Monday, July 11, 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs and Me

I hate to admit it, but Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Mars" books were an important part of my youth. I read a lot of scientifiction in those days, and I didn't realize it at the time but early SF was anything but sexy (I'm looking at you, Asimov and Heinlein and Verne and the rest). I didn't know, frankly, that books could be sexy until I read A Princess of Mars (or was it John Carter, Warlord of Mars?). Dejah Thoris? Oy vay Maria, boys. Especially with the Boris Vallejo covers.

It puzzles me that nobody's made these books into films yet (they're 100 years old next year, for God's sake), but that, at long last, is changing. Disney (I know, but still) is making a trilogy of films, the first one to be released in 2012. I should be cool and intellectual and indifferent, but I'm not: I'm really excited. I could totally geek out over this. I really hope the films aren't just pure crap (like, you know, almost every movie made is pure crap) because I really don't want to be disappointed. Not that, mind you, I even remember much about the books. I just know that I loved them when I was a kid and I might be in the mood for something cheesy come the fall.

I am tempted to read one of these books, to run out to the used shops and find an old copy, just to see how much of ERB's pulpy style has influenced my ideas of narrative design and characterization and plot and writing in general. I hesitate because I don't want to know. One likes to maintain at least a pretense of sophistication.

9 comments:

  1. So, did you buy the books yet? I'm guess you will. But maybe you won't. But maybe you will. I wish I had more intimate connections with books from my youth. I forced myself to read books that were beyond me when I was young, so I didn't really get into them until much later.

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  2. There are only a few books from my youth to which I have a real emotional connection. I think the way I feel about the "Mars" books has to do with me entering puberty and there being a lot of half-naked folks running around in the stories. The editions I read had cool pen-and-ink illustrations of these half-naked folks. So when I was 15 or whatever I read War and Peace because I liked the blue leather cover with gilt lettering, and I read A Princess of Mars because, well, it was about a princess of Mars. Though as my friend Paul pointed out, "Every time she's mentioned, she's 'the incomparable Dejah Thoris.' Why can't she just be Dejah Thoris and not incomparable?" Everyone's a literary critic, even at that age. I should say that my friend Paul is the guy who turned me on to these books. So blame him.

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  3. And no, I don't think I'll really go buy the books. I'd rather not find out what I think of them now.

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  4. The John Carter books are still some of my favorite books of all time, hands down. I used to read through the cycle every summer, and I really don't think anybody else has come close to capturing the whole over-the-top sci-fi action hero quite like Burroughs did with John Carter. Pretty much every chapter is action packed, and even though you fully realize Carter is basically a caricature, you can't help but get pumped up by his exploits.

    Honestly, I'd recommend reading through them again. I just finished Warlord of Mars about a month ago (it's free on Kindle) and it still holds up (as long as you know from the beginning what you're getting into and aren't expecting high literature or anything). It's even more mind-blowing that he was putting this stuff together back in the 1910s.

    Regarding the movie, I worry that it will suck. Did you see the Sci-Fi Channel Original version of it starring Traci Lords a couple years ago? I cried tears of blood while watching it.

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  5. Ben: I saw that the books were available on Project Gutenberg and I started considering reading them again. Now that Mr Badass Himself recommends it, I guess I have no choice. I remember that they were unputdownable. I also remember the creepy Cthulhu-face guys who grew babies from their chests. Still, what's been missing from a lot of recent SF is the kickass quotient so maybe I'll read them just for the over the top fun of it.

    I didn't see the SF Channel job. Traci Lords as Dejah Thoris? That just ain't right.

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  6. I feel sorry for any kid that has never encountered pulp fiction.

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  7. Cynthia Lee: When I was a kid, I thought every book I read was just as important as every other book I read. Textbooks, paperback SF, the encyclopedia; they were all serious business and I was earnest about all of it. I sort of miss being that way: nonjudgmental and sincerely throwing myself into whatever it was I read, no matter what it was.

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  8. I love the Mars books. What always impressed me about ERB is that he could have such a manly books, all about swordfighting and wrestling six-legged lions and battles, and yet smuggle in a really kick-ass romance at the same time. I honestly feel that the Mars books have better romance plots than 90% of the romance books out there. Nowadays action stories and romance are so segregated into their own corners of the bookstore.

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  9. Tara Maya: I don't know about the romance market, but like I say, the Mars books were the first inkling I had that literature could be sexy. Even as an aging middle-aged guy, I still feel sort of embarrassed thinking about Dejah Thoris, because the books were just plain naughty. Way better than, say, the Arthurian legends, where everyone was dressed in 200 lbs of steel or 30 yards of muslin.

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