Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dejah Thoris and John Carter for Martian Close Approach

A couple of days ago Mars was at its closest distance from earth for about eleven years (only 43 million miles - it varies due to Mars' elliptical orbit).  Mars, for Triple P, still means the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which he read when he was about twelve years old.  Like nerds from before the time the term was even invented, we loved the sword and radium pistol wielding, nearly naked, Red Martian Princess - the 'incomparable' Dejah Thoris.  We particularly like this illustration of her and John Carter, her Earth-born lover which gives us an appropriate Earth/Mars conjunction.

There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of illustrations of Dejah Thoris out there and we remember doing our own illustration of her when at school.  This was almost immediately confiscated by a teacher due to the anatomical accuracy of the figure and was no doubt circulated around the staff room afterwards (the fate of several of our drawings of women at school).  We drew a naked green woman on the cover of our rough book which was much remarked upon by the teachers.  At least it resulted in Triple P being asked to be art editor of the school magazine, in which we included a few decorously dressed girls on mushrroms. By the time we were seventeen we had access to a young lady who was happy to pose (almost) naked for us, giving our drawings an animation and freshness that our Art teacher (fortunately a liberal chap) instantly recognised as being done from life. The main problem with our Dejah picture may have been that we based the figure and face on the blonde V, the only woman in the school, who was the physics assistant and a girl (she can't have been older than 23) with an outrageous figure and a penchant for tight jeans and even tighter tops (and what lovely tops they were).  She was the source of many happy dreams for a lot of the boys.  We have no idea what happened to that picture, otherwise we could have put it up here, in a case of Dejah vue (sorry).

Cover painting from the first edition of A Princess of Mars by Frank Schoonover (1917)

Dejah Thoris first appeared in the first John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars, in 1917, where Burroughs described her thus: "She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure."  It is easy to see why she was such a popular figure (literally) for Science Fiction illustrators, although in 1917 she was depicted with rather more clothes on, in the original cover illustration for A Princess of Mars by Frank Schoonover (1877-1972), who had her more in Ancient Egyptian mode.  A year later Schoonover produced some famous paintings of the American army in Europe,

The Warlord of Mars cover illustration by J Allen St. John (1919)

Her nakedness was a problem for the early illustrators and when she first appeared in comics in the 1940s she remained very modestly dressed.  It wasn't until the seventies that she became the under-dressed figure so beloved of illustrators and comic book artists today.  Here, J Allen St. John (1872-1957), has her looking like a medieval princess.

Joe Jusko

In her most recent incarnations, by Dynamite Comics, she has been depicted as much more naked, as the original books indicated. However, ironically, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. sued Dynamite accusing them of producing "pornographic" images of Dejah Thoris (meaning topless - oh how prudes love to use the P word).  Since then the visible nipples have gone and the two companies worked everything out to produce more Barsoom and Tarzan material together, although Dejah is now rather more covered up (at least in the bust area).

The version of A Princess of Mars we read when we were at school, which was published by New English Library in 1972, had a cover by Bruce Pennington which featured a Dejah Thoris barely dressed in a wisp of fabric.

We like the Dynamite Comics picture of Dejah and John Carter at the top of this post, as it is the only picture we could find of the two lovers kissing and the curtains in the foreground give it a nice voyeuristic quality.  It is romantic and sensual.  Sadly, we don't know who the artist is.

Frank Cho

One thing it does portray is Dejah Thoris' red skin.  Burroughs described her as being a light copper colour in skin tone but many illustrators make her white.  Ironic, really, as when Burroughs moved to California in 1919 he sold lots from his Tarzana Ranch in the San Fernando Valley for property development on the basis that: "they shall not be leased, sold, or conveyed to, or occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race”.  Looks like Dejah Thoris wouldn't have been able to live there!

The final issue over the depiction of Dejah Thoris is, of course, that like all her race of Red Barsoomians, she has no belly button as she was born from an egg.  Virtually all artists give her one, however.  With only a few more recent pictures not including this feature, such as the cover immediately above.

Even Frank Frazetta has her with both a belly button and white skin in all of his Dejah Thoris pictures.

Lynn Collins certainly had one in the rather unfairly trashed John Carter (2012) but then she didn't have red skin either, just red body paint.  But then they didn't even make the surface of Mars red, so poor show on the red front, altogether!

Explorers of Gor, Jim Burns

In discussing this post with our friend S, she suggested we write a Barosomian-set erotic story but we have no desire to be pursued by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.'s notoriously litigious lawyers.  We did write an illustrated story in the eighties about a young woman who is mysteriously transported to another, more primitive planet (not Mars) and has sex with everyone she meets but we have no idea where it is (we do think we may still have it!).  It was more John (Gor) Norman than John Carter and was done for a young lady who enjoyed bondage, so reflects that.   


  1. Ooo, I like this post a lot! And I'd love it if you found that story you wrote!

    1. That involves me climbing into my loft! I'll have a look at the weekend!

  2. Have you seen the Asylum "Princess of Mars" from 2009 with Traci Lords? In case you don't know Asylum produce loads of micro-budget B- films that usually come out just before copyright-free blockbusters. Best known for the remarkably successful Sharknado series. Some, like "Princess of Mars" are delightful in the enthusiasm and earnestness, almost fan films done by cosplayers with a friend who can do 1980s special effects on their laptop.

    There was a ridiculous Arthurian film (Merlin and the War of the Dragons) that is the only one I have seen actually filmed in Wales by Welsh actors and crew. Pure trash and the goddess was obviously stoned out of her brains and the fight scenes involved a few actors looking like a lot of warriors. The horses were done well though, the bloke who played Uther Pendragon was also the horse wrangler and half a dozen other roles.

    Asylum films are shown on SyFy regularly (due to being so cheap, I assume) so I have not seen one in a long time as I don't have access to Sky anymore.

    As you will see from their website Traci Lords definitely has a navel, is terribly over-dressed and is only reddish in some shots due to the lighting. Copper is a light pink-orange though. A few years back someone announced that Mars is closest to terracotta as a shade rather than Red. I had to look up Antonio Sabato Jr but I would be very surprised if they didn't base Joey in Friends on him.

    If you don't have Sky or don't want to wait it can be yours for $9.99 and shipping. They do appear to ship to the UK. I thought it was fun and appropriately pulpy for Barsoom but a) I didn't pay for it b) I love Traci Lords' sf and fantasy roles c) I despise Hollywood generally so am very forgiving of low production values and d) I loved John Carter. The trailer is horribly low definition, the film is a lot clearer that that.

    1. Thanks for this. The reason I have never heard of it is that it was released under a completely different title in the UK (The Martian Colony Wars). For a low budget film it has OK reviews so I have just ordered it - Thanks!

    2. Glad to help. I saw one reviewer remarked that it, rather curiously, had a star with higher name recognition than Disney's John Carter had. I could not tell you who was in John Carter despite your mentioning one of them.

      I assume the title change was for legal reasons, it usually is with Asylum films. Age of the Hobbits, for example, rather cheekily but legally changed to Lord of the Elves.