fantasy and science fiction book reviewsJohn Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsJohn Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter of Mars is the 11th and final volume in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic JOHN CARTER series, and is comprised of two novellas of varying quality. The first, John Carter and the Giant of Mars, first appeared in Amazing Stories Magazine in January 1941; the second, Skeleton Men of Jupiter, first appeared in that same publication in February 1943. (For full details on the complicated publishing histories of these tales, I refer all interested parties to the ERB List, one of the best Burroughs Websites on the Net.)

As most people seem to know by now, the first of these tales was NOT written by ERB himself, but rather by his son, John Coleman Burroughs, who illustrated 13 of his father’s books and drew the John Carter comic strip from 1941-1943. In this tale, Carter is captured by Pew Mogel, a synthetic man who is bent on conquering Barsoom with his intelligent apemen and flying malagors. The tale is an important one in the Carter saga, in that his city of Helium is almost sacked and captured at the end of a tremendous battle.

Sad to say, however, Burroughs Jr.’s writing style is not up to the task of depicting such colossal doings. So this pastiche of a tale comes off like the work of a talented amateur, even though Burroughs Sr. supposedly did assist in the writing. Burroughs Jr. makes many mistakes in his writing; internal inconsistencies and inconsistencies with previous Carter books abound. For example, the characters refer to Barsoom as “Mars” in this book, and the two moons, Thuria and Cluros, are for the first time given their Earth names of Deimos and Phobos. These moons are said to travel quickly across the sky, whereas in every other Carter book, it has been said that Cluros is a very slow mover. Pew Mogel slaps Tars Tarkas, Carter’s Tharkian buddy, in one scene, yet in previous books, it has been established that Tarkas is around 15 feet tall! One of the intelligent apemen falls out of a high window to his death in a courtyard in one scene, even though the characters are in an underground laboratory! The Martian rats that play such a central role in this story are made to appear similar in size to the Earth variety, whereas in previous volumes, they were said to be as big as Airedale terriers! For the first time in the entire series, the men of Barsoom are shown using radios, TV sets and visiscreens; a rather surprising advent, given all that has come before. I could go on, but you get the point. Anyone who has read the previous 10 Carter books will immediately notice the difference in style and content, and that difference is very jarring. Still, the story moves along very briskly, and the action IS relentless.

The “Skeleton Men…” tale is much better. This novella was written by ERB himself, and is a real return to form. In this one, Carter and his mate are kidnapped by the Morgors of the planet Jupiter, who intend to study them preparatory to their invasion of the Red Planet. This is the first Carter tale to take place on a planet other than Earth or Mars, and so Burroughs is given free rein to let his imagination fly. This story features some good scientific speculation on what that giant world might be like, and for once Burroughs makes no slips as far as inconsistencies are concerned. However, the story ends right in the middle of Carter’s adventure; apparently, Burroughs intended this to be a multipart saga, but never did get around to finishing it. Talk about leaving the reader wanting more! But at least the story of John Carter ends on a high note here, bringing to a conclusion one of the best swashbuckling fantasy series of all time.

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to note that the 11 Carter books that I have just read were the Ballantine/DelRey paperbacks of the late ’70s to early ’80s. These are the ones that feature beautifully imaginative yet faithful-to-the-story cover art by Michael Whelan. Sad to say, these paperbacks are quite a mess. I have never seen books with more typographical errors in my life. It is painfully obvious that these books were never proofread. This is surprising, given the sterling job that Ballantine/DelRey did with their “Best of” series of 21 great sci-fi authors around that same time. Still, the power of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ vision shines through, so that even in these poorly put-together editions, the saga of John Carter on the planet Barsoom manages to captivate the reader, even after all these years.

Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) — (1917-1941) Let the adventures begin, as Captain John Carter finds himself transported to the alien landscape of Mars — where the low gravity increases his speed and strength exponentially. Taken prisoner by Martian warriors, he impresses them with his remarkable fighting skills, and quickly rises to a high-ranking chieftain. But the heroic Carter’s powers thrust him right in the middle of a deadly war raging across the planet — and a dangerous romance with a divine princess.

Edgar Rice Burroughs 1. A Princess of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 2. The Gods of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 3. The Warlord of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 5. The Chessmen of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 6. The Master Mind of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 7. A Fighting Man of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 8. Swords of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 9. Synthetic Men of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 10. Llana of Gathol fantasy and science fiction book reviews


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

    View all posts