Monday, October 13, 2008

The Library in Edwin Lester Linden Arnold's Gulliver of Mars (1905)

SF Signal’s recent reminder that Gulliver of Mars (1905), a classic novel of Martian science fiction by Edwin Lester Linden Arnold, is in the public domain and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg provides a good opportunity for us to reproduce a
neat passage from the book:
The servitor directed me to the library, and after desolate wanderings up crumbling steps and down mouldering corridors, sunny and lovely in decay, I came to the immense lumber-shed of knowledge they had told me of, a city of dead books, a place of dusty cathedral aisles stored with forgotten learning. At a table sat Hath the purposeless, enthroned in leather and vellum,
snoring in divine content amongst all that wasted labour, and nothing I could do was sufficient to shake him into semblance of intelligence. So perforce I turned away till he should have come to himself, and wandering round the splendid litter of a noble library, presently amongst the ruck of volumes on the floor, amongst those lordly tomes in tattered green and gold, and ivory, my eye lit upon a volume propped up curiously on end, and going to it through the confusion I saw by the dried fruit rind upon the sticks supporting it, that the grave and reverend tome was set to catch a mouse! It was a splendid book when I looked more closely, bound as a king might bind his choicest treasure, the sweetscented leather on it was no doubt frayed; the golden arabesques upon the covers had long since shed their eyes of inset gems, the jeweled clasp locking its learning up from vulgar gaze was bent and open. Yet it was a lordly tome with an odour of sanctity about it, and lifting it with difficulty, I noticed on its cover a red stain of mouse's blood. Those who put it to this quaint use of mouse-trap had already had some sport, but surely never was a mouse crushed before under so much learning. And while I stood guessing at what the book might hold within, Heru, the princess, came tripping in to me, and with the abrupt familiarity of her kind, laid a velvet hand upon my wrist, conned the title over to herself.

"What does it say, sweet girl?" I asked. "The matter is learned, by its feel," and that maid, pursing up her pretty lips, read the title to me --
"The Secret of the Gods."

"The Secret of the Gods," I murmured. "Was it possible other worlds had struggled hopelessly to come within the barest ken of that great knowledge, while here the same was set to catch a mouse with?"

I said, "Silver-footed, sit down and read me a passage or two," and propping the mighty volume upon a table drew a bench before it and pulled her down beside me.

"Oh! a horrid, dry old book for certain," cried that lady, her pink fingertips falling as lightly on the musty leaves as almond petals on March dust. "Where shall I begin? It is all equally dull."
A “long-lost classic of Martian adventure” originally published under the title Lieut. Gulliver Jones: His Vacation, Arnold’s Gulliver of Mars has been involved in a decades-long debate as to whether it
and an earlier novel by Arnold, The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1891), inspired the Barsoom series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

As Allen Kupfer concluded in a review of Gullivar of Mars (University of Nebraska Press, 2003, Commemorative Edition, with a new introduction by Richard A. Lupoff): “Who influenced whom? Who didn’t? I repeat: who cares? Genre fans should ignore such trifles
and rejoice in the fact that these early science-fiction writers are responsible for bringing innumerable young readers into the sf/fantasy fold. And speaking for myself, though I continue to think Wells the best of the early authors, it was the Burroughs novels
(with the Frank Frazetta covers) that got me hooked.”

Pictured above: Paperback (New York: Ace Books, 1964?). Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

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