these john carter books are so astonishingly good. just the epitome of pulp, & by that i mean the reasons that pulp counts as "literature." these aren't crappy summer thrillers, these are mountains coming to mohammad. it picks up right after the gods of mars, with john carter in the wastes of barsoom waiting for the temple of the sun to spit out his wife. & then on to adventure, from pole to pole! with his ten-legged, bull-sized, telepathic, killer predator pet. seriously, what a freaking romp, & i found the end to be creepily compelling. like, moving! john carter is not a smart man, but he's so competant &...what is the word david used? virile, that he can take on just about anything, as long as luck is on his side. luck, or his princess.
anytime i read something from the turn of the century i have to comment on race & gender, right? well. there were better moments for gender-- this book is firmly of the "on the pedestal" school. in previous novels the princess was taking up a sword & fighting along side him, but in this one she's the damsel macguffin for him to save. there is a threat of rape, too, from the villains, but there also isn't a sense of "defilement" or anything...no intimation that she'd be lessened, rather just showing the bad guys as fiends. you know what i mean? so, not great, but certainly not worse than its time.
as to race, well, these books are so tricky & interesting when you look at them thus. being set almost entirely on mars, the only races are the martian races. in the first novel the two races were the red men, who are "civilized" & human-like, beautiful & advanced, & the green men, who are "savage," giant & four armed, cold hearted & ugly. you could look at it as american frontier? but even then, the green men are actually shown to have a culture, & john carter's best friend ends up becoming their king. the next book has white men, who perpetrate the planet-wide hoax called "religion, & black men, who are basically sky pirates, with a secret "inner" kingdom ruled by a goddess. john carter shows the black goddess & the white priests as frauds, but even then, he ends up befriending one of the black men & when all is said & done, most of the black men are reasonable. this book introduces the yellow men, who are bearded & live in the remote ice deserts. in fact for the yellow men, the first interactions john carter has with them is positive.
in the end, after dethroning the wicked yellow king of kings, with the help of the red men, he puts his friend, a yellow man, on the throne. everyone had expected him to put a red man on the throne, but he surprised them by putting a yellow king up. which is an interesting piece of colonial lit theory! or could be looked at as racial segregation. i don't know. also, in this one we finally get our first good white person! for a second. i think that you can't really argue the racial segregation actually, since john carter talks at length about the different nations & people's working together as one. which is the thing-- race in the barsoom books is synonymous with nation or culture, in a way that maps pretty well onto the real world. in fact, the "original" races of mars were the black, white, & yellow people, at least according to myth, & the red race is the result of their intermingling when the planet started dying. making the green man still the odd man out? see, it is weird, confusing. organic. interesting.
lastly, can i mention that the neologisms in these john carter of mars books are some of the best i've ever seen? largely limited to proper nouns & titles, with the notable exception of the martian "hello"-- "kaor." seriously, dwar, jed, jeddak, thark, helium. just good words in the mouth & on the page, peppered so sparingly as to retain familiarity for the reader but also express a sense of alieness & adventure. really very solid writing, & the part of the craft that he exercises that most impressed me.