Pop Culture Mars and Herland

To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

A Princess of Mars

The book is available in audio format from LibriVox, from Candlelight Stories, from The Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and from The Audio Archive’s YouTube channel.

John Carter (Disney 2012)You’ve heard of the 2012 Disney movie, John Carter.  You may have even heard that it was a stinker; it wasn’t.  For apparently fiscal reasons, Disney decided to write this movie off before it even came out.  I was rather reminded of the way Fox Entertainment treated a number of good television shows, most notably Firefly.  The truth is, John Carter was actually quite well done, pretty faithful to the feel and excitement of the original material while managing to tone down a lot of its racism and sexism.  On the down side, it did meld the elements from several of Burroughs books rather than following a single one.  Most importantly for the genre, it was entertaining.  I liked it better than the Star Wars prequels, the Star Trek reboot, or Avatar, if only because it was unpretentious.

Mars cover (Adamant Entertainment)Then there is the role-playing game from Adamant Entertainment, Mars, published in two versions for both the Savage Worlds and d20 systems.  Although they had to file off the serial numbers to accommodate the heirs of Burroughs copyrights, the inspiration is acknowledged and very clear.  I enjoyed the game in its SW version.

The theme of “planetary romance”, also known as “sword and planet” and especially as exemplified by Burroughs, has inspired other role-playing games including Douglas Easterly’s Savage Swords of Athanor, also using the Savage Worlds system and available as a free PDF.  The author offers a lot of interesting musings on his blog on running this type of game.

In comic books and graphic novels, Burroughs’ Martians make short but interesting appearances (along with H.G. Wells’ Martians) in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II.


Here is the audiobook version of Herland from LibriVox; and two short radio episodes of Gilman’s writing, “California Colors” and “Matriatism” from the California Legacy Project.

In addition, here are the two other books in the Herland trilogy: Moving the Mountain, a sort of post-prequel; and the direct sequel, With Her in Ourland.

Unz.org gathered a nice collection of Gilman’s writings online.

Let’s face it, the expository section of Herland is not as exciting as Burroughs’ florid but action-laden prose, using gentle humour to make its point; but it managed to leave its mark in a few places.

For context, one needs to learn a bit about late 19th century and early 20th century social reform movements; I highly recommend Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers because it is concise, also provides the historical context before and since, and gives a wider picture of those inter-linked movements rather than looking only at one, for example feminism or racial equality.

Wonder Women coverThe central theme of Herland is of course the feminist utopia concept, or as TV Tropes calls it, Lady Land.  It is found in a lot of very academic works, but also on Wonder Woman’s island of Themyscira.

Speaking of which, a side look at Lillian S. Robinson’s Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes is interesting, short and punchy — as befits the topic.  In only briefly mentions Herland but it does discuss the topic of feminist utopias.

Feminist utopias and dystopias: “The Women’s Millennium” by Charles Heber Clark, writing under the pseudonym of “John Quill”, 1867.

Gilman’s legacy directly or indirectly influenced other science fiction writers like Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon), and Doris Lessing.

Pop Culture Wells

Sketch of H. G. WellsTo go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany H. G. Wells’ novels The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man, and his short stories “The Country of the Blind” and “The Star.”


There is even more pop culture material tracking back to Wells than to last week’s star, Edgar Allan Poe, so I mostly focused on this week’s specific readings.  Still, here are a few resources of general interest:

  • Wells is probably the first to publish a miniatures game with his book Little Wars; he played war games with his son using toy soldiers long before such games were sold in packaged boxes.
    • Little Wars on the Gutenberg Project; also, the audiobook version. This essay and the next gives his account, with photos, of creating worlds of whole-cloth and staging adventures and battles.
    • Floor Games on the Gutenberg Project; also, the audiobook version. The companion book to Little Wars.
  • Lots of scholarly articles on this page from DePauw University.
  • H.G. Wells’ works online on Unz.org.
  • Wells on women, a 1895 article.

"The Island of Doctor Moreau" coverThe Island of Doctor Moreau

  • The book is available in free audio version on LibriVox;
  • The best known movie adaptation is probably the 1996 version, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, which received bad reviews.  There is also a 1977 version with Burt Lancaster and Michael York.  However, you may be interested in viewing the 1932 Island of Lost Souls, starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, available free on YouTube.
  • Wells on utopias, 1939.

"The Invisible Man" coverThe Invisible Man

  • The book is available in free audio version on LibriVox and YouTube.
  • Griffin (the Invisible Man)’s portrayal as a rather odious fellow was a great deal of fun in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not the disappointing movie based on the series).  I enjoyed volumes 1 and 2 of the collected issues, though not the subsequent books.

The Country of the Blind

  • Wikipedia links to several MP3 and RealAudio files of readings of the story for radio plays (scroll to the bottom of the page).
  • The 1947 radio play is also available on YouTube (30:27).

The Star

  • BBC Radio played “The Star” as read by Sir Patrick Stewart on its show “Twenty Minutes”, but the file seems to have been pulled.  😦

Learning for the Love of Knowledge

Book pilesI’ve registered for a few free online university classes through Coursera.  Alas, I had to drop some because the workload was not possible for me in January, but right now I am keeping up with Critical Thinking in Global Challenges from Dr. Celine Caquineau and Dr. Mayank Dutia at the University of Edinburgh, and with Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World from Dr. Eric S. Rabkin at the University of Michigan.

I also registered for Property and Liability: An Introduction to Law and Economics from Dr. Richard Adelstein at Wesleyan University, which begins in March.  The first two are about improving thinking and reading habits; the third is to increase my understanding of topics connected to, but not directly part of, my professional work.

The class on Fantasy and Science Fiction requires reading some seminal works and writing short (~300 word) essays to comment on them.  I plan on posting my essays once the grading period for each is over.  The works to read are, by week:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales [offbeat resources] [essay]
  2. Carroll — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
    [offbeat resources] [essay]
  3. Stoker — Dracula [offbeat resources] [and more] [essay]
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein [offbeat resources] [essay]
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems [offbeat resources] [essay]
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star” [offbeat resources] [essay]
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland  [offbeat resources] [additional thoughts] [essay]
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles  [offbeat resources] [essay]
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness  [offbeat resources] [glossary] [essay]
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother  [offbeat resources] [essay]

All of them seem to be available as free ebooks, which I will link to with my essays.  The “grading” actually consists of peer reviews; each student must review four other participants’ essays every week, meaning of course everyone also receives comments from four peers for each essay they submit.

More to Learn: Post-class reading group on Goodreads.

Photo: A stack of books, by austinevan, Creative Commons license Attribution 2.5 Generic.