(originally posted here)
For such an upstanding southern gentleman, I couldn’t help notice that maybe John Carter is just a little bit racist. He keeps excusing some of the barbaric activities of the Green Men of Mars by saying, in essence, that they’re just not smart. And they only love killing. And they’re irredeemable barbarians. Except that one lady who is taking care of him—she’s cool and stuff. He portrays the Green woman who is assigned to him as the ONE forward-thinking member of her race, who is also brilliant, but he mostly relegates her to the role of servant.
(I just had to get that out—it’s easy to forget that this was written in 1917, until you get to the amazingly melodramatic, overwrought dialog and almost humorously backwards attitudes towards women [the phrase “feminine thinking” is in the last few chapters at least twice] and men who aren’t white like John Carter. Admittedly, this is a classic pulp, not a piece of Great Literature, but still, the casual racism and misogyny is better addressed than overlooked completely.)
In these chapters we also learned more about the bizarrely well-structured reproductive process of a barbaric, nomadic, communist people, read about our hero killing heretofore unknown creatures (the elusive albino Martian space-ape) with almost no explanation, and AIRSHIPS. I was, I’m going to be honest, really excited about the airships. Which were then chased off/destroyed.
Finally, we are introduced to the titular character, Dejah Thoris, THE princess of Mars. She’s, like all of the characters in this book, totally naked except for some tasteful accessories. She is being kept alive by the chieftains for some terrible purpose—I’m thinking gladiator battle, based on how much the Greens enjoy death. She’s saved by our hero, who has just learned the language of Mars (it wasn’t terribly complex because everyone is telepathic there, including John Carter!). It also turns out that now he is a chief, because he has so brutally and efficiently taken down two higher up members of the tribe. He is allowed to decamp to a new place—with more “pretentious” architecture—with Dejah, servant Sola, Sola’s ward, and Carter’s new and (we know this thanks to his heavy handed foreshadowing) incredibly loyal pet Woola. We learn more background about the incredibly advanced but now almost completely forgotten white people of Mars.
Some more critical bits, for discussion:
- Carter threatened to kill a female Martian. It’s mentioned that there is an honor code about mixed-gender killing, so I expect something about that to come back.
- It seems the red humans, the last descendant of the various human races on Mars, sustain life (particularly air and water) on the planet. What remaindered technology are they using to sustain the planet?
- The airships were the first brush with technology-based science fiction in the story so far. I loved the airships. Hopefully we’ll see more of that.
- The Green society is portrayed as almost completely communistic—everything is shared, from property on down to child-rearing. It’s also perceived as a completely unloving and violent society. Is ERB suggesting that to love, people must have their own personal property? It seems a bit like he is.
The picture up top is the cover of a current Marvel series retelling A Princess of Mars. The cover is by Skottie Young, and the series is written by Roger Langridge.