These new worlds and new characters allow Burroughs to speculate about societies structured along many lines. Some, like Gulliver's Travels, provide material for satiric parallels to the real world, while others attempt more imaginative leaps into theoretically-structured worlds. In their marvelous Dictionary of Imaginary Places, Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi include some fifty entries from Burroughs's works (more than any author save Tolkien), and these only include Earth and inner-Earth settings, not the myriad Martian worlds. Carter presents detailed social and cultural accounts of the strange new peoples he encounters, as for instance in the discussions of the Tharks' education, child rearing, military, and courtship practices. For The Chessmen of Mars Burroughs devised the chesslike jetan, with detailed instructions and rules, which John Gollon included in his book Chess Variations (1968), calling the game "quite good — very playable and entertaining." The novel features a game played with living men and creatures who battle to their death when moved into conflict. Finally, Burroughs devises fantastic and fascinating names of characters, animals, and places; the reader learns the Barsoomian language as a companion to Ape-English.
The chief change in technique from the Tarzan tales concerns the shift to a first-person narrator, Carter himself in the opening trilogy. In using first-person rather than the omniscient approach of...
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A Princess of Mars, although Burroughs's first published work, took six years to reach hardcovers. Readers clearly responded to the Tarzan stories more than to fantasies set on other worlds, and publishers' letters constantly requested new stories about the ape-man, which Burroughs provided, although not always graciously, for he clearly grew tired of the character and even tried at one point to kill Jane. The non-Tarzan tales undoubtedly provided a relief for their author as well as a chance to exercise his gift for creating new worlds. The Mars stories still seem somehow fresher and often more exciting than the Tarzan books which suffer increasingly from mechanical repetition; as early as 1918 Burroughs wrote, "I feel that I have said and re-said a dozen times everything that there is to say about Tarzan."
The Mars novels reiterate most of the themes of the Tarzan novels, despite the different settings: In contrast to the lushness and life of Tarzan's jungle, Mars is a dying world with a harsh, arid landscape populated by tribes and races perpetually at war. John Carter, a former Confederate Captain in the Civil War, has been mysteriously transported out of his body in an Arizona cave and onto Mars where the "lesser gravitation and lower air pressure" allow him to perform super-human feats of strength and mobility. Like Tarzan, Carter is a noble and chivalrous gentleman, a man of action, quickwitted, physically powerful, adaptable, and lucky. In...
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The sequels to A Princess of Mars are The Gods of Mars (1918) and The Warlord of Mars (1919). Eight other John Carter books appeared, including The Chessmen of Mars (1922); The Mastermind of Mars (1927); Swords of Mars (1936); and Liana of Gathol (1948). revival, however, the Carter and Pellucidar series, especially, gained immensely from the artwork, and these fantasy creations may have become even more popular than the ape-man. Today, Carter and some of Burroughs's other heroes appear only in comic books.
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"John Carter," drawn by John Coleman Burroughs, appeared briefly as a Sunday comic strip in 1941-1943, but none of Burroughs's other characters achieved the remarkable marketing success of Tarzan. In the paperback revival, however, the Carter and Pellucidar series, especially, gained immensely from the artwork, and these fantasy creations may have become even more popular than the ape-man. Today, Carter and some of Burroughs's other heroes appear only in comic books.
Yet Burroughs's works continue to be reissued, though probably appealing to a younger audience than the originals. Nevertheless, they remain examples of pure pulp entertainment from the past, still interesting diversions which reveal the remarkable imaginative power with which Burroughs created his fantastic worlds. His occasional realistic novels, such as The Mucker (1914) and The Girl from Hollywood (1922), upon which he hoped to advance some claims to "serious" writing, suffer from the same weak dialogue, poor plotting, and melodramatic tendencies which permeate his fantasies — although his two Indian novels provide unusually sympathetic views of the Apaches. But his flights of imaginative creation in depicting the worlds within the worlds of Africa, Pellucidar, Mars, and Venus have rarely been equaled and have led to the development of considerable fantasy fiction. And it seems likely that the character of Tarzan will live forever.
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