After the long exile on Earth, John Carter finally returns to his beloved Mars. But beautiful Dejah Thoris, the woman he loves, has vanished.
©1918 Edgar Rice Burroughs; (P)2004 Books in Motion
It is true that I know only what I have read in books. But I have read a great many books. ("Venetia" by Georgette Heyer)
In this sequel to "A Princess of Mars," its narrator--the heroic, strong, invincible, and generally perfect specimen of fighting manhood John Carter of Virginia--finds himself once again transported willy-nilly to Mars ("Barsoom" to its resident peoples). But this time he is plopped down on the shores of a fabled lost sea--the only open water on Mars--to which many religious Martians make a pilgrimage from which none returns. The eons-old belief is that true pilgrims live out their days in bliss on the lost sea's shores. The reality is horrifyingly different.
There are two interesting social aspects to this story. One is the theme of religious superstition being used to enslave, exploit, kill, and control those the supposed "holy ones" deem inferior. The other is that the evil "holy Therns" are the white race of Barsoom ("Princess" introduced the heroic Red Men and the non-humanoid Green Men, both of whom Carter befriended). This white race in turn lives in terror of the First Men, a black race who are portrayed as the ultimate enslavers (perhaps too heavy-handed a note of irony). All of this would seem to put Burroughs' breadth of mind and imagination well ahead of his time (circa 1915-1920 for these books), which is not unusual in writers of science fiction and fantasy.
To call Edgar Rice Burroughs' prose "purple" is an understatement. But the first 2/3 of "The Gods of Mars," is a whopping good adventure, with new villains and heroes at every turn. The final 1/3, in which Carter and company escape "paradise" only to face execution as blasphemers, gets pretty silly and (worse) boring. The cliffhanger ending, involving a huge, slowly rotating stone edifice where each chamber's door meets its opening only once a year, once more sparks interest. Tune in to the final book in the trilogy, "The Warlord of Mars"!
Having listened to Jack Sondricker's excellent reading of the first book (he didn't do the other two, apparently), I was really disappointed in this reading. The production values are poor (several instances where static distorts the reader), and Engene's clunky, slow phrasing is frustrating. I must have overlooked William Dufris's version, which from its sample sounds like it's probably better than this rendition.
"Who can explain..."
...the magical pleasure of these books? Clumsy style, illogical plots, hot beauties among brutes and the occasional saving knight; not something you can take seriously. Yet I have been in their spell since my early teens (am in my 40's now), and Gene Engene's reading gave a smooth path back to Barsoom of my memories.
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