A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of MarsLike Three Cups of Tea, this is a book I was never going to read. I hadn’t heard of it until John Carter, the movie based on it, came out and my interweb neighborhood was all, “Seriously, do you know what the name of this book is?” And I was like, “Seriously, I do not care about this book or this movie.” But then the book was offered free on the Kindle app, and I apparently cared enough to download it just in case, and then my place of employment gave me a first-gen iPad to play with for some reason so I decided to give it a shot as my first e-reader larger than my phone, using this nice short book that I could stop reading if the experience was terrible.

So first, the reading experience: not nearly as bad as I expected. I couldn’t read for more than maybe 20 minutes at a time, but that was perfect for those “got a few minutes before I have to go somewhere” times. I also couldn’t read in the dark for more than maybe two minutes, because dang that screen is bright even on its dimmest setting and with a black background, but hey, that’s why they invented lamps, yes? I would probably not read a long book or one that requires a lot of focus, but it will probably be useful for catching up with my short stories and classic sci-fi and all that.

Second, the book: also better than I expected! A win! It reminds me of the only other sci-fi book I’ve read from that general time period, The Time Machine, in that it goes real fast and doesn’t spend a lot of time on pesky characterization.

I can definitely see why they made an action movie out of this book, as I would say that the best-described scenes are the ones in which John Carter, with his Superman-like jumping abilities, beats the crap out of various Martian dudes. There’s also a Gladiator-like scene, and a fight with an aircraft, and basically there’s lots of fighting and that’s pretty cool.

The parts that aren’t fighting are much much less exciting. There’s, like, John Carter learning how to speak Martian in an absurdly small amount of time, and JC and the Martians (the name of my next band) wandering around Mars a while. And for all that those people were like, “Dudes, it’s called A Princess of Mars, let’s deal with that,” the very few scenes involving said princess are the boringest. She’s all, I’m a princess! He’s all, I like you but don’t understand Martian customs enough to tell you appropriately! She’s all, I can’t believe you just made that huge faux pas that I know you didn’t understand but I’m going to give you the silent treatment anyway! He’s all, fine, whatever, I didn’t want to talk to you anyway! I’m all, let’s get back to the beating of people!

There’s also vaguely political statements that may have been more sensational in 1917, I don’t know, and the usual amount of casual sexism and racism for the time, and a really really dumb ending that would have resulted in flying paper if I had been reading a print copy of this book. I just don’t even.

So baaaasically, this is the perfect kind of book to read when you don’t want to think too much and you’d like to imagine people getting hit and sworded and shot and all that. Just don’t tell me if that’s your default setting. 🙂

Rating: 6/10


Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Continuing on the theme of books I should have already read, here is Peter Pan, which I have seen in Mary Martin movie form as well as on stage, once, though I barely remember, and of course I have seen Johnny Depp as Barrie in Finding Neverland.

The book, like The Princess Bride, plays out pretty much exactly like the movie I remember (though I’ll grant that I haven’t seen the movie in ten years or more), with Peter Pan losing his shadow at the Darlings’ house, returning to fetch it, and then teaching Wendy, John, and Peter to fly off to Neverland. There they have some adventures with Peter and the infamous Captain Hook, and then eventually they return home to grow up, unlike Peter.

And it’s so much more depressing than I remember! Part of this is the narrative around the action in the book, which describes for us poor readers how awful the Darling parents feel about the loss of their children, who are gone for quite a while, with Mr. Darling even taking to sleeping in Nana’s kennel. It also describes often exactly how children feel about their parents, which wounds me as a potential parent. Clearly I should not have children.

The other depressing part is the same thing that drives Toy Story 3, which I cried over recently — growing up. The Darlings return home to grow up, and they do, and they become fairly boring and forget how to fly and think that perhaps Peter wasn’t real after all. And Peter mostly forgets them, too, returning only sporadically to make good on Wendy’s promise of a yearly visit. I’m getting sad just thinking about it!

But it is otherwise delightful, with Indians and pirates and an alligator with a clock in his tummy, and so I am glad to have gotten around to the book. But I think I’ll stick with Mary Martin for the foreseeable future!

Recommendation: Definitely a good read, but not quite a good bedtime story.

Rating: 8/10
(A to Z Challenge)