Llana of Gathol
Edgar Rice Burroughs
“Llana of Gathol” is a collection of four novellas written in the Martian series of Edgar Rice Burroughs which was written for Amazing Stories in 1941. Llana, the daughter of Gahan of Gothol, is the perfect damsel in distress. “The Llana of Gathol” consists of four stories. First “The Ancient Dead” (originally “The City of Mummies”) followed by “The Black Pirates of Barsoom”, “Escape on Mars” and finally “Invisible Men of Mars”. The four books in this series is truly comprised of parody and satire. These books are a good laugh with many futuristic encounters and wild characters.
I found this, the tenth instalment in Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series, to be a particularly interesting one. I find a very long series, such as this one, runs the risk of being the same-old same-old. Many books have come across like that — a noble woman gets kidnapped, a virile young soldier (secretly in love with her) risks everything to save her and win her hand, people die in sword fights by the dozen, and the man wins the woman’s hand.
The primary difference between this and all other Barsoom books is the body count. There are very few deaths. In fact, many times John Carter would prefer to just not fight. It might seem out of place for someone at the beginning of the series, but there has been a progression over the titles, as John Carter gets older… he seems to understand that needless deaths serve no purpose, and sometimes battles can be won without a sword. There’s also a lack of mocking of indigenous religions, which is good — the series was getting a bit heavy on the colonialism a while back. And there seem to be stronger female characters, leaving the wimpy useless women behind. I’m not sure if it’s John Carter who has grown over the years, or perhaps Edgar Rice Burroughs. It makes me wonder what was going through Burroughs’s mind and life at the time of each book — I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that external events have affected the progression of the books.
The four novellas mentioned in the description above are actually all linked. Breaking it into novellas was wise because the Barsoom novels tend to do that anyway — they start somewhere, completely abandon that and move on, and then completely abandon that and move on again. It’s really jarring and tends to remind me of an episode of Simpsons or Family Guy — it takes forever to go on this very winding and twisty path, with lots of useless side paths, before we reach the end. But building it into the structure makes it expected. It was just a simple thing of putting a spacer page between the sections, but it improved my reader enjoyment immensely.
Though the plot development is similar to all other Barsoom books — someone is kidnapped, there’s a twisty journey to retrieve them, and they end up happy ever after — there is a self-reflective quality to the book and its characters that I greatly enjoy. I nearly stopped reading the series several books back. I’m glad I stuck with it. This is the stuff I like — the change in characters, the growth and evolution, the weight of experiences (good and bad) on the actions of the present, and the questioning of one’s actions (especially when they are actions the characters used to do freely, like slicing people in half with a sword).
In particularly, I enjoyed the first novella, The Walking Dead. It consisted almost entirely of talking. But it was fascinating. It had a sort of reminiscent quality… of remembering times gone by, friends long gone, mistakes made in the past, and the struggle to be a better human being…
So, really, if you’re looking for a good action sci-fi, Llana of Gathol might not be the best book to pick up — but if you like your sci-fi with some deeper elements, then this is definitely worth the read.
There are two more books left in the series — after that I might move on to Burroughs’s Venus-based series… I’m growing to quite like Burroughs’s writing and I’d like to see where he goes with that planet.