ERB Book Reviews

ERB Book Reviews

Edgar Rice Burroughs book reviews from fans like you.

A Fighting Man of Mars

Reviewed by: David A. Adams 1999-07-08

I found A Fighting Man of Mars to be an annoying love story, but a wonderful adventure yarn. It seems that I can stand ERB’s stock characters and his predictable captures and escapes, but I cannot abide his formula of “hero as a boob about affairs of the heart.”

The engine that drives this novel is two-fold for me: the fairy tale atmosphere and the surprising escapes. The scientific inventions are futuristic for the time, but only the element of invisibility grabbed me because of its fairy tale nature. The most sublime moment for me comes in chapter 15 when Hadron stands on the deck of his invisible ship and approaches the Heliumetic fleet. He raises both of his arms and floats in space like an apparition of a Christ triumphant returning to Earth. “What must they have thought when they saw me apparently floating upright upon thin air? That they were astonished was evident by the expressions on the faces of those nearest to me as the Jhama touched the side of the battleship.”

We all know how ERB employs the typical Gothic literary devices found in melodrama for his romance-adventure yarns. We do not expect great subtilty in character development. People are two-dimensional, cardboard cut-outs who embody either virtue or vice. They are highly simplified figures useful for the embodiment of ideas.

The physical appearance of characters corresponds to their spiritual state. Handsome, strong people are good. Ugly, bestial-looking, or weak characters are bad. ERB comes up with some nasty villains in his stories, and Ghron the human spider of Ghasta is one of the more despicable ones. He is sadistically cruel to a fault, and the scene of the woman being slowly roasted over a fire is particularly gruesome.

The thing that always surprises me is that ERB’s novels read so well despite their obvious literary faults. I can’t stand “sword and sorcery” novels -- they bore me to tears. Even the mythic Tolkien, a favorite of many, I find to be incredibly dull. I am still trying to discover ERB’s “secret.”

I am beginning to think it comes from that fact that his writing comes from the best tradition of fairy tales rather than “blood and thunder” adventure stories. His characters are basically human in proportions and they find human ways of escaping from predicaments. I can tolerate the use of invisibility in A Fighting Man of Mars because it is not used as a magical deus ex machina but as simply another weapon and one that he loses near the end that causes great tension in the story.

In Ghasta, Hadron pauses on top of the black tower to view the valley of Hohr “like some enchanted fairyland of ancient lore” while the chimney behind him pours forth unbearable waves of heat with terrific velocity. It is a magical moment that ERB is capable of showing even at times of almost unbearable tension. You know the escape will be a clever one, and it will come quickly, told as quickly as it happens -- and the reader will be made present in the body of the hero, straining at the ropes, clinging to the ledges, breathing a sigh of relief when it is all over.

I know it is more than the fairy tale atmosphere and the fantastic deeds. It is more than the beautiful women and the bestial villains. In the end, it is the incredible power of the story teller that is ERB’s “secret,” and that can’t be bought by outlines or analysis at any price. When all is said and done, even though I may understand his stories (and I believe a close understanding is a worthy effort) I still might be tempted to read them again, and that surely is a sign of complex literature. It is not that there is more to be discovered in every story (although I believe this also to be true). It is a matter of wanting to relive the experience, of actually doing the things the hero did, that brings me back again and again. When you read Burroughs you “do” the story in a gut-level way, and why this should be with his writing when so much of literature is simply watching the characters act, is still a secret held by the great story tellers of all time.

Reviewed by: Bruce Bozarth 1998-02-15

In the seventh outing of his Barsoomian series, Edgar Rice Burroughs presents the second-hand tale of Tan Hadron of Hastor, as related by Vad Varo (Ulysess Paxton Mastermind of Mars).

Tan Hadron, a poor prince of Hastor, employed in John Carter's Helium air navy develops a major crush on the socialite daughter of his commanding officer. She's a real beaut, but cold and aloof. Hadron is not dissuaded in his affection--in fact, it becomes fever bright when he learns the young woman has been abducted by unknown parties.

Tan Hadron, with Carter's permission, embarks on a one-man rescue operation while the Warlord gears up his forces to join the search and to beef up the nation's defenses--it appears there is something more sinister than a simple kidnapping at hand.

Tan Hadron's detective skills are brought into play and he soon locates a possible lead. The stalwart padwar pursues the trail of abductors of the woman he loves and is soon neck-deep in high adventure. Along the way he rescues a red Martian girl, who becomes a travel companion throughout the remainder of the book.

Helium, Barsoom, and our protagonists are in dire peril from a major baddie--a northern jeddak with distintegrating rays, hundreds of war vessels and millions of warriors bent on world domination. The fun is reading to discover how our man from Hastor, with the aid of a few friends acquired along the way, upsets the villian's plans and saves the world.