No. No. No. Making a series of A Princess of Mars is a terrible idea.
The Internets have been in an uproar over the conclusion of HBO’s Game of Thrones television series, which ended after eight seasons in 2019.
Despite the potential for multiple spin-off series, fans are of course disappointed to have the adventure and drama come to an end. To be certain, it’s a bummer on the same scale as being decapitated – but wait, hold the door!
There is another literary fantasy series, with an equally amazing monarchical atmosphere of politics, drama, action and incredible beasts – with stories that are loved by thousands, including George R. R. Martin himself, and that undoubtedly inspired the GOT author to become a writer. I’m talking about, of course, John Carter of Mars!
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoomian series would be the perfect replacement for Game of Thrones. Despite the unjustly maligned 2012 film, John Carter (of Mars, dammit), the serialized Martian stories were made for the type of adult adaptation that HBO specializes in, and they would undoubtedly appeal to the GOT audience that will be soon be suffering from sword-and-sorcery withdrawals.
Oh my god. Has this person even read those books? I have. The whole lot. The Mars books. The Venus books. The ones about space pirates and the moons of Jupiter. The hollow earth stories. Tarzan. I am not proud of this fact. As an excuse, I offer up the fact that I was a child at the time, and that my father happened to have a collection of first edition, hardbound Burroughs novels (which I scribbled all over in crayon before I was old enough to read them), so I was deeply steeped in the lore before I was old enough to know better…which was when I was 12 or 13.
In their favor, I will admit that they are rip-roaring fast-paced pulp with chapters that end in cliffhangers every time, so you can’t stop. They are classic serialized pulp fiction of their time, which was about 1915-1940. They are perfect representatives of a genre that is now dead, dead, dead, and they simply won’t work anymore.
For one, they are terribly written. I’m talking newspaper prose, straightforward descriptive text, “enriched” by a liberal sprinkling of words scraped from a thesaurus. Burroughs was a hack. His strength was an ability to churn out words at a rapid pace. He did not put any thought into his stories at all; George RR Martin should be embarrassed at the comparison.
For another, these are not complex stories. There is almost no depth at all to them. Every single Burroughs novel follows an identical template: an aristocratic white man finds himself stranded in an exotic land (Mars and Africa were equally exotic to Burroughs) where the natives are barbaric and warlike. By virtue of his intrinsic superiority to these primitives, the hero conquers all and eventually finds himself a beautiful woman to be the object of his chivalrous attentions, but who is actually a maguffin to be used and reused in multiple sequels in which brave White Man must rescue her from brutish perils.
The racism and misogyny implicit in this formula ought to be obvious to all. It made them wildly popular in a more racist and misogynistic era (and to young children who didn’t know better), and the idea gets revived now and then to make them the foundation of a new franchise — the John Carter movie was an example of that — but they’re always going to founder on the fact that the source material is shallow, simplistic, and mindlessly bigoted, so you don’t have that rich vein of complex lore that Martin (and Tolkien, and other good fantasy authors) based their stories on. I thought the John Carter movie did a good job of skating over the bad stuff in the story, but as a franchise, it was doomed. I’m impressed it made it through one entire movie without collapsing on its flimsy framework.
The one thing that would make it good HBO fodder, though, is that in the Mars stories everyone was always naked except for jeweled harnesses or a sword belt or some such skimpy thread of leather. Burroughs did not dwell on the sex or nudity beyond tersely mentioning it and allowing the readers’ imaginations to work, but I’m sure HBO could turn it into a non-stop tits and asses show.