It's too bad John Carter of Mars is bombing so spectacularly. The folks I've spoken with who have seen it liked it, and wouldn't mind sequels at all. The fault seems to be with the execution of the ad campaign rather than that of the film itself, and that's particularly disappointing. While I haven't seen it myself, I intend to and expect to enjoy it -- but we'll see.
The hub-bub surrounding the film's release made me think about how I envisioned Burrough's Barsoom, and why. I discovered Burroughs in the early 1960s through the paperback reprints released by Ace and Ballantine Books. I read the two editions interchangeably, but they had distinctly different cover art approaches, and both of them made major impressions on how I saw the world. The covers on the two competing editions of A Fighting Man of Mars probably illustrate this best.
This is the Ballantine Books paperback cover of the novel. Once I saw this cover, I always envisioned the flying ships of Barsoom exactly this way -- flat and beamy teardrop-shaped vessels sprouting guns and with boarding parties sheltering behind the gunwales. The small flyers, each with a single fixed forward-firing radium cannon, also seemed to match Burroughs description to a tee. The ships were so important to Barsoom that I find it interesting Ace never provided a detailed look at them, but it was probably just as well. This image from the Ballantine edition was so powerful, I probably wouldn't have bought into another.
Instead, Ace concentrated on the people, and the Ace cover of A Fighting Man of Mars was without a doubt exactly how I envisions Red Martians, but not simply the Martians themselves. This is also how I imagined the city of Helium: the ancient spires, the twin moons in the night sky, the rooftop palace gardens -- seemingly peaceful but so often the scene of intrigue and violence. The subtitle of the Ace edition said so much: Hidden Menace on the Red Planet.
Images have enormous lasting power. No graphic novel or film treatment to date has been able to supplant these two visions of Barsoom, at least for me. I don't know to what extent this is a product of the inherent power of these two visions of the world, or to what extent it was due to these interpretations being the first I saw. But I suspect that, had the images been weaker, they would not have left so powerful and indelible an impression.