The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
Journey to Mars; the wonderful world: its beauty and splendor; its mighty races and kingdoms; its final doom (1894).
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Journey to Mars; the wonderful world: its beauty and splendor; its mighty races and kingdoms; its final doom was written by Gustavus W. Pope. A sequel, Journey to Venus, was published in 1895. Pope (1828-1902) was an American doctor and novelist.
In Journey to Mars Lt. Frederick Hamilton is serving on the U.S.S. Albatross when it is wrecked during a storm in the Antarctic Ocean. Hamilton is cast away on a deserted, rocky island but manages to save the life of a bizarre-looking stranger. Hamilton then passes out. He awakens three weeks later on a ship to find himself surrounded by red-, yellow-, and blue-skinned men. They communicate with him telepathically, and he discovers that they are Martians and that they have set up a colony and base at the South Pole. (They traveled to earth by riding the magnetic currents between the poles of Mars and Earth). The blue-skinned Martians are the “Nilata,” and the yellow-skinned men are the “Arunga.”
Eventually the Martians return home, taking Hamilton with them. Once on Mars Hamilton becomes familiar with the planet, which is much like Earth, and its culture, which is similar to feudal Europe’s. The Martians have greatly advanced technology, including crystal globe “Ethervolt cars” which they use to travel from planet to planet. The Ethervolt cars are powered by “Ethervolt, or anti-gravitation batteries, which generate a peculiar Martian force called Maha-Dunamos. This force is so powerful as entirely overcomes the force of gravity...."1 Later the Martians develop a Cosmic Motor which allows them to "fly along the magnetic streams”2 without using their Ethervolt cars. The Martians wear spacesuits made out of crystal and metal and fly individually between the planets. On Mars they have spindle-shaped planes and linear cities built along canals.
Hamilton falls in love with the beautiful, yellow-skinned Princess Suhlamia Angelion, but discovers that Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos are threatening to fall on to Mars, so most of the Martian population is going to have to be transported to Earth. (This is why the Martians had set up a base on Earth’s South Pole). Hamilton returns home only to receive a message that his arch-enemy, the dastardly Prince Diavojahr, has taken control of Mars and has kidnapped Suhlamia. Journey to Mars ends with Hamilton preparing to return to Mars and defeat Diavojahr. In Journey to Venus, set some time later, Suhlamia is safe and Hamilton and his Martian friends go to Venus and discover a swampy, dinosaur-filled planet.
Journey to Mars is notable for being one of two novels that are seen as having influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” books. (The other book is Edwin Arnold’s Lieutenant Gullivar Jones (1905)). It will never be known for certain whether Burroughs read Journey to Mars or Lieutenant Gullivar Jones–neither are listed among the books in Burroughs’ personal library3–but the similarities between them in plot and content are interesting, to say the least. Unfortunately these similarities are more interesting than Journey to Mars itself is. Pope tried to be scientifically accurate, to write a “scientific romance,”4 even making use of scholarly footnotes, but his talent was not up to the task of making his story at all involving. Journey to Mars fails even as pulpy adventure, and the racist portrayal of “John,” Hamilton’s Maori servant, ruins what little pleasure is to be had from the novel.
The one notable aspect of Journey to Mars is the fact that it is in some ways pre-Burroughs planetary romance. The planetary romance–a phrase coined by Russell Letson in 1978–is, properly, derived, whether directly or indirectly, from the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, involving novels set on other planets and “whose plots often make use of the chase-and-quest conventions of adventure fiction, and whose protagonists frequently turn out to be high-tech men (or women) ‘stranded among pretechnological natives.’”5 The Martians of Journey to Mars are not pretechnological, but otherwise the novel has the architecture and plot dynamic of the planetary romance, down to the return to Earth at the end of the novel. It is no surprise that Burroughs’ treatment of the planetary romance plot was more popular than Pope’s; Pope was trying to tell a mature scientific romance, no doubt in the vein of Wells, while Burroughs, however unconsciously, was telling a story of unchecked id and fantastical masculinity mixed with personal wish-fulfillment:
What Burroughs did, predictably given his character and tastes, was to...make the human the hero and the Übermensch, so that the politics, morals, and allegories of the 19th century alien visitation novels (which after all are no more than 19th-century science fictional treatments of classical and medieval Christian stories about visitors from Heaven) would be overwritten by aggressive, id-heavy science fantasy full of nude women and nonwhite races who inevitably fall beneath the sword or gun or fists of a white man—a genre with great appeal to the juvenile (and juvenile at heart and in mind) white readers (and viewers) of science fiction, past and present.6
Journey to Mars simply couldn’t compete with that, which is why Journey to Mars is an obscurity while Burroughs’ John Carter novels continue to be read and enjoyed.
Print: Gustavus W. Pope, Journey to Mars; the wonderful world: its beauty and splendor; its mighty races and kingdoms; its final doom. Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1974.
1 Gustavus W. Pope, Journey to Mars; the wonderful world: its beauty and splendor; its mighty races and kingdoms; its final doom (New York: G.W. Dillingham, 1894), 88-89.
2 Pope, Journey to Mars, 131.
3 Bill Hillman, “The Edgar Rice Burroughs Library,” accessed Oct. 7, 2018, http://www.erbzine.com/mag12/1264.html
4 Pope, Journey to Mars, vi.
5 John Clute and David R. Langford, “Planetary Romance,” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, accessed Jan. 28, 2019, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/planetary_romance
6 Nevins, The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger, 190-191.