My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Do you enjoy heavily-plotted novels, full of deep thematic structure and realistic, fleshed-out characters? Yearn for intrigue & mind-boggling plot twists? Want to keep guessing until the end?
Then I’m sorry, but “A Princess of Mars” is not for you. “A Princess of Mars” is for people who can set aside their need for plot, and structure, and realistic characterization, and embrace the pulpiest of pulp science fiction. And if you can do that, than this will be an awesome romp through a total classic.
I suspect that Burroughs’ working title could have been, “10 Ways John Carter is Better Than You.” And make no mistake about it; John Carter is smarter, braver, a perfect Southern Gentleman, more loyal, more clever, a natural alien-horse whisperer, stronger, a better fighter, and more handsome than you could ever hope to be, and he does it all naked (as Martians don’t believe in clothes). His milkshake doesn’t just bring all the girls to the yard; the most beautiful woman on the planet falls in love with him.
So John Carter, our intrepid, inexplicably immortal Adventurer, gets incorporeally transferred to Mars, while his physical body remains in a cave in the desert (after escaping from a pack of blood-thirsty Indians, no less). He spends some time bouncing around the moss-covered landscape, discovering that Mars’ gravity enables him to Jump Really High. Keep this in mind, as it’s pretty much the skill that Carter uses to defeat every baddie who comes along, starting with the tribe of Tharks he stumbles into. Fifteen feet tall, ultra-trained warriors who’ve been fighting their entire lives, but (remember, he is More Awesome) with a good right hook and some fancy bouncing, Carter manages to knock out a few warriors and win himself some alien respect.
Carter rides around with the Tharks, learning their terrible alien ways.
Evidently devoid of all the finer sentiments of friendship, love, or affection, these [Tharks] fairly worship physical prowess and bravery, and nothing is too good for the object of their adoration as long as he maintains his position by repeated examples of his skill, strength, and courage.
Hatched from eggs and raised communally, the Tharks have no family structure or sense of the family bond; mating is controlled by the Elders for the best genetic match. John Carter, being, of course, the perfect Family Man, is repulsed by the Tharks lack of love and kindness.
But fret not! Shortly after being taken in by the Tharks, Carter discovers his perfect match, Dejah Thoris. She comes from a different species of Martians, the red-skinned people of Helium (who just happen to look exactly like the people of Earth). Helium’s society is everything Carter could wish for; full of loving family units, arts and culture, learning, and, of course, the most beautiful princess on the planet. So beautiful that even the Tharks, who have a completely different standard of beauty, desire her. I know, right? Knowing that they’ll never be able to live happily among the Tharks, Carter and Dejah Thoris hatch a daring escape plan.
Which, frankly, encapsulates the rest of the novel. Carter and Dejah Thoris get captured, someone desires her for Nefarious Purposes, Carter embarks on a Daring & Impossible Quest to rescue her. Rinse, repeat. Is it fun? Yes. Is it full of adventure and heroic deeds? Certainly. Will it strain your mental capacity? Not in the slightest. But I absolutely, absolutely recommend it. It’s a hoot. Also, they’ve made it into a movie, John Carter, which just came out.