This amazing woodcut is from a 1960s edition of Edgar Rice Burrough's classic adventure A Princess of Mars - but don't expect to see these kinds of images in Pixar's upcoming movie version.

These images of wars fought by the creatures of Mars were created by Joel Rothberg for a limited-edition run of the novel that started Burroughs' beloved series about the Martian land called Barsoom. Adventurer John Carter sword-fights and swashbuckles his way across the red planet, where everyone (conveniently) goes around naked, and the natives occasionally sport more than two arms.


What's striking about these images, which Will Schofield just posted on his blog A Journey Round My Skull, is that they reveal a side of Carter's adventures that surely Burroughs barely understood at the time he began the series in the early twentieth century. Burroughs wrote at a time when imperialist expansion was alive and well in many Africa nations as well as India - regions that were models for Barsoom. By the time Rothberg created these dark, horrifying images in the 1960s, most of the former colonies in both areas had been liberated by anti-colonialist forces. Adventurous white men exploring in "savage" lands no longer felt like a fun story anymore. It felt like the beginning of a long and terrible series of wars in the twentieth century.

And so Rothberg, looking back on Burrough's light tales, saw only darkness, violence, and despair. I think we can be certain that Pixar's live action version of the series will attempt to restore the light-heartedness of the original. What that says about our current relationship to the history of imperialism - well, I'll leave that for you to decide.

See more of the Rothberg's images at Journey Round My Skull.


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