A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Burroughs' Barsoom bears no resemblance whatsoever to what science tells us about the actual planet Mars. Nevertheless, A Princess of Mars has historical interest as a prime example of the genre known as "planetary romance." The author of Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs was a hugely popular author in the first half of the 20th century, and his influence can be seen in the work of Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, and Michael Chabon, to name just a few.
John Carter, Dejah Thoris, and the green Martian Tars Tarkas are each brave and extremely loyal, traits that the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, seems to appreciate almost above all others. Each character is capable of selfless acts, and their self-sacrifice is usually forestalled by a last-minute rescue from some unforeseen quarter.
Positive Role Models
John Carter is the quintessential adventure hero of early 20th century planetary romance. He's not well-rounded, by any means, but his admirable character traits are enough to make him an appealing protagonist. Although he never shies away from a duel to the death, he is not a bully. He is brave, loyal and dependable, ready to give his life for the woman he loves and the planet he has vowed to protect.
Violence & Scariness
John Carter spends much of the book engaged in battle, either against wild beasts, green Martian warriors, or humanoid red Martians. His combatants are more often that not felled with a single blow, and when they aren't, the descriptions of the fighting generally don't feature much bloodshed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
John Carter is instantly smitten by Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium. The two of them engage in smoldering looks and flowery declarations of their passion but do not kiss until late in the novel. Eventually, they marry, and Dejah Thoris lays an egg containing their first offspring. The precise mechanics of Earth/Martian love are never contemplated.
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Carter refers to Native Americans as "red Indians" and "savages." Otherwise, the language of A Princess of Mars is unobjectionable.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Princess of Mars -- which has been adapted for the new Disney film, John Carter, to be released March 9, 2012 -- is an old-fashioned adventure tale, a product of a different age with no swearing, little bloodshed in the many battles, and no premarital sex. First published as a novel in 1917 (serialized before that), its characters are flat, the dialogue stilted, and the male/female dynamics are practically prehistoric. And yet there is a giddy sense of invention here that can appeal to readers open to an unsophisticated but energetic narrative.
Is It Any Good?
A PRINCESS OF MARS is a product of another age, an adventure written to entertain an unsophisticated readership. Scientifically impossible and often woodenly narrated, it may be too old-fashioned for readers used to the best science fiction now available. But the book has been hugely influential, displays a good-natured innocence and certainly doesn't lack for action.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.