Friday, March 23, 2012

A Princess of Mars, yeah, I read it

After watching the highly-enjoyable, but critically-panned John Carter, I figured it was time to read the source material, Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. It was not a challenging read. Much like the pulp-era stories which would begin to appear a few years later, the plot and characters in this book are fairly simple. The protagonist, John Carter, is a Civil War veteran and soldier of fortune. Unlike the character in the movie, he is not a reluctant warrior and carries none of the emotional baggage that his cinematic version bears. Rather than being a lost and damaged soul seeking only solace and a way home, Burroughs' John Carter is a man's man. Likewise, the princess, Dejah Thoris, of A Princess of Mars is not the warrior-scholar shown in the film. In the novel, Dejah Thoris is, at times, haughty and petulant, but she also shows great poise and courage in the face of unimaginable torments that she fully expects to suffer at the hands of her captors.

[Spoilers ahead]: The basic plot of both the film and the novel are similar, although far more emphasis is placed on the war between Zodanga and Helium in the movie than in the book. Also, the whole subplot involving the Therns and the Ninth Ray is simply not present in the book at all. Indeed, the Ninth Ray is only briefly mentioned as being vital to the anti-gravity technology of the Martians. Beyond that, it doesn't serve the plot in any way. The other major departure I noticed with the film was in the main antagonist, Sab Than, the ruler of Zodanga. In the book, he was a minor character and merely the heir to the throne of Zodanga. Although he did seek to marry Dejah Thoris, there was no evidence he intended to kill her or destroy Helium. His desires were no more sinister than the standard power politics practiced by royalty on earth for centuries.

A Princess of Mars is a light, but entertaining read full of swashbuckling action in a compelling world where men are men, women are beautiful and villains are there to be vanquished, not understood or pitied. It espouses virtues which many today might find antiquated, or even a bit bigoted. I can see why some changes were made to make the film more relatable to modern moviegoers. Nonetheless, it is a good story and I encourage those who have never read it to give it a go.



Martin R. Thomas said...

I read "Princess" ages ago back in Jr. High and I barely remember it.

My wife and I saw the movie a few weeks ago before St. Patrick's Day (her pick!) and we both enjoyed it. The marketing of the movie is what killed it, in my opinion.

Rognar said...

I agree the marketing of this film was terrible. I also think the source material is pretty obscure to mainstream audiences. Compare it to The Hunger Games, which I had never even heard of until a few weeks ago. The difference in mainstream awareness of the two franchises is enormous.