Book Corner: Thuvia, Maid of Mars (E.R. Burroughs, 1916 )

Thuvia, Maid of Mars is the first book in the Barsoom series I didn't read as a kid. I'm pretty certain about that, as nothing about it rang any bells while I was reading it so this time around I can look at it outside nostalgia goggles.

The fourth book in the Barsoom series is the first one where John Carter and Dejah Thoris are put on the backseat, as the role of the protagonists are given to their son Carthoris and the woman of his affection, Thuvia, whom he needs to rescue like his daddy rescued his mother. The fourth book also makes a huge departure in the style of narration shifting it from the first person to the third person and containing a lot less unbelievable fight scenes than the first three did.

This time around Carthoris is trying to woo Thuvia. But she's not willing, as she has already promised to marry an another, a friend of her father, Kulan Tin. But Carthoris is not the only prince that has noticed the beauty of Thuvia, as the prince of Dusar also has his heart set on her. So the Dusarian kidnaps Thuvia and frames Carthroris of the deed.

So Carthoris sets his way to Ptarth in order to prove his innocence, but his voyage is thwarted by a Dusarian spy. From there begins his quest to save Thuvia and prevent an impending war caused by the cowardly kidnapping.

Again an another new Martian race is introduced. This time Carthoris and Thuvia stumble upon the last city of ancient Lotharians, a fair-skinned people, who can conjure up life-like illusions that feel so real, that they can kill their enemies with them.

I think to come to the fourth story in the series Burroughs might have himself already a bit tired of the style he had used in the first three stories. While the adventures of John Carter were entertaining, they also were very straight forwarded and the main bulk of his problem solving was inserting the tip of his sword into someone's guts.  Now, Carthoris himself is a capable fighter, but unlike his father, he's also described as much smarter. Not that he uses his intellect that much in the story, but he's also an inventor. The third person style Burroughs uses also enables him to tell the story from Thuvia's perspective, which does make the story a bit more nuanced, as it makes Thuvia feel more of an actual person, whereas Dejah Thoris just most of the time was waiting for Carter to save her.

Now, Burroughs did describe Dejah Thoris to be a capable woman in her own right, but there never was room in the first three stories to actually show it. On the contrast, Thuvia manages to act against the perils she's facing, be it by brawn or brains. Carthroris is doing main bulk of the heavy lifting, but the bottom line is, that Thuvia doesn't feel utterly useless as a character.

Burroughs irons out a lot twists in the narrative. At places the story feels more like a list of bullet points rather than complete story, as there were the previous three books went forward like a steamroller with the weight of John Carter's glorious fighting skills, here Burroughs at times just summarizes how a fight happened and then the people did this and that.  It's not a bad narrative, mind you, but it does overall feel more half-baked and half-hearted attempt.

I don't know, perhaps Carthoris just didn't fully resonate as a character with Burroughs, so he ended up forcing out a story that at times lacks the energy of the previous books. Or perhaps he was just wary of the whole eternally fighting culture of the Martian society or he just didn't fully find his stride with the third person narrative he used instead of a first person one.  Whatever the reason might be, I do think Thuvia, Maid of Mars is a lesser novel in the series.

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