Monday, May 12, 2014

Gullivar Of Mars!

Just finished another reading of Edwin L. Arnold's surprisingly influential novel Gullivar of Mars. That is it's influential if you accept the notion put forth by Richard A. Lupoff, among others, that this novel, originally titled Lieut. Gullivar Jones, His Vacation when it was published in 1905 was in resource for Edgar Rice Burroughs when he crafted his own Martian stories a few years later.

The story gives us a hero who like his namesake from Jonathan Swift's magnificent satire, is hard to like. And like Swift, Arnold is trying less to craft an adventure story and mostly commenting on the then modern world around, specifically the nature of humanity and its tendency to sloth and a degrading life of ease. Gullivar Jones is a rambunctious, exceedingly confident sailor who finds himself transported to Mars literally on a magic carpet and discovers a world full of people who want only to be left alone to live lives lacking purpose, direction, and toil. Alongside these "Hither People" are the other less urbane barbarians who Jones opposes but seems to prefer in many ways.

The story is a difficult one to really dive into. Gullivar Jones is not a hero who recommends himself really and he seems often put off by behavior which seems exceedingly altruistic. He doesn't seem to recognize real heroism when he stumbles across it. I do however like the manner in which Jones rambles up and down the "River of the Dead" and for much of the story is seen by most as a ghost. It puts him as a narrator in a rare and interesting place. The story is overripe with coincidence and offers up an ending which is abrupt and for many might seem very unsatisfying.

But the point of Gullivar of Mars is not adventure, not really. And when marketed like that as it was done by Ace Books decades ago under a powerful Frank Frazetta cover, it might well be disappointing.

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