In 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a fairly poor man; selling pencil sharpeners at wholesale apparently did not pay well. Having turned to pulp magazines for amusement during long hours of slow business, he famously observed that »these stories are cheap lurid drivel! I could write better cheap lurid drivel than that!« Surprisingly, he did; and the result, his first novel, was A Princess of Mars, the first popular story of the planetary romance genre, which went on to become immensely influential on fantastic fiction. Burroughs was paid $400, enough to make him stick with writing — by no means the least important of the story's effects — and the Mars series eventually expanded to eleven volumes.
The story opens just after the American Civil War: Captain John Carter of the Army of Northern Virginia somehow finds himself out of a job, so like many of his ilk, he takes up prospecting. In the badlands of Arizona he is attacked by the Apache, escaping only by holing up in a cave which is sacred — and thus taboo — to the Indians. Sitting in this cave at night, trapped, he stares at the risen planet Mars, and before he knows it, he's been transported there, apparently through leftover Indian holy radiation, although this is never stated. On Mars, »Barsoom« to the locals, he finds himself the possessor of superhuman strength, due to Mars' lower gravity; he encounters much strange six-legged fauna including the huge Green Martians or Tharks, fierce but violent barbarians, as well as the human-seeming, raygun-toting Red Martians, whose ranks include the eponymous princess. Fortunately, this strange situation provokes him into positive paroxysms of adventure which mainly involve chopping a lot of people into cut-price giblets with a sword — the best kind of adventure!