Under the Moons of Mars

This is partially a reprint from my first blog, Ragtop Days, Cabernet Nights. I’ve rewritten it and updated it some . . .

It is one of the most beautiful, wondrous, evocative titles I have ever encountered.

Under the Moons of Mars

It was the first novel by the creator of Tarzan, published in All-Story, a pulp magazine, 98 years ago.

And why, in 2009, does anyone still give a damn?

Let’s start at the beginning. My beginning.

I have in my hands a hardback copy of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Perhaps Frazetta’s most influential and impressive painting.

I wrote my name in my books back then, when I got this book, marveling endlessly at the machismo and the sexuality of the Frank Frazetta cover painting (which has since become an iconic classic of fantasy art). A rubber stamp with my name and address, my initials, encircled, like my own personal logo, my name, and the year the book arrived in the mail from the Science Fiction Book Club: 1971, in the fall. 8th grade. Thomas Eaton Junior High.

Carl Loveland is the villain of this tale — one of my best friends through Eaton, and then Hampton High, and then on to ODU. It was his devious machinations that led me to join the SFBC — “10 books for 10 cents” I believe was the initial come-on — and his glowing review of A Princess of Mars that made this novel my very first purchase. Plus, he got a free book for every member he convinced to join.

It is because of A Princess of Mars that I became a writer. It was because of the sheer power of its storytelling. It was because of its epic, romantic magic.

It’s the story of John Carter, a former Confederate Captain from Virginia, now prospecting with a friend in the hills of Arizona in 1866. He and his friend are attacked by Apaches, and after falling victim to a mysterious drowsiness in a cave in the hills, Carter awakens to find himself on Mars, the red planet, named after the Roman god of war.

Burroughs wrote best at the beginning of his career. A mere review or even a synopsis would do this novel a huge injustice. But Burroughs’ storytelling — even though his language was formal, to say the least — was fired with energy, crackling with believability, even as John Carter fought four-armed green Martians, rode ten-legged Martian horses called thoats, and battled great white apes with four arms. Only a twelve or thirteen year old could read Princess and fall completely under its spell. Which I did, and which I will always be under.

The first illustration of Burroughs’ Green Martians, from All Story, 1911

Tarzan of the Apes, created only a year later by Burroughs, will forever be his most popular character. (Of all the fictional characters in all the world, only five will forever be remembered by schoolchildren across the globe: Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Tarzan and Mickey Mouse.) but John Carter is arguably his finest creation, and perhaps his most influential. For a novel, published originally as Under the Moons of Mars under a pseudonym, Norman Bean (it was supposed to be Normal Bean, as in “Normal Being,” because Burroughs didn’t want readers to think he was crazy for coming up with stuff like this), it went on to incredible public acclaim (albeit not literary acclaim)

The 1917 dust jacket of Princess’ first edition.

What Burroughs accidentally created with Princess was one of the first science fiction epics, called by scholars a scientific romance. Its origins may lie with a British novel, Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, reprinted in the ’60s by Ace as Gullivar of Mars, by Edwin Lester Arnold, but no scholar can determine if Burroughs ever read it…or how, for that matter, as it was only published and distributed in Great Britain. (Personally, I believe the origins of John Carter go farther back in time and deeper in Burroughs’ subconsciousness, and I may write on that another time.) More importantly is Burroughs’ influence. A Princess of Mars and the heroes he later created have influenced writers, artists and creators for almost 100 years, from contemporaries such as Robert E. Howard and Otis Adelbert Kline, to the late Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, Philip Jose Farmer, and more than I could list.

John Carter was the macho hero we all wanted to be — and his princess was the babe we all wanted to find, and save, and fall in love with: Dejah Thoris…one of the most frequently drawn characters by painters, illustrators and comic book artists. (Go ahead: Google “Dejah Thoris” and do an image search. The best are by Frank Cho and Adam Hughes, and are decidedly NSFW).

Dejah Thoris, the incomparable princess of Mars, as interpreted by Gene Gonzales

It was Burroughs and A Princess of Mars that led me to create my forthcoming trilogy, The Enigma Club — in much the same way that Burroughs found impetus to write Princess: he was bored at work — and he has given me almost four decades of wonderful dreams and adventures. This link DEJAH THORIS will take you to the free e-text of A Princess of Mars. Copy it all. (Control-A., then control-C, then open Word and control-P. You can do it!) Print it if you have to, or go to Barnes & Noble and pick up the omnibus edition of Princess and its two immediate sequels, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars (both of which are also available free online at Project Gutenberg).

A new omnibus edition of the first three Mars novels — which make up an unofficial trilogy — will appear later this year, illustrated by comics illustrator Thomas Yeates. Disney has the rights to bring Princess to the screen. It’s currently titled John Carter of Mars (I and the true fans-at-large want the title to return to A Princess of Mars or the original Under the Moons of Mars) and is now being adapted by Andrew Stanton, who just won a Golden Globe for Wall*E. It will combine live action footage with considerable CGI and is scheduled to be in theaters in 2012. (But if you can’t wait that long, go to YouTube and search for John Carter.) Here’s the latest info from i09 and Ain’t It Cool News:

Wall-E director Andrew Stanton has been talking about his upcoming adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, clarifying what we should expect to see in the movie – and in how many dimensions.

Stanton spilled many beans – and corrected many rumors – during the Santa Barbara Film Festival this weekend. He revealed that, despite what many thought, Carter would not be a Pixar movie, but instead come out under the Disney banner, even though it will be created using a lot of Pixar talent. The script is already in its second draft, and Stanton expects the movie to have a shorter development time than his animated movies due to his long-standing love of the original stories; he joked that he’s been developing the movie in his head since childhood.

The look of the film will be “very real,” and not highly-stylized, due to what Stanton sees as the way the original story has been ripped off by many different movies over the years; it’ll also be a faithful retelling, with Carter remaining the Civil War soldier that he was in Burroughs’ original. Again, despite what many have been saying, the film will be both live action and not shot in 3-D (although he feels that Disney may end up disagreeing with him on that latter point), and he’s suitably daunted by the prospect of live action directing, commenting that,

It is huge, it is exciting, it scares the crap out of me. It’s either going to make me or break me.

We’re betting on the former; Stanton is a very talented man, and this continues to look like the ideal movie for him.

Mars, monsters, swordfights, and the love of semi-nude Martian babes. Magic, I tell you. Magic!

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