As some of you may know, I cut my spec fic teeth back in the day reading everything I could get my hands on that was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. ERB was doing most of his writing from about 1912 to the mid-1940s. He wrote classic pulp fiction, which is what I try to model my space opera series, the Far Seek Chronicles, after. That is, in terms of his spec fic, high adventure, high drama, and amazing settings.
And c’mon. You know who this guy is. He’s the creator of Tarzan. But he’s also the creator of myriad other worlds, including a vision of Mars that his Earthling character, John Carter, had the opportunity to visit and make part of his life.
I also want to be clear. ERB was writing at a time when it was okay and even expected to be racist and sexist. ERB himself leaned toward eugenics, as author John Taliaferro notes in his biography of the writer. (read chapter one here) So yes, these books are racist and sexist, some more blatantly than others. But they’re also highly imaginative, with amazing creatures, characters, and settings. ERB was definitely a product of his time and background, which certainly doesn’t excuse some of the things in his books, but hopefully, it explains it to you, people who may not be familiar with his work. As much as we don’t like to admit it, writers are products of their times and contexts, too, and yes, that can and does get reflected in our writing.
There’ve been tons of Tarzan movies over the years, but here, at long last, is a movie version of what I’m guessing is the first book in ERB’s Mars series, though the title’s wrong. The first book in the Mars series is A Princess of Mars, and it was published in 1912. This was the first novel ERB wrote. So though he’s known more for the Tarzan series, he was writing the Mars series as well.
The premise of the Mars series is John Carter, a veteran of the Civil War (who fought for the Confederacy). After the war, he goes prospecting in Arizona and ends up in trouble with some Apaches. He hides in a sacred cave and there’s something hinky/freaky in there, because BOOM he’s transported to Mars (Barsoom), which is a dying world ravaged by war (and awesome characters and creatures). Because he’s from Earth, he has amazing powers in the low gravity of Mars. He gets caught up in the battles for justice, and there’s all kinds of adventure and some romance, too.
The title of the movie is John Carter, and I’m thinking that probably it’s an amalgam of several of the books, though I could be wrong and it could be based on the first book in the series. Princess of Mars celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and Library of America will be releasing a special commemorative hardcover edition. Kinda cool. And kinda neat that this movie will be released March 9th. ERB fans, rejoice! Let’s hope this one does the pulp fiction master proud.