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A Princess Of Mars contains many elements that draw readers in: Space travel, aliens, arena duels, beautiful and brave women, and romance. The hero, John Carter, stands tall, broad-shouldered and steely-eyed (so described). The heroine, Princess Dejah Thoris, has ruby lips, black hair, lustrous large eyes, and a perfect form.
John Carter, veteran of the American Civil War, travels to Mars, apparently by sheer force of desire. This is never explained, yet the reader may be disinclined to fret over the omission. One might be too busy sharing the discoveries of Mars being populated even while dying. Carter finds he has natural skills that set him apart and above the strange beings there. He fights in arenas, duels and battles, and teaches by word and example his human brand of kindness and compassion.
He meets the Princess, falls immediately in love with her, and she with him. The princess goes around virtually unclothed— this is treated as so natural in the Martian, or Barsoomian, culture, it can be simply accepted. No salacious feelings needed. After trials and travails, hero and heroine are married.
This is romance, in the brightest sense but on an interplanetary scale. The villains, while alien in appearance, (fifteen feet tall, green and tusked) are rather ordinary. Princess of Mars is about honor, friendship, loyalty, and a love that takes no thought for anything—not origin, not genome- but its own beautiful sake. He and his princess marry, and anticipate the birth of their first child.
Does the novel end happily? In fact, no, for as John Carter gasps what might be his last breaths as he struggles to save the waning atmosphere of the entire Martian world, finds that he has again been transported across space, back to Earth. The reader is left bewildered and perhaps hopeful. As a romantic space opera should.