Not long ago, I wrote about my attempt to read the pulp adventures of Doc Savage, as told by Lester Dent.
Attempt, I say, for I could not get past all the gee-whiz prose and the absolute perfection of Doc himself. I never finished the book.
I must admit, though, that Doc’s adventures made me want to read something of a similar vein, a rip-roaring, implausible, weird science extravaganza of pulp fun. So I turned to Edgar Rice Burroughs, inventor of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.
I could have picked an adventure featuring either of those well-known protagonists; I have tons of those books on the shelves. But I wanted to read something new, and so reached for “The Moon Maid.”
It was a blast, even though it turned out to be not-so-new to me after all. This book is, in fact, loosely tied to Burroughs’ John Carter tales. Indeed, Julian, the protagonist of “The Moon Maid,” sets off with his crew in a spaceship in an attempt to reach the very world where Carter rose to be a warlord of Helium. Earth and Barsoom have managed to contact one another since Carter’s day, you see, and Julian is part of a space voyage to finally meet the Barsoomians in the flesh. He is also a bit of a time-hopper, in that he reincarnates through generations. In an opening that muses on the fluidity of time and seems almost like something out of Heinlein, Julian reminisces about how he is his own grandson, or will be, or something like that … and then narrates his memories of his earlier self, journeying to Mars.
Alas, things go badly and Julian’s ship, The Barsoom, ends up in the moon instead. That’s right. In the moon. For a descent into one of the lunar volcanoes leads to a hidden world inside the sphere itself, where bizarre plants, dangerous wildlife and odd intelligent races devour one another in an attempt to survive in their own little dystopia.
From there, “The Moon Maid” reads rather like “A Princess of Mars,” the book that introduced us all to John Carter.
Yes, the plot sounds silly, as does the plot of any Doc Savage novel. So why was I able to read “The Moon Maid” in its entirety, while failing to do so for Doc?
Maybe it is the prose. Burroughs wrote some rather purple stuff, by modern standards, yet he wrote with gusto and could turn a phrase. Dent, by comparison, wrote at a headlong pace and peppered his prose with five times as many exclamation points as Burroughs.
Maybe it is the protagonist. While our friend Julian is a bit of a superman, able to put his fencing lessons to good use against the lunar bad guys and, thanks to the moon’s lesser gravity, able to leap higher and farther than his foes, he is yet far from the paragon of perfection that is Doc Savage. Dent made Doc better than everybody at everything, with a skill set that makes even Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar seem like an underachiever. By the way, I previously mused on the idea that The Saint was fiction’s greatest wish-fulfillment character; upon trying to read Dent, I stand corrected.
In contrast to Doc Savage, Julian manages to misread situations and often fails to anticipate dangers.
In any case, I find Burroughs to be silly, but enjoyable, and spend the time between chapters imagining his lunar world and what other stories might be told there. It’s a good, breezy read for those days when escapist fun is precisely what you need.