A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Rate: 2/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers): A week or so ago I was surprised to find that I didn’t have any books lined up in my reading queue. When searching for an available classic to fill the void I stumbled upon A Princess of Mars. A fan of science fiction, I was intrigued and dove right away into this interplanetary adventure.  Roughly a third or so into this read I was losing my battle to keep my annoyance in check with regard to the arrogant POV of our hero, and the helpless princess who was in dire need of saving. With classics, my threshold for frustration is high as there is a reason behind why the titles are held in such regard. Pausing in my read I looked up the backstory and time period from which this read was created in order to gain an understanding of the author.  I was surprised to find that this title was written in 1912 as a series in a pulp fiction magazine, lending me at least an understanding of our protagonist that was more than full of himself.  Yes he was a gentleman and draped in chivalry, but modern old me couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the terrible decisions he was making because his honor as he couldn’t see any other course of action. Of course, he would predictably escape these seemingly dire circumstances without a scratch.  Additionally, the role of the helpless, needy princess cemented for me how much I truly enjoy a self-sufficient, strong female character in literature. Also, I was surprised to find that the main character’s name was familiar!  The movie from 2012, that performed terribly in the box office, John Carter, was based on this book! I’ve never watched this movie but now I’m intrigued to see the story played out on the big screen. Overall, after much  follow up reading regarding this title I can appreciate that Burroughs tale of adventure inspired the next generation of novelists and scientists, however it loses much of its mystique when viewed through modern eyes.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this – timely for me. I’m just finishing working my way through the first three of John Norman’s Gor books and had the Burroughs Mars books on my to read list as an apparently superior, similar, predecessor (according to the reviews I’ve read anyway). The Gor books have taxed my patience for making allowances for the author’s context (and weird views), so I think I’ll give Burroughs a miss now.

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  2. I’ve read about 3/4 of this book, then gave up. I kept finding myself starting another book rather than finishing it. I might give it another go one day. There are several more books in the series. The movie is… Not exactly like the book from memory, but I guess not as bad as they make out. Although it could have been much better.

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  3. I think part of the enjoyment of reading these old stories is in understanding just how much our societies, not to mention literary tastes and standards, have changed over the decades. I have felt myself cringe more than once. There are those among us who would ban ‘politically incorrect’ books. That would be a mistake – and I suspect there wouldn’t be much classic literature left.

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  4. I grew up on these books, and others by Burroughs (as well as other writers from his day), and so am sort of ‘used to’ his outdated ideas. Like my love of classic film, I sometimes have to turn off certain emotions in order to enjoy them (like almost any time Asian characters appear in movies before the 1970s, not to mention African or African American). I can completely understand not enjoying them, though. Burroughs is particularly frustrating in that he seemed to go whichever way the wind blew, wrote whatever was popular at that moment. In reading the Mars books, for example, he seems to go back and forth, sometimes espousing surprisingly forward views, sometimes regressive (on the same subject). Recently reading one of the later books, I realized he was pushing a ‘separate, but equal’ philosophy…yeesh.

    I often list Burroughs as one of my major inspirations, and he very much is. However, I also write some things in reaction to him. For example, he often tells the reader that the female character is strong, independent, and competent; but he shows the reader exactly the opposite, as she turns into little more than a prize to be won or property to be returned. I try very hard to make sure that female characters I write are just that, characters. They’ve got flaws, like any good character. But they’re also people with drives and wills and story arcs. I genuinely love a lot of the trappings, and even the very language of the Pulps. I look to Robert E. Howard as one of my major writing heroes. But the world view, the images of women and of people of color, etc. That can be learned from, understood in its context, and discarded as a relic of the past when writing something new. No doubt, someone will look back at my writing in 100 years and think I was an ignorant jerk. That’s the way of things. But I don’t need to repeat the bad ideas of an ignorant jerk from 100 years ago.

    The movie was interesting. I think they tried to do too much, yet too little at the same time. They crammed in elements of multiple books while watering down a lot of what I like about the series. It’s still fun enough that I take if off the shelf every once in a while and watch it. As someone else said, the marketing was totally botched. They cut the name from the evocative and descriptive “John Carter of Mars” to the generic and vague “John Carter.” Not once in the entire marketing campaign did I see it mentioned that it was being released on the 100th anniversary of the novel, or that the character inspired Superman, or that the books inspired Star Wars. Nothing. Just, here’s a blandly titled movie with that guy who sucks in every movie you’ve seen him in.

    Ah, well. It was better than what happened to Valerian & Laureline.

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  5. Ahoy there matey! I have heard of this but never read it. This excellent review makes me positive that I don’t want to. I likely won’t like it if the main charater is arrogant and the woman useless. Thanks for the saved time. Arrr!
    x The Captain

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  6. I haven’t read this or any of Burroughs work but I agree that when reading books written in ages past, you should take that into consideration; like you, I amend my expectations and adjust my modern sensibilities. Having said that, I am now reluctant to re-read a beloved favourite classic on my own book-shelf, as I find myself with different expectations of heroes and heroines as a 46yr old than I did in my youth. I have a sneaking suspicion that my tolerances will narrow as I age regarding my reading entertainment. 😉

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  7. Burroughs is a prime example of a writer often denigrated, never assigned in class, but who still manages to keep being read and loved and get new readers.

    I never developed a taste for him but, in my house, is virtually every story he ever wrote because my wife is a fan.

    I only made it through the first of the three John Carter books when I was young. My complaint with Burroughs is way too many coincidences.

    However, sometime in the next year, I hope to plow through the series and blog a bit about the interesting things in the series when Burroughs is alluding to some contemporary event — or other peoples’ writing.

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