E. R. Burroughs – The Chessmen Of Mars

One of the common themes in the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs is that of the damsel in distress. The damsel may not be a simple objects to be rescued and be strongminded and capable of some feats of her own, ultimately she will be unable to escape on her own. This theme is also very much central in The Chessmen Of Mars (1922), the fifth novel of his John Carter or Barsoom series.

It is this recurring theme that gives me problems at keeping on reading the series. From the very start it is obvious how things will turn out, in the general sense and if you have just finished such a story, getting motivated for the next can be hard. Because of this I have no choice but to take substantial breaks between reading the novels to allow me to appreciate them fully.

You will ask me now why I still show appreciation when I am complaining about recurring themes which are in a sense predictable. There are pretty much two reasons for that. The first reason is the journey. You may know how the story will turn out but you will not be able to predict how it will get there. Burroughs gives his imagination free reign and provides many grotesque and fantastical scenes. While the John Carter series is in essence science fiction there are also some fantasy elements where some rather unexplainable or supernatural things happen while there are sequences that come close to horror although he never ventures to far ahead. One could say it is a fantastical gothic fantasy. He wrote the series before there was any of the fantasy or horror we know today and so he stays closer to the nineteenth century version than the modern one. Either way, it is much different from any common fare despite that some things do sometimes give a familiar ring. Personally I would contribute that more to later authors being inspired with what Burroughs wrote than the other way around.

The second reason why I appreciate Burroughs’ novels is his prose. Despite the novels being part of a serial publication aiming for greatest effect and speedy writing his style is of a great quality, never repetitive and at times quite lyrical. As the general plot is not overly surprising I spent more attention to his phrasing and use of words which are of a richness you don’t see that much. It is not a requirement as today’s novels are more about the plot and the story or the behavior and development of the characters. As Burroughs’ have far less of those elements the story is compensated by the quality of his writing.

The plot itself is pretty much crafted to serve the desired flow of the story. There are a number of flaws and coincidences which the attentive reader will notice, but as mentioned earlier the story is written to entertain and provide a playing field for the imagination and if you put the credit there you will be satisfied.

In fact, Burroughs did a pretty good job on the character development. The main focus was on three characters and each was given sufficient time to explore there reasoning and decisions. Within the frame of the story this was well done.

While this is a John Carter novel he only has a minor role. This was also already the case in the fourth novel, Thuvia, Maid Of Mars. I consider it a pretty nice change to explore the behavior and thoughts of people who have been born on Mars and lived there all their lives. The reader is not an outsider anymore and sufficiently familiar with the setting to get further inside.

There is much to say about The Chessman Of Mars. I quite enjoyed it and while I will wait some time before I continue with the sixth novel of the series I know for certain that I will. One should take the time to enjoy this old series for what it is worth. Going ahead to quickly will diminish the pleasure of reading. This particular installment is recommended.

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