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John Carter of where???

This week, I finished the first book in the "John Carter of Mars" series, titled "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Not a day too late either because this weekend is the opening of the big-budget Disney movie with the shortened title, "John Carter". I don't know why they shortenend the name by dropping the 'of Mars' part. Perhaps they were afraid the original title couldn't fit on the marquee? Who knows.

So, about the book? Yes, well, the book was published in 1912 and written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who is best known for writing the original Tarzan stories. However, Burroughs chose to write a very different story with 'John Carter of Mars' and introduced to the world the genre of 'epic space fantasy'. The book is the story of Burrough's fictional uncle John Carter, a Virginia gentleman (with the emphasis on the word 'gentleman') who passes away after a quiet but productive life. Uncle John leaves his entire estate to Burroughs including his personal diary. The diary comes with specific instructions that only Burroughs should be permitted to read it, for the diary retells John Carter's incredulous adventures on the planet Mars.

The journal begins in the late 1800's just after the end of the Civil War. John Carter retires from his service in the Confederate army and decides to start a new enterprise prospecting for gold in the Arizona territory. A vicious band of Apaches chase Carter into a strange cave and by some means that Burroughs never fully explains, John Carter finds himself transported to the savage and fascinating planet of Mars. While on Mars, he discovers a fully developed civilization filled with green martians, red martians, gigantic four-armed apes, stalwart guard lizards, massive cities, ancient ruins, flying ships, advanced climate control machines, beautiful allies and powerful enemies. He even finds the love of his life, the magically delicious Deja Thoris. His experience as a fighting man comes in handy on the brutal planet while the lower gravity on Mars gives him incredible jumping ability and great strength. He decides to accept the fact that he really can't return to Earth and goes on to become the savior of the red planet.

The John Carter series became the inspiration for almost every science-fiction adventure movie ever created; Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars, Predator, Avatar. It also inspired some really awesome Frank Frazetta paintings.

So, about that Disney movie?   Yes, well, I've seen the 10 minute intro that Disney distributes through YouTube.  It is clear that the movie producers have taken a great many liberties with the script.  I am usually understanding of such liberties.  Surely, it is difficult to translate a novel into a motion picture.  Some storytelling elements just can't be duplicated.   But, the John Carter character from the movie clip bears little resemblance to the character Edgar Rice Burroughs created.

I think the difference comes from the historical age in which the characters were created. ERB created a definitive 19th century hero.  While the Disney team has created a decidedly 20th century hero.  (Having only experienced 11 years of the 21st century, I think it much too early to define what a 21st century hero should be)  The 19th century hero believes that civility and virtue will conquer the barbarism of the natural world.  To a 19th century hero, uncouth habits and selfish brooding are unacceptable and the honor of a lady must always be upheld. 19th century women are typically simple characters and defer to the men. In contrast, the 20th century hero is an accidental hero and finds nobility despite himself.  He must always fight against his base instincts which are often savage or undisciplined.  Typically, the 20th century hero needs the strength of a 20th century woman to fix him or at least balance his foibles.  I think Disney will diverge from the Burroughs story as much as possible if it would result in more ticket sales.  Because 'modern' audiences will want to see a brooding, angry, 20th century John Carter who expects to pay penance for the wars he has fought and speaks fluent Apache language.

Here is the link to the YouTube video so you can appreciate what I mean.

IMHO, I think the book character fits better into this particular story.  I hope the best for the movie's success but I hope everyone will also read the book.  Wouldn't it be nice to have a break from all the Wolverine-clones we see in current adventure movies?  I think it would be refreshing, but then again, I don't run a movie studio.

UPDATE: Found some blogs with reviews of the movie and wanted to post them here. Most of them reflect the same feelings about the alterations from the original story. *Spoilers on all these links*


  1. They changed the name because the director didn't think guys would see a movie titled "A Princess of Mars". Dumb reason, really.


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