Home » Fiction Fundamentals, The Business of Writing, Video » A Princess of Mars and John Carter

A Princess of Mars and John Carter

28 February 2012

At least in the United States, we’re being barraged by advertisements for a new movie to be released on Mars March 9, John Carter.

What is not so widely known is that John Carter was a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs (also the author of numerous Tarzan books) in a 1917 classic pulp novel entitled A Princess of Mars.

The John Carter series was an acknowledged inspiration for authors such as Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. Ray Bradbury used them as inspiration for The Martian Chronicles. George Lucas named the Banthas in Star Wars after Burroughs’ Banths in the John Carter books.

Ray Bradbury said, “By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special,” he said. “I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic. Burroughs put us on the moon.”

Many of the John Carter books were collections of short stories that Burroughs wrote and published featuring the characters and setting.


Burroughs was very savvy about the business side of writing. He was the first author to incorporate himself, doing so in 1923. He was also a big indie author, publishing all his books under his own imprint after 1931.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., is still in operation, located in Tarzana, California. (Yes, the city was named after Tarzan. Only in California.) A Princess of Mars was licensed by Disney from the corporation as a basis for the John Carter movie. Disney also licensed two other Burroughs books for a possible John Carter trilogy. Here’s a link to more about the corporation.

Author Michael Crichton also read Burroughs’ John Carter stories as a boy. Crichton gave the name John Carter to the Noah Wyle character in the television series, ER, in a tribute to Burroughs’ books.

For Joseph Campbell Monomyth fans, the first John Carter movie is supposedly the Call to Adventure .

“This first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight. The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure, as did Theseus when he arrived in his father’s city, Athens, and heard the horrible history of the Minotaur; or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent as was Odysseus, driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god, Poseidon. The adventure may begin as a mere blunder … or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man. Examples might be multiplied, ad infinitum, from every corner of the world.”

Here’s a link to John Carter Books on Amazon.


Fiction Fundamentals, The Business of Writing, Video

27 Comments to “A Princess of Mars and John Carter”

  1. Fantastic post. I absolutely loved the John Carter books when I was a kid–although I have to admit that I’ve resisted reading them in the last, oh, twenty-five years or so since I’m afraid that I might be let down now. And here I thought Noah Wyle’s character was named by somebody who didn’t know the history of the name! Very cool.

  2. Or for the Omnibus collection: http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=54599 for those with lots of time for reading… 🙂

  3. What a fantastic article! Actually I was recently having this same conversation with someone. Apparently there is an unfortunate amount of people who are NOT familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs, who are trashing this movie for being too similar to other sci-fi movies (like Space Pocahontas…no I mean that movie about some mineral with the painfully stupid name of unobtanium…what was it called again? Seriously, I don’t remember). I’m glad someone is setting the record straight and reminding people that its James Cameron and George Lucas lifting material from Burroughs, not the other way around.

    • You’re thinking of the movie Avatar. Le sigh.

      And unobtanium is an engineering term, as is apparently, ‘handwavium’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium

      • since I seem to be in good company on Avatard hating, and speaking of obscure cult SF stuff…has anyone here seen the old cartoon “Fire and Ice”? when I saw it a couple weeks ago it just…killed all vestiges of originality in Avatar (not that there was much to begin with).

    • LOL DH took GK to see Avatar. After GK extolled the virtues and left the room, I looked at DH and asked, “How was it really?”

      DH rolled his eyes. “Dances with Wolves with blue people.”

      And I am so dragging them both to see “John Carter.”

  4. “a new movie to be released on Mars 9”

    Do we get spaceships, too? How long is the journey to Mars 9? I can’t wait!

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  5. Only in California? Not so! Why just around the corner from the house I grew up in there’s rascally rabbit Road – I remember hte debates when the developer wanted to call it wacally wabbit woad… That’s in Massachusits by the way.
    (And no they don’t teach you how to spell the state naem in the public schools.)

    :} Cathryn / Elorithryn

  6. I bought the Nook version of the first 3 for my husband.

    Now I’m re-reading them myself.

    I’m pleasantly surprised a how well they stand the test of time. The books are well-paced, with cliff-hangers and other plot devices but still a very entertaining series.

    I even saw the Paperbacks in B&N yesterday…when I bought my husband his OWN Nook.

  7. And what I knew of Burroughs was the anecdote that he wrote 8-5, every day, and if he finished a novel at 455 he would put in a new sheet of paper and start the next. I don’t know if it is true, but it’s a wonderful writerly image. And an inspiration in discipline 🙂

  8. I remember a few years ago when I first heard about this is was going to be a Pixar film, but apparently they tossed it to the Disney title because it was too heavy on the live action.

    If I hear one more person say “they ruined it because the women aren’t naked!” *sigh*

    • Supposedly it’s about 50/50 CGI and live action, Jean.

    • Tarzan runs around naked all the time in the books too, it’s hard to read some of the descriptions and mutual admiration and believe it wasn’t intentionally homoerotic.

      I came to Burroughs late, but I enjoy his stuff. I admire his plotting though some might find it a bit too tidy and he does reuse certain tropes a lot. Jane’s mostly a plot device in the novels. I learned a thing or two about writing action scenes from reading him too.

  9. I just noticed that only the first five books in that Omnibus edition are public domain in the USA, the rest are PD in life+50 countries (like Canada – whew!).

    The movie looks like it will be a nice birthday present to myself… should I start reading before or after???

    • It depends on how well you can tolerate the difference between films and the books.

      I’m loving the books, but I expect there to be a big difference between them and the movies.

  10. One of the shaggy companions of my youth, an unbrushed poodle, was named Woola …

  11. Looking forward to this movie too – I really hope they do well by ERB.

    A great series of stories I put on that little shelf of books that inspired my writing adventure.

    (There’s a youtube video that compares the movie ‘dambusters’ to ‘star wars’ to show Lucas’s inspiration.)

  12. Jean Frese may not like it, but count me among the ones who doesn’t believe Hollywood in general, and especially Disney, capable of making a version of John Carter that doesn’t, err., inhale strongly enough to return samples of the Martian surface sans spacecraft of any kind. (It’s not just the women who’re naked, by the way. Practically everybody in the book(s) runs around naked, or almost. It must have been a real trial to the Golden Age artists who had to illustrate the stories.)

    What I’m actually expecting is Avatar, but in red instead of blue. Will the Priests be Mormons or Baptists? We’ll just have to wait and see.


  13. Count me as another who’s looking forward to the movie and hope that they do the source text justice.

    I encountered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars stories as a teenager and devoured them. I also read his Venus stories, Pellucidar stories and plenty of others. I even wrote a paper on Burroughs at university, even though the reaction of the literature professor was a sneeringly dismissive “You mean the Tarzan guy?” Alas, I haven’t reread Burroughs recently, because I fear that they wouldn’t hold up as well as I remember them.

    I didn’t know that Noah Wylie’s character in ER was named for Burroughs’ John Carter BTW. This is quite funny, because during the first few season of ER (I don’t think I watched after George Clooney left) I was a poor student living with my parents, and I would always refer to Noah Wylie’s character as “John Carter from Mars”. It’s nice to know that the name choice was actually intentional.

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