Friday, 26 November 2010

A Bit of Sword and Sorcery - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs was best known for his fantasy series; the Tarzan books and the Barsoom (Mars) adventures of John Carter. He lived between 1875 and 1950 and the Martian series came out from the period 1912 for A Princess of Mars and ended with Llana of Gathol in 1948.

I purchased the series twice as most of the first books were ruined during the many moves my family made when I was young. The edition to the left were published by Del Rey, with A Princess of Mars a Seventeenth printing in 1981. All but Volumes 7 and 8 are the Del Rey editions. One interesting note, the first time I bought the books, they cost $.50 Canadian, while when I went about replacing them in the 1980's, they were $2.50 a book.

It's been ages since I read the books, so my memories of each and every story has faded, but I remember enjoying them each time I read the books and they hold pride of place on my book shelves. Even though they were written in the first half of the 1900's, they demonstrate a continuing interest on the part of Earth regarding our nearest neighbour. Consider the War of Worlds by HG Wells, Invaders from Mars, a classic SciFi movie from the 1953, which was remade in 1986.

There has always been a fascination with the Red Planet. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote 11 stories about the adventures of John Carter, the Earthly cavalry officer who finds himself on Mars (somehow) and also about the adventures of his family and friends. The last story contained one written by Edgar Rice Burroughs' son, John Coleman Burroughs.

Anyway, to get back to John Carter, the cavalry officer from Virginia, in Book 1 he suddenly finds himself astrally projected to Mars and is a prisoner of the green Thark. Also a prisoner was the lovely Dejah Thoris, Princess of the nation of Helium. Dejah was to become the love of John Carter's life and many of his adventures on Mars involve her. To get her to Helium, they must travel thousands of miles dealing with deadly enemies and unknown dangers.

The stories were very entertaining, John Carter was the bigger-than-life hero, who with his gallantry and heroism, won over potential enemies and made life-long friends of many savage Mars people, who often end up helping him on his adventures. These adventures take him all over Mars, even to the distant moons. He is often taken back to Earth and must wait (in future stories) to get back to Mars to find out what has happened and to find his love, Dejah Thoris. This happens at the end of this first story, when John Carter seemingly sacrifices his life to keep the Atmosphere Plant working so that the inhabitants of Barsoom will survive. He wakes up on Earth, wondering if he has been successful in saving his new wife and adopted world.

Book 2, The Gods of Mars, came out originally as a five part serial, published in1913. My version was the Seventieth US printing, which was published in Nov 1981. Just the fact that it was the 70th is a testament to the series' continuing popularity. In Book 2, John Carter finally returns to Mars after a ten-year absence. Unfortunately, he arrives in the one location on Mars, the Valley Dor, the Barsoomian afterlife, from where nobody can escape. Typically, for a relatively small book, it's a very complicated plot, in which we once again meet Tars Tarkas, the green giant who had befriended John Carter in the first novel. Newly introduced are Thuvia, Maid of Mars and the Black Pirate (or First Born), Xodar, who will also become a friend of John Carter, and, finally, he will meet for the first time his son, Carthoris. There is much treachery, even amongst his supposed friends in Helium, especially Zat Arras, who sentences John Carter to death. After much adventure, sword battles, travels throughout Mars, we are left with the scene of Dejah Thoris and Thuvia, possibly being slain with a dagger just as a door is closed.

The next two books in the series are The Warlord of Mars, published as a four part serial from 1913 - 1914 and Thuvia, Maid of Mars, published in April 1916. My versions are the part of the 2nd Canadian printing of Apr 1980.  I love the covers, both colorful, with the brave muscular swordsman, John Carter on the first and the voluptuous Thuvia on the second.

The Warlord of Mars continues where the previous one finished, with Dejah Thoris imprisoned in the Temple of the Sun by the high priestess, Issus. Supposedly, she is imprisoned in a room which can only be accessed once a year as it slowly revolves. John Carter enlists the aid of Matai Thang who helps rescue Dejah Thoris, Thuvia and one of Matai's own race. However, he also tricks John Carter and steals the three women, heading north. The narrative concerns John Carter's race to save his wife and Thuvia, meeting new and exciting people and adventures along the way.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars concerns John Carter's son Carthoris and his love Thuvia. Unfortunately, she is promised to another and the only way Carthoris could break that engagement is for Thuvia's betrothed to be killed, but not by her suitor. Confusing, eh? As well, Thuvia is kidnapped and Carthoris must journey to the deep South to find her. Of course, Carthoris is blamed for the kidnapping, resulting in a possible war amongst the various red races of Barsoom. Carthoris must rescue Thuvia, get back home to stop the war and hopefully also win his loves hand. Wow!

The adventures continue with Book 5, The Chessmen of Mars and Book 6, The Master Mind of Mars.

Chessmen was originally published in 1922, the third Canadian printing in Apr 1980. This story deals with John Carter's daughter, Princess Tara of Helium. Tara's hand is sought by Prince Gahan of another state, Gathol. Tara thinks he is somewhat of a spoiled prince and has no interest in him. She crashes in a storm and is captured by the ferocious Kaldanes, another race. Gahan searches for her and does save her, but because he isn't in his princely finery, she doesn't recognize him. The adventures continue when they are both captured by the citizens of Manator, who entertain themselves by pitting captives against each other on a life-sized chess board, forcing the captives to fight to the death, including brave Gahan.

The next story,  The Mastermind of Mars,also follows a different path, following the adventures of another human, Ulysses Paxton, who, like John Carter, arrives on Mars via astral projection. A somewhat strange story, in which Paxton is taken by the mastermind of Mars, a mad scientist who transplants the brains of old rich Martians into young Martian bodies. He wishes to train Paxton  in this skill so that Paxton can do the same for him. Paxton refuses as he loves a young woman, Valla Dia, whose body has been given to an old hag. The story follows Paxton and a strange group of the mad scientist's victims as they try to find Valla Dia's body so that she can once again receive her brain. (Cool, huh?)

Books 7 and 8 are the two remaining copies of the editions I purchased in the late '60's. These are the Ballantine Book versions, quite a different type of cover, but still colorful and full of action.

Book 7 is A Fighting Man of Mars, originally published in 1931, with this edition in Feb 1969. The story covers the adventures of Hadron of Hastor, one of the warriors in service of the Warlord of Mars, John Carter. He searches alone for Sanoma Tora, who has been abducted. Distracted from this search when he tries to save a slave girl of his own race, he is taken prisoner. There he learns of a weapon that will disintegrate metal and realizes it could be used to destroy the fleet of John Carter, which is on the way. What will he do to save his emperor and will he find his lady love? Read and find out.

Book 8 is Swords of Mars once again follows the adventures of John Carter. In this John is determined to stamp out the Assassin's Guild and goes to its headquarters to do so. While there he discovers an invention; a ship which for the first time will take Barsoomians off their planet. He also discovers that the leader of the Assassin's Guild has captured his love, Dejah Thoris!! This is the first time that the adventures go off planet; as the Assassins flee to Phobos, followed by John Carter.

The final three books in the series are; Book 9, Synthetic Men of Mars originally published in1939, Book 10, Llana of Gathol published as 4 novelettes in 1941 and the final, Book 11, John Carter of Mars, Part 1 published in 1940 and Part 2 in 1942.

Considering the time it was written, Book 9 explores the dangers of cloning and genetic mutation years before they became popular themes in SciFi. In this story, John Carter tries to get the aid of Mars' greatest scientist, Ras Thavas. However, Ras is a prisoner of his own nightmare creations, half humans who lived only for conquest. And worst of all is the horror hidden in his laboratory that could destroy Mars.

Book 10 consists of 4 separate stories; City of Mummies, Black Pirates of Barsoom, Yellow Men of Mars and Invisible Men of Mars. The thread is held together by Llana of Gathol, John Carter's granddaughter, who plays the damsel in distress in this story. The basic premise is that Llana is kidnapped by brutal Hin Abtol, leader of an army from the frozen north. Kidnapping Carter's granddaughter could prove to be a fatal mistake; you don't harm the kin of John Carter!

Book 11 is a collection of two stories. The first, John Carter of Mars, is a juvenile story written by Burroughs son and supposedly edited by Burroughs. The second is Skeleton Men of Mars and was originally to be similar to the 4 novelettes dealing with Llana of Gathol. However, this was never accomplished and the story ends up unresolved. The stories deal with the attack of skeletal creatures from Jupiter who plot the conquest of Mars, which involves the kidnapping of John Carter. The first edition of this story was published 14 years after Burroughs death, with the publisher highlighting the differences in style between the first story and the second.

I enjoyed all of the John Carter stories. They are filled with adventure in strange lands, with strange and wonderful races and lovely women to be saved. John Carter is the perfect hero, honourable, steadfast and a man who will protect his family and friends at the drop of a hat. I think these are great stories for a young man looking to escape into a world of adventure.


  1. Reading this I remembered watching something similar on TV once. Probably filmed in the 60`s. Could I be right about that?

    You know they are filming "John Carter of mars" right now? I think it is supposed to be released in 2012..I enjoy stuff like that, so will look forward to it!

  2. I'm not sure of the tv series; there may have been related shows. Thanks for pointing out the upcoming movie. I hope it can catch the feel of the books.

  3. Thank you for posting these, I bought them new off the shelf as a boy of 12 (in 1980) and the images on these covers really stuck in my psyche. Maybe something to do with puberty hitting right about then. :-)
    Wish I still had them. I recall fondly having the whole set of 12.

    B deCaussin

  4. Books 7 and 8 were the original series I bought, when my dad was stationed in Germany back in early 1970. I had moved so many times that they basically fell apart over the years, with those two the only ones that survived. So I slowly bought the other edition with sort of sexier covers while I was living in Ottawa, back in the '80's I think. I really enjoyed the series; that and Robert E. Howard's Conan books. I'll have to post those covers sometime too. Glad you enjoyed reading the Blog. Thanks very much.

  5. I see in the Blog I said in the '60s, lol. Well, we were in Germany from 68 - 71, so it was that timeframe.. ;0)


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