The Warlord of Mars: Exciting but sloppy

Edgar Rice Burroughs 3. The Warlord of MarsThe Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsThe Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Warlord of Mars (1914) is the third of eleven JOHN CARTER novels from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is a direct continuation of the first two in the series — A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars – and a reading of those earlier titles is absolutely essential before going into this one.

Here, Carter tries to rescue his princess, Dejah Thoris, from the clutches of some particularly nasty villains. In his relentless pursuit, one that makes Indiana Jones look like a slacker, Carter travels from the south pole of Mars to the forbidden lands of the north. He encounters many varieties of monster, such as the apt and the sith, and gets into more fights and cliffhanging situations than a reader would believe could be packed into a mere 160 pages. The pace of The Warlord of Mars is furious, never pausing for breath, and the final battle in the north polar city of Kadabra, in which the combined armies of Barsoomian green, red and black men attack the yellow tribes of the north, is thrilling in the extreme.

So why the 3-star rating? Well, there are numerous problems with the book that prevent me from giving it top grades, despite the fun I had reading it. For one, there are countless inconsistencies and implausibilities. For example, it is difficult for the reader to accept that Carter’s enemies cannot recognize him, just because he has smeared some red tint over his skin. Difficult to believe that Carter is able to scale the side of a tower in the pitch black of night. Difficult to believe that Carter (or any man) could live in a pit for nine days without food and especially water. Verrry hard to believe that Thurid, Carter’s archenemy, could carry the struggling captive princess over a foot-wide ledge without toppling into the abyss beneath. Impossible to believe that Dejah Thoris couldn’t recognize Carter by his voice alone, despite his yellow-man disguise.

As for the inconsistencies: It is stated that Carter saved Thuvia from the Warhoons in book 2, when in actuality it was Carthoris, Carter’s son. The city of Kaol is said to be rendered invisible by the forest that surrounds and tops it, but later it is stated that this forest is cut back from the city. Huh? Worst of all is the aforementioned tower-scaling scene, in which dusk becomes early afternoon in a matter of minutes. Here’s something that Ed Wood would have appreciated! This day/night confusion is straight out of Plan 9, but for me is the hallmark of incredibly sloppy writing and even poorer copyediting. Further, Burroughs’ descriptions of the Valley of the Therns, and its geographic proximity to the land of the First Born, are simply impossible to visualize.

Throw in a bunch of misplaced modifiers and some awkward turns of phrase and you’ve got a real mess of a manuscript. So why did I have a tear in my eye by the book’s end, when Carter gets his rewards and the entire city of Helium turns out to greet him? I guess that the power of storytelling can outweigh petty matters of consistency and grammar. And Burroughs was a great teller of tales, and this book is as thrilling as they come.


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SANDY FERBER is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum is Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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One comment

  1. Two writers I never called to account for their inconsistencies and flat-out implausibilities; ERB and Robert E Howard because… what would be the point? Being too lazy to check back in one’s own work, however, is another matter.

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