maintains the water and atmosphere of the planet. But they, like the Green Martians, produce offspring by laying eggs.

There are airships and power in the eighth and ninth ‘rays’ of the sun. There are monstrous wild and domesticated beasts. These bits of background information create layers that invite your imagination to play.

The Rest of the Story

Burroughs did not sit idle while waiting for A Princess of Mars to be published. He wrote a number of poems, short stories, and articles during 1911 and 1912. He had rejections and he had sales. By June of 1912, he’d sold the novel, Tarzan, to be serialized in All Story Magazine. In July he began the first of what would be eleven novels in what we call the John Carter of Mars series. But it wasn’t until 1917 that A Princess of Mars came out as a book.

For more information about ERB’s life see the Later Bloomer post written by Debra Eve titled “Edgar Rice Burrows from Pencil Sharpener to Media Mogul.” or go to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ official website.

Final Thoughts

Critics say that Burroughs was inconsistent in style and eschewed research. But I think there is something that’s overlooked in those critiques.

Even though ERB’s Mars isn’t real, it entices the reader with hope. Tonight may be the night I fall asleep and awaken in a strange, exotic land. I could awaken tomorrow to epic adventures, thrilling sword fights, and daring rescues. Dreams can come true.

Isn’t that what we all wish for?

Next stop: C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith

The Going to Mars, Word by Word series will be posted the first Monday of the month. You can see the first post in this series here.

The latest update from NASA’s rover, Curiosity.

Mars Rover Curiosity


I love it when you comment!

Going to Mars, Word by Word

The Power of Words

Do you remember when you first started to read?

Children recognize the power of words before they can form them. They know that books hold secrets long before they can read. Their curiosity and fascination drive them to turn pages of a book looking for the key to understanding. They beg to be read to. Finally, they are old enough to learn to read. But first, they must know their alphabet by sight and sound. There are only 26 letters but there are at least 44 sounds those letters, or combinations of letters, make. Finally, they learn to string the sounds together. Faces scrunch up with effort as they laboriously sound out letters on the page.

“rrrrr – ah–”
“No, that is a u. It’s sound here is ‘uh.’”
“rrrr – uhhhh – ennn. rrr—uhhhh—nnnn.”

Suddenly their face light up and they shout, “Run!” After the first word, the second, third, and fourth come more quickly. They turn the pages eagerly, finding new words and ideas on every page. They read nonfiction and fiction. Some progress to reading science fiction.

The Power of Ideas

The field of speculative fiction, or science fiction and fantasy if you prefer, has been referred to as the fiction of ideas. But science fiction is more than ideas. It’s words strung across a page that evoke images of worlds not-yet-seen, people who are the same-yet-different, people who are vastly different, and words that inspire ideas. Ideas that spur some us to take action, to become an inventor, an explorer, an astronaut, or an astronomer. And some of those inventors, explorers, astronauts, and astronomers turn their attention to Mars.

public domain image of Mars from space, Going to Mars book reviews, lynettemburrows.com

Melding Words and Ideas into Hope

We’ll never know what inspired the first man to look up at the night sky and notice a pinkish-red star. It’s color and cycle of appearing and disappearing from our skies, filled viewers with curiosity.

The first recorded observations of Mars we know of were written by ancient Egyptians. In 400 BC the Babylonians called the planet Mars, “Nergal,” the Star of Death. The Greeks named it Ares after their god of war. Its moons are Phobos (fear) and Deimos (terror). Perhaps it was the color that inspired men to associate the planet with such things.

In the 16th century, Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model for the solar system where the planets circled the sun. Kepler revised that, giving Mars an elliptical orbit. The telescope, invented in the early 1600s allowed men to take a closer look at this pinkish-red celestial mystery. Men like Galileo, Cassini, and Hershell peered at the red planet, each adding his observations to those of others. When Giovanni Schiaparelli made a map of Mars and called the lines ‘grooves’ (canali in Italian), the grooves became known as canals and lit the rockets of man’s imagination.

Publishing Mars

Although not the first book published using Mars, The Two Planets by German Kurd Lasswitz (1888) is thought by some to be the first significant work on Mars. In 1898, a mere ten years later, came H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars came out in 1912. The Northwest Smith series of stories were written by C.L. Moore in the mid-1930s. By 1938 C.S. Lewis contributed Out of the Silent Planet to the growing number of books about Mars.

In 1941 Isaac Asimov wrote Heredity about twins separated at birth, raised on different planets, and having to work together on Mars. Robert A. Heinlein repeatedly used Mars from the late 1940s onward. The Fifties saw stories and novels about Mars published by Arthur Clark, Ray Bradbury, Lester del Ray, and John Wyndham among others. Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, and Phillip K. Dick joined the field during the Sixties.

First to Arrive

Then Mariner 4, a US spacecraft, became the first to arrive at Mars in July 1965. It snapped about 20 pictures on its flyby. According to some, those pictures spelled the death of the mystique and mythology of Mars. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Among many others, Jerry Pournelle and Gordon Dickson published stories about Mars in the Seventies. The 1980’s saw works by Stanislaw Lem, Greg Bear, and S.M. Stirling. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series was published in the Nineties along with books by Ben Bova, Stephen Baxter, and scores of others. In 2000 Geoffrey A. Landis’ award-winning Mars Crossing was published.

In addition to all these printed words are films and television shows about Mars. There is no way this blog can cover all of the Mars fiction written. Literally, millions of words have been written about the red planet. And now that Curiosity has landed and Mars is being studied and written about again, one might expect another upsurge in novels set on Mars will be coming. Yet there are some who bemoan the fact that Science Fiction has lost its way.

In his August 17th post on Cracked.com, Robert Brockway says there are 4 Things Science Fiction Needs To Bring Back: the optimism, the sense of exploring for the future of mankind, some good old-fashioned mind f***ery, and the sense of fun.

Going to Mars, Word by Word

So in the spirit of exploration (pun intended) and in celebration of the landing of Curiosity, I am beginning a new series of posts. I’m collecting fiction, old and new, written about Mars. I’ll read the stories and report on them here. I’ll be looking for the sense of wonder, the sense of fun, the optimism for the future of mankind, and the good old-fashioned – storytelling (fooled ya, didn’t I?).

I have a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars trilogy collected in one book. Interestingly enough it has an introduction written by Bruce Coville that fits as if he wrote it for this post. In his introduction Bruce says,

“How can I tell you how much I loved these books?
Would it be enough to say that there was a period in my life when the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world was to be John Carter? I used to go to bed at night hoping to wake up on Mars. . . .”

Could you wish your words had any more impact on a young person than that? Words have power. Spoken words. Written words. Your words. My words.

What better use than to write stories, collections of words, meant to power the imagination and optimism, to inspire men to send rockets and rovers millions of miles through space, to power hope for the future?

Won’t you join me in my exploration of the fascinating red planet in fiction? First: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, I hope you’re ready.

Next stop – Barsoom!

If you’ve read a Mars book, please leave a comment with the title of the book and what your thoughts are about it. I love it when you share your thoughts with me!

The image above is a public domain image from http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/space-public-domain-images-pictures/mars-planet-of-the-solar-system.jpg-royalty-free-stock-photograph.html

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send the Humans Over!

A seven month, 354-million-mile journey is worth celebrating with a mash-up. Congratulations to NASA for the successful landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment. Over the next months to years, the rover Curiosity will investigate Mars’ habitability, study its climate and geology, and collect data for a manned mission to Mars. Red Rover, Red Rover, Send the Humans Over!

Curiosity’s First Low-Resolution Color Panorama

Follow the further adventures of Curiosity on NASA’s website.

Sending men to Mars is vaguely in NASA’s future plans, but Elon Musk, internet entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, believes man can be on Mars in 12-15 years.


A human settlement on Mars by 2023

Read more about Mars One, an international effort to put men on Mars.

Granted, there have been many dreams of sending men to Mars. This article from Wired, Humans on Mars: the Craziest, Weirdest, and Most Plausible Plans in History, touches on a few.

This is just the beginning. Mars is the next frontier. It begs to be explored.

Would I go if I could? My enthusiasm says ‘Heck, Yeah!’ In reality, I probably wouldn’t be one of the first. I’m not usually that adventurous. But I will be watching and supporting the exploration of Mars and hope that there will be men on Mars in my lifetime. Either way, I’m excited to see what happens from here, are you?

Or are you among the doubters and Naysayers like the following two links?

Did Curiosity Land on Mars or in Afghanistan

Can a Reality TV Show Help Put Humans on Mars?

I don’t doubt that the rover is on the red planet. I don’t doubt that Humans will step foot on that planet. I believe that the benefits of the science, the technical development, and the knowledge that we gain from such a venture will be worth it. What about you? Do you hear it calling? Are you going to follow the discoveries and adventures of the red rover, Curiosity? How would you answer if you heard the call, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send the Humans over?”