Here’s a nice piece from Tellers of Weird Tales which was brought to my attention by one of our regulars. Please do forward interesting pieces to me — I try to monitor but especially now, having my head down writing a book, I miss things I might otherwise find. I’m intrigued why the term “planetary romance” or “interplanetary romance” — which so aptly describes what Burroughs wrote — wasn’t really in usage, at least that I was aware of, back during the 60’s revival that was my entry point into ERB’s stories. This provides some interesting perspective.
On the anniversary of Percival Lowell’s birth, I write of Mars. (1)One hundred years ago, in February 1912, The All-Story began serializing “Under the Moons of Mars” by an unknown writer, Norman Bean. Story and author are now known by other names, for A Princess of Mars (as the serial was called in its book form) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was the beginning of a very popular subgenre of fantasy fiction, the planetary romance. (2) As I write this, moviegoers across the globe are enjoying the latest incarnation of the planetary romance, a movie based on the story that started it all, called simply John Carter.
Theorists of fantasy fiction can split hairs as to the definition of the term planetary romance and its related subgenres, science fantasy, space opera, swords and planets, sword and sorcery, and heroic fantasy. Where one stops and the next begins is a question too large for a blog entry. (The term interplanetary romance may as well be considered a synonym of planetary romance.) Burroughs’ stories of Barsoom–as Mars is known to its own inhabitants–might best be considered the model, and a definition drawn from therein. Science fiction critic Gary K. Wolfe defined the term as “broadly, an adventure tale set on another, usually primitive, planet.” More simply and concretely, you might describe a planetary romance as a swashbuckling fantasy in the mode of Captain Blood, Robin Hood, or The Three Musketeers, only with monsters, aliens, and maybe even rayguns and spaceships.