Happy Leap Day! Speaking of leaping, if you’ve been to the movies recently or watched this year’s Super Bowl ads, you’ve probably seen the trailers featuring a guy in leather-and-loincloth getup, jumping sky high while battling giant multi-armed monsters in the desert. That would be John Carter, hero of the upcoming Disney film of the same name.
If we learned anything from last week’s Oscars, it’s that the book-turned-movie is alive and well (The Help and Hugo, to name just two). So it shouldn’t surprise you that John Carter is also born from books. But it may surprise some to learn that the newest movie hero is actually 100 years old!
In 1912 (also a leap year, coincidentally), Edgar Rice Burroughs released his first works of fiction. The very first was a pulp fiction serial called Under the Moons of Mars, which was later novelized and retitled A Princess of Mars. In the story, Virginian John Carter is a captain in the recently-defeated Confederate Army who, while on a prospecting trip to the Arizona desert, finds himself transported to Mars. Owing to the low gravity, he possesses superhuman strength and agility and with his military skill rises among the Martian warrior people that discover him. Eventually he meets the princess Dejah Thoris and finds himself thrust in the middle of an ages-old conflict between rival Martian clans. For today’s reader, it may be interesting to see how elements of modern science fiction and adventure stories still take cues from turn-of-the-century literature. I personally like to think about how the readers of the time might have reacted to some of the fanciful, outlandish ideas that we have come to view as science fact (or fallacy).
A Princess of Mars is the first book in Burroughs’ Barsoom (the name of Mars in the Martian language) series. Due to the movie release, it’s likely that you’ll soon see many copies for sale online and in bookstores. But the book is old enough that it is now in the public domain, which means it can be copied and shared freely. Why buy when you can get it for free (legally)? If you search in the library catalog or click this link, you will find that we have connected to Project Gutenberg. PG is a free website that makes public domain works available in as many digital formats as possible, or in other words, totally free eBooks that work on any computer or eReader, anytime. A Princess of Mars is also included in our e-Discover the Classics collection. This is a list of nearly 500 of the very best public domain titles, all available for free download. Sara wrote about the e-Discover the Classics collection in her recent post here.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention Burroughs’ second work from that year. It was Tarzan of the Apes, who just barely beat “older brother” John Carter to the silver screen by a little more than 90 years. Supposedly there are plans to make two more books into movies, so perhaps 2012 will be the year Captain Carter makes his first leap to catch up.