Tuesday, March 06, 2012

John Carter of Mars

The cover on my older copy, by Michael Whelan
I actually missed the announcement that I meant to make in February, but maybe that's OK.  One hundred years ago, in the February issue of All-Story, the first part of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Under the Moons of Mars, attributed to pen-name Norman Bean, was published.  This is the first part of what was five years later republished in novel format as A Princess of Mars and is the start, many say, of the modern science fiction genre.  Not coincidentally, it's the primary basis (I presume; I guess I don't know for sure until I see it, although clearly it's been blended with The Gods of Mars and possibly Warlord of Mars too) for the upcoming John Carter movie which comes out this Friday.

I was going to hold off on my tribute until Friday, but since I "liked" the movie page on Facebook a while ago, I happened to get the message that the soundtrack was released today, and the mp3 download of it was one of the Amazon "Daily Deals" or whatever they call it.  Since I'm a fan of both John Carter and movie soundtracks in general, $3.99 was so cheap it was a no-brainer.  And that made me decide that it was time to do my tribute after all.

John Carter was rather obviously a huge influence on Flash Gordon.  Flash Gordon, in fact, aped most of the conventions, tropes, and settings of Barsoom--the Mars of John Carter stories--and made them even more mainstream.  George Lucas, of course, aped Flash Gordon, but he was self-aware and genre-aware enough to have also read ERB, and he knew about it.

ERB was also widely aped both during his own career highlights (Otis Adelbert Kline, Ralph Milne Farley, even Robert E. Howard, etc.) and later during a reprinting rennaisance in the 60s (Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, Mike Resnick, Alan Burt Akers, John Norman, many others).

Barsoom cover of the first copy I read from the library, by Frank Frazetta
Barsoom was also, to bring this back to the world of gaming, a major influence on the Dark Sun setting, by the creators' admission.  It was also hugely influential on my friend Corey Reid's setting (which borrowed the name and many generic particulars) and was hugely influential on the development of DARK•HERITAGE frankly, although moreso in earlier versions of the setting than as it stands now.  And a number of Barsoom-like elements made it into D&D from the very earliest days--critters like the gorillon, for example, are clearly Barsoomian white apes (sadly, I don't think the banth ever got directly added to D&D--at least not officially.)

A Princess of Mars has always been one of my favorite books, and I've read it many times.  The plot and characterizations are relatively simple, yet likeable, and they all move at break-neck speed.  Some of the dialogue and situations are simply amazing.  That's not to say that Burroughs' weaknesses as a writer aren't also very and immediately obvious, but... well, they don't really detract much from his charm in this case.

His character Tarzan went on to be better known, and to sell many more books (or at least to have many more books published featuring him) as well as giving his name to a town in California, Tarzana.  That said, John Carter was always my favorite, and his influence, although perhaps not as well known and perhaps a bit more subtle, is still extremely pervasive in the fields of swashbuckling fantasy and science fiction alike.  I can't help but to give a hearty "Cheers!" to John Carter to celebrate (slightly belatedly) the 100th anniversary of his first publishing, as well as the also belatedly release of a movie based on the book--after many tries and many years--decades even--of attempts.  I'm always just a bit hesitant to see some of my favorite literary works converted to film, and clearly the plot has evolved considerably under the influence of the screenwriters from the starting point of the novels.  And, I'm not sure that the visuals of the characters are really what I was hoping for either.  But all in all, I'm excited nonetheless, and I can certainly forgive the movie for not being exactly what I want it to be as long as it's good in its own right.  And I remain cautiously optimistic that it will be.

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