Bill Paley (mycroftca) wrote,
Bill Paley

essay again for F&SF, though this time I actually didn't finish the second novel, damnit

A Princess of Mars introduces us to a gentleman from Virginia, a former soldier of the South, who by force of will transports himself to a place and time where he defeats, befriends and allies with savages to save civilized people, teaching the savages the rudiments of how to be civilized. Herland presents to us how uncivilized our civilization truly is. These books were written in the age of the pulps, magazines printed on poor quality paper that was never intended to last out the month, let alone survive until the present.

The former of these books, I'd read as a pre-teen, and only gleaned from it the adventure that got it published. The latter I'd not read until assigned for this class. I did not at the time comprehend the point of why John Carter was a Virginian, and what some of the vague (to me at the time) symbolism might mean. Could green Martians be stand-ins for Africans? I didn't see it then, but now with decades more experience of what the world is like, and specifically what race relations are like, it could well be that Burroughs was trying to refight the Civil War in a fashion that lead to a Confederate, and in the tale a civilized, victory. Was he suggesting that only by accepting the savages into civilization that the South could have won? I think that perhaps he was, in having the Tharks and their allied clans, join the side of Helium.

I was uncomfortable, as was intended, in reading Herland, in that the novel forced me to view in a new way the cultural norms in our society, with two sexes present. Gilman does a very good job of having the women of the lost land think differently, leaving the men offguard. I found this novel thought-provoking.

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