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John Carter of Mars

John Carter of Mars Animation (Rare) Bob Clampett

Back in the 1940’s, animation director Bob Clampett (director of Bugs Bunny and creator of Beany and Cecil) proposed a series of animated theatrical shorts adapting the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan). This footage was the test reel for the studios. Apparently one major hollywood studio was interested in producing these shorts, but changed their mind when they thought the concept might be to weird for some people. It’s to bad they never got made. Who knows what direction animation might have taken if they had.

220px-Princess_of_Mars_largeJohn Carter and Dejah Thoris from the cover of the first edition of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs,McClurg, 1917

John Carter of Mars is a fictional Virginian transplanted to Mars, and the initial protagonist of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Barsoom stories. His character is enduring, having appeared in various media since his 1912 debut in a magazine serial. The 2012 Disney-made feature film John Carter marks the 100th anniversary of the character’s first appearance.


John Carter was the lead character in the first novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, set on a fictionalized version of Mars known as Barsoom. Written between July and September 28, 1911, the novel was serialized as Under the Moons of Mars in the pulp magazine The All-Story from February to July 1912. It later appeared as a complete novel only after the success of Burroughs’ Tarzan series. For its October 1917 hardcover publication by A.C. McClurg & Company, the novel was retitled A Princess of Mars.

Carter reappeared in subsequent volumes of the series, most prominently in the second (The Gods of Mars, 1918), the third (The Warlord of Mars, 1919), the eighth (Swords of Mars, 1936), the tenth (Llana of Gathol, 1948), and the eleventh and final installment (John Carter of Mars, published posthumously in 1964). John Carter is also a major secondary character in the fourth volume (Thuvia, Maid of Mars, 1920), and the ninth (Synthetic Men of Mars, 1940).


Carter stands 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) and has close-cropped black hair and steel-grey eyes. Burroughs describes him as immortal. In the opening pages of A Princess of Mars, it is revealed that Carter can remember no childhood, having always been a man of about thirty years old. Many generations have known him as “Uncle Jack,” but he always lived to see them grow old and die, while he remained young.

jcblbmarHis character and courtesy exemplify the ideals of the antebellum South. A Virginian, he served as a captain in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. After the war, Carter and his companion Powell, who was also a captain in the Civil War, became gold prospectors. Carter and Powell struck it rich by finding gold in Arizona. While hiding from Apaches in a cave, he appears to die; leaving his inanimate body behind, he is mysteriously transported by a form of astral projection to the planet Mars, where he finds himself re-embodied in a form identical to his earthly one. Accustomed to the greater gravity of Earth, he finds himself to be much stronger and more agile than the natives of Mars.

On Mars, which its natives call Barsoom, Carter encounters both formidable alien creatures resembling the beasts of ancient myth and various humanoids. He finds his true calling in life as a warlord who strives to save the planet’s inhabitants. He wins the hand of a Martian princess, Dejah Thoris of Helium, but after several years of marriage he sacrifices himself to save Barsoom from the loss of its atmosphere. Awakening again after this second death he finds he has been miraculously transported back to Earth, into his original body. Carter then collects the wealth that resulted from his discovery of a rich vein of gold ore right before his original passage to Barsoom. Unable to return to Mars, he spends several more years in a small cottage on the Hudson River in New York State, where he once more appears to die on March 4, 1886.

Again, Carter’s apparent demise is not a true death; rather, he is restored to Barsoom, where after more adventures he rises to the position of Warlord of Mars, having played an instrumental role in creating alliances among many of the sentient races of Barsoom. He returns to Earth on a number of occasions afterward to relate his adventures to his nephew (“Burroughs”), revealing that he has mastered the process of astral travel between the two worlds. During his adventures on Mars his earthly body reposes in a special tomb that can only be opened from the inside.

John Carter and Dejah Thoris become the parents of a son, Carthoris, and daughter, Tara. Carthoris plays a secondary role in The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, and is the protagonist of Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Tara is the heroine of The Chessmen of Mars (1922), and the mother of Carter’s granddaughter Llana, heroine of Llana of Gathol.

Only one other Earthman, Ulysses Paxton is able to travel to Mars via the method Carter used.

A complete list of characters is given at the end of Thuvia, Maid of Mars.

In other media

220px-Big_Little_Book_-nn_John_Carter_of_Mars_(Dell,_1940)Dell Fast Action book, 1940


John Carter has appeared many times in short-lived comic strips and comic books, as well as in various Big Little Books of the 1930’s and 1940’s. The most notable John Carter comic strip to appear in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lifetime was written and illustrated by Burroughs’ son John Coleman Burroughs. This strip debuted on Sunday, December 7, 1941—the very day of the infamous Pearl Harbor Attack. This well-done strip lasted only 72 weeks, ending in March 1943. Dell Comics released three issues of John Carter of Mars under its Four Color Comics banner. The issue numbers are 375, 437, and 488 and were released in 1952-1953. Carter has appeared in various subsequent graphic adaptations of the Martian stories, notably the “John Carter of Mars” feature that ran in DC Comics‘ Tarzan and Weird Worlds comics from 1972 to 1973, and in Marvel ComicsJohn Carter, Warlord of Mars from 1977 to 1979. He also appeared, along with Tarzan, in a 1994-1995 storyline of the Tarzan Sunday comic strip, and in Tarzan/John Carter: Warlords of Mars, a 1996 four-issue miniseries from Dark Horse Comics.  In 2010,Dynamite Entertainment published an ongoing series titled Warlord of Mars, written byArvid Nelson. In 2011, “Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris” #1 debuted, also written by Nelson. Self Made Hero are also adapting A Princess of Mars into a graphic novel, adapted by Ian Edginton with art by INJ Culbard.

Carter’s physical appearances in the comics varied greatly from decade to decade. He was a frequent character in sketches and paintings by Frank Frazetta (February 9, 1928 – May 10, 2010).

Other novels and television programs

swench-john-carter-of-marsCarter is also found in other novels and stories. He makes two appearances in Alan Moore‘s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The first is in the story Allan and the Sundered Veil, which appears in the end of volume one. In this story, Moore claims that H. P. Lovecraft‘s Randolph Carter is a descendant of John Carter. Carter also appears in the beginning of volume two, helping the Barsoomians fight against the Martians from The War of the Worlds. The same scenario also appeared in the Burroughs entry in the War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches anthology. In addition, one of the protagonists of Robert A. Heinlein‘s The Number of the Beast is Captain Zebediah John Carter, whose lover becomes his wife Dejah Thoris “Deety” Burroughs Carter. The similarity in names is noted within the novel, since all of the major characters are fans of vintage science fiction. In Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross, Barsoom and Carter City are names of settlements on Mars. In Philip José Farmer‘s “World of Tiers” novels the moon circling the World of Tiers is modelled after Barsoom, from Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ novels, an homage which Farmer openly admits in the third book of the series.

borisjc10The “object compass” in E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Skylark series is very similar to the Barsoomian “destination compass” mentioned in the Mars series. Moreover, the Jandar of Callisto series by Lin Carter and the Dray Prescot series by Alan Burt Akers owe a great deal to Burroughs’ Mars stories. In Stephen King‘s novella, The Long Walk, a sarcastic reference is made by a Long-Walker – when asked his name, the character replies ‘My name is John Carter, my home is Barsoom, Mars”.

Carter has also been referenced in television shows. In Zone of the Enders: Dolores, i, the protagonist, James Links, is always called “John Carter” by the WIRED officer, Baan Dorfloun. James Links is an Earth-born human who fell in love and had children with a Mars-born woman. In Episode 15 of the anime series To Love-Ru, a prince named Carter, from the planet Burroughs, arrives on Earth to conduct a hunt in a hidden alien game preserve in Guyana. In the Babylon 5 episode “Spider in the Web,” John Carter is mentioned as the pilot of the first colony ship to Mars. In “Secret Origins,” the pilot episode of the cartoon TV series Justice League, the first US astronaut on Mars is named J. Allen Carter. Carter sets up Earth for invasion by the Mars-based “Imperium,” which had wiped out the native Martian population, except for sole survivor J’onn J’onnz, aka Martian Manhunter.

Influence on later works

John Carter of Mars was a major influence on other science fiction/fantasy tales and characters through the 20th century, including Buck RogersFlash GordonSupermanAdam StrangeDuneWarp!Den, and Star Wars to name just a few. The movie Avatarwas inspired by John Carter of Mars. According to Avatar’s creator, James Cameron, “With Avatar, I thought, Forget all these chick flicks and do a classic guys’ adventure movie, something in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mold, like John Carter of Mars—a soldier goes to Mars.”

In the first chapters of Gore Vidal‘s novel “Washington, D.C.,” the character Peter Sanford – sixteen at the outset of the plot – indulges in vivid and detailed fantasies of being John Carter, and adds explicit erotic scenes not appearing in the original Burroughs books.


Bob Clampett, the animator, wanted to produce a full-length cartoon of John Carter in the 1930’s and talked with Burroughs about it. Several seconds of animation appear in the supplemental material of the home-video version of the Disney film.

John Carter was played by Antonio Sabàto, Jr. in the 2009 movie Princess of Mars, which also starred Traci Lords as Princess Dejah Thoris.

In the 2012 Disney film adaptation of the series, John Carter, Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch, with the role of Dejah Thoris played by Lynn Collins.

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