Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels ahead of their time

Tharks, Therns and a race of black supremacists called the Pirates of Barsroom inhabit early 20th century writer Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of novels about the planet Mars. Dr. Ronnie Faulkner, director of Campbell University’s Carrie Rich Memorial Library, contends that far from expressing the views of his time, Burroughs’ attitudes about race relations were as futuristic as his novels. “The Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs provide an early paradigm of racial tolerance by displacing the race conflicts involving whites, Native Americans, African Americans and Asians to a remote interplanetary location,” Faulkner said at a recent program sponsored by the Department of Government, History and Justice.Ironically, in novels like “A Princess of Mars,” “The Gods of Mars” and “Thuvia, Maid of Mars,” Burroughs’ hero is a Virginian and a Confederate soldier, Captain John Carter, who has been mysteriously transported to the Red Planet. Through conflicts with the different ethnic groups—Red Men, Green Men (Tharks), white men (Therns) and so on, Carter introduces a level of racial acceptance, integration and harmony almost unheard of on earth at the time.Burroughs also endows the Pirates of Barsoom, his race of black supremacists, with superior powers. They aren’t portrayed negatively, but as fearless fighters who raid the Therns and carry off female captives. The figure who sits at the apex of Martian religion, the Goddess Issus, is also of the black race. Unlike other novelists of his day Burroughs broke racial stereotypes. For example, Thomas Dixon, author of “The Clansman (1905),” describes a black Union soldier in his novel as “short, heavy-set, with a neck like the lower order of animals,” but Burroughs’ race of black Martian men have “clear cut, handsome features and skin of polished ebony.””The popular racial attitudes in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century centered on the concept of white supremacy and Anglo-Saxon superiority,” Faulkner said. “Burroughs’ hero served as a catalyst to move all of the races on the planet Mars toward a unified humanity, a lesson that could benefit the 21st century world.”Born in 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs is also the author of the Tarzan books.Dr. Ronnie Faulkner is a widely published author in the fields of southern history, political science and librarianship, he has written articles on varied subjects such as Populist leader Marion Butler (1863-1938), the N.C. Constitutions of 1835 and 1868, Secession; Jesse Helms (1921- ), and Justice Susie Sharp (1907-1996).A graduate of Campbell College, Faulkner received a bachelor’s degree in history in 1974. He went on to earn a master’s degree in history from East Carolina University and a Master of Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Faulkner earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of South Carolina. He serves as an associate professor of history at Campbell and was recently recruited to assist the John Locke Foundation with its North Carolina History Project.Photo Copy: Dr. Ronnie Faulkner, director of Library Services at Campbell University delivers a lecture on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels. (Photo by Shannon Ryals)

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