Book Corner: The Gods of Mars (1918) and The Warlord of Mars (1919) (E.R. Burroughs)

I think it's fair to continue talking about my re-reading of Burroughs's Barsoom series by tackling the second and the third books of the series in one go: they aren't just direct continuation to the first book, Princess of Mars, but in a way just a separated entries in one bigger book.  They're so tightly tied together, that to read them out of order, or with a big time span between the two, would just leave huge gaps in the overall overarching story, despite the main stories themselves are just fairly typical swashbuckling pulp sci-fi.

On a side note, the publication years after the books are the years they were published as complete novels. Originally the stories were published as serials in magazines during 1913-14.

The Gods of Mars begins with John Carter again giving his memoirs of his latest adventures to the writer Burroughs before he returns to Mars. This time, or better yet, the last time he returned to seek his Martian princess, Carter finds himself from an unfamiliar place, which he soon does recognize as Mars, but not as a region he's previously been in.  He soon encounters his friend Tars Tarkas when he's been attacked by the loathsome plant men, who feed on the blood of their victims.

After some bloodletting, Tars Tarkas explains Carter that they're in Valley of Dor, the holy place of Martian religion, of which there's no return. But at the same time, it's evident that Dor is not the peaceful paradise the religion promises. It is, in fact, a trap created by the Therns, a white-skinned race that doesn't only think of themselves as gods and superiors, but also need the pilgrims as slaves as well as food.

But the Therns are not the only ones giving Carter trouble: there's also the fearsome race of black First Born, who have themselves built a trap within a trap in order to lure the Therns to be their slaves.

Other notable characters are Carthoris, the son of Carter and Dejah Thoris, Phaedor, a noble Thern girl who falls madly in love with Carter, and Thuvia, a young red Martian noblewoman, who was a slave to the Therns. Dejah Thoris is simply the main goal of the story keeping Carter moving on. As long as she's there, as the damsel in distress,  John Carter will move heaven and earth in order to get to her.

The Warlord of Mars begins a little time after the cliffhanger ending of the Gods of Mars. After leaving Carthoris to rule Helium in the absence of Dejah Thoris or her grandfather Tardos Mors, Carter is playing the waiting game in order to see the prison, the Temple of the Sun,  of his beloved to open. Notably enough John Carter doesn't meet up with Burroughs during this story at all.

He's following Thurid, a First Born already seen in the previous book, only to find out that he's plotting against Carter with his former enemy, the jeddak of Holy Therns, Matai Shang. They've found a way to free Thoris, Phaedor and Thuvia and they plan to take them to the north pole of Mars where there still remains people holding up of the old religion.

Again John Carter begins a long chase in order to finally save the great love of his life. Finally, he ends up in the north, habituated by the lemon-coloured yellow race of Mars, previously thought extinct. There he finally manages to save Dejah Thoris and bring in conclusion the story started in the second book.

As I previously said, The Gods of Mars and the Warlord of Mars feel like they're one bigger book divided in two. The Gods of Mars ends in a clear cliffhanger and the Warlord of Mars continues almost straight on from there, as well as references the situations, places and people from the Gods of Mars trusting that the reader is already familiar what has previously happened.

As a story the both books are very straight forwarded: John Carter goes somewhere, meets either friends or enemies, and ends up slicing and dicing a huge amount of enemies. He's not a great thinker, he's a great warrior, who can outmatch anyone stupid enough to challenge him.

In fact, John Carter is quite clearly a superhero. He's stronger than any Martian, more agile, faster and simply he's just more ferocious. No matter how bad the odds are, Carter just simply triumphs. And he's not shy to say it out loud.

In fact, Burroughs himself must have noticed how overflowing the hype towards Carter's fighting skills is, as in one point he writes thus (from Carter's point of view as the first books are written as in his first-person narrative):

"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."

Another quote that nicely summarizes the character of Carter and his problem-solving methods goes in its simplicity as follows:


"I am a fighting man, not a scientist."

The overemphasis on action and combat and cliffhangers is the direct result of the original stories being originally published as magazine serials. If you want people to read the whole thing, you better keep them interested and cliffhangers and characters wading knee deep in blood and guts is an effective way of getting them to pick up a new issue. This source does also influence on the narrative complexity though, as it's difficult to make the plot too demanding if you're not sure if people have read the previous chapter.

Of this simplicity arises a  problem though, as in a long run the story also gets a bit monotonous, as you'll very soon notice that Carter will manage to get through anything. No matter how hard it is to be John Carter, or in extent Dejah Thoris, it's far harder to be anyone who stands between the two.

The books still are entertaining, and that's pretty much what the stories were meant for. They're imaginative adventures, which are not meant to be taken too seriously.  They might not be everyone's cup of tea, but as far I'm concerned, they do fill their purpose.

In a sense, you could compare the first three Barsoom books in FPS games. Just like most FPS games of today, the basic plot is just an excuse to make the main character run against insurmountable odds. Here and there you see a bit of plotting, but the main attraction is the action. And as such the first three books are not in any way highbrow literature. They're straight forwarded and immediately to the point narratives. They are meant to be exciting, adventurous, melodramatic and breathtaking. And in many places a bit silly.

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