|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
'Take to your paraloons!'
This bizarre speech-bubble, and a panel showing John Carter, Dejah Thoris and maybe someone else dropping from the sky hanging from balloons attached to their parachute harnesses as their stricken flyer spirals groundward, are almost my only memories of my first encounter with Barsoom. (You can see what's very likely the preceding page here.) I seem to remember also the couple gazing fondly at a large egg, from which a Carter-Thoris offspring is soon to hatch. John Carter was the first married hero I'd ever seen in a comic. That wasn't the only shock on its pages, peopled as they were by hideous entities that seemed to me almost demonic.
Years later, in my early teens, I met them again in print. This time it was my mother who made the same mistake, and expelled my borrowed Burroughs paperbacks from the manse. It's probably as well she judged the books by their covers: she'd have been far more upset if she'd looked at the pages. Just as well, also, that she never noticed that they shared an author with the Tarzan books, which she regarded as innocent enough, more or less on a par with Biggles.
Colour, adventure, and an aura of sexuality and scepticism - all these cunning priests and false gods - were what stuck in my mind. That and cliff-hanger endings, which - given the random nature of my access to the stories - left me feeling cheated. I more or less forgot Burroughs, though I smiled at the allusions I found in other, ostensibly more sober, tales set on Mars. Every respected SF writer, it seems, has to pay back that early debt. Blish's genius kid Dolph Haertel, stranded by a glitch in his home-built space-drive, notes of one of the moons that it was not 'the low-hanging, looming Deimos' of Burroughs' Mars.
So, though never a great ERB fan, I recalled the tales with enough affection that I was thrilled to see the first clip from a trailer of the John Carter movie on some film discussion programme a year or so ago. I have to see this, I said. Reviews on release were so mixed that I was reluctant to drag anyone along
We enjoyed it. Not a dull minute. The film has flaws all right - there are plenty of daft minutes - but it's one I'd happily watch again. (For a review that strikes me as reasonably close to my own experience of the film's strengths and weaknesses, go here.)