Lieut. Gullivar Jones : His Vacation (a.p.a. Gulliver [sic] on Mars by Edwin Lester Arnold (1905)
I read so you won't have to.
Actually, this is one of those rare times when I have not finished a Forgotten Book before the review is posted. I'm a bit more than half-way through and the slogging is tough; I'll finish the book this weekend, but I doubt it will change anything in this post.
Edwin Lester Arnold (1857-1935) was the son of Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904), a noted poet and follower of Buddhism in his later life. Edwin Lester Arnold studied agriculture and ornithology; one of his early books was Bird Life in England (1887). Arnold's first novel, The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890) appears to have been well-received. The same can be said of his next three novels, Rutherford the Twice-Born (1892), Lepidus the Centaurian: A Romance of Today (1901), and the novel under consideration here. In fact, the failure of Lieut. Gulliver Jones convinced the author to stop writing fiction altogether. Arnold also published a collection of short stories, The Story of Ulla and Other Tales (1895), the only book of his that I have previously read -- I was not impressed.
So what is so special about Lieut. Gullivar Jones? It holds the claim to being (perhaps) the first planetary romance (or "sword and planet" novel). It almost certainly was a template for Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter/Barsoom. (It should be noted that Richard Lupoff, who first posited this idea, also felt that John Carter may have also been modeled in part on Arnold's Phra the Phoenician.) When the novel was published in paperback by Ace Books in 1964 as Gulliver of Mars (note the spelling), the book reached a much wider readership. In 1972, Marvel Comics transferred Gullivar to the modern day as a Vietnam Veteran as "Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars," incorporating some of Arnold's characters. Later, Alan Moore incorporated Gullivar and John Carter in Volume 2 of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Jean-Marc & Randi Lofficier had Gullivar meet up with Edgar Allan Poe in a 2007 novel, and a Dynamite Entertainment comic had Gullivar's Martian princess become the mother of Burrough's Dejah Thoris.
Gullivar is a naval officer on leave and, while walking down a dark alley one night, he collides into a strange-looking man wrapped in a rug. The man loses his footing, stumbles, and smashes his head on the ground, killing him. Gullivar flags down a cab and takes the man to a hospital where he is pronounced dead. The rug is left in the cab and the driver, not knowing what to do with it, drops it off at Gullivar's temporary address. Gullivar brings the rug into his rooms, spreads it out, and,while standing upon it, bemoans his dissatisfaction with the city, wishing he were somewhere else, anywhere. He vocalizes this desire by saying, "I wish I were on Mars." Rugs are notoriously literal and this one heeds Gulliver's command. It wraps itself around our hero and flies out of the window, going ever upward until it deposits him on Mars.
Mars is surprisingly Earth-like and its people are human. They appear to be divided into two classes, one wearing brightly colored robes and the other wearing yellow robes. The yellow robe people are slaves, but they don't appear to have it to bad. Few do any work. All their desires are met and they seem to spend their time lolling about, admiring the scenery, and laughing. Gullivar first meets a young Martian named An and believes An is a male but is proven wrong. An takes Gullivar under her wing and into the city. She is unable to answer any of Gullivar's questions because knowledge seems to be of no matter to the Martian. Perhaps, she says, Hath (who serves as a type of "king") can answer Gullivar's questions. There is also a princess, Heru:
"Who am I, a poor quarter-deck loafer, that I should attempt to describe what poet and painter alike would have failed to realize? I know, of course, your stock descriptives: the melting eye, the coral lip, the pinky cheek, the raven tress; but these were coined for mortal women -- and this was not one of them. I will not attempt to describe the glorious tenderness of those eyes she turned on me presently; the glowing radiance of her skin; the infinite grace of every action; the incredible soul-searching grace of her voice, when later on I heard it -- you must gather something of these things as I go -- suffice it to say that when I saw her there for the first time in the plenitude of her beauty, I fell desperately, wildly in love with her."
[From that passage, you may get a glimmering of why I am having trouble with this book. Usually, though, I revel in books of a certain age. Not with this one, though. I've been reading it in spurts for the past three days, having to take time to cleanse my palate with enjoyable books.]
Princess Heru has an annual duty: to read the future in a large pot. (Really.) If the liquid is clear -- and it always is -- the coming year will be a good one. About ten thousand Martians gather in the square for the ceremony. Heru looks into the pot...and the liquid is a fiery red! So we know that something is going to happen.
There is also a communal marriage ceremony, all available women are mated (presumably at random) with the men, including, it seems, Gullivar. Hours before the ceremony, Gullivar and Heru fall in love with each other.
It also turns out that these Martians have an ancient enemy. Their was has been over for a very long time, but the enemy sails their ships into the harbor once a year and loads the ship with tribute. They also take one female of their choice -- the fairest they can find -- with them, never to be seen again.
In another twist, Gullivar finds an abandoned library. The heavier books are being used as mousetraps. (Go figure.) One of the books indicates that describes ancient Egyptian history. Could the Martians have come from Earth, or could the Earthmen have come from Martians?
Did I mention that the Martians -- or some of them, anyway -- can move things with their minds? I didn't? Well, take it from me that they can.
On to the part that I will read this weekend.
From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: "[It tells the story of...his rescue of a princess, his witnessing of the destruction of her domain, their adventures together, and his return to a trustful fiance and a promotion." His trustful fiance is Nelly, a Southern belle with whom he had hopped to marry at the beginning of the book but who pales in comparison to Heru. Not the best ending for Gullivar, but he was always a hapless hero anyway.
I can't recommend this book, except to say that your mileage may vary. The next book I read from the beginning of the last century should be better.
UPDATE: Rich Horton also chose to review this book today. Check it out at rrhorton.blogspot.com.