GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold, this novel was originally published under the title Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation. Years later, with the spelling of the lead character’s first name altered, it was published as Gulliver of Mars. Over the years it was revived under a variety of titles. I’m using the title that I prefer – Gullivar Jones On Mars.
This will be a simultaneous review and a running tally of the revisions I would have made to the story. This very oddly written novel BEGS to be rewritten because of the long line of self-defeating creative choices that Edwin L Arnold made throughout the tale.
If Arnold had written this story decades later it could have been said that he was intentionally subverting the tropes of heroic sword & science epics. Unfortunately, this novel instead seems to be the victim of ineptitude on the author’s part.
Like when you’re watching a bad movie, a reader’s jaw drops at the way Arnold never failed to let a brilliant concept die on the vine, or the way he repeatedly sets up potentially action-packed or highly dramatic story developments only to let them culminate in unsatisfying cul de sacs or peter out into lame anticlimax. There’s almost a perverse genius to the way that the narrative constantly works against itself.
LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY – For years a literary tempest in a teapot raged over the possibility that Edgar Rice Burroughs had read Gullivar Jones On Mars and had incorporated various elements from it into his John Carter of Mars novels. Not in the sense of plagiarism but simply in the way that writers of popular fiction often borrow influences while influencing others in turn.
Consider the following:
+++ In his 1905 debut story we meet Gullivar Jones, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant who had served in the Union forces during the U.S. Civil War. The story opens in the late 1860s/ early 1870s when Jones is on shore leave in New York City wondering if his long-awaited promotion will go through.
+++ In his 1912 debut story we meet John Carter, a former officer in the Confederate States Army during the U.S. Civil War. The story opens in the late 1860s/ early 1870s when Carter is out west prospecting for gold.
+++ Gullivar Jones, through a fluke, ends up in possession of a magic carpet. While standing on the carpet he wishes he was on Mars (as guys do, y’know). The mystic rug “obeys” and takes him to Mars.
+++ John Carter, through a bizarrely unlikely series of events, winds up on the floor of a cave, paralyzed, then seems to wrench himself out of his own body (?) and astral-projects himself to Mars.
+++ On Mars Gullivar Jones meets different-colored races, then falls for the beautiful Princess Heru and romances her through a series of adventures.
+++ On Mars John Carter meets different-colored races, then falls for the beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris and romances her through a series of adventures.
+++ Among Gullivar Jones’ adventures: a journey down the River of Death, which body of water the Martians use to send off their dead in funerary boats. The Martians believe the boats wind up in the actual realm of the dead.
+++ Among John Carter’s adventures: a journey down the River Issus, which body of water the Martians use to send off their dead in funerary boats. The Martians believe the boats wind up in the actual realm of the dead.
+++ The lighter gravity of Mars compared to Earth gives Gullivar Jones much greater strength compared to Martians.
+++ The lighter gravity of Mars compared to Earth gives John Carter much greater strength compared to Martians.
+++ The Martians encountered by Gullivar Jones possess limited telepathic abilities.
+++ The Martians encountered by John Carter possess limited telepathic abilities.
+++ Gulliver Jones encounters monstrous and hostile Martian life-forms.
+++ John Carter encounters monstrous and hostile Martian life-forms.
+++ At the end of the Gullivar Jones novel, a comet comes dangerously close to Mars causing intense heat, threatening planetary disaster.
+++ At the end of the first John Carter novel, a crisis causes the Atmosphere Plant to stop producing breathable air, threatening planetary disaster.
+++ The Gullivar Jones novel ends with the hero abruptly back on Earth, left wondering about the fate of Mars and Princess Heru.
+++ The first John Carter novel ends with the hero abruptly back on Earth, left wondering about the fate of Mars and Princess Dejah Thoris.
+++ Gullivar Jones writes a first-person account of his adventures on Mars and gets it published.
+++ John Carter writes a first-person account of his adventures on Mars and gets it published.
Decades ago, so obviously pre-internet, angry words were often exchanged between the camps of those who felt Burroughs’ 1912 work had been partially inspired by elements of Arnold’s 1905 work and those who felt it was blasphemous to imply that Burroughs drew influence from a lesser talent like Arnold.
Over the years it ultimately became a moot point with the gradually rising profile of Gustavus W Pope’s long-forgotten 1894 novel Journey To Mars. That book featured U.S. Navy Lieutenant Frederick Hamilton being abducted to Mars by a spaceship (at least that’s scientific), meeting different-colored races, falling for the beautiful Princess Suhlamia and romancing her through a series of adventures.
Journey To Mars even ended with the threat of planetary disaster and a full-blown revolution endangering the happiness of Hamilton and Princess Suhlamia. The novel left the Lieutenant and the readers wondering about the fate of Mars and the princess. Pope wrote a sequel novel in 1895 titled Journey to Venus, which featured Hamilton and Suhlamia traveling to that planet for further sword & science adventures.
Even with the advent of the internet, some people remain unaware of the earlier Pope novels and continue arguing about Burroughs and Arnold. Obviously, both of them might have been influenced by Gustavus Pope’s earlier work.
But to be fair, Edwin Arnold’s 1890 novel Phra The Phoenician ALSO seems like it may have influenced Burroughs’ John Carter. Phra is a kind of immortal warrior, thriving on battlefields down through the ages. John Carter, even BEFORE his first trip to Mars, was – for reasons never explained by Burroughs – a kind of immortal warrior, thriving on battlefields down through the ages. Carter even refers to being eternally young and having served in Napoleon’s armies plus having bounced on his knee several generations of the Carter family. Again, none of that is EVER clarified in the John Carter novels.
If someone wanted to REALLY intensify any lingering hostility between the Burroughs and Arnold camps they could start pushing the notion that John Carter really IS Phra the Phoenician and suffered amnesia at some point, forgetting his origin.
Enough preamble! Next time around I will review and list my revisions for Gullivar Jones On Mars. FOR PART TWO CLICK HERE! +++
FOR MY ORIGINAL LIST OF TEN DIFFERENT WORKS OF “ANCIENT” SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE *** FOR THE FOLLOWUP LIST OF EIGHT DIFFERENT WORKS OF “ANCIENT” SCI FI CLICK HERE *** AND FOR TWENTY MORE CLICK HERE
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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