Tag Archives: Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter Vivid Example Of Sword And Planet Stories

I’d like to begin this blog post with a brief, but simple, rant.  Many film critics do not understand the pulps.  They do not know the origins of the material which they so casually lampoon.  If they did understand pulp sci-fi stories like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess Of Mars, then they would understand what a faithful, accurate, and inspired take on the stories Disney’s John Carter actually is.  Instead a meme has now formed that the film is a “bomb” and that it is not worth seeing.  Rubbish.  If you like the Sword and Planet genre, or even just adventure stories, then you need to see this movie.

Seeing the movie myself this past Friday night got me to thinking about a lot of the great books it was built on.  Here’s a short list:

  A Princess Of Mars / Edgar Rice Burroughs  — Published way back in 1912, this is the tale that started it all.  Virginia gentleman and Civil War veteran John Carter finds himself transported to a planet Mars brimming with aliens, strange cultures, and unfettered action!

The Gods Of Mars: A Tale Of Barsoom / Edgar Rice Burroughs — The second book in Burroughs’ Barsoom cycle, this tale kicks the series into high gear, and further expands the lore and cultures of Mars.

Almuric / Robert E. Howard — One of the many amazing talents inspired by Burroughs work was Robert E. Howard, and his Almuric tales are just one example of the great titles you can find in the awesome Planet Stories Library series CLP has been acquiring the last couple of years.

These sorts of pulp tales are not for everyone, and not without their faults.  A touch of racial insensitivity, lack of strong female protagonists, and over-reliance on coincidence and chance to move the story will raise some eyebrows, but the overall energy, innocence, and power of these tales will win through if given the chance.  Like 1980’s Flash Gordon feature film, John Carter is not a perfect movie, but it’s darn good fun, and seems destined to become an under-appreciated  torch bearer for the Sword and Planet genre.



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Pulp Fiction: H. P. Lovecraft



Back in the day, libraries, like dictionaries, were prescriptive rather than descriptive.   Dictionaries, such as Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language and the Oxford English Dictionary, told you what words to use and how to use them.  Slang, when not excluded entirely, was largely discouraged, grammar just so, and obscenities were verboten.

No longer.   Today’s dictionaries are descriptive of all manner of words and how we use them.  Slang, obscenities, and incorrect grammar are all welcome.  They reflect the language as it is, ever changing, ever evolving, as is the culture from which it grows.

Similarly, libraries, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, recommended the best, and collected that which was considered of historical and cultural significance.  Today libraries, like dictionaries, act as virtual cultural mirrors; they reflect who we are, what we do, and what we like (and dislike).  Libraries and library collections describe the culture, they don’t dictate it.

Which brings us to the pulps.

Pulp fiction was largely ignored by libraries for the above stated reasons, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was certainly no exception.   As the culture changed, so did the libraries.  Like many other libraries across the country, the Carnegie has gone back retrospectively and filled in the gaps.  Welcome now, with open arms, are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, Dashiell Hammett, Ray Bradbury, Clark Ashton Smith, Erle Stanley Gardner and many, many more.

And, of course, most welcome is the grandaddy of them all, H. P. Lovecraft.

I’ve been a huge Lovecraft fan since my teen years, which coincided with the first resurgance of interest in HPL in the early 60’s, via mass market paperback editions from Ballantine Books.  What could be better?  They were flat-out horror: lurid, forbidden, suggestive, and, most of all, great fun.  Here is a list of my personal top ten favorite stories by Lovecraft:

At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are both novellas, both as close to writing a full-length novel as Lovecraft would ever get.  Prior to reading At the Mountains of Madness, I would suggest reading his literary mentor Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket .  If you do, you’ll be hard put to forget the phrase “Tekeli-li.”   The rest of the above list is comprised of short stories which vary only in degree of shock and explicitness; it goes without saying, that compared to today’s splatter horror, they are mild in execution.  However, the archetypal elements in Lovecraft’s stories provide a deeper strain of psychological horror that can be hard to shake long after the story is finished.

Ironically, after many years of being ignored, a few pulp authors, including Lovecraft, have found themselves accepted into the canon of contemporary literature by way of publication by The Library of America.  Besides Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick have received this cultural imprimatur.

Unlike many a trapped protagonist in their stories, this recognition of the lasting value of pulp fiction is better, much better, late, than never.

 – Don


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