Having just reviewed one of my favorite authors, L. M. Montgomery, it seems only fair to also review my other favorite author this week: Edgar Rice Burroughs.
They have some interesting differences and similarities. The differences may be more obvious: Montgomery wrote about the small things of life in a rural village. Burroughs wrote exciting adventures set in the jungle, or on the surface of Mars, or deep under the Earth. But they both knew how to create a vivid world (albeit very different ones!) and how to write beautiful prose and wonderful descriptions. Montgomery almost always has a young girl as her lead character. Burroughs almost always has a strapping, warrior man as his hero. But they both wrote sweet and very discreet romances–those warriors of Burroughs are also perfect gentlemen. They also have in common that I’ve read book after book after book by them, and very, very rarely found one that wasn’t top quality.
An odd coincidence of a similarity: they were born less than a year apart.
Since I showed all my Montgomery books, why not all my Burroughs books too.
I already reviewed Burroughs’ most famous book, Tarzan of the Apes. As you can tell from the picture above, he went on to write a lot of sequels about the lord of the jungle–over twenty. But what I really want to write about today is his other most famous series: his Mars books.
They begin with A Princess of Mars. John Carter is in a desert in Arizona, where he has a strange out of body experience. He looks up at the sky, and sees the planet Mars. He holds his arms up to the sky, and wishes–and finds himself on the plains of Mars. In Burroughs’ world, Mars (called Barsoom by the natives) is populated by a number of warlike races, from the red Martians who look much like us, to the giant, twelve-foot-tall green Martians. There are all kinds of other strange animals with six legs or weird stripes or bizarre abilities. John Carter goes on to have a series of adventures full of swordplay and races against time and endless hazards and escapes, all to win the beautiful Dejah Thoris, princess of Mars.
The first three books in the eleven book series, as well as a few later ones, focus on John Carter. My favorite, however, is A Fighting Man of Mars. John Carter is referenced, but the action focuses on Tan Hadron, a red Martian warrior. In some ways it’s not unlike every other Burroughs adventure: swordplay and kidnapping and a desperate quest to rescue the girl. (Burroughs only had two plot devices, kidnapping and castaways, but he spun them into 70 adventures.) A Fighting Man of Mars, however, is different because of Tavia.
People who have known me on the internet for a long time will know that when I need a fake name online, a username for example, I will usually use Tavia or some variation on it. In a way it’s a habit–I started doing that at about thirteen, and it’s easy to carry on using the same name whenever this comes up. And it got started because Tavia is a wonderful character in a wonderful book by one of my favorite authors who, I must admit, rarely wrote a really good heroine.
But Tavia is actually capable. She escaped on her own out of a harem (fleeing when the King first noticed her–Burroughs heroines get into dangerous situations but are never actually harmed). She’s pretty much as good with a sword as Tan Hadron. She’s extremely capable at almost anything that needs doing on their adventure. Though I do think she’s pretty, her internal characteristics are emphasized much more than her external beauty. And I find this to be one of Burroughs’ more meaningful and compelling romances.
Sure, there are more impressive heroines when you look across the range of literature. But Tavia is a great character in her own right, and she’s the best of the ones that Burroughs gave us. It’s the combination of all of Burroughs’ strengths of writing and excitement and world-describing, combined with a much more appealing heroine, that makes A Fighting Man of Mars my favorite Burroughs book. It’s the seventh book in the Mars series, but don’t feel obligated to read the first six first. They’re great books too, but it’s an independent story and Burroughs even provides a helpful overview of Martian society in the foreword. So I think you’ll do fine if you want to jump ahead to number seven to meet Tavia.