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JediCole's Recommended Reading #3

Wow! I am already up to three installments of Recommended Reading. It is my sincere hope that I have guided many of our fans to some great books that I find engaging, fun, informative, or otherwise ideal for my fellow geeks!

A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs; Del Rey/Ballantine Books; 1979)
If you have been following my ongoing series Defending the Ape-Man then you know of my love of the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was in fact the John Carter of Mars series of books, of which this is the first, that were the first of his works recommended to me decades ago, though I discovered Tarzan long before I began to branch out into the Martian tales. I lead this time with A Princess of Mars in no small part due to the recent challenge from Andrew to watch a dreadful adaptation of this work that aired on SyFy. If you have read that article ( know that I highly recommend the original source material as a riping read.
Originally published in serialized form in All Story Magazine beginning in 1912, A Princess of Mars would represent Burrough's first published work. While the John Carter of Mars series would not become as iconic as his Tarzan works, they still stand as some of his best and most creative works. Taking place during the early post-Civil War era of the American west, this is the uncanny tale of Captain John Carter, a former Confederate soldier turned prospector. Nearly killed by marauding Apaches he finds himself mysteriously transported to the planet Mars (known as Barsoom by its resident population) where he encounters first the fierce and warlike green men of Mars and later the red men. It is in this encounter that he meets Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium (a powerful city state of Barsoom) and becomes her sworn protector.

The strange life and culture of the Red Planet is thoroughly explored in this first volume (of a total of eleven published novels) that is rich with fascinating characters and creatures. Over the course of the novel we are introduced to the minutia of life on a dying world that was once teeming with energy and civilization. Red and green men alike survive in the inhospitable wastes of Mars under an artificial atmosphere maintained by the science of the red men of Mars, a crucial aspect of the plot late into the story. The characters are well developed as is the strange and alien world upon which they live.

Burroughs lends his hero super-heroic potential by virtue of the lesser gravity of Mars lending him enhanced strength and the ability to leap great heights and distances. This, coupled with his lifelong experience as a fighting man, make him a steadfast new addition to the population of a world where the long-lived Martians tend to die by the sword long before they reach a ripe old age. Death and mayhem lurk at every turn yet Carter perseveres with a wry smile on his face and proves himself every inch the hero and a true Southern gentleman. Even if it is on a different planet.

In an interesting note regarding this and other Burroughs works, I was once playing Trivial Pursuit and was asked the question "Who was the first author to incorporate himself into his fictional stories?", or something to that effect (I do not recall the exact wording). Knowing this was true of Burroughs I said his name in answer thinking someone else had to have preceded him. Much to my surprise it was the right answer! In A Princess of Mars, Burroughs establishes himself not only as the chronicler of John Carter's otherworldly adventures but also as a blood relative of the character. This theme continues to crop over the course of the remaining novels including one that begins with Captain Carter's brief return to Earth to share his latest adventure with his distant nephew.

I will let you discover more for yourself. Seek out any publication of this novel and I believe you will be hooked. The entire series, apart from the final book sequentially (John Carter of Mars which is actually just two short stories under a single banner title), are quite entertaining to read and chock full of pulp-era action and thrills! With a big-budget cinematic adaptation of this often-unknown Burroughs novel in the works (starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem De Foe, and Mark Strong).

Fables: Legends in Exile (Bill Willingham (w); Mark Buckingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton (a); Vertigo; 2002)

I have often called Fables the one project that Bill Willingham actually finished! I have been a big fan of Willingham's work as an artist (from back in his early days of illustrating for Villains and Vigilantes game modules) to his first foray into an ongoing comic series Elementals and beyond. Even his adult-oriented series Ironwood and Coventry as well as the often overlooked Pantheon. Of course no sooner would I get into one of his works than it would be cancelled or he would leave the project and hand the reigns over to someone else. Not so with Fables at DC/Vertigo.

Fables is a contemporary fairy tale that is people by everyone from the vast history of fairy tales, fables, legends, and folklore worldwide. Legends in Exile compiles the first five issues of this groundbreaking Vertigo series and sets the stage for the thirteen trade paperbacks which follow, each as good or better than this one! It is rare that such a statement can be made about the continuing saga of an ongoing comic series. But then Fables is a rare series in its own right. Within the pages of this compilation we are introduced to many of the characters that will play a vital role in the series as it progresses. Some are familiar (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Prince Charming) and others perhaps a bit less so (Bluebeard, Rose Red), yet all bear the classic fairy tale/legend/fable/folktale pedigree.

A murder mystery is the focus of this initial volume that is both clever and full of intrigue. A perfect stepping off point to establish the fairy tale characters living secretly in our world as well as the catalyst for their presence here. Bigby Wolf (a.k.a. "the Big Bad Wolf") plays a central role in the story and comes across as a little bit of Batman and a little bit of Wolverine to those steeped in comics. But this is where any connection to the super-hero genre ends. The rest of the tale is pure magic. It takes the familiar characters of childhood bedtime stories, gives them back the teeth that centuries of softening from their European origins has extracted from them, and puts them in a real-world dramatic setting that has been sustained, masterfully, for well over seven years to date!

And as an afterthought...should you explore this particular recommended collection, don't stop there. Jump right into Animal Farm, the next chapter in the ongoing saga, and just keep going from there! You will enjoy the ride as you discover this very adult bedtime story! (For a complete list of the Fables trade paperback titles, in sequential order, check out the Wikipedia page:

Moe Howard and the Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Citadel Press, 1977)

C'mere porcupine! Get to know the the trio that put the slap into slapstick better than you ever thought possible, from Moe Howard himself! (Moe's their leader!) The Three Stooges have been a staple of American comedy for generations, but did you know they were not originally the headliners of the act? That there were in fact six stooges over the full span of the troupes' career from 1925-1965? These are just a couple of the wonderful discoveries that await you in the pages of this incredible book that is at once an autobiography and a biography that Howard was compiling up until his death in 1975.

Moe's book follows the life and times of himself and his brothers Shemp and Curly from their childhood and earliest forays into show business through the arrival of Larry Fine on the scene and the formation of the act Ted Healy and His Three Southern Gentlemen which would eventually become simply The Three Stooges we know and love today. The story of these incredible entertainers plays out well in Howard's comfortable, almost conversational, writing style. Readers discover how Curly joined the act and how Shemp later returned in the third Stooge spot. And was subsequently followed by Joe Besser and Joe DeRita. It is a fascinating journey through a career that spanned decades and an act that changed but a little in all of that time.

Illustrated with over 200 photographs the entire history of the Three Stooges is revealed. Many of the photographs are personal family photos of the Howard brothers and their wives and parents. Others are candid photographs of the actors relaxing, and often goofing off, on the set between takes. And of course there are dozens of stills and production photos form the long and colorful career of these black and white two-reeler icons. Nyuck it up and have a brand new appreciation for the Stooges with this wonderfully engaging book.

 Moe Howard & The 3 Stooges: The Pictorial Biography Of The Wildest Trio In The History Of American Entertainment


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