If you’re looking for a book to listen to while re-grouting the tiles in your bathtub, you could do a lot worse than the audio version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Thuvia: Maid of Mars. If you’ve not encountered Burroughs before, before you pick up Thuvia you should read the first three books in the series (but maybe not all eleven of them), and maybe Tarzan just for good measure.
And also as a disclaimer: if you buy the old Del Ray versions of Burroughs’ Martian tales, they often come with mostly naked people on the cover (the eighties was a weird decade). And if you pick that as the first book to read with a girl you’ve just started dating and if she orders that version from Amazon despite your explicit warnings not to do so, well, you can hardly be blamed for that, right? (She might marry you anyway, for what it’s worth.)
And also as a disclaimer: said former girlfriend/now wife would want you to know that these books are excellent, albeit apparently written by someone with the imagination of an eighth grade boy.In the fourth book in the series, the eighth grade-ish adventures continue as John Carter’s son Cathoris pursues the woman he loves (the titular ‘Thuvia’) after she is kidnapped by the jealous prince of a rival nation. But said jealous prince’s plans go awry when his henchmen are set upon by the green men of Mars and Thuvia and Cathoris end up in the forgotten/ancient city of Lothar. Lothar is peopled by a handful of ancient men who defend themselves from the green hordes by means of mental projections of bowmen. These bowmen are so lifelike that their arrows kill anyone doesn’t know they are merely mental projections. Hi-jinks ensue. Also, Thuvia can control the Martian equivalent of lions, just because she can.
Despite it’s brevity and pulpy nature, there’s still much in this book to mull over. Heroism, dedication to duty (especially by Thuvia), the relationship between love and marriage, reality vs. fantasy, etc are all there. The bowmen as projections of the minds of the Lotharians are especially interesting–not least because one of them is so often and so strongly projected that he gains life of his own. There’s probably a point of connection (albeit a distant one) between Burroughs’ narrative and Jonathan Edwards’ Trinitarianism and Occasionalism. In Edwards’ view, Christ is the Son because he is (and always has been) the full and perfect ‘idea’ of the Father, streaming forth for all eternity (i.e. always begotten) from the Father. In a slightly different way, creation exists in the ‘idea’ of God. That is, you and I and everything exists only because God is continually exercising his creative power in holding us together and sustaining our continued existence. Were he ever to stop, we would dissolve into nothingness as surely as the bowmen of Lothar.
That is certainly more theology than Burroughs would have wanted us to indulge in while reading his book. So if you do ever get to Thuvia: Maid of Mars, be sure to enjoy the rip-roaring adventure first. Don’t worry about the theological/philosophical implications until you’ve finished grouting the shower.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he is unsupported by bowmen–imaginary or otherwise.