Strength and Compassion from John Carter

Explore how John Carter in "A Princess of Mars" redefines traditional masculinity, blending strength, compassion, and moral integrity.

An AI-generated image of John Carter.
John Carter of Mars.

"A Princess of Mars," the inaugural tale in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series, introduces readers to John Carter, a Confederate veteran whisked away to a fantastical Mars.

Here, Carter's Earthly origin and martial background intersect with alien cultures in a narrative blending science fiction and fantasy. This novel —often considered a seminal work in its genre— has significantly influenced subsequent science fiction literature and media.

Traditional American masculinity, often characterized by physical strength, courage, and stoicism, has been a foundational concept in American literature and culture.

Historical figures and fictional characters alike have embodied these qualities, becoming archetypes of American manhood. However, these attributes have often been reexamined and reinterpreted over time, particularly in speculative fiction.

This article explores how John Carter in "A Princess of Mars" not only embodies but also redefines traditional masculine traits. Through his adventures on Mars, Carter displays not just physical prowess but also deep compassion and moral strength, challenging and expanding the conventional definitions of masculinity in a fantastical Martian setting.

John Carter: A Portrait of Traditional American Masculinity

In science fiction and fantasy, few characters stand as compelling embodiments of traditional American masculinity as John Carter from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars." Carter, a former Confederate officer, presents a fascinating study of masculine ideals, beginning with his Earthly origins and extending into his Martian escapades.

Carter's character is defined by an impressive display of physical strength and bravery, attributes that are quintessential to traditional perceptions of masculinity.

On Mars, or Barsoom as the natives call it, these traits are heightened due to the planet's lower gravity, allowing Carter to perform feats of superhuman strength. This physical prowess is not mere show but integral to his survival and success in the alien landscape he finds himself in. These abilities and his fighting skills earn Carter respect and leadership among Martian tribes.

As a veteran of the Civil War, Carter's background plays a crucial role in shaping his character. This historical context imbues him with qualities such as resilience, strategic thinking, and a particular moral code that guides his actions. His military experience also lends him a sense of duty and responsibility, characteristics revered in traditional American masculinity.

John Carter's portrayal in "A Princess of Mars" aligns with traditional American masculine ideals through his physical strength, bravery, military background, and his resemblance to other esteemed heroes in American literature. His character affirms these qualities and brings a nuanced perspective to them in the context of an alien world.

Strength on Mars

On the alien terrain of Mars, John Carter's strength undergoes a profound transformation. This shift is not merely in the physical realm but also in the moral and psychological, redefining the concept of strength in the context of traditional masculinity.

The Impact of Martian Gravity on Carter's Physical Abilities — Upon arriving on Mars, Carter discovers that the planet's lower gravity endows him with extraordinary physical capabilities. These enhanced abilities are not just for spectacle; they become instrumental in his survival and integration into Martian society. This amplification of his Earthly strength serves as a metaphor for the potential to exceed one's limitations when faced with new challenges.

Strength as Moral Fortitude — However, Carter's strength transcends physical prowess. It includes moral fortitude, a crucial component of traditional masculine ideals. A strong sense of justice and ethical responsibility often guides his decisions and actions on Mars. This moral backbone is evident in his interactions with various Martian races, where he often acts as a mediator and a voice of reason, showing that true strength lies not only in physical power but also in character and integrity.

Carter's Adaptability and Resilience in a Foreign Landscape — Carter's ability to adapt to the Martian environment and culture further redefines his strength. Thrust into a completely alien world, he exhibits remarkable resilience and an eagerness to understand and respect Martian customs and social structures. This adaptability is a testament to the strength of his character, showcasing a form of masculinity that values learning, understanding, and respect for others.

Use of Strength for Protection and Justice, Not Domination — One of the most striking aspects of Carter's strength is its application. Unlike traditional portrayals of masculine strength used for domination or personal gain, Carter uses his abilities for protection and justice. He becomes a champion for the oppressed, leveraging his strength to shield the vulnerable and fight against injustice. This protective nature is a cornerstone of his character, aligning with the noblest aspects of traditional masculinity.

John Carter's strength on Mars becomes a multifaceted force through these various dimensions. It combines physical might with moral integrity, adaptability, and a commitment to justice, enriching the traditional masculine strength concept.

Compassion Amidst the Martian Conflict

John Carter's journey is not solely defined by his strength and bravery, but also by his profound sense of compassion, a trait that is often underappreciated in traditional views of masculinity. This compassion plays a pivotal role amidst the Martian conflict, shaping his interactions and decisions.

Carter's Interactions with the Green and Red Martians — Carter's arrival on Mars thrusts him into a complex societal structure divided among various Martian races, primarily the Green and Red Martians. His interactions with both groups are marked by understanding and empathy. With the Green Martians, despite their initially hostile and violent nature, Carter approaches them with respect and acceptance, attempting to understand their culture and social norms. This approach, stemming from a place of compassion, allows him to navigate and eventually influence Martian society positively.

The Development of His Relationship with Dejah Thoris — Carter's relationship with Dejah Thoris, the Red Martian princess, further exemplifies his compassionate nature. Their bond goes beyond the superficial, as Carter respects and admires her intellect, courage, and dedication to her people. This relationship is not rooted in domination or conquest, typical of the pseudo-masculine portrayals so common in leftist media and journalism, but in mutual respect and understanding, showcasing true masculine leadership.

His Alliance with Tars Tarkas and the Concept of Friendship — The alliance and friendship Carter forms with Tars Tarkas, a Green Martian leader, further highlight his compassionate nature. Carter recognizes Tarkas's unique qualities and capacity for emotions, traits uncharacteristic of the Green Martians. This friendship is built on mutual respect and shared values, challenging conventional Martian customs. Carter's ability to form such a bond in a hostile environment speaks volumes about his emotional intelligence and capacity for empathy.

Compassion as a Driving Force in Carter's Decisions — Throughout the novel, compassion is not a peripheral aspect of Carter's character but central to his decision-making. His actions are often driven by a desire to protect and help others, whether it's fighting for the Martian races' unity or striving to save Dejah Thoris. This compassion is common in the traditional masculine archetype, showing that true strength includes the capacity to care deeply and act selflessly. But it can be seen as a redefinition because of how the leftists often denigrate men.

John Carter's character in "A Princess of Mars" challenges the left's view of traditional masculinity by demonstrating that compassion is not only compatible with strength but is an integral component of it and common in men.

John Carter's Influence on Subsequent Science Fiction

The legacy of John Carter and "A Princess of Mars" extends far beyond its own narrative, influencing the trajectory of science fiction and the depiction of masculinity within the genre.

The Novel's Influence on Later Science Fiction, Including Golden Age Authors — The novel has been a significant influence on Golden Age sci-fi writers like Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Fredrick Pohl. Inspired by Burroughs' imaginative storytelling and vivid world-building, these authors have carried forward the tradition of grand, adventurous tales set in richly crafted worlds. Burroughs' impact is not just limited to the themes and settings but extends to the narrative style and the way science fiction explores other worlds and cultures.

Depictions of Masculinity in Later Works Inspired by Burroughs — The character of John Carter has influenced the portrayal of masculine heroes in science fiction. In contrast to some contemporary critiques that view traditional masculinity in a negative light —think the leftards in Hollywood or the media— often labeling it as outdated or toxic, Carter's character offers a counter-narrative. His blend of physical prowess, moral integrity, and compassion presents a well-rounded and positive portrayal of masculinity. This balance has inspired subsequent authors to create heroes who embody strength and courage, showcasing that traditional masculine traits primarily coexist with and even enhance more progressive values.

Carter's Lasting Impact on the Portrayal of Heroes in Science Fiction — John Carter's legacy in the realm of science fiction heroes is substantial. He is a testament to the enduring appeal of a character who can navigate unknown worlds with bravery and wisdom, fight with honor and strength, and yet remain compassionate and empathetic. This archetype has influenced countless characters in the science fiction genre, maintaining relevance in various narratives and media forms. Carter's character disproves the notion that traditional masculine heroes are inherently problematic or one-dimensional. Instead, his enduring popularity underscores the idea that such characters can be complex, evolving, and reflective of a broad spectrum of human qualities.

John Carter's influence on science fiction and the portrayal of masculinity within the genre is profound and enduring. His character demonstrates that traditional masculinity, far from being regressive, is a source of positive inspiration, contributing to the richness and diversity of science fiction heroes.