Barsoom is a fictional version of the planet Mars invented by author Edgar Rice Burroughs for a series of action adventure stories. In 1911, Burroughs, now better known as the creator of the character Tarzan, began his writing career with "A Princess of Mars", a rousing tale of pulp adventure set on the planet. Several sequels followed, filling out his vision of Barsoom and developing it in more detail. "A Princess of Mars" was possibly the first fiction of the 20th century to feature a constructed language; although Barsoomian was not particularly developed, it did add verisimilitude to the narrative.

Richard A. Lupoff has advanced the theory that Burroughs was influenced in writing his Martian stories by Edwin Lester Arnold's earlier novel "" (1905), also known as "Gullivar of Mars", though this has been disputed. Lupoff also speculates that Burroughs derived characteristics of his main protagonist John Carter from Phra, hero of Arnold's "The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician" (1890).


While Burroughs' Barsoom tales never aspired to being anything other than exciting escapism, his vision of Mars was loosely inspired by astronomical speculation of the time, especially that of Percival Lowell, that pictured the planet as a formerly Earthlike world now becoming less hospitable to life. Once a wet world with continents and oceans, Barsoom's seas gradually dried up, leaving it a dry planet of highlands interspersed with moss covered dead sea bottoms. Abandoned cities line the former coastlands. The last remnants of the former bodies of water are the Great Toonolian Marshes and the antarctic Lost Sea of Korus. Barsoomians distribute scarce water supplies via a worldwide system of canals, controlled by quarreling city-states which have grown up at the junctures of the canals. The thinning Martian atmosphere is artificially replenished from an "atmosphere plant" on whose smooth functioning all life on the planet is dependent.

Burroughs derived his concept of the Martian canals from the theories of Lowell and his predecessor Giovanni Schiaparelli. The few coordinates provided for Burroughs' canals differ from theirs, as their own differ from each other. In fact, the linear channel-like features Schiaparelli and Lowell mapped have been proven illusory. Some of Barsoom's other major physical features do correspond to albedo features of Mars known at the time, flipped upside-down in reflection of the images of the planet as seen through telescopes. For instance, Burroughs' snow-covered Artolian Hills can be roughly equated to the bright feature Hellas (actually a huge impact crater), and the Great Toonolian Marshes to the dark feature represented by the Valles Marineris.

Peoples and culture

The dominant culture of Barsoom is that of the humanoid Red Martians who are organized into a system of major imperial city-states such as Helium, Ptarth and Zodanga which control the planet-wide canals, as well as other, more isolated city-states in the hinterlands. Some of these are effectively lost cities, permitting Burroughs to utilize Barsoom as a stage for the same kind of lost race yarns he favored in earthly settings. The Red people are the interbred descendants of the ancient Yellow Martians, White Martians, and Black Martians, remnants of which continue to persist in isolated areas of the planet, particularly its poles. All of these races resemble "Homo sapiens" in almost every respect except for their mode of reproduction and extended lifespans; Barsoomians are oviparous and live in excess of 1,000 years unless killed through violent means. (The traditional Martian lifespan of 1,000 is founded on the customary pilgrimage down the River Iss taken by those who reach that age, from which none return; those few declining the pilgrimage, such as Ras Thavas, have achieved ages even more advanced.)

The humanoid Martians are harassed and preyed upon by the semi-nomadic Green Martians, a separate species with four arms and tusks who stand approximately four meters tall. The Green Martians are organized into loose hordes ranging over the dead sea bottoms, each horde taking its name from that of a dead city in its territory, such as Thark and Warhoon.

"The Chessmen of Mars" introduces the Kaldanes of the region Bantoom, whose form is almost all head but for six vestigial legs and a pair of Chelae, and whose racial goal is to evolve even further towards pure intellect and away from bodily existence. In order to function in the physical realm, they have bred the Rykors, a complementary species composed of a body similar to that of a perfect specimen of Red Martian but lacking a head; when the Kaldane places itself upon the shoulders of the Rykor, a bundle of tentacles connects with the Rykor's spinal cord, allowing the brain of the Kaldane to interface with the body of the Rykor. Should the Rykor become damaged or die, the Kaldane merely climbs upon another as an earthling might change a horse.

A lesser people of Barsoom are the Kangaroo Men of Gooli, so called due to their large, kangaroo-like tails and remarkable ability to hop. Their moral character is not highly developed; they are devout cowards and petty thieves, who only value (aside from their lives) a "treasure" consisting of pretty stones, sea shells, etc.

Barsoomians generally display warlike and honor-bound characteristics. The technology of the tales runs the gamut from dueling sabers to "radium pistols" and aircraft, with the discovery of powerful ancient devices or research into the development of new ones often forming plot devices. The natives also eschew clothing other than jewelry and ubiquitous leather harnesses, which are designed to hold everything from the weaponry of a warrior to pouches containing toiletries and other useful items; the only instances where Barsoomians habitually wear clothing is for need of warmth, such as for travel in the northern polar regions described in "The Warlord of Mars". This preference for near-nudity provides a stimulating subject for illustrators of the stories, though art for many mass-market editions of the books feature Carter and native Barsoomians wearing loincloths and other minimal coverings, or use strategically placed shadows and such to cover exposed genitalia and female breasts.

In addition to the naturally occurring races of Barsoom, Burroughs described the Hormads, artificial men created by the scientist Ras Thavas as slaves, workers, warriors, etc. in giant vats at his laboratory in the Toonolian Marsh in "Synthetic Men of Mars" and "John Carter and the Giant of Mars". Although the Hormads were generally recognizable as humanoid, the process was far from perfect, and generated monstrosities ranging from the occasional misplaced nose or eyeball to "a great mass of living flesh with an eye somewhere and a single hand." [ [ "Synthetic Men of Mars", Chapter VII] ]


Animal life is more varied than on Earth; arthropods (including both spiders and insects), fish, reptiles (including both lizards and snakes), and birds are known, but most are rare and poorly described. It should not be assumed that these creatures are precisely equivalent to their terrestrial analogs; Barsoomian "spiders," for instance, while web-spinning arthropods, have twelve legs, which grow out of their backs. The intelligent, crustacean-like Kaldanes are presumably related.

Representatives of other terrestrial-type animals can be briefly enumerated. The Sith is a giant, venomous hornet-like insect endemic to the Kaolian Forest. Reptiles are described as repulsive and usually poisonous, and include the Darseen, a chameleon-like reptile, the Silian, an Antarctic sea-monster found in the Lost Sea of Korus, and a kind of giant lizard able to consume a human being in one bite. Birds are said to be brilliantly plumed, but the only species described is the enormous Malagor, endemic to the Great Toonolian Marshes.

More common are the many-legged species of large animals unique to Barsoom, some of which sport fur or tufts of hair, making them apparently analogous to Earth mammals. A few are fully analogous, bearing only four limbs; these include the Apt, a large white-furred arctic creature with a hippopotamus-like head, walrus-like tusks, and faceted, insect-like eyes, the Plant Men, blue-skinned, one-eyed monsters found in the Antarctic Valley of Dor, the Rykors, headless but otherwise human-like creatures bred by the Kaldanes, and of course all the human races of Barsoom.

There is also a group of six-limbed creatures, consisting of the Sorak, the Barsoomian "cat," a small, domesticated animal; the White Ape, huge and ferocious, semi-intelligent gorilla-like creatures whose middle limbs, like those of the Green Martians, can be used as either arms or legs; and of course the Green Martians themselves.

Eight-limbed beasts include the herbivorous Thoat, or Barsoomian "horse." The Greater Thoat is used as a mount by the Green Martians and stands about ten feet at the shoulder; the Lesser Thoat bred by the Red Martians is the size of a large horse. The Thoat is described as a slate-colored animal, with a white underside and yellow lower legs and feet. The huge Zitidar, used as a draft animal, is possibly a larger relative of the Thoat, but is not well enough described in the literature to be certain.

Ten-limbed animals include (possibly) the Ulsio or Barsoomian "rat," described as a "many-legged" dog-sized burrower; the Calot, or Barsoomian "dog," a large beast with a frog-like mouth and three rows of teeth (easily the most famous of which was John Carter's own Calot, Woola); and the Banth, or Barsoomian "lion," which has a hairless, yellow hide, a maned neck, and many rows of teeth in a wide mouth.

Some Martian creatures are difficult to classify based on the available descriptions; in addition to the Zitidar and the Ulsio these would include the Orluk, an Arctic predator with a black and yellow striped coat, whose legs are not enumerated.


Earthman John Carter and Martian Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, are the protagonists of the first three novels; Carter also headlines the eighth, tenth and eleventh, and is a major secondary character in the fourth and ninth novels. Other books tell the stories of his descendants Carthoris, Tara of Helium, and Llana of Gathol, native Martians Tan Hadron and Vor Daj, and Ulysses Paxton, another Earthman. Carter is initially transported to the planet Mars by a form of astral projection. There, on the world its natives call Barsoom, he encounters both formidable alien creatures resembling the beasts of ancient myth and various humanoids, wins the hand of Dejah Thoris, and rises to the position of Warlord of Mars.

The series

The comic strip

With the Tarzan comic strip a popular success, newspapers began a comic strip adaptation of "A Princess of Mars" drawn by Edgar Rice Burroughs' son, John Coleman Burroughs. Never as popular as Tarzan, it ran in only four Sunday newspapers, from December 7 1941 to March 28 1943.

John Carter appeared in one of the last Sunday Tarzan comic strip stories, drawn by Gray Morrow.

The comic books

The comic book "The Funnies" included a John Carter serial drawn by John Coleman Burroughs, which ran for 23 issues.

Then, in 1952, Dell Comics published three John Carter comic books, adapting the first three books, drawn by Jesse Marsh, who was the Dell Tarzan artist at the time. They were "Four Color Comics" #375, 437, and 488. They were later reprinted by the successor of Dell, Gold Key Comics as "John Carter of Mars" #1-3.

In about 1958 A Princess of Mars ran as a weekly serial in the UK comic The Sun, adapted by Robert Forrest.

DC Comics published John Carter as a backup feature in its "Tarzan" series, issues 207 — 209, after which it was moved to "Weird Worlds", sharing main feature status alongside an adaptation of Burroughs' "Pellucidar" stories in issues #1-7; it again became a backup feature in "Tarzan Family" #62-64. (A non-John Carter Barsoom story also appeared in "Tarzan Family" issue #60.)

Marvel Comics began "John Carter, Warlord of Mars" series in 1977, which lasted for 29 issues (and saw three annuals published).

In the Tarzan comic strip, in 1995, writer Don Kraar set a story on Barsoom featuring Tarzan, David Innes, and John Carter.

John Carter also made a notable cameo in the second "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" series written by Alan Moore and published by DC Comics.

Czechoslowakia: First 4 books was printed as comics two series (together 51 pages) in ABC magazine in 1970-1972 (Written Vlastislav Toman, painters Jiří Veškrna and Milan Ressel). Reprinted 2001 in the comics book Velká Kniha Komiksů I. (ISBN 80-7257-658-5)

The movie

For multiple decades, one movie-maker after another (including Bob Clampett, Ray Harryhausen and The Walt Disney Company) has attempted to bring Burroughs' Mars to the screen. So far, none has been successful.

Until January 2007, the film, "John Carter of Mars", had been in pre-production by Paramount Pictures. Tentatively scheduled for release in 2008, Jon Favreau had been signed to direct this movie, taking over from Kerry Conran. The original script by Mark Protosevich was re-written by Ehren Kruger.

This production was halted when it was announced by "Variety Magazine" and at on January 17, 2007 that the Disney Corporation had optioned the rights to the series as an intended franchise for the studio.

On July 13, 2007, the Sci-Fi Channel website announced that Pixar would most likely release the movie in 2011 or 2012.

On June 6, 2008, the Pixar Blog announced that according to a roundtable discussion involving Andrew Stanton, he is currently writing the script for Pixar's attempt at the movie. [ [ The Pixar Blog: Exclusive: Andrew Stanton confirms John Carter of Mars [Complete post ] ]


It can be said that the series prefigured much science fiction to come. Its influence can clearly be seen in franchises such as "Star Trek" and "Farscape". While Burroughs no doubt borrowed liberally from the pulp fiction of his day, particularly westerns and swashbuckling tales, the pacing and themes set the tone for the soft science fiction genre.

The tales seem somewhat dated today, but they showed great innovation for the time of writing, and the exciting stories caught the interest of many readers, helping to inspire serious interest in Mars and in space exploration. The John Carter books enjoyed another wave of popularity in the 1970s, with Vietnam War veterans who said they could identify with Carter, fighting in a war on another planet.

Numerous novels and series by others were inspired by Burroughs' Mars books: the Radio Planet trilogy of Ralph Milne Farley; the Mars and Venus novels of Otis Adelbert Kline; "Almuric" by Robert E. Howard; "Warrior of Llarn" and "Thief of Llarn" by Gardner Fox; "Tarzan on Mars", "Go-Man" and "Thundar, Man of Two Worlds" by John Bloodstone; the Michael Kane trilogy of Michael Moorcock; "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" by H.P. Lovecraft, the Gor series of John Norman; the Callisto series and Green Star series of Lin Carter; "The Goddess of Ganymede" and "Pursuit on Ganymede" by Mike Resnick; and the Dray Prescot series of Alan Burt Akers (Kenneth Bulmer). In addition, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Alan Dean Foster show Burroughs' influence in their development of alien cultures and worlds.

A. Bertram Chandler's pulp novels "The Alternate Martians" and "The Empress of Outer Space" overtly borrow a number of characters and situations from Burroughs's "Barsoom" series.

Robert A. Heinlein's novels "Glory Road" and "The Number of the Beast", and Alan Moore's graphic novels of "Allan and the Sundered Veil" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II" directly reference Barsoom.

In Philip José Farmer's "World of Tiers" series (1965-1993) Kickaha, the series' adventurer protagonist, asks his friend The Creator of Universes to create for him a Barsoom. The latter agrees only to make an empty world, since "It would go too far for me to create all these fabulous creatures only for you to amuse yourself by running your sword through them." Kickaha visits from time to time the empty Barsoom, complete with beautiful palaces in which nobody ever lived, but goes away frustrated.

L. Sprague de Camp's story "Sir Harold of Zodanga" recasts and rationalizes Barsoom as a parallel world visited by his dimension-hopping hero Harold Shea. De Camp accounts for Burrough's departures from physics or logic by portraying both Burroughs and Carter as having a tendency to exaggerate in their storytelling, and Barsoomian technology as less advanced than usually presented.

Furthermore, his Viagens Interplanetarias series of novels and short stories, especially those set on Krishna, one of Tau Ceti's inhabited planets, owe much to the premise of feudal co-existence alongside advanced technology pioneered within the "Barsoom" series.

In 1989 Larry Niven and Steven Barnes published "The Barsoom Project", where a futuristic form of live action role-playing games (LARPs) is based on the "Barsoom" books.

Many other science fiction works, from the "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers" film serials of the 1930s, to the "Star Wars" films, to the Mars trilogy of Kim Stanley Robinson, also offer nods in Burroughs's direction. DC Comics character Adam Strange's method of transportation, the Zeta Beam, recalls the way Carter is transported to Mars. As well as this in the Commonwealth Saga novels by Peter F. Hamilton a group of humans who undertake unprecedented and often illegal genetic modifications of their own bodies are known as the Barsoomians, in apparent reference to Burrough's creation.

Richard Corben's "Den" series also appears to be inspired by the "Barsoom" series. It features a hero, Den, who mysteriously arrives naked on a (largely) desert planet where he becomes a great warrior and where the humanoids wear no clothes. Many of the creatures resemble the description of the white apes of the "Gods of Mars". Like John Carter, he also receives great physical prowess from arriving in Neverwhere, although Carter's prowess stems from gravity, whereas Den undergoes a complete physical transformation.

In interviews, James Cameron has invoked Burroughs as one of the primary inspirations behind his 2009 space adventure, "Avatar", whose lead character indeed has a strongly Carter-esque name: "John Sully". [reference to be provided; site down] .

In the science fiction television series "Babylon 5", Amanda Carter - a Martian citizen and advocate of Mars' independence from Earth - is revealed to have had a grandfather named John who was one of the first people on Mars. This has been confirmed by the series creator J. Michael Straczynski as a reference made by the episode writer Larry DiTillio to "John Carter of Mars".J. Michael Straczynski, (1994), [ "JMS usenet posting"] , "". Retrieved August 23, 2007.]

In Stephen King's novel "The Drawing of the Three", Eddie Dean compares the All-World and the quest for the Dark Tower to a "Barsoom" novel.


The American copyright of the five earliest novels has expired in the United States, and they appear on a number of free e-text sites. However, because they were separately copyrighted in Great Britain, these works remain protected under the Berne Copyright Convention in the UK and throughout much of the world.The Australian copyright of the remainder, not including "John Carter of Mars" (1964), has also expired and they too appear online.


cite book
last =Roy
first =John Flint
authorlink =
coauthors =
title ="A Guide to Barsoom"
publisher =Ballantine Books
month =October
location =New York
pages =
url =
doi =
isbn =0-345-24722-1-175

External links

* [ Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Web Site]
* [ Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs]
* [ Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site]
* [ A Guide to the Mars Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs]
* [ A Barsoom Glossary]
*isfdb series|id=Barsoom|title=Barsoom
*gutenberg|no=62|name=A Princess of Mars
*gutenberg|no=64|name=The Gods of Mars
*gutenberg|no=68|name=Warlord of Mars
*gutenberg|no=72|name=Thuvia, Maid of Mars
*gutenberg|no=1153|name=The Chessmen of Mars
* "The Master Mind of Mars" (1927) [ Zip file] [ Text file] at Project Gutenberg Australia
* "A Fighting Man of Mars" (1930) [ Zip file] [ Text file] at Project Gutenberg Australia
* "Swords of Mars" (1934) [ Zip file] [ Text file] at Project Gutenberg Australia
* "Synthetic Men of Mars" (1940) [ Zip file] [ Text file] at Project Gutenberg Australia
* "Llana of Gathol" (1948) [ Zip file] [ Text file] at Project Gutenberg AustraliaThere is a board for the Paramount endeavor at the [ Internet Movie Database] as well as an [ unofficial fan site] .

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