The Planetary Romance Genre and A Princess Of Mars - Essay by Charlie
A Princess of Mars: The "First" PLANETARY ROMANCE

Other names for this genre are INTERPLANETARY ROMANCE or SWORD AND PLANET.  In
general, these stories tend to be "fish out of the water" adventures in which a hero or
heroine is thrown into an exotic and violent world and then forced to conquer his
environment in order to survive.  Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 work,
A Princess of Mars, is
the genre’s founder novel.  Others had written similar novels before Burroughs. According
to Richard Lupoff writing in
Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Master of Adventure, an earlier
planetary romance,
Lieutenant Gulliver Jones: His Vacation (1905) may have been the
inspiration for many of the elements of
A Princess of Mars.  However, Gulliver had little
overall impact on the public consciousness.  That honor goes to Burroughs’ incredibly
popular masterwork which established the basic tropes of this genre.  Except for a brief
time in the 1950s,
A Princess of Mars has not been out of print.  The Planetary Romance has
grown from that beginning to one of the most popular and influential forms of science
fiction written, yesterday or today.  

The common elements of novels in this genre have remained the same since its beginning
in
A Princess of Mars.  Planetary romances all involve a hero (ala Joseph Campbell's
warrior-lover) transported to another world where he finds primitive environments and
unique cultures.   He involves himself in a romance with a beautiful woman of royal blood
who has to be saved from peril-dire and very often from a "fate worse than death." The
planet on which the adventures take place always has primitive, or at least, medieval
societies wherein some advanced technology is incongruously placed alongside weaponry
from the middle ages i. e. swords, lances, mounted cavalry, etc.   The hero of these novels
normally triumphs, surviving the adventure, mating with the royal heroine, and finally
finding that he is more in tune with the discovered cultures and values of his new world
than his old Earth.  Many of these novels inspire sequels.

Since Burroughs' first Martian stories were published, he has influenced other authors to
produce their own planetary romances.  Otis Adelbert Kline,
The Planet of Peril, and Ralph
Milne Farley,
The Radio Man,  imitated him directly.  Others placed their own unique spin
on the genre . . . for example, after reading
A Princess of Mars try Robert Heinlein's Glory
Road
, Alan Dean Foster's Icerigger, or David Brin’s Practice Effect.  Although authors like
Heinlein, Foster, and Brin put their own original spin on the genre, their stories remain very
much within the rules established by Burroughs a hundred years ago.   Many authors drop
the royal romance requirement and have added classic works allowing the genre to expand
to include such works as C. S. Lewis’
Space Trilogy, Ursula K. Leguin’s The Left Hand of
Darkness
, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels.  The genre has crossed over to
film, most successfully with James Camerons’ masterful
Avatar.  However, no matter how
the genre gets bent by new authors and creators, the basic elements remain the same - a
lone protagonist, struggling for survival on an exotic world where he finds romance, high
adventure and finally a place to call home.

And if all this sounds a little romantic, there's probably a reason for that, too.
Images of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, the incomparable woman of Royal Heliumite blood, who he will defend again and again in five of a series of
ten novels and one novellete which take place both on and off the red planet, Mars.  Frank Frazetta and Robert K. Abbett, left to right respectively,
did the two illustrations above.