lightconductor: (is it a clue?)
[personal profile] lightconductor
This is a public service announcement for any fans of Doctor Who.

I'm not sure why it should be a public service announcement, come to think of it, but I can't think of a better word, so there it is.

It is simply this: Captain Jack Harkness, whom we know and love, has an extremely close literary forebear, ie someone was doing some sneaky "borrowing" of some nearly-hundred-year-old literature.

Oh, I am serious.

It's not exact. But it is startlingly close.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, who is most famous for Tarzan and its various sequels, started his literary career with a novel entitled A Princess of Mars, published 1917. I actually own a copy of this book, read it some years ago, enjoyed it, but was never able to find any of the others in the series because it's become somewhat obscure and hard to find. I received a e-reader for Christmas, and have been taking advantage of this fact to download these books off Project Gutenberg to read.

(Incidentally, I will take recommendations for other things I ought to download from there. My e-reader did come with 100 pre-installed classic novels, which is nice, although like four of those are Jane Austen, and I don't like Jane Austen, so sigh many times about that.)

A Princess of Mars, and its sequels, belong to the genre referred to as "planetary romance," something reminscent of sword-and-sorcery books, but in a science fiction setting. They rely upon the once-standard trope of science fiction that came about because of the "canals" on Mars, that it is home to a dying civilisation, desperately eking out survival on a dying desert planet, transporting what little water there is between cities through the use of massive planet-spanning canal systems. It's a wonderful fantasy, a wonderful story, and it pops up a lot in old science fiction -- notably, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, one my favourite books. Tragically, the canals do not actually exist, being an optical illusion, and actual exploration of Mars has done a lot to kill what was left of the concept.

I tried to explain these books to my sister. She looked at me like I was nuts.

The protagonist of A Princess of Mars, and the immediate sequel, The Gods of Mars (I can't speak for anything further down the line, since I haven't got that far yet), is one John Carter, who is transported to Mars and has, well, adventures, involving uniting warring races of Martians, fighting for his life in a gladiatorial arena, infiltrating an enemy city, and winning the heart of the titular princess, Dejah Thoris.

This is the first paragraph, after the prologue in which Burroughs explains how his "Uncle Jack" entrusted him with the following manuscript:

"I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that some day I shall die the real death from which there is no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality."

And a little further on, he introduces himself properly:

"My name is John Carter; I am better known as Captain Jack Carter of Virginia."

A name is one thing. There have been any number of Captain Jacks, I'm sure, in reality and fiction, and honestly, John Carter is never referred to as Jack after this again, that I've seen.

But I ask you. How many of those Captain Jacks have been immortal, both unaging and able to revive after death (because he does, despite what he says in that first paragraph)? Coincidence, perhaps. Intentional reference, I think more likely. These books are not that obscure.

So far as I've managed to gather, John Carter has the ability to travel to other worlds when he dies. Why he should be able to do this, or why he should be immortal in the first place, I cannot explain, because he does not know either. Perhaps that will be revealed.

Incidentally, there is this, due to come out in a couple years. It is most certainly based on A Princess of Mars. I am kind of looking forward to that. The book would pretty easily lend itself to an epic sci-fi action movie.

Also, I've had the vague desire to roleplay one or two of the Green Martian characters (Sola perhaps, or Tars Tarkus)... except I could never really work out how to work a twelve foot tall, six-limbed, and tusked green person into any game ever. I mean, the ceilings!
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September 2012

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