If you had your doubts about Disney Studio’s handling of John Carter (of Mars), fear not, there is evidence of true genius in Disney Book Group’s handling of its massive three volume The Collected John Carter of Mars. Handsomely printed and bound, the three books total almost 3,000 pages and include everything from Book One — A Princess of Mars to Book Eleven — John Carter of Mars. A feast for fans of Barsoom and Edgar Riee Burroughs.
The books even include an brilliant improvement that never occurred to the original publisher, All-Story Magazine in 1912 — nor did it occur to the original first edition book publisher A.C. McClurg in 1917, nor did it occur to Grosset and Dunlap for any of its reprints published between 1918-1940; nor did it occur to ERB Inc in its 1948 edition; nor did Ballantine even think of it for its 1963 edition — in fact no publisher in the entire 100 year history of A Princess of Mars ever had the editorial judgment and perspicacity that was needed to read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ epic adventure and — in a single deft stroke — improve it immensely.
What is the change?
Well, it’s long been well understood that at 70,000 words, (160 pages or so), A Princess of Mars drags a little bit — as Disney Book Group exec Ima Djerkforshire put it, “We understand it’s a classic, but it’s just kind of slow. It doesn’t get off to a very good start. We felt we could improve the beginning.”
“We felt that the Foreword by Edgar Rice Burroughs added little to the story, and delayed the real action, so we decided to remove it,” Djerkforshire asserted. “The book now starts in a much more assured fashion, with John Carter’s immortal declaration: ‘I am a very old man; how old, I do not know.'”
It will be recalled that the superfluous foreword, (which is repeated at the end of this article for those whose time constraints permit reading of it) included Burroughs explanation of how he came to be in possession of “Captain Carter’s strange manuscript”, as well as his recollections of Captain Carter from his exposure to him over the course of his life. The foreword also describes how Burroughs had noticed Carter standing on a bluff above the Hudson River on moonlit nights “with arms stretched out to the heavens as though in appeal”.
“We are absolutely confident that we’ve hit on a way to vastly improve the reading experience, and we’re sure that Mr. Burroughs, were he still around, would approve,” said Djerkforshire. “In fact we were so pleased with the decision, that we also removed the foreword from Book Two in the Series — The Gods of Mars.”
It’s good to know that, while Disney Studios may have stumbled — Disney Book Group has outshone all of the publishers that came before with an edition that is both handsome and unique.
(Yes, this is satire. The story is true . . . but Ima Djerkforshire is not a real person.)
Following is the unnecessary Edgar Rice Burroughs foreword to A Princess of Mars.
To the Reader of this Work:
In submitting Captain Carter’s strange manuscript to you in book form, I believe that a few words relative to this remarkable personality will be of interest.
My first recollection of Captain Carter is of the few months he spent at my father’s home in Virginia, just prior to the opening of the civil war. I was then a child of but five years, yet I well remember the tall, dark, smooth-faced, athletic man whom I called Uncle Jack.
He seemed always to be laughing; and he entered into the sports of the children with the same hearty good fellowship he displayed toward those pastimes in which the men and women of his own age indulged; or he would sit for an hour at a time entertaining my old grandmother with stories of his strange, wild life in all parts of the world. We all
loved him, and our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he trod.
He was a splendid specimen of manhood, standing a good two inches over six feet, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with the carriage of the trained fighting man. His features were regular and clear cut, his hair black and closely cropped, while his eyes were of a steel gray, reflecting a strong and loyal character, filled with fire and initiative. His manners were perfect, and his courtliness was that of a typical southern gentleman of the highest type.
His horsemanship, especially after hounds, was a marvel and delight even in that country of magnificent horsemen. I have often heard my father caution him against his wild recklessness, but he would only laugh, and say that the tumble that killed him would be from the back of a horse yet unfoaled.
When the war broke out he left us, nor did I see him again for some fifteen or sixteen years. When he returned it was without warning, and I was much surprised to note that he had not aged apparently a moment,
nor had he changed in any other outward way. He was, when others were with him, the same genial, happy fellow we had known of old, but when he thought himself alone I have seen him sit for hours gazing off into space, his face set in a look of wistful longing and hopeless misery; and at night he would sit thus looking up into the heavens, at what I did not know until I read his manuscript years afterward.
He told us that he had been prospecting and mining in Arizona part of the time since the war; and that he had been very successful was evidenced by the unlimited amount of money with which he was supplied. As to the details of his life during these years he was very reticent, in fact he would not talk of them at all.
He remained with us for about a year and then went to New York, where he purchased a little place on the Hudson, where I visited him once a year on the occasions of my trips to the New York market–my father and I owning and operating a string of general stores throughout Virginia at that time. Captain Carter had a small but beautiful cottage, situated on a bluff overlooking the river, and during one of my last
visits, in the winter of 1885, I observed he was much occupied in writing, I presume now, upon this manuscript.
He told me at this time that if anything should happen to him he wished me to take charge of his estate, and he gave me a key to a compartment in the safe which stood in his study, telling me I would find his will
there and some personal instructions which he had me pledge myself to
carry out with absolute fidelity.
After I had retired for the night I have seen him from my window
standing in the moonlight on the brink of the bluff overlooking the
Hudson with his arms stretched out to the heavens as though in appeal.
I thought at the time that he was praying, although I never understood
that he was in the strict sense of the term a religious man.
Several months after I had returned home from my last visit, the first
of March, 1886, I think, I received a telegram from him asking me to
come to him at once. I had always been his favorite among the younger
generation of Carters and so I hastened to comply with his demand.
I arrived at the little station, about a mile from his grounds, on the
morning of March 4, 1886, and when I asked the livery man to drive me
out to Captain Carter’s he replied that if I was a friend of the
Captain’s he had some very bad news for me; the Captain had been found
dead shortly after daylight that very morning by the watchman attached
to an adjoining property.
For some reason this news did not surprise me, but I hurried out to his
place as quickly as possible, so that I could take charge of the body
and of his affairs.
I found the watchman who had discovered him, together with the local
police chief and several townspeople, assembled in his little study.
The watchman related the few details connected with the finding of the
body, which he said had been still warm when he came upon it. It lay,
he said, stretched full length in the snow with the arms outstretched
above the head toward the edge of the bluff, and when he showed me the
spot it flashed upon me that it was the identical one where I had seen
him on those other nights, with his arms raised in supplication to the
There were no marks of violence on the body, and with the aid of a
local physician the coroner’s jury quickly reached a decision of death
from heart failure. Left alone in the study, I opened the safe and
withdrew the contents of the drawer in which he had told me I would
find my instructions. They were in part peculiar indeed, but I have
followed them to each last detail as faithfully as I was able.
He directed that I remove his body to Virginia without embalming, and
that he be laid in an open coffin within a tomb which he previously had
had constructed and which, as I later learned, was well ventilated.
The instructions impressed upon me that I must personally see that this
was carried out just as he directed, even in secrecy if necessary.
His property was left in such a way that I was to receive the entire
income for twenty-five years, when the principal was to become mine.
His further instructions related to this manuscript which I was to
retain sealed and unread, just as I found it, for eleven years; nor was
I to divulge its contents until twenty-one years after his death.
A strange feature about the tomb, where his body still lies, is that
the massive door is equipped with a single, huge gold-plated spring
lock which can be opened _only from the inside_.
Yours very sincerely,
Edgar Rice Burroughs.