Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
In the Early 20th century, pulp ruled the literary world. People, growing tired of the daily realities of the mundane nature, craved for adventure. High literature was the luxury of the learned and the upper class. While people did aspire to read large, classical tomes that unfurled stories of literary merit, they also craved for the quick fix of broad adventure. Where men were men and women wore little!
At first it was the pulp crime/mystery novels with their alluring paperback covers. Then there were gritty cowboy stories of the wild frontier. But a new genre was rearing its head, where authors aspired beyond the mere confines of the earthly delights. They wanted more, they wanted space. The glorious science fiction and fantasy opened new horizons: broad open spaces, alien landscapes, super powers, rocket ships of grandeur, extraterrestrial villains and much more. The sky used to be the limit for the imagination of an author. But now, they could travel a million galaxies the very edges of the universe (if there was an edge).
It is in this milieu that a new hero was born in February 1912.
The hero is John Carter of Mars. And his creator was the formidable Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Born in Chicago on September 1st , 1875, Burroughs was a child of a civil war veteran, Major George Tyler Burroughs. With an unremarkable education, a short stint in the army (discharged due to a minor heart condition) and eventually finding work as a pencil sharpener wholesaler, Burroughs led an ordinary and strangely unfulfilling life plagued with meagre wages - with his wife and three children. In his free time he read a lot of pulp magazines. He later recalled feeling that if people were getting paid to write such rot, he could do no worse. He felt he could entertain and astound readers with equally ‘rotten’ stories but perhaps could do better.
His first story was called ‘Under the Moons of Mars’ which he sold to All-Story Magazine and was serialised between February and July 1912. A hefty 400 dollars (at today’s rate around 8000 dollars) was paid to Burroughs. He originally wrote under the pseudonym ' Norman Bean'.
Realising that his imagination and writing merited a much better wage that he has ever earned before, Burroughs took to full time writing. In October 1912 he created a more famous and enduring series in Tarzan of the apes. This went on to massive success and made his name. The first book version was published in 1914, consisting of the collected stories serialised in the All-Story magazine. The rest, as they say, is history.
But we are not here to talk about the ape man in a loincloth. We are here to talk about our Mars- Man.
Standing 6 foot 2 inches with a formidable frame ( Jack Reacher, eat your heart out), close cropped hair and steel grey eyes and perpetually 30 years old, Carter can remember no childhood. Described as an immortal, this Virginian served as a Captain in the Confederate army during the American Civil war. At the beginning of the first book ( published in 1917 as a Princess of Mars) Carter’s effects are handed over to his nephew ( Burroughs) who finds a manuscript that describes the strange adventures of ‘Uncle Jack’ who never seems to age. His lifeless, yet ageless body is confined to a tomb whose ornate door can only be opened from inside.
After being decommissioned from the Civil War, Carter goes prospecting in Arizona for gold along with a fellow army friend, Powell. After an ambush by Apaches, he crawls into a cave to hide only to leave his earthly body behind and ‘astrally’ transported to the red planet, Mars.
Here begins his glorious adventures. Armed with a physique that is used to earthly gravity, Carter finds himself a superhero in the planet of Mars, known locally to its occupants as ‘Barsoom’. Strange civilisations, warring factions, bizarre aliens and beautiful maidens populate Barsoom.Carter has many adventures in Mars and links up with princess Dejah Thoris, His many travels to Barsoom form the bulk of the adventures written by ERB.
Burroughs' vision of Mars is very much inspired by the works of astronomers of his time. Mars was viewed as formerly Earthlike by astronomers such as Sir Percival Lowell who speculated fading civilisations and lost glory in his works.
At the same time the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli found channels ( canaliculi) in Martian terrain. Mistakenly translated as canals, speculation became rife that these were dried of canals were water once flowed in Mars.
These thoughts sparked ERB's view of the world. Once a lush planet, Barsoom is now a fading terrain with dwindling resources. Populated by various races ( Red, Green, Yellow, White, Black etc.) who are all warring against each other to stake claim for what remains, Barsoom is very much a land in turmoil.
Inspiration to Many
One only has to look at the concepts, the imagination and the art of John Carter to see how this would’ve inspired countless future writers and film makers. The likes of Conan, Star Wars, Flash Gordon seem all to carry shades of this original creation. The vast interplanetary adventures are stirring and highly entertaining. Though written in early 20th century the books carry a lean pace, tight plots and high adventure.
Many science fiction authors of the Golden Age- Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke have all quoted ERB's John Carter as a childhood inspiration that spurred their imagination. Scientist and writer Carl Sagan said that his search for extra terrestrial intelligence was inspired by childhood readings of these stories.
The Barsoom Series
|Title||Magazine Publication Date||Book Publication Date|
A Princess of Mars
February -July 1912 - All-Story
1917 (A.C. McClurg)
The Gods of Mars
January -May 1913 - All-Story
1918 (A.C. McClurg)
Warlord of Mars
December 1913- March 1914 - All-Story
1919 (A.C. McClurg)
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
April 8,15,22 1916 -All-Story Weekly
1920 (A.C. McClurg)
The Chessmen of Mars
February- March 1922 -Argosy All-story weekly
1922 (A.C. McClurg)
The Master Mind of Mars
July 15, 1927- Amazing Stories Annual
1928 (A.C. McClurg)
A Fighting Man of Mars
April - September 1930 - Blue Book Magazine
1931 ( Metropolitan)
Swords of Mars
November 1934- April 1935 - Blue Book Magazine
1936 ( Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.)
Synthetic Men of Mars
1939 -Argosy Weekly
1940 ( Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.)
Llana of Gathol
1941 -Amazing Stories
1948 ( Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.)
John Carter of Mars
1941, 1943 - Amazing Stories
1964 ( Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.)
A Princess of Mars
On a cold night in Arizona, after an ambush by a horde of Apaches, ex-confederate army captain and current gold prospector John Carter encounters a mysterious cave where hides. He is then lured by the glow of the red planet in the sky and leaves his earthly body behind only to wake up in Mars ( known as Barsoom to the locals). He falls in with a nomadic tribe of Green skinned Martians knows as Tharks. Due to his extraordianry physical agility and strength he soon rises to a high position in the Thark army. Many adventures ensue.The Tharks capture the delectable Princess Dejah Thoris of the Red Martian race from the kingdom of Helium.
John Carter falls for the charms of Princess Dejah ( and she to his) and he rescue her to return her to her people eventually becoming the Prince of Helium and settling down to a life of bliss with his beloved. An accident in the air factory ( that maintains the planet's atmosphere) makes John sacrifice his life for the good of the planet... he awakens back in the Arizona cave wondering whether he will ever go back to Barsoom.