History of John Carter of Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs

Greg Turner turns the wayback clock to 1911 in this quick video recap of the history of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. Way before it was a movie, it was a pulp series and eventually a string of novels. Get the lowdown in this video!

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Hi, Greg Turner here, from Back to the Past Pop Culture TV! As most of you are aware, Disney has a new John Cater movie that hit the theaters last week. What many of you may not know is the long history behind this character. So I’m here to fill you in on all things John Carter.

So let’s start at the beginning. John Carter is a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs way back in 1911, and he debuted in the pulp magazine, The All-Story, where the first novel was serialized as “Under the Moons of Mars” from February to July 1912.

But this first novel didn’t get published in book form until Edgar Rice Burroughs character, Tarzan had become a success first! Once that took place, the first John Carter novel was published under the title; “A Princess of Mars” in 1917. Then additional novels followed from 1918 through 1948; The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Chessmen of Mars, The Mastermind of Mars, A Fighting Man of Mars, Swords of Mars, Synthetic Men of Mars, and Llana of Gathol. The twelfth and final John Carter novel was not published until 1964 after Burroughs death.

My own copies are from the Science Fiction Book Club and have two novels per book, except for the first novel, and they feature beautiful Frank Frazetta covers on the first five books and a nifty Richard Corben cover on the final book.

Carter stands 6 feet 2 inches and has close-cropped black hair and steel-grey eyes. Burroughs describes him as immortal. In the opening pages of A Princess of Mars, it is revealed that Carter can remember no childhood, having always been a man of about thirty years old.

He is originally from Virginia and has served as a captain in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. After the war Carter struck it rich by finding gold in Arizona. While hiding from Apache Indians, in a cave, he appears to die; leaving his inanimate body behind, he is mysteriously transported by a form of astral projection to the planet Mars, where he finds himself re-embodied in a form identical to his earthly one. Accustomed to the greater gravity of Earth, he is much stronger and more agile than the natives of Mars due to its lesser gravity.

On Mars, which its natives call Barsoom, Carter encounters alien creatures resembling the beasts of ancient myth and various humanoids. He finds his true calling in life as a warlord who strives to save the planet’s inhabitants. He wins the hand of a Martian princess, Dejah Thoris of Helium, but after several years of marriage he sacrifices himself to save Barsoom from the loss of its atmosphere.

Awakening again after this second death he finds he has been miraculously transported back to Earth, into his original body. Carter then collects the wealth that resulted from his discovery of a rich vein of gold before his original passage to Barsoom. Unable to return to Mars, he spends several years in a small cottage on the Hudson River, in New York State, where he once more appears to die.

Again, Carter’s apparent demise is not a true death; rather, he is restored to Barsoom, where after more adventures, he rises to the position of Warlord of Mars. He returns to Earth on a number of occasions afterward to relate his adventures to his nephew, who happens to be Edgar Rice Burroughs, revealing that he has mastered the process of astral travel between the two worlds.

John Carter has appeared many times in short-lived comic strips and comic books, as well as in various Big Little Books of the 1930s and 1940s. The most notable John Carter comic strip to appear in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lifetime was written and illustrated by Burroughs’ son John Coleman Burroughs. This strip debuted on Sunday, December 7, 1941–the very day of the infamous Pearl Harbor Attack. This well-done strip lasted only 72 weeks, ending in March 1943.

If you would like to know more about the comic books, please check out my Retro Review of Friday, March the 8th, where I review Marvel Comics’ John Carter, Warlord of Mars, number 11.

About Greg Turner

Greg Turner (@gregturner16) is Back to the Past’s archivist and an auctioneer. He writes the columns “Fabulous Finds” and “Retro Reviews” on alternating weeks for the website and spins classic 45′s each week for Vinyl Tuesdays.

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