A Princess - saturday 2012-03-24 0043 last modified 2012-03-26 1017
Categories: Daily Grind, Film
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Due to the recent release of a highly anticipated film adaption based on a series of popular books, I sat down with the original source novels to see whether the written medium merited a viewing of the cinematic medium. The whole genre appeals to me, and with so many accolades heaped on the books since their release, I thought it might be a pleasant diversion.

They don't hold up at all for being a hundred years old. I speak, of course, of John Carter, or, as the first volume is titled, A Princess of Mars. With ten novels to the series' credit, obviously Disney was looking for a more 007-like franchise to spring up, though weak box office makes a second John Carter entry look unlikely. This seems fortunate.

I doubt the movie looks like the book. The book is simply tremendously violent. Perhaps it makes sense that our media today is bedroom shy and bloodshed blasé; the popular media of the day a century ago were the same, and if it's what you're raised with, well. I wonder quite a bit about what the life of the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, must have been like that the hero he chose to hold up was a bloodthirsty murderer. Is that what heroes looked like in the nineteenth century? Or was that unique to his upbringing? Whatever the case, he sums up his own writing well in the final John Carter book within the larger "Barsoom" (Burrough's Martian word for Mars) series: "It would be wearisome to narrate the details of that bloody struggle." (The Warlord of Mars). If it serves a broader narrative, there's a place for violence, as that other book turned movie Hunger Games uses it, but for its own sake makes for tedium.

In addition to the repulsive level of detailed violence, Burroughs plot structure is the same over and over again and character development is a foreign concept. Female characters are arm candy, minorities caricatured with white paternalism. His protagonist wins every accolade and fight or is saved at the last minute deus ex - it's like Eragon drew exclusively from Burroughs. While modern sci-fi owes some debt to this first portrayal of an alien language seemingly naturally integrated into the story, modern sci-fi tends to use it just as poorly as Burroughs to no good effect. Burroughs has a tin ear for the skill of inventing language ("thark", "thern"), and amazingly enough, he even managed to precede the abomination of a name Renesmee with something worse: Carthoris.

The cultural impact of John Carter is far stronger and more important than the actual literature.

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