- by Gitabushi
I just finished reading The Mucker, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, last week.
This is, by far, my favorite book that I’ve read by ERB.
It has sword fighting! Pirates! True Love! Gun Battles! Banditos! Head Hunters! Drunken brawls!
Quick synopsis: A guy has a pretty bad start in life. A series of events cause him to reconsider everything he valued, and through time, effort, exposure to good and bad people, and a series of events, he builds his character into something to be admired.
To be honest, I’m a little perplexed, because as I was reading it, I thought: okay, this is so good because it is late in his writing career. He had done all the Barsoom stories, the Tarzan stories, the crappy Land that Time Forgot stories (Caspak series), and wanted to do something with a little more moral and literary heft.
He wrote in 1914. At that point, he had only completed 2 or 3 Tarzan novels, and only 2 or 3 Barsoom novels. The crappy was still four years in the future.
But I liked this book because it has character development in spades, and it was actually mostly believable.
Its plot was okay. It is long and winding, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. It doesn’t have a deep or complex plot, it just winds its way through various locales and sub-goals. It does wrap up nicely at the end, which is nice. But it is linear, rather than a web of plots and subplots to be resolved. That’s okay, that isn’t a criticism. In contrast, Chessmen of Mars has a few subplots that work together and get resolved by the end. And Princess of Mars is another linear plot, with nothing really existing or unresolved out of the main action that is happening to John Carter at any given moment. This isn’t good or bad, because it is what the story calls for. A more complex web of plotting requires better writing, but good writers can also have simple plots. I think that is the case here.
For that matter, if you read my review (and also read the book) on “Monster Men”, I think that novel has a much more complex plot than this one. It is necessary for that story, it isn’t for this one, so both are great for what they are.
Descriptions are mostly pretty good. He doesn’t get into lush details like Robert E. Howard does, but you should always have a clear image in your head of the stage the characters are on and what they are doing.
There are several very enjoyable characters, but my favorite character of all is Barbara Harding. My, what a woman! She shows strength, grit, intelligence, courage, skill, grace, wisdom…you name an admirable trait, she has it. Anyone who wants to blather on about misogyny in old pulp novels, or the lack of Strong Female Characters in older fiction needs to take a big glass of Shut Up Juice and read this book.
I haven’t read the later books in this series. I think I need to.
In any case, I highly recommend this book. If you like John Carter books, I think you’ll find many of the same elements here, plus extras. If you don’t like John Carter books, I think you’ll find enough other qualities of good writing that you’ll enjoy this book.
If you read/read it (first: short e, past tense; second: long e, future tense) and didn’t/don’t like it, let me know, and why. I’d like to improve my grasp of objective criticism.
If you need more to make you want to read the novel, let me know. I’d like to improve my skill at recommending books without giving away spoilers.
Ironically, when I got in an argument over “A Princess of Mars”, one of the things I said is I wanted some more complexity to the main character regarding love. I was told that ERB doesn’t need any of that soap opera, mushy, emotional angst stuff. Apparently that person was wrong, because the romantic conflict is all through this book. But it is done well. I think ERB really understands the motivations and thought processes of his main characters, and shows it well.
Go read it!