“John Carter” leaps into theaters this week, and his arrival will likely be many moviegoers’ first introduction to the Civil War soldier who became the red planet’s greatest hero.
First appearing in a 1912 pulp magazine, John Carter is the creation of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also gave the world the vine-swinging king of the jungle, Tarzan. Now, 100 years later, Walt Disney Pictures is hoping to create a new generation of John Carter fans with this weekend’s big-screen adventure featuring Taylor Kitsch as the title character.
Still, if you’re not familiar with Burroughs’ series, there’s no need to worry. Not only does the film do a great job of introducing the character, but we’ve got you covered with a short overview of the series, its characters, and the worlds they inhabit.
Read on for everything you need to know about “John Carter” before you buy your ticket.
The character of John Carter made his debut in a serialized story published in the pulp magazine The All-Story and titled “Under the Moons of Mars.” This story was later collected in what would become the first of 11 novels, A Princess of Mars.
Collectively known as the “Barsoom series” (the name given to the planet by Mars’ native inhabitants), Burroughs’ stories encompass several generations of characters, including John Carter, his children, and various other Martian and Earth-born characters. The final book in the series, John Carter of Mars: Skeleton Men of Jupiter was published in 1943.
John Carter’s first adventure in the series – and the inspiration for the “John Carter” movie – is set during the year 1866, and is written as if Burroughs’ received a first-hand account of the story from Carter himself. Burroughs is a recurring character in the series, as he often finds himself charged with watching over Carter’s inanimate body each time the adventurer’s consciousness is summoned to Mars.
Throughout the series, whenever John Carter travels to Mars, he leaves behind a physical body on Earth that appears lifeless – necessitating that someone like Burroughs keep watch over it until he returns. The mysterious mode of transport reconstitutes his form on Mars, but due to the planet’s gravity and atmosphere, he’s able to leap great distances and has strength far beyond that of the planet’s native inhabitants.
From the very first installment of the series, John becomes embroiled in a civil war on Barsoom that’s not unlike America’s own Civil War. The various races of Mars are constantly battling for the planet’s limited resources, and John’s experience in battle – combined with his powerful abilities – help him become one of the planet’s greatest warriors.
There are a number of different species of Martians represented in the Barsoom series, though the first volume – and the film – introduce the two primary inhabitants of Mars: Red Martians and Green Martians.
The Red Martians look like humans and are the dominant race on Barsoom. They live in cities and use an advanced form of technology that allows them to live in huge cities on the surface of the planet. Competition for the planet’s resources has pushed many of the cities to fight a constant war for control of valuable territory.
The Green Martians are distinctly less humanoid, with four arms and tall bodies that tower over humans and Red Martians alike. They’re a primitive, savage culture governed by tribal leaders who rule by force. They have no concept of family or love, and live to fight with rival tribes and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.
Among the other Martian races appearing in the early stories and the film are the white apes (seen above) – immense beasts that resemble Earth’s gorillas, but have four arms. The film also features a mysterious race of powerful, shape-shifters called the Therns who are attempting to secretly influence events on the planet.
The Cast and Crew
Along with Kitsch as John Carter, Lynn Collins plays Dejah Thoris, a Red Martian and princess of one of the great cities of Mars. Willem Dafoe voices Tars Tarkas, a Green Martian who becomes Carter’s ally, and Mark Strong plays Matai Shang, one of the Thern.
“John Carter” is directed by “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” filmmaker Andrew Stanton, who is making his live-action directorial debut with the film.
And there you have it, folks – a brief guide that takes you from Earth to Mars, courtesy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ imagination and Disney’s upcoming film “John Carter.” The movie hits theaters this Friday, March 9.