GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold. In Part One of this review I explored this novel’s alternate titles and its cult reputation, plus the controversy which used to rage over whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs may have read this work and gained inspiration for certain elements of his John Carter of Mars series. I also dealt with the end of that controversy when it became better known that BOTH Arnold and Burroughs may have been inspired by Gustavus Pope’s 1894 novel Journey to Mars.
Here in Part Two is the review proper, including revisions I would have made to Edwin Arnold’s incredibly flawed story.
Gullivar Jones on Mars starts out in the late 1860s or early 1870s with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Gullivar Jones, a veteran of the Union forces in the Civil War, in New York City on shore leave. He comes into possession of a Turkish rug with unexplained mystical powers. While standing on the unrolled rug he wishes he was on Mars and the flying carpet transports him there. (?)
REVISION: I would keep all of Gullivar Jones’ background info the same, but instead of the Turkish rug I would have him be one of many New Yorkers drawn to a strange spacecraft which lands near the docks. The daring Jones would climb into the remote-controlled vessel, which would trap him inside, sedate him with gas and then fly off back to Mars.
Once on Mars Gullivar meets some of the gentle but decadent and lazy Hither People, beautiful humanoids. One of them teaches him their language through a temporary telepathic link. Due to Mars’ lighter gravity the Earth man has much greater strength compared to Martians. After partying with this first group of Hither People and getting drunk on their potent varieties of alcoholic beverages he recovers and moves on, toward the major city called Seth by way of the Martian Canals.
Some reviewers compare the Hither People to the Eloi from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, but I find them to be more like the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey.
REVISION: Once on Mars, Gullivar is removed from the spacecraft, revived and telepathically taught the Martian language by one of the scientists who have brought him there. They explain that they have been researching Earth and had previously sent smaller probes to the planet. Those probes lured and “trapped” smaller life-forms like birds, dogs, etc and returned them to Mars for study. He is their first human specimen.
He is told that the Martians are studying Earth life-forms in an attempt to survive some unnamed future disaster, but grows suspicious. At one point Jones would manage to inspect other rooms in the scientists’ laboratory castle and see all the previous Earth specimens have been dissected for deeper study.
Using his superior strength and his Navy sword, Gullivar manages to fight his way out and escapes. THEN he would party with the next group of Hither People he meets, and these would be the decadent, Lotus Eaters type partiers and loungers. Afterward he would set out to find the major city Seth hoping to lose himself in the masses lest the scientists catch up with him.
The short-haired figure called An, who has been guiding Gullivar from party to party before and now onto a boat headed for Seth, is presently revealed to be female and not the male that Jones took them for. She describes her short haircut and her yellow clothing as a sign that she is a slave.
Formerly she was a priestess of a religious sect whose members got too high and mighty so they were overcome, reduced to slaves and forced to wear clothes and haircuts marking them out as such.
REVISION: I would depict Gullivar Jones being outraged at the existence of slavery on Mars, since he was part of the Union forces in the Civil War. Its casual acceptance would be another way that the passivity of the Hither People would annoy him. Arnold just abandons the whole concept after that tease about a priestess class being overthrown and we get no further explanation.
The boat with An and Gullivar Jones eventually encountered several other boats gathered to watch the passing of the King’s Barge. King Hath and Princess Heru were the passengers of honor on that craft and Gullivar fell in “love” with Princess Heru. He made his way over to the barge, using the smaller craft like a pontoon bridge, and shook hands with King Hath to introduce himself.
Soon a large fallen tree floating down the same river collided with the King’s Barge, knocking Heru overboard and dragging her along, threatening to drown her. While the apathetic and/or stoned Hither People just watch this unperturbed, Jones dives in and swims to the Princess, saving her and bringing her back to the barge.
REVISION: Since we later meet water monsters and other beasts in this novel I would have Gullivar save Princess Heru from a river-monster instead.
After saving Heru, Jones is feasted and honored at Hath’s palace that night. He and the girl An have a pleasant time and the next morning over breakfast An explains to Gullivar that the reason all the Hither People’s impressive buildings are falling to ruin is because of their listlessness and boozing. They would do anything to avoid labor or fighting. Earlier generations must not have been so, but that was in the distant past.
After a post-breakfast party with booze and presumably more oinking and boinking, Gullivar and An wake up and take in the sight of a Martian mental wizard using their psychic powers to project a force field around themselves. Other Hither People try to throw objects at the force field hard enough to penetrate it but fail. Jones’ super-strength on Mars allows him to throw hard enough to pierce the field but thankfully the Martian survives the impact.
Rest assured, though, that this fascinating alien ability to generate psychic force fields now disappears from the narrative and will play no further role in the story. No wonder this was Arnold’s last novel.
REVISION: Since no other Martian ever displays this ability to generate force fields I might possibly make it so that the one who DOES have the ability be an operative of the scientists who abducted Jones and brought him to Mars. The operative would fail to recapture our hero and would be defeated by him but would have made another enigmatic reference to a coming disaster that the scientist sect is trying to prepare for. Jones’ massive strength would have inadvertently killed him before he could elaborate.
Soon our hero and An part company because the day of the annual marriage ceremony is approaching. Once a year a drawing is held to see which member of the opposite sex each Martian will be wed to for the next year. Princess Heru makes it clear to Gullivar that she is rigging the drawing so that she can marry him.
In the buildup to the day of the drawing the two party and make out. Jones even persuades the listless beauty to help him research the history of the Hither People’s civilization through neglected and long-unread books in the Royal Library.
REVISION: I would have Gulliver showing special interest in scouring the books for any sign of the upcoming disaster that the scientist sect keeps mentioning. Heru and the other Hither People would, of course, be too stoned off their butts to really care.
On the day of the drawing, the marriage ceremony is preceded by a ritual dance performed by Princess Heru. After the dance she works with a mystic globe in which she will foretell the Hither People’s future for the next year. In the middle of all this, the Thither People, a brutish and barbaric race of furry humanoids, attack the city of Seth.
While the Hither People do nothing to stop them, the Thither People plunder the city and make off with Princess Heru. Gullivar is the only one who tries to stop them but in the end even his super-strength and his sword prove insufficient against overwhelming numbers.
In the aftermath of the attack, our hero learns that the Thither People easily won a war against the Hither People long ago and as part of the terms of surrender, the barbarians are allowed to periodically raid Seth and vicinity. Though King Hath and the others claim to greatly miss the abducted Princess Heru they can’t be bothered to do anything about it, so Jones sets off alone to win her back.
With a commandeered boat he overtakes the vessel carrying Heru and other plunder. Numbers tell the tale once again, despite his strength and swordsmanship and he is expelled from the craft. He uses a swimming Martian moose-like creature to get to an island.
REVISION: I would have Gulliver fight another water-creature on his way to shore.
Once on shore, Gulliver must survive the night in a jungle/ redwood forest filled with deadly alien life. In Edwin Arnold’s typical fashion, rather than have anything interesting happen he just has his hero DESCRIBE the creatures, watch the two biggest ones fight, then he moves on in the morning. Overnight some of the wolf-sized animals even rest right next to him without attacking. (?)
REVISION: I would have our hero actually FIGHT several of the Martian creatures he encounters. The monsters described in the narrative included: man-sized bats, insects which generated light and heat, multi-legged jungle cats, snakes of all kinds plus Martian wolves. The two biggest creatures are a Godzilla-sized rat and a dinosaur-like monster of a type Jones could not make out. He could be fighting off one when the other comes along and they fight each other while he escapes during that savage and bloody battle.
*** THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF THIS REVIEW/ REVISION IS COMING SOON – KEEP CHECKING BACK.
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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