Edgar Rice Burroughs genre milestone A Princess of Mars ended with the hero appropriately back on Earth where he’d begun his tale. One plot line was left unresolved, but had the book not sold as well as it did, the reader could have walked away satisfied the circle was completed. But with Dejah Thoris trapped in the First Born’s Temple of the Sun, a Martian year to go before she is to see the light of day again, the ending of The Gods of Mars is anything but complete. With the red carpet laid out for a third installment, The Warlord of Mars follows upon The Gods of Mars, but, brings the tale of John Carter to a close, no loose ends.
And indeed, with Dejah Thoris trapped, it is up to her beloved John Carter to rescue her (for the millionth time) from the jaws of death. Trailing a Thern and First Born into an underground cavern in the opening chapter, he learns of a secret entrance into the Temple of the Sun. But worse yet, he learns the pair plot to kill Dejah Thoris before her allotted year is up. Spurned to action with the ever-faithful Woola at his side, John Carter embarks on yet another rescue attempt (rolls eyes). An extended chase that takes Carter to the North Pole, every color of man on Barsoom—red, black, white, yellow, and green—is eventually drawn into the plight. Battles on ice, secret entrances, double-bluffs, new alliances, enemies turned friends—all of Barsoom intersects for the massive conclusion of the John Carter epic.
Burroughs seemingly aware of the pitfalls of serial pulp, The Warlord of Mars accomplishes two important things. The first is keep the pulp fresh by opening up further bits of the Barsoom map and the cultures that live there. The Yellow Men prove every bit as helpful and devious as the black, white, green, and red, as well as owners of strange beasts. They also prove holders of technology not yet witnessed by Carter on the red planet. The second is to finally, once and for all, put an end to the endless chase/capture/escape formula. The ending of The Warlord of Mars is definitive. Just as the reader groans “I can’t take any more threats on Dejah Thoris life! I can’t take any more maudlin trash from Carter as he chases her captors! Somebody kill the superlative spewing machines Burroughs has become!!”, it all comes to an end—a syrupy, mawkish Hollywood end that befits the syrupy, mawkish Hollywood story that preceded it.
In the end, if the reader has not bailed thus far in Carter’s tale, they will not reading The Warlord of Mars. For as cheesy as everything (and I mean everything) is in the series, Burroughs is at least consistent in his cheesiness. Sensationalized to the nth degree, he once again puts his flair for storytelling to use via endless action and adventure. Capitalizing on the hero’s journey, the only question left unanswered is: how did Carter’s narrative make its way back to Earth for Burroughs to read?