Barsoom and Mars
Life on Mars
Percival Lowell’s theory of Martian life and the famous canals of Mars influenced a huge number of science fiction writers. Whether one believed that the canals really were proof of life on the red planet, the theory certainly offered plenty of scope for fiction. Novels set on Mars started appearing with increasing regularity from the 1880s onward. Episode 5 (listen here) looked at quite a few of these authors, from H.G. Wells to Robert Cromie to Ray Bradbury. But one of the most influential visions of a Lowell-inspired Mars is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom
Edgar Rice Burroughs is known today, if at all, as the author of Tarzan. However, from his first published work in 1912 right through to the 1960s, he was one of the world’s most biggest-selling authors. While Tarzan was always his most famous creation, he published other adventure tales, westerns, detective stories, and a considerable number of science fiction stories. Of these, the Barsoom tales were by far the most successful and his vision of Mars (‘Barsoom’ in the language of its inhabitants) captured readers’ attentions from the first appearance of A Princess of Mars in 1912. Burroughs would go on to write ten more Barsoom novels, creating an enduring vision of the red planet.
John Carter of Mars
The hero of most of the novels is John Carter, a name which may be familiar to many, even if Burroughs’ writing is not. Disney’s blockbuster John Carter of Mars was released in 2012 and starred Taylor Kitsch in the title role. Despite its huge marketing budget, the film was a box office failure and a planned trilogy was cancelled. There were a number of problems with the film but one of them was certainly that the film seemed so derivative – so much of it had been seen before. Ironically though, many of the films that John Carter seemed to imitate were themselves hugely influenced by Burroughs’ original work. There’s certainly a great film to be made from Burroughs’ source material but it will be a while until John Carter makes it to cinema screens again.
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