Today marks the centennial of the second printing of The Warlord of Mars in hardback. Not much to hang a post on in and of itself, but a perfectly good excuse to talk about Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter and the “Barsoom Trilogy.” DMR Books, having published Under a Dim Blue Sun, is a natural venue for discussing kick-ass Sword and Planet fiction. We have done too little of that here on the DMR Blog, in my opinion. It’s time to set things aright.
February 1912 saw the ground-breaking publication of Under the Moons of Mars—later rechristened A Princess of Mars—in All-Story Magazine. Readers clamored for more adventures on Barsoom and Edgar Rice Burroughs gladly obliged. The first installment of The Gods of Mars was published in January of 1913. ERB, no fool, ended TGoM on a cliffhanger. John Carter fans demanded the conclusion to the saga and Burroughs delivered the goods. The Warlord of Mars saw its first publication in All-Story beginning with the December, 1913 issue.
Let’s do a little background on this. A Princess of Mars told the tale of John Carter being transported to Mars—called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants—where he met and fell in love with the beautiful princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. Carter, a superlative swordsman, battled his way across much of Barsoom to save Dejah, Helium and—ultimately—the entire Red Planet. In the second book, The Gods of Mars, Carter finds himself in a lost valley of Barsoom where he combats horrors undreamed of on Earth. Overcoming almost insurmountable odds, Carter defeats the forces arrayed against him, only to see Dejah Thoris snatched from his grasp at the last moment.
The Warlord of Mars begins immediately after The Gods of Mars. John Carter must traverse the planet of Barsoom from pole to pole to rescue his princess. In the course of that, he will encounter alien beasts, discover new friends and make new enemies. For a full review, I cannot recommend the analysis by my old buddy, Ryan Harvey, highly enough. Ryan is probably the best ERB reviewer out there.
The Warlord of Mars is a milestone in several ways. No author before Edgar Rice Burroughs—in the entire history of literature—had ever written such an epic, swashbuckling tale of planetary adventure. Warlord was literally world-spanning, with John Carter having to battle his way across an alien world to reunite with his lost love.
TWoM also marks the conclusion of the very first science fiction trilogy. Burroughs didn’t plan such a thing when he penned A Princess of Mars, but he certainly did when writing The Gods of Mars. Trilogies have gotten a bad name in some quarters, but there is something to be said for a series of books with a definite beginning, middle and end. It was a format that ERB apparently liked, since he used it again for his “Moon Trilogy” and the Caspak series.
Finally, the A.C. McClurg editions of The Warlord of Mars feature what is, in my opinion, one of J. Allen St. John’s best-ever covers for a Burroughs novel. Depicting John Carter standing above a forest of upraised swords and being acclaimed Warlord of Mars, it remains a classic in the pictorial Sword and Planet Hall of Fame.
One of the endearing aspects of The Warlord of Mars is that John Carter races across Barsoom with his faithful Barsoomian calot, Woola, by his side. For dog-lovers, any book with Woola in it is a good book. TWoM is also notable for a couple of bad-ass Barsoomian monsters. The first is the sith. While it could be described as merely being an overgrown Martian wasp, ERB totally sells it in the scene where it appears. Michael Whelan certainly thought the sith—and Woola—were worth depicting. The other Barsoomian monstrosity is the apt. While the name is pretty tame by ERBian standards, the apt is a true polar horror.* I have to wonder if the apt inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s similar arctic abomination, Gnoph-Keh. We know for a fact that HPL loved The Gods of Mars. It’s no stretch to see HPL avidly reading The Warlord of Mars…and taking mental notes for later tales of cosmic horror.
*See Whelan’s rendition of the Barsoomian apt below.