Rereading: THE GODS OF MARS, WARLORD OF MARS

Cover illustration by Frank Frazetta.

I didn’t read the version above, I read these in digital form from Project Gutenberg via iBooks, mostly on my phone, finishing up on my iPad. The second and third books in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series are essentially one long novel, with “Gods” ending on one of the most annoying cliffhangers in literature, or so I thought when I first read it. Of course, these were both originally serialized in pulp magazines, and Burroughs clearly knew he’d hooked his audience.

At the beginning of “Gods,” John Carter has been on Earth for some years after being snatched back here unwillingly by the unknown force that brought him to Mars in the first book, “A Princess of Mars.” After some poignant moping, Carter is returned to the red planet, but in a part of it he’s unfamiliar with. A valley filled with dangerous beasts and killer plants, where the red Martians he’s befriended go when they no longer want to live, essentially their heaven. Carter soon finds out it’s no heaven, but a lot of priestly mummery covering up the exploitation of the red men by the so-called gods, a white race who controls this area. Carter finds his way into their stronghold, makes a new friend among the red slaves there, Thuvia, another beautiful woman, and with her help, leads a rebellion of some captured red men. They reach the surface, but find another complication. The white Martians are being attacked by the airships of their enemies, another race of black Martians. These invaders capture John Carter and take him to their underground stronghold at the south pole of Mars. Once again Carter finds a way to escape and lead a new rebellion against the overlords of the overlords, but at the end of the book, his love Dejah Thoris, who is also enslaved here, is placed in a diabolical prison: a cell in a huge rotating cylinder of rock whose doorway is only open once a year. With her are Thuvia and another woman, one of the white Martians who has fallen in love with Carter. As the doorway slowly closes, Carter arrives too late to rescue them, and sees a fight begin between the three women, with a knife raised, just as the sliver of doorway closes for a year. Talk about a cliffhanger!

In “Warlord,” Carter finds out that Dejah has been taken out of the cell through another entrance by two evil men, one each from the white and black races, who both want her for themselves, and the book is a very long and involved pursuit, with Carter after his love and her captors but always just one step behind them. The tale takes the group from the south pole to the north pole, where another race of Martians, a yellow one is added, though all these new races are essentially human in form, unlike the huge, beastly green Martians that Carter found himself among in the first book. Eventually he catches up with the baddies after many struggles, battles, imprisonments, escapes, and almost endless journeys through dark tunnels and darker societies, and as you can imagine triumphs in the end.

Burroughs had a good thing going with this series. He could make of Mars anything he liked, and in the first two books is quite inventive, but by the third one it begins to get repititious and the new ideas are thin on the ground. Carter is a fighting machine, and a noble soul often wronged, always trying to do right. His companions are varied, but again begin to seem similar after a while. And there are some moments in the plots of these books where common sense would solve some of his problems, and coincidences are rampant. I did enjoy them, but I think I’ve had my fill of Burroughs for a good long while, now. It’ll be interesting to see what the new film version will be like, and what they take from the novels.

Recommended for action/adventure fans.

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