Classic, Science Fiction

Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars book cover
Image from Do Góry; modified so I feel okay with posting it here

Title: A Princess of Mars (The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs #1)

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Genre: Science Fiction/Classic

Suddenly transported to Mars, John Carter found himself captive of the savage green men of Thark. With him was Dejah Thoris, lovely princess of Helium. And between them and rescue lay a thousand miles of deadly enemies and unknown dangers.

This book has been on the bookshelves in the office for a long time (it came in a box of adult sci-fi and high fantasy books Dad got off eBay), but I avoided it because of the naked people on the cover. Then we got the movie John Carter on Netflix, and when I learned a really good movie was based off this book, I decided to give it a try.

I was surprised at how much I liked John Carter. He was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, then a gold prospector, but always a gentleman. (Having learned a lot about the Civil War recently from a pit stop in Gettysburg on my way to Washington, D.C., most men were gentlemanly back then.) He could fight (and he was good at it), but he was also kind, protective, and respectful.

Unfortunately, the other characters pulled pretty flat. Dejah Thoris was beautiful. Sola, the green woman assigned as John Carter’s servant, was peaceful for a green person. The rest of the green people were wild and violent. And…that’s about it.

The rescuing Dejah Thoris plot that is mentioned on the back cover? Dejah Thoris doesn’t even show up until halfway through the book. The first half is John Carter adapting to life as a sort-of prisoner of the green men and fighting his way up from prisoner to chief of sorts. Then Dejah Thoris gets captured, and since the green men and Dejah’s people are enemies, they decide to kill her. So about two thirds of the way through the book, John and Dejah escape.

The John Carter movie had a lot of similarities to the plot of A Princess of Mars. The movie producers didn’t follow the same timeline as the book and glossed over some parts, which made for a better movie. But the parts they skipped made for a better book. I loved John Carter’s time with the green men, and I highly enjoyed learning about their society. Of course, once they escaped, I enjoyed that, too.

The biggest thing that bothered me about this book was that clothes apparently don’t exist on Mars. Everything was done in the nude. Nothing is actually described, and it’s not awkward for the characters, but I just felt a little weird knowing that whatever is going on, everyone is naked. (On the bright side, the cover makes sense.)

Like a lot of classic books, the writing is a little dense. Despite being an action book, it’s still full of long paragraphs and heavy on description. For the most part, I didn’t mind (although I did find myself glossing over paragraphs here and there), but if you’re used to snappy action, this would certainly be a change of pace.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Will I be reading the other 10 books in the series? Probably not. Besides the fact that we don’t own the rest of the series, I think A Princess of Mars had a perfectly acceptable ending and see no reason to continue past the conclusion.

The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

  1. A Princess of Mars
  2. The Gods of Mars
  3. The Warlord of Mars
  4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  5. The Chessmen of Mars
  6. The Master Mind of Mars
  7. A Fighting Man of Mars
  8. Swords of Mars
  9. Synthetic Men of Mars
  10. Llana of Gathol
  11. John Carter of Mars

Report Card

For more on my “report card” grading system, please see my About page.

A PRINCESS OF MARS scored 3.6 (A)

Classic, Fiction

The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers book cover
Image from Books Into Films

Title: The Three Musketeers

Author: Alexandre Dumas

Genre: Classic

When hot-blooded young d’Artagnan comes to Paris to seek his fortune, he finds himself challenged to a duel with not one, but three of the King’s Musketeers. But Athos, Porthos and Aramis are to become his greatest friends, and companions in dangerous adventure when he becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the Court and the beautiful, evil Milady.

This is one of those classic books that I’ve had the intention of reading for a while – ever since I read Dumas’s amazing The Count of Monte Cristo. Plus, I’d enjoyed the movie. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it.

D’Artagnan was an interesting character. He could be hotheaded, reckless, and impulsive at times, which tended to get him in a lot of trouble. But he was smart, had some common sense which he sometimes ignored, and was very loyal to his friends. I had some issues with his morality, but overall, I didn’t mind him.

Athos, Porthos, and Aramis didn’t have quite as much personality. Their main personality trait was loyalty to each other. Athos had a very secret past, and kept a tight hold of his emotion. Porthos was vain, and that’s about it. Aramis wanted to be a priest (but I’m not sure if that’s a personality trait). They were just mediocre characters.

Milady was a perfectly evil villain. She was a fantastic actress, had a scheming mind, and was brilliant at reading people and finding their weaknesses. Then she played them like a piano. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she was capable of getting every man and most women under her control. Astonishingly cunning and utterly evil, that was Milady.

I’m not sure I can identify what the main plot was. I think it was made up of all the intertwined subplots. The kind and the cardinal had different political ideas, and the cardinal schemed against the king. The cardinal sent Milady to humiliate the king. D’Artagnan and his friends foiled the plot and ran afoul of Milady. Plus romance subplots, Athos’s secrets, political unrest between France and England…everything was brilliantly and delightfully complicated, but it all tied back together in the end.

Except for d’Artagnan’s horse. I expected a little more closure with that plot point.

My biggest problem with this book was the morals – or lack thereof. Aside from Athos, it seemed like every major character was having an affair. D’Artagnan’s romance interest was married, even. It may have been prevalent in France at that time, I don’t know. But I didn’t like the lack of morals.

The movie adaption I saw can only be called The Three Musketeers in the sense that the main characters were named Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan. The plot was loosely based on the first third of the book. If you’re looking for a good idea of what the book was about, you won’t get it from the movie.

Overall, The Three Musketeers (which, in my opinion, should have been called by Dumas’s original title, The Fourth Musketeer) wasn’t as good at The Count of Monte Cristo. But it was still an enjoyable read.

Classic, Fiction

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth book cover
Image from Jules Verne Books

Title:  Journey to the Center of the Earth

Author:  Jules Verne

Genre:  Classic

Harry is perfectly happy living with his eccentric uncle, Professor Hardwigg, and loving the beautiful Gretchen.  But then Professor Hardwigg discovers an ancient Runic manuscript telling how to reach the center of the Earth.  The last thing Harry wants to do is go off on some wild goose chase following the advice of a mysterious cryptograph.  But his uncle insists.  And so begins their strange and wondrous journey…

Journey to the Center of the Earth was my favorite book when I first discovered it at age ten, but I hadn’t read it in years.  So when it was a book club pick, I looked forward to the reread.

The book was definitely written in a the style common to most classic books – huge words, references to obscure works, not much by way of characterization.  But honestly, I didn’t mind.

Since I read this as an ebook, I didn’t have worry about breaking out the dictionary every other paragraph (although I did press the dictionary button occasionally).  The obscure works weren’t as easy to look up, but I mostly just glossed over those, and it didn’t detract from the story hardly at all.

The characterization, like I said, was minimal.  Professor Hardwigg was the kind of guy who wouldn’t give up an idea once he’d had it.  Harry was the more logical, reasonable kind, but he also had no sense of adventure and no desire to do anything other than what he was accustomed to.  And Hans, their Icelandic guide…I think I can count the number of words he said on both hands.

I did enjoy the journey, though.  This is one of those books where the classic books’ excessive description was a good thing.  They were traveling through new and unknown territory, and the description let me see everything.  Even the rock tunnels were somehow made interesting (although that could be because of their tendency to get lost in them).

The absolute best part of the story was the middle, though, with the underground lake/ocean.  Between prehistoric creatures, monster battles, and huge storms, the sea voyage turned out to be fascinating.  And the plants and other things they found on the shore were even more so.

The beginning was a little slow, and the end seemed a tad anticlimactic, but overall, I enjoyed the story.  Not as much as I did when I first read it, mind you, but it was definitely worth the reread.

Classic, Fiction

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby book cover
Image from vickistracey.

Title:  The Great Gatsby

Author:  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genre:  Classic

When Nick Carraway moves into West Egg, the house he lives in is right next door to the famous Jay Gatsby.  Nick had nothing to do with Gatsby, really, until he is invited to one of Gatsby’s frequent, popular parties.  As he gets to know Gatsby, he realizes that the man is pining after a past love, a second cousin of Nick’s named Daisy – a woman who is already married.  And Gatsby intends to use Nick to get to Daisy, one way or another…

I went into this book pretty hopeful.  My mom had read it back when she was in high school, and she said she remembered enjoying it.  I’m afraid I can’t say the same.

Nick Carraway was the only character I actually liked.  He was the only one who wasn’t…I suppose corrupted is a good word.  It also seemed like he was the only reoccurring character who didn’t have a lot of money.  He really didn’t seem interested in most of the “pop culture” of that era.  I think he hung out with Gatsby, Jordan, and the Buchanans (Tom and Daisy) only because they were people to hang out with.

I found Jay Gatsby rather annoying.  He was an older man, rich, with plenty of opportunities to do other things, yet he still chased a fantasy of his younger days.  Daisy was married, and he knew that, yet he still pined away after her.  All though the book, I kept wanting to yell at him and say, “Give up and move on, already!”  It was just pitiful, really, seeing a grown man miserable because he couldn’t give up on a dream from the past.

Tom Buchanan was a big, selfish brute of a man.  He was also a hypocrite – it was perfectly fine for him to be having an affair with another woman, but then he became angry and defensive when he realizes his wife might love another man.

I’m going to lump Daisy and Jordan Baker together, because their characters are about the same.  They’re both careless, carefree, tired, and bored.  They are unfeeling and selfish.  They think that their purpose in life is to have fun – actually, it seems that most of the characters think that.

I think the plot was okay, but I’m looking at it with a biased view.  The whole thing is based on immoral actions – Gatsby loves a married woman.  That really put the whole book in a negative light for me.  Then there’s Tom’s affair – with another married woman.   In order for me to really enjoy a story, there needs to be some morality.  The three deaths in the end really don’t add anything to the plot, and honestly, I really didn’t care one way or the other about the characters who died.

I found this book pitiful, sad, and depressing.  I can see how people who don’t care much about morality would like it more than I did.  But I don’t see how it became a classic.

Classic, Fiction

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Image from [unavailable source]
Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Genre: Classic

Janie is a young black woman living in Florida in the nineteenth century. Her grandmother was a slave, but she was born free. All she wants is love. When her grandmother insists she marry the wealthy Logan Killicks, she agrees, thinking the love will come after marriage. But Logan doesn’t want a wife – he wants a domestic helper. When she meets Joe Starks, he seems to be everything she’s looking for, so she leaves Logan and marries Joe. But Joe only wants her for her beauty – he wants nothing more than a trophy wife. Will Janie ever find the love she’s looking for?

This was an assigned read for English class. Normally, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. I am not interested in romance, and the last sentence would have made me put it back and forget about it.

But that’s beside the point. I did read it. But I didn’t enjoy it.

Janie is the main character. In some parts, I felt bad for her. In some parts, I wanted to slap her. She married because her grandmother insisted. I can understand that. When she decides she doesn’t like the man she married, she leaves him and marries another guy. That’s wrong, but okay. But when it turns out the next guy is a jerk, she stays with him. For twenty years! She had no problem leaving the first jerk she married – so why did she stay with guy number two?

Logan, the first husband, wasn’t in much of the book. Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, wasn’t, either. But I didn’t like Nanny much. It almost seemed like Nanny guilt-tripped Janie into doing what she wanted her to do, and didn’t care a bit about what Janie herself wanted.

Joe, the second husband, was an overbearing jerk. When he became mayor, he wanted Janie to be Mrs. Mayor, putting on airs and not associating much with other people. That’s not what Janie wanted, either, but Joe didn’t care. (That’s part of the reason I felt bad for her – no one cared what she wanted). This, again, is my problem with Janie. She didn’t love Joe, and he kept her away from everyone, but she stayed with him for twenty years.

Eventually, Joe died, and Janie got a third husband. I’d say more, but practically everything about Janie’s third husband is a spoiler.

I pretty much covered the plot when I covered the characters. If you read through it and said, “what plot?” you’re right. There isn’t much of a plot at all. Which made the whole think pretty slow and boring all the way through.

Besides the lack of plot, I had huge issues with the dialogue. Everyone in the book who talked was black, which isn’t a bad thing. The problem was, it was all written the way it sounded. “I” was written as “Ah,” the “th” sound was written as “d” (i.e. “that” written as “dat”), “the” was “tuh”…I could go on and on. When most of what happens is described through other people’s mouths and they all talk like that, it made the whole book very hard to understand.

With some classics, I have no idea how they ever became well-liked enough to become classics. This is one of those.