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Elitist Classics: A Princess of Mars

Posted by Vanessa On Thursday, August 26, 2010

First written as a serial in 1911, A PRINCESS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs was soon after published in novel form in 1917. While the story is more adventure than science fiction, it was this Mars-based pulp that influenced the men and women who would later fuel the SF renaissance of the mid-Twentieth Century--writers like Ray Bradbury, Carl Sagan, and Arthur C. Clarke.

PRINCESS follows the adventures of John Carter, Confederate War veteran, from his mysterious transportation to the planet Mars, to being captured by the green men, to meeting the lovely Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium. The storytelling itself compared to today's standards is nothing spectacular, and in fact the 'science' is pretty silly, but you have to admire Burroughs' imagination. At the time he wrote it, there was scientific speculation about the potential for life on Mars, and it must have captured his attention because he came up with some wild ideas about the people and cultures who could be inhabiting the red planet.

PRINCESS was Burroughs' first published work, even before the original TARZAN OF THE APES (which is also worth reading). He went on to write ten more Mars books, but PRINCESS is the one that started it all, and fortunately it's a quick, fun read. It doesn't hurt, either, that John Carter is a likable swashbuckler.

The Kindle edition is free, but it's easy to find a print version at your library or at most booksellers.

Michael Whelan did cover art for the '80s mass market reprinting of the Mars series, including one of A PRINCESS OF MARS that I love, not only because it's beautiful, but because it evokes the feel of the book and its setting. You can see it on his website at, and I did find the version you can buy with his cover. (Warning: Whelan's ERB art does have semi-nudity.)

Recommended age: 12 and up--the content is tame and readable by younger audiences.
Language: None.
Violence: Scattered here and there, but nothing intense or very graphic.
Sex: People on Mars wander around unclothed, however Burroughs doesn't reference naked body parts or sex.


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