A Princess of Mars is similar to many of Burroughs' tales. Characterized by copious violent action, it is basically a travelogue, a tale of a journey and various encounters on that journey, which does not necessarily have a defined plot. It is also a captivity narrative, involving a civilized hero being captured by an uncivilized culture and being forced to adapt to the primitive nature of the captors to survive.
As is the case with the majority of the Barsoom novels to follow, it portrays a hero facing impossible odds and forced to fight a range of lurid creatures in order to win the love of the heroine. Burroughs' Barsoom is also morally unambiguous; there is no sense of moral relativity and characters are either good or evil. The tale portrays a hero with a sense of honor transcending race and politics. Compassion, loyalty and bravery are celebrated, and callousness, deception, and cowardice are frowned upon.
It is possible, as Richard A. Lupoff argues in the book Master of Adventure: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, that Burroughs took some inspiration from the 1905 novel Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, by Edwin Lester Arnold, which also featured an American military man transported to Mars. Lupoff also suggested John Carter has strong similarities to Phra, hero of Arnold's The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890), who is also a master swordsman who appears to be immortal.
A Princess of Mars has many similarities to Westerns, including a desert setting, a heroine taken captive, and a showdown with the antagonist. Burroughs worked as a soldier at Fort Grant, Arizona, where he patrolled the desert to protect white settlers. During this time he gained a great respect for American Indians and their warriors, such as Geronimo. Barsoom resembles a kind of Martian Wild West. Indeed, John Carter is an adventuring frontiersman who is cornered by Apache warriors in the Arizona desert before his transition to Mars. When he arrives there, he discovers a savage, frontier world with scarce resources, where strength is respected, and where the civilized Red Martians maintain their racial vigor by repelling the constant attacks of the Green Martians. The latter are a barbaric, nomadic, tribal culture with many parallels to American Indians.
Bedap and some of his friends were taking off a decad together, going on a hiking tour in the Ne Theras. He had persuaded Shevek to come. Shevek liked the prospect of ten days in the mountains, but not the prospect of ten days of Bedap's opinions. Bedap's conversation was all too much like a Criticism Session, the communal activity he had always liked least, when everybody stood up and complained about defects in the functioning of the community and, usually, defects in the characters of the neighbors. The nearer the vacation came the less he looked forward to it. But he stuck a notebook in his pocket, so he could get away and pretend to be working, and went.
He spent one day in the attic of a tenement in Joking Lane, and two nights and a day in a basement under a used-furniture store, a strange dim place full of empty mirror frames and broken bedsteads. He wrote. They brought him what he had written, printed, within a few hours: at first in the newspaper Modern Age, and later, after the Modern Age presses had been closed down and the editors arrested, as handbills run on a clandestine press, along with plans and incitations for the demonstration and general strike. He did not read over what he had written. He did not listen closely to Maedda and the others, who described the enthusiasm with which the papers were read, the spreading acceptance of the plan for the strike, the effect his presence at the demonstration would make in the eyes of the world. When they left him alone, sometimes he took a small notebook from his shirt pocket and looked at the coded notes and equations of the General Temporal Theory. He looked at them and could not read them. He did not understand them. He put the notebook away again and sat with his head between his hands.
Great book. There's a strange scene though where the main character/hero commits sexual assault, and I never knew what we're supposed to think about that, and why he did it, or what we're supposed to think of him as a character after that. I think the author was trying to say that visiting and immersing himself in a capitalist world has a corrupting influence? Still, it seemed to be brushed off too casually, and tainted the rest of the book for me. 2b1af7f3a8