The Dream Vaults of Opar

Disney's Barsoom

    I could be wrong, something that happens with unnerving frequency in these latter days. But in this case I won't really mind at all.
    I'm referring to my comments a mailing or two ago concerning the announced Walt Disney production of A Princess of Mars. I expressed doubts that it would ever be made; probably I was in a pessimistic mood when I wrote that. I've since learned that the Disney Studios paid a considerable sum for the rights to this book ($150,000?)--which makes production far more likely than if little money had already been invested in the project. The April, 1987, issue of Starlog contains a brief article about Charles Pogue, who is writing the screenplay. If it isn't mostly P.R. hype, we could be in for a real treat.
    (There is also a lengthy article by L. Sprague de Camp about the Mars series. It is well illustrated with reproductions, many in color, of recent U.S. editions of those novels. The article itself is exactly what you would expect if you've read earlier pieces by de Camp on ERB.)
    Pogue grew up reading ERB and watching Tarzan movies, and says that he views this project as a chance to pay a literary debt. He says he wants to make his version "closer and more accurate than any Burroughs screen adaption there has ever been."
    He wants to retain the flavor of the original, too--a Civil War veteran transplanted to a very alien culture--and describes the project (for those unfamiliar with the books and in need of a catchy phrase) as Errol Flynn on Mars. Well . . . why not? That's probably as good a shorthand as I can think of to describe John Carter and his Barsoomian adventures.
    Undoubtedly I am (once again, as with the ultimately disappointing Greystoke, and before that with the two Land that Time Forgot movies and At the Earth's Core--with it's impossibly bad, exploding prehistoric creatures) allowing myself to get my hopes up, only to be the more thoroughly disappointed. But it is fun to conjecture what such a movie could be like. The Star Wars movies--largely inspired by ERB and Alex Raymond, who was himself inspired by ERB--have amply demonstrated that it is finally possible to film Barsoom. The opening scene of Jedi, complete with airship and Barsoomian costumes (at least on Princess Leia), the fight with the apt in the beginning of Empire, and the inclusion of a "Bantha" clearly indicate this. I don't really expect the green men to stand sixteen feet tall--an awkward and unworkable proposition, as Burroughs himself must have realized. (In the later books of the series he stopped stating their actual size, instead describing them with such words as "of heroic proportion.")
    Think of it! Night in Arizona. A dark figure charging into the Apache camp, swooping up the fallen, arrow-riddled Powell and carrying him off into the night. . . . The sounds from the rear of the cave, the "red eye" of Mars, the Martian incubators, Woola, the Helium fleet--Dejah Thoris, Tars Tarkas, the atmosphere plant--the pillaging of Zodanga. . . . Think, too, of all those wonderful sequels that could follow: the Plant Men, the Temple of the Sun, Thuvia and her banths, Ras Thavas, Vad Varo and Valla Dia, Tavia, and Llana of Gathol . . . ! It makes me want to reread the Martian series. Haven't read it in a bit more than ten years now, so it's about time. Hmmmm.

    Fredric Brown was one of the brighter names of popular fiction during the 1950s--a clever and quirky writer whose versatility probably prevented him from achieving wider popularity. He wrote prolifically for the mystery pulp magazines and produced a sizable number of imaginative, first-rate science fiction stories. His first book won the 1947 Edgar award for Best First Mystery Novel, and his combination of humor and science fiction in such works as What Mad Universe and Martians Go Home earned him a well deserved reputation in that field. Illness, however, made him virtually retire from writing around 1963, and he died about ten years later. During his career he published some thirty-five books.
    About three years ago Dennis Macmillan issued the first of a series of hardbound, limited edition reprints of Brown's numerous uncollected mystery stories under the title Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps. Each volume, averaging around 170 pages, sold for $30.00. The series is limited to no more than 400 signed and numbered copies of each title, and only the last one or two are still available, though Macmillan has reprinted a couple of early titles in quality paperback editions.
    This series has now reached its tenth volume, and if my calculations are correct there isn't any reason that Macmillan shouldn't continue for at least another ten; there's enough material. In the process of publishing these books, Macmillan has wisely not restricted himself solely to reprinting pulp mystery stories. He has included poetry, nonfiction, and previously unpublished works of science fiction and mystery. ("Sex Life on the Planet Mars," the title work of one of the volumes, consists of the opening chapters of a never-completed nonfiction book on science fiction. It's excellent, though far too short, and contains a passing reference or two to ERB.)
    If Dennis continues to unearth these odd pieces of Brown's unpublished works, Fredric Brown could become the first writer to have more books published posthumously than during his lifetime.
    The reason I have mentioned this--aside from the fact that I collect Brown and am very pleased with Macmillan's books--is that it makes an interesting contrast with Edgar Rice Burroughs' posthumous career. Certainly ERB's public is broader; certainly there is a wider market for his unpublished works. Yet we have had none since "Pirate Blood," circa 1970. What a deplorable situation. Here is a major writer, whose works are read--even studied--around the world, yet no effort is being made to publish his remaining works, at least seven or eight volumes worth of them. (Why be so limited? Why could not his correspondence be issued, volume by volume, over the years? Certainly there are a few hundred of us who would be willing to pay $30 each for our limited-edition copies!)

--June 1, 1987

 [1999 Note: Pogue's script was eventually rejected, and the same fate met about a half-dozen other commissioned scripts. Nevertheless, Disney has continued to renew its option on A Princess of Mars for twelve years now, and at last report that company is considering making the movie an animated feature. The success of Dennis Macmillan's Fredric Brown series, which ran to nineteen volumes, was one of the inspirations of the Tarzana Project. (Actually our interest in publishing ERB dates to around 1968, when I tried to convince Bob Hodes, then-president of ERB, Inc., to allow us to issue a lavishly illustrated edition of "Genghis Khan," ERB's unfinished epic poem.)]

Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Martian Series

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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.