In one month, on the centennial of the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first short story “Under the Moons of Mars,” the film John Carter will see one of the oldest science fiction protagonists returning to mainstream culture. But does mainstream culture know who this John Carter guy is? How many are aware he is immortal? A Confederate solider? A failed gold prospector? Chances are most people know none of this, nor are they aware that this action-flick complete originates from Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also happens to be the inventor of Tarzan. Further, does everyone know Hugo Award and Pulitzer Prize famed author Michael Chabon is a screenwriter for the film?
Assuming most people know none of this, who exactly is the John Cartermovie for? And what does it say about how the zeitgeist really regards classic pulp heroes?
The discussion of John Carter creates a nice absence of “I remember when” snobbery insofar as the first story is 100 years old. Meaning, like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, not only has most of the prose passed into the public domain, but also the scholarship and criticism of this kind of work is similarly available to anyone who is interested.