Thursday, 29 March 2012

Frank Frazetta's Barsoom

For Disney's feature film version of John Carter, the first biggest costuming challenge was the lack of costuming to be found on the novel's characters. The second was the enduring influence of legendary painter Frank Frazetta. Born in New York in 1928, he was already enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts by the age of eight. At 15 he began working as an illustrator in comics, and broke out as a painter in 1964. His penchant was for fantasy settings and his book covers defined the look of Conan, John Carter and Tarzan for generations. Presented here is a sampling of some of his work depicting Barsoom.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Bob Clampett's John Carter of Mars (1932)

The year 1912 was a banner year for Scientific Romances, seeing the publication of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World as well as the two classics for which Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known: Tarzan of the Apes and A Princess of Mars. Those same properties begat some of the great films of Hollywood's Golden Age, such as the 1925 version of The Lost World, 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man and 1934's Tarzan and His Mate. John Carter did not fare so well, with a feature film held off until Disney's live-action version of 2012.

However, as early as 1935, animator Bob Clampett approached Burroughs to create a series of animated serials featuring the adventures of the Civil War veteran on the red star. By 1936 a test reel was completed but the project left to sink into development oblivion. There, it became one of the great "what ifs" of animation and cinema history. What was made shows a series that might well be overestimated by nostalgic eyes, but at the very least would compare quite favourably to the great Max Fleischer Superman cartoons a few years later.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

VEx March Contest - Under the Moons of Mars

In celebration of the centennial of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter series, March's giveaway will be for Bison Frontiers of Imagination's collected edition of the first three Carter novels: Under the Moons of Mars! This anthology of A Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars includes and introduction by James P. Hogan and illustrations by Scott Beachler.

To enter, just leave a post in the comment section, and make sure there is some way to contact you through it. The draw will be at 12:00 am on Sunday, March 25!

Thank you again, one and all, for your continued support of Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age!

And the winner is... grouchomarxist! Check your inbox for a message, and thank you once again to everyone for your ongoing support!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Gulliver of Mars (1905)

Written almost ten years before Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, one cannot help but notice similarities between it and Edwin L. Arnold's Gulliver of Mars. Originally published as Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, Arnold's protagonist is a Civil War veteran who happens across a magic carpet that transports him bodily to Mars. There he falls in with the ancient ruling civilization and falls in love with its princess, but must confront the brawny masculinists who threaten the peace and his lady-love's modesty. Sword-in-hand, Jones quests across this early example of the Planetary Romance, fighting to win back his princess.

Not well received during his lifetime, Arnold's novel has been critically reappraised for its possible role in inspiring Burroughs' classic series and its undisputed role in the development of the Planetary Romance genre. On a sober, mature reading, Gulliver of Mars actually fares better than the adventures of John Carter. Those same excesses that drove Burroughs' popularity - the blatant "Mary Sue" characters, the textbook Hero's Journey, the obvious narrative expedients, the unreflective escapism - are refreshingly absent in Arnold's work.

Gullivar Jones is a good soldier, there is no question of that. He is driven to the ends of the Red Planet to find his love. But he does not bore the reader with constant reminders of what a good soldier he is. On the contrary, with the novel being written in the style of a memoirs, Jones is almost too humble about himself and the credibility of his story.

Gulliver of Mars is not without its Edwardian masculinism, inherent as it is to the Hero's Journey and swords n' sandals quests. The defining characteristic of the Martian civilization is that they are such an ancient, lethargic race that marriages are decided by public draw and assented to by an attitude just above apathy. Jones is an oddity not merely because of his strange dress and manner, but because of his passion for the princess. Contagious, it spreads to her and she is willing to risk her own life to provide Jones a means of identifying her ballot in the jar. Just when it seems his goal of bedding his mistress is reached, she is snatched away by the invading barbarians from afar. Furious, Jones tries to frenzy an army to no avail. The men of Mars are too cowardly, comfortable and indifferent. The only one who isn't is the prince, who sold off the princess out of jealously, the opposite of Jones' wholesome and manly red blood.

Making his way by land and sea, Jones tours the Martian environs and befriends its people. Once or twice he even catches himself feeling more sympathy for the brutish, hairy barbarians than for the weak and waifish native peoples of his princess. Still he presses onwards to win her back to her people and his breast. Nevermind, of course, that he does have a girl back home that he was engaged to before the magic carpet spirited him away. She does come to mind occasionally whenever he fears that he will meet his end on this faraway world. He wonders what has become of her and what she must be feeling at this moment, but the wondering passes when he concentrates again on his quest to find his girl in this port.

Though grossly unfaithful in a way that John Carter never succumbed to (Burroughs never did explore the inherent sexuality of his stark naked planet), this indecisiveness of Gullivar Jones is part of what makes him more human and refreshing than Carter. He is dragged along on his adventures, with only spotty help, no retainers falling into his lap by handy coincidence, contradictory in his feelings and ultimately denied a solid resolution. The irony is that despite Carter being a Mary Sue, Jones is more relateable.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Disney's John Carter: World of Mars (2011-2012)

Now that Marvel Comics is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney, it has become a logical link in the chain of media promoting the latest attempt at a major film franchise for the Mouse. John Carter: World of Mars was a four-issue limited series, later collected into trade paperback, that introduced readers to writer-director Andrew Stanton's version of Barsoom. Itself written by comic legend Peter David and illustrated by Luke Ross, World of Mars has Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas telling John Carter an interwoven story of what happened just before he arrived, setting the stage for the story unfolding on the silver screen.

What it offers is fairly basic: how the villainous Sab Than came to power in Zodanga, why Dejah Thoris of Helium has a particular dislike for him, how Tars Tarkas became the Jeddak of the Tharks and how he earned the enmity of his former friend Tal Hajus. It's not in any way essential to one's understanding of the film, though it certain does spare the film the need for flashbacks. Tal Hajus and Sab Than can come off somewhat like stock villains in the film, so this comic gives them some more depth. It would have been nice, in retrospect, for them to have included Sarkoja and elaborated on what her problem was.

Prior to the release of John Carter, World of Mars served as an enticing introduction to how the film was going to treat the characters and their war-ravaged world without actually giving away much in the way of details. After the fact, the trade paperback is most likely only a commodity for completists for whom a would-be Barsoom trilogy is Sci-Fi's Lord of the Rings. Exactly how "official" it is will undoubtedly depend on whatever is retconned in the sequels.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Warlord of Mars (1913)

In Warlord of Mars, third book of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original Barsoom trilogy, attention shifts from race in Princess of Mars and religion in Gods of Mars to outright violence.

Whereas before, I was as a reader distracted by Burroughs' reliance on coincidence as a plot driver, here I am distracted by John Carter's barbarism. It is not only displayed and excused but actively, unreflectively promoted through the vehicle of escapism. He is a slave-holder and a member of the royal household, with all the entitlements that come with it. Burroughs attempts to paint Carter as a Southern Gentleman, for Carter tells us so himself, yet he cannot go for more than a few paragraphs without informing us of his insatiable bloodlust or the sheer joy he derives out of slaughtering enemies. Nor without telling us how great he is.

Burroughs perhaps realized he was overdoing it, but refused to apologise. One particular groaner tries to absolve Carter of boastfulness:
If I sometimes seem to take too great pride in my fighting ability, it must be remembered that fighting is my vocation. If your vocation be shoeing horses, or painting pictures, and you can do one or the other better than your fellows, then you are a fool if you are not proud of your ability. And so I am very proud that upon two planets no greater fighter has ever lived than John Carter, Prince of Helium.

If Carter is not telling us how great he is, then other characters are. More than a few conflicts are avoided simply by soldiers knowing that he is a mighty warrior and acting against their own duties in fealty to the Alpha Male. This isn't new to this novel though. The resolution to Gods of Mars depends on the whole planet thinking Carter is awesome. Having returned from the Martian sacred river with news that their whole religion is a cannibalistic sham, he prepares for the inevitable interdict...
I grasped my long-sword more firmly as I spoke the words which I was sure would precipitate an attack, but to my surprise they precipitated nothing of the kind.

"John Carter, Prince of Helium," he repeated slowly, as though he could not quite grasp the truth of the statement. "John Carter, the mightiest warrior of Barsoom!"

And then he dismounted and placed his hand upon my shoulder after the manner of most friendly greeting upon Mars.

Warlord of Mars ends pretty much the only way the series can, rounding out the first trilogy of Burroughs' Barsoom novels. Several would follow starring various new and secondary characters, since Carter managed to play himself out in these three. Where do you go after establishing yourself as the greatest warrior that ever lived for all time in the whole universe ever? Well, Jupiter in The Skeleton Men of Jupiter, but he's pretty awesome there too.

So the Carter trilogy is particularly escapist Planetary Romance uncritical of its assumptions about race and violence (and probably religion, if I wasn't so distracted). Why belabour the point? Burroughs was a first-time novelist when he wrote A Princess of Mars. Understandably, perhaps, he would not be so interested in testing the socio-philosophical mettle of his junior readers.

In order to appreciate Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and their kin, one must approach them with a critical and informed mind that can recognize antiquated biases. Thus equipped, one has the capacity both for deeper engagement with the text and for compartmentalization that allows one to enjoy it at all. Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars have plenty of narrative faults that are bad enough for their limited scope as sequels. Of the three, A Princess of Mars is an acknowledged classic written in Burroughs' accessible, breezy style. It is a genuinely good, action-packed, adventuresome story in need of an engaged, critical awareness of its assumptions.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Disney's John Carter (2012)

The fan-made trailer that Disney should have used.

Is any press good press? And is that a question asked by Disney's marketeers before they practically threw their most recent attempt at a big-budget film franchise John Carter under the bus? And is it a question that has been answered after John Carter's negatively anticipated opening weekend?

Prior to its release, the story about John Carter became the lack of a story. Media outlets paid attention not to any virtue it may or may not have, but to the fact that Disney seemed either not to know how to market it or seemingly chose not to throw good money after bad. They focused on the fact that Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels are not exactly renowned in mainstream culture, and on the fact that there was next to no public anticipation for it, and on the fact that it cost somewhere in the vicinity of $250 million to make. And the media talked about this a lot.

Then advance screenings went out and the people lucky enough to be paid critics started to weigh their opinions. As of Saturday, March 10th, half-way through John Carter's opening weekend, it sat at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. The funny thing about it is that at least a good half of the negative reviews were actually positive reviews if you actually like the kind of movie John Carter is supposed to be. For example, Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger, regarded as a "top critic" with a gold star and everything, lambasted the experience for being like "watching a dusty old sword-and-sandal epic." No Stephen, that is a good thing. That is what it is supposed to be like, and I love sword-and-sandal epics. (The other half mostly complained that John Carter had several characters each with motivations who needed to be kept track of for the story to make sense, and doing that is haaaaaard) Almost to a one, positive critics cited what John Carter actually is: Rafer Guzman of Newsday, another gold-star top critic, said "it's an enjoyable throwback to the movie spectacles of a more innocent age." Exactly!

Finally along came the audiences. Despite only a 50% freshness rating from the critics, 72% of the responding audience enjoyed it. When I went to see it on Saturday night, the theatre was practically full and a line was forming for the next show when we exited. The domestic gross came out to $30.6 million, which is actually a fairly normal figure, especially for a movie debuting in March. It did much better in the foreign market, to the tune of $70.6M, which Forbes' Roger Friedman attempted to downplay with the racist proclamation that "Released in countries where English wasn’t necessary... It’s a hit if you don’t need to follow the plot but want to see some cool effects." My girlfriend graciously joined me despite her preference for Disney's fairy tales and never having heard of Barsoom before in her life, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. We're both Canadians though, so what do we know? Obviously it's the foreigners who have bad taste, right Roger?

Any positive word-of-mouth John Carter receives is deserved. On the Disney scale, it has been their best live-action film since Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which was Disney's best live-action film in decades, and Disney's best genre film since the mighty 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Granted that might not be saying much, since it's competing with Island at the Top of the World, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, The Rocketeer and another Burroughs adaptation, Tarzan, all of which I liked and think are unfairly maligned. One of the ways in which Disney marketeering was asleep at the switch was not including little facts in the trailers like "From the Director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo" and "From the Creator of Tarzan". Nevertheless, John Carter exceeds being "good for a Disney film" and is just plain good.

Any filmmaker who approaches Edgar Rice Burroughs' work is faced with a challenge of how to work with nigh on unfilmable material. There is a reason why there has never been a truly book-accurate adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes. Its disjointed, nearly plotless sequence of things that happen to Tarzan one after another would make a terrible movie. Yet there have been some fantastic Tarzan movies, from the Johnny Weissmuller classics of the Thirties to Disney's. Pixar's Andrew Stanton, whose previous credit highlight was directing two Academy Award Best Animated Feature winners, had a less formidable task with A Princess of Mars. Unlike later Barsoom novels, the first is a pretty solid piece of work with good, exciting scenes that only needed some massaging.... A massaging in of why any of this is happening to John Carter and a massaging out of the cringeworthy artifacts of the time and culture in which it was written. Stanton accomplishes both with aplomb.

In A Princess of Mars, Carter ends up on Mars through some kind of spontaneous mental transference, becomes inadvertently involved in the politics of Mars, and is mentally transferred back to Earth at the moment of an otherwise heroic death saving the planet. In Disney's John Carter, our hero stumbles across one of the interplanetary transfer points being used by the Thern, or white martians, and is accidentally transported to Mars by one of their indistinguishable-from-magic medallions. The political intrigues of Barsoom, into which Carter is thrust, are spurred along by the Thern to their own Machiavellian ends. The climax is not as random as the book's, and actually has to do with defeating the intrigues of these shapeshifting schemers. Stanton has taken all the best elements of the book and structured them in a coherent plot that sets up it trilogy quite well. For my money, Carter will return to a Barsoom oppressed by the Thern, take his Hero's Journey down the Iss to confront them and the power behind them, only to return and raise Barsoom up against their oppressors in the third film. Though being compared frequently to Star Wars and Avatar, the film that should have been called John Carter of Mars most brings to mind Lawrence of Arabia.

Assuming, of course, that there will be sequels. If Disney is planning further films in the Tron franchise, then by God they better be considering "John Carter and the Gods of Mars" and "John Carter: Warlord of Mars".

One valid complaint is that Taylor Kitsch is somewhat uncharismatic in a story that depends so profoundly on the protagonist's personal charisma. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Carter is given an actual character arc, unlike the novels where he just does his stuff. His choices to fight for Barsoom and Dejah Thoris are a direct growth out of his losses as a soldier during the American Civil War. Stanton even goes so far as to provide audiences with one of the most moving battle scenes I've ever seen. In most films, scenes of sex and violence are pointless. They seem to exist only for spectacle and titillation, and if they achieve any kind of impact it is usually by emotionally manipulative means (like the ubiquitous slow-motion death scene). There are very few that exist which actually tell us something significant about the human condition or the characters involved. When Carter turns to face down pursuing enemies so that Dejah Thoris can escape, and the viciousness of his assault on them is cut with Carter burying his wife and child back in Virginia, it leaps off the screen in a way that its digital 3D novelty cannot. The scene even tells us something about the character and general awesomeness of Woola, the wordless calot dog-beast.

By many accounts Woola stole the show as well, which is no mean feat for a beast that could have easily been made into obnoxious kid appeal (not that it matters, since Disney also dropped the ball on toys). Just enough of him is seen to make us love him, and every time he is seen he counts for something. The Tharks were well-realized, though in my mind's eye they actually looked more like how the white apes turned out. Perhaps the most unenviable task fell to Lynn Collins, given the role of Dejah Thoris, The Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe. Dejah is necessarily one of those characters that looks different to everyone who reads her lines, but Collins works astonishingly well. She is absolutely stunning, and not only does she retain her intelligent imperiousness, but she further cements her status as a Sci-Fi fantasy goddess by being good with a sword. Expect to see raven-haired cosplayers in red eyeliner tattoos at the next regional comic-con.

John Carter is, by itself, a solid and enjoyable Planetary Romance... a Sci-Fi sword-and-sandal epic that is exactly what it should be. In many ways it could be likened to Science Fiction's Lord of the Rings: a foundational text to the genre rendered in epic form. And frankly, I liked it a lot more than I liked Lord of the Rings, it having a coherent plot and intelligible direction being no small part of the reason. Brisk action scenes are complimented with well-staged exposition and genuine levity, including a running joke about John's name that never seemed to get tired. It's a very definite contender for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, which is the de facto category for best Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror or War film.

I can't help but wonder if John Carter's marketing wouldn't have been in better hands if it was a Disney*Pixar film instead of just a Disney one. That could have actually used the draw of the studio and made that connection to who Andrew Stanton is, not to mention reframe the media's narrative from "Disney's next live-action flop" to "Pixar's first live-action blockbuster!" For now it will have to rely on a reputation garnered from the people who dropped $100M to see it on opening weekend. Hopefully a good reputation will increase its draw over the coming weeks and prove to Disney that their marketeers don't know what they're doing. I mean, are we really going to be getting a Pandora at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park instead of a Barsoom? Really?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Gods of Mars (1913)

In A Princess of Mars, the object of academic curiousity and moral discomfort was Edgar Rice Burroughs uncritical recapitulations of race assumptions. The green Martians stand in as Native Americans and the red Martians serve as proxies of red-blooded Americans, all in the Wild West frontier of the Martian desert. Burroughs sets his sights on a new target in the second book of the Barsoom saga, Gods of Mars. This time, its religion.

After 10 years on Earth, Carter has returned to Mars, only to find himself in Barsoom's equivalent of the Elysian Fields. Technology is so advanced on Mars that the average lifespan is functionally infinite, save for the religious custom of making the one-way pilgrimage down the river Iss to the forested, edenic bosom of the goddess Issus. Martians are obligated to take this pilgrimage upon their 1000th birthday or when the mood strikes them, whichever comes first. None return, except for one in the distant past who spoke blasphemies and was duly executed.

Nevertheless, the heretic was correct. The land of expected unending glories was, in reality, the habitat of carnivorous plant-men and white apes whose mangled victims became the cuisine for the race of white Martians. This is not the true end of the line, however. These white Martians undertake their own pilgrimage to the city of Issus, whereupon they receive a nasty surprise of their own. Carter is dropped into this situation, forced to fight his way through unflinching horror with the prospect of death by Inquisition waiting for him if he makes it out alive.

Thankfully the first person he meets in his valley of death is Tars Tarkas, his Good Indian. He chose to take the pilgrimage in the first of the total happenstances that drive the story along. Burroughs has pulled out all the stops and done away with any vestige of shame. Every plot convenience is employed to thrust us into the next scene. Every person that Carter needs to see him along, from Tars Tarkas to Sola the green Martian to his red Martian bride Dejah Thoris to their son Carthoris, is just where they need to be by fruitful accident.

By employing such tactics, Burroughs ends up undermining his first attempt at a novel with philosophical depth. Indeed, literal cannibalism is used as a metaphor for how religious elites exploit their disciples... Yet I'm consumed by the fact that it's taking the characters several chapters to figure out that Carter has incidentally encountered his own son when I figured it out from the first paragraph in which they shared space. If I try to power through the distraction, well, a metaphor of literal cannibalism is really about all there is.

Worse yet, it is not only the philosophy of the novel but the narrative itself that suffers for Burroughs' easy ways out. When A Princess of Mars was published, Burroughs feared using his own name because it was so far out there. Compared to Gods of Mars, even that work of escapism is a study in restraint. Freed up by his fame with that and Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs has cranked the Pulpiness to 11. Though intended to speed the action along without convolutions of sense or logic, these plot devices are distractions that bring attention to themselves.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Disney's Original John Carter

The new, live-action John Carter is not Disney's first aquaintence with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian warrior. In the Man in Space trilogy episode Mars and Beyond, Ward Kimball opened the Barsoomian Dictionary to introduce audiences to the denizens of Burroughs' war-world.

Barsoomians, or the Red and Green Martians, short a few arms.

A Banth, or Martian lion.

A Calot, of a sort. One of the least accurate representations.

Thoat, or Martian horse.

A Martian plant-man.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Princess of Mars (1912)

I have been an aficionado of Edgar Rice Burroughs' writings for some time, enjoying both the Tarzan and the "Land That Time Forgot" series of Pulpy adventure novels. Though I strenuously objected to the critic who suggested that The Land That Time Forgot is more imaginative and generally superior to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, the latter being my favorite novel of all time, I still find Burroughs to have an infinitely breezy and readable style.

Nevertheless, I had never gotten around to reading his Barsoom series beginning with A Princess of Mars. With all the hype surrounding the upcoming Disney adaptation, the perfect opportunity was upon me. A Princess of Mars (1912) begins a discrete trilogy continued in The Gods of Mars and concluding with The Warlord of Mars, both published in 1913. This will be the first in a series of reviews of the trilogy. Burroughs' Barsoom chronicles continue for another ten books, picking up from the heroic John Carter and following the exploits of his son.

Read in rapid succession, the Carter trilogy puts the exclamation on something about Burroughs' writing to which I was previously only dimly aware. I touched on it in my reviews of the Tarzan feature films starring Johnny Weissmuller, but it came out in full force through this cycle. That "something" was Edgar Rice Burroughs' attributes as a manufacturer of pure escapism devolving frequently into outright wish fulfillment.

It is de rigeur to criticize Stephanie Meyer for rendering up a platter of her "Mary Sue" fantasies for public consumption. I have to admit that I am impressed with the Machiavellian studiousness of the Twilight saga. A series of novels about a fairly mundane teenage girl who suddenly gets obsessive attention paid to her by tall, dark and handsome vampires as well as totally ripped wolfboys and later becomes, like, totally the best vampire ever is a licence to print money. Of the two I would certainly rather read Edgar Rice Burroughs, but he shows just the same aplomb with his planetary romances.

Tarzan has aspects of this, but they at least begin in a more subdued manner. Lord Greystoke (a lord!) is at the height of human strength and agility, is brilliant enough to teach himself English, gets to run around a jungle with abandon just being awesome, and is irresistible to women. He even gets to become a superspy. John Carter comes fresh out of the gate. First, you take what would be a fairly average soldier for the Confederacy and transport him to Mars, where decreased gravity and air pressure make him a veritable superman. He is just shy of being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He is utterly unbeatable, which eventually earns him the regard of all the warriors of Barsoom (Burroughs' name of Mars). Second, you let him and everybody else run around naked. Third, you make every hot, naked Martian woman fall at his feet. Of course Carter opts to claim the most stunningly beautiful woman of any world, Dejah Thoris the Princess of Mars, but he still enjoys the attention of a half-dozen gorgeous paramours.

Being escapism par excellence, Burroughs doesn't tend to clutter up his work with a self-critical or socially critical narrative. In A Princess of Mars this is seen most succinctly in his dealing with the question of race. In order to appreciate literature of the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, one must have a pretty thick skin anyways. However, it is not fair to say that all the literature was uniformly racist. There are degrees and examples which make it easier to choke down. For example, in 1912's greater Scientific Romance - the aforementioned Lost World by Conan Doyle - the worst thing that the haughty Professor George Edward Challenger has to say about the Natives of the dinosaur-riddled plateau is that they're no smarter than the average Londoner.

A Princess of Mars is not one of those books. Burroughs is utterly unconscious about his racial assumptions, to the tune of nearly quoting verbatim from the prevailing attitudes of his day. When Carter arrives on Mars, he falls in with the totally inhuman, four-armed, tusked, green martians. Also sharing Mars are the red-skinned race of perfectly humanoid martians (except that they lay eggs) to which Dejah Thoris belongs, and the races of humanoid black, white and yellow-skinned martians we meet in later books. Some episodes from A Princess of Mars illustrate the problems this arrangement make for issues of race.

The green martians have successfully conquered and driven off an expedition of red martian airships, having captured the incomparable image of feminine loveliness that John Carter fell instantly in love with. Sight unseen, Carter has already expressed feelings of sympathy for their evidently advanced culture: "The scene I had witnessed seemed to mark the defeat and annihilation of the forces of a kindred people, rather than the routing by our green warriors of a horde of similar, though unfriendly, creatures." Then he saw the red martian woman, and his heart was stirred by racial similarities. When the green martians bring her to trial, the following exchange occurs:
"What is your name?" asked Lorquas Ptomel, addressing the prisoner.

"Dejah Thoris, daughter of Mors Kajak of Helium."

"And the nature of your expedition?" he continued.

"It was a purely scientific research party sent out by my father's father, the Jeddak of Helium, to rechart the air currents, and to take atmospheric density tests," replied the fair prisoner, in a low, well-modulated voice.

"We were unprepared for battle," she continued, "as we were on a peaceful mission, as our banners and the colors of our craft denoted. The work we were doing was as much in your interests as in ours, for you know full well that were it not for our labors and the fruits of our scientific operations there would not be enough air or water on Mars to support a single human life. For ages we have maintained the air and water supply at practically the same point without an appreciable loss, and we have done this in the face of the brutal and ignorant interference of your green men.

"Why, oh, why will you not learn to live in amity with your fellows, must you ever go on down the ages to your final extinction but little above the plane of the dumb brutes that serve you! A people without written language, without art, without homes, without love; the victim of eons of the horrible community idea. Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in your owning nothing in common. You hate each other as you hate all else except yourselves. Come back to the ways of our common ancestors, come back to the light of kindliness and fellowship. The way is open to you, you will find the hands of the red men stretched out to aid you. Together we may do still more to regenerate our dying planet. The granddaughter of the greatest and mightiest of the red jeddaks has asked you. Will you come?"

Sola, one of the few green martians who expresses what Carter considers human-like emotions, condemns her own society by comparing it with that of the red martians:
They live at peace with all their fellows, except when duty calls upon them to make war, while we are at peace with none; forever warring among our own kind as well as upon the red men, and even in our own communities the individuals fight amongst themselves. Oh, it is one continual, awful period of bloodshed from the time we break the shell until we gladly embrace the bosom of the river of mystery, the dark and ancient Iss which carries us to an unknown, but at least no more frightful and terrible existence! Fortunate indeed is he who meets his end in an early death.

In any other sense, this sort of characterization might be considered simple world-building, the establishment of a character for the denizens of Barsoom. Its similarity to European and Euro-American attitudes towards Native Americans, unfortunately, makes one's skin crawl.

An example of these prevailing attitudes can be found in Karl Pearson's National Life from the Standpoint of Science, a 1901 publication of his 1900 lecture to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle. Pearson, as evidenced by the illustrious organization which he address, was no fringe thinker. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896 for his work in mathematics, which in turn proved influential for Albert Einstein. He was also a devotee of Sir Francis Galton and a fervent eugenicist, being the first to hold the Chair of Eugenics at the University of London, a seat founded by Galton's bequest. It was only his Marxist beliefs that led him to refuse offers for both an Order of the British Empire and a knighthood.

What Pearson had to say was eerily echoed by Dejah Thoris:
I venture to assert, then, that the struggle for existence between white and red man, painful and even terrible as it was in its details, has given us a good far outbalancing its immediate evil. In place of the red man, contributing practically nothing to the work and thought of the world, we have a great nation, mistress of many arts, and able, with its youthful imagination and fresh, untrammelled impulses, to contribute much to the common stock of civilized man.

He adds "Against that you have only to put the romantic sympathy for the Red Indian generated by the novels of Cooper and the poems of Longfellow, and then - see how little it weighs in the balance!" Horace Greeley, writing in 1860, condemns the authors as well. After declaring that Native "arts, wars, treaties, alliances, habitations, crafts, properties, commerce, comforts, all belong to the very lowest and rudest ages of human existence" he says:
It needs but little familiarity with the actual, palpable aborigines to convince anyone that the poetic Indian—the Indian of Cooper and Longfellow—is only visible to the poet's eye. To the prosaic observer, the average Indian of the woods and prairies is a being who does little credit to human nature—a slave of appetite and sloth, never emancipated from the tyranny of one animal passion save by the more ravenous demands of another.

An 1869 New Mexico Supreme Court ruling judged that,
The idea that a handful of wild, half-naked, thieving, plundering, murdering savages should be dignified with the sovereign attributes of nations, enter into solemn treaties, and claim a country 500 miles wide by 1,000 miles long as theirs in fee simple, because they hunted buffalo or antelope over it, might do for a beautiful reading of Hiawatha, but is unsuited to the intelligence and justice of this age, or the natural rights of mankind.

Dejah also invoked President Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke of the Native Americans "whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts with whom they held joint ownership."

President Andrew Jackson's 1830 message to Congress prefigures Pearson, and echos Burrough's characterization of the Tharks as inhabitants of the abandoned cities of a greater civilization:
In the monuments and fortresses of an unknown people, spread over the extensive regions of the West, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated or has disappeared to make room for the existing savage tribes. Nor is there anything in this which, upon a comprehensive view of the general interests of the human race, is to be regretted... What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?

Even those with a more liberal mind still preferred the extinction of Native culture to the extinction of Natives themselves. President Ulysses S. Grant's 1871 State of the Union Address expressed the hope that
the policy pursued toward the Indians has resulted favorably...many tribes of Indians have been induced to settle upon reservations, to cultivate the soil, to perform productive labor of various kinds, and to partially accept civilization. They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination.

And of "that horrible community idea" - which, incidentally, is an entirely sensible practicality of survival in a harsh, resource-poor environment like the plains of North America or the dead sea beds of Mars - Indian Affairs Commissioner John Oberly decreed that Native Americans "must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’, and ‘This is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours’."

Some attempt to laud Burroughs for creating a world of racial harmony, as the end has the red martians of the city-state of Helium join together with the green martians of Thark. They are, naturally, joined together under the auspices of John Carter. Being "good", the problem did not belong so much to the red martians. It was those pesky green martians and their violent, joyless society. The key figure is Tars Tarkas, a green martian with almost human-like emotional depth who befriends Carter and thus becomes the green martian leader. He becomes a Good Indian.

The remaining two volumes of the original John Carter trilogy move beyond race to deal with subjects of religion and society at large. They are subjects treated with the same nuanced perspective with which Burroughs treats the subjects in this classic study of escapism.