(Art by the legendary Frank Frazetta!)


For much of the past several months I have been devoting much of my free time to helping to promote what is STILL my favorite motion picture of the year thus far: the Disney Studios’ release John Carter

As I noted in this space earlier this year, this wonderfully crafted film – based on the first novel in an 11-volume series of science fiction tales penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan – was unfairly pegged as a “flop” even before being released and is still being referred to that way by critics and pundits who wouldn’t know a good movie if it bit them in the rump. 

Not only is the label unfair, it is also inaccurate; contrary to many reports published elsewhere the film HAS made back its cost and then some, and stands to rake in even more when it is released on DVD and Blu-Ray next month. Word of mouth by those who saw the film in theatres has been almost universally positive; fans have launched several projects aimed at persuading Disney to produce a sequel, and the principal actors have all said they're ready to get to work on such a project. 

One of the byproducts of all this praise and attention has been the rediscovery of the original novels by a new generation of readers who previously did not know Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB to his fans) from Edgar Buchanan. (I’ll wait a moment for some of you older folks to explain to the kids and grandkinds who Edgar Buchanan was...)

Longtime readers of this column may recall that I have mentioned several times over the years my lifelong affection for ERB and his works. I was introduced to those works by my father, who loaned me his ERB collection when I was still a small child; I started with The Land That Time Forgot and Beyond The Farthest Star when I was in the first grade, and by the time I had completed the fourth grade I had read the entire Tarzan and Mars series (35 books in all) as well as a couple of ERB’s shorter series and several of his stand-alone novels.

It was the early 1970s and young boys all across the country were being introduced to ERB in much the same manner; for our generation he had the same impact as J.K. Rowling in more recent years. But ERB is a product of a now-distant time (the first volumes of his Mars and Tarzan series were first published in 1912), and many of the same pundits who have spent so much energy knocking down John Carter have questioned (rather rudely at times) whether ERB is still relevant to readers today.

Turns out that those naysayers are wrong AGAIN. Since the film debuted earlier this year, the novel that inspired it – A Princess Of Mars – has been one of the most downloaded digital books at Project Gutenberg; the majority of those downloading the book are said to be teens who discovered the book through the movie.

On top of that, an enterrprising young teacher in Long Beach, Calif., named Rebecca Baeder Garland used A Princess Of Mars as the focus of a reading project she created for a focus groups of 20 teen students. There was no school credit, but those who read the book and completed a questionnaire received free tickets to see John Carter

Of the 20 students selected to participate, 14 of them actually completed the project. Of the remaining students, only one stated that she had difficulty reading the novel and that she didn’t care for it; the other five reportedly said they were unable to complete the extracurricular project due to other obligations at school and home.

Garland reported that the 14 who did complete the project all enjoyed the novels and were looking forward to reading the other books in the series. Several of them even compared the book favorably to the Harry Potter and Hunger Games stories – which, if you think about it, is a pretty decent review indeed for a novel first published half a century before the authors of those two series were even born.

Of course the ERB-hating naysayers were quick to criticize Garland’s project. One of them - a fellow named Steve Davidson, who comes across as the sort of person who probably rooted for Darth Vader, Khan and Ming the Merciless - went so far as to call the project “propaganda” involving a “captive audience.”

I’m not sure you noticed, Steve, but when you get right down to it we were ALL part of a captive audience when our teachers asked us to read A Tale of Two Cities and Huckleberry Finn and Hamlet - stories that continue to attract new generations of fans not because we were “forced” to read them but because they’re worth reading. 

Kudos to teachers such as Garland for showing kids that books (and, by extension, movies and TV shows and even toys or games) do not necessarily have to be less than just a few years old to be interesting and entertaining.

As far as I’m concerned, ANY project that helps to instill in our chldren a love of reading and the written word is a worthwhile one. And if that project introduces those young readers to the works of authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, so much the better!