Friday, March 26, 2010

Before a man wrote A Princess of Mars (1912), a woman wrote A King of Mars (1908)

A few years before well-known pulp fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his famous novel A Princess of Mars (1912), a virtually unknown American woman named Avis Hekking penned a long-forgotten novel entitled A King of Mars (London: John Long, 1908). I’ve never read Hekking’s novel, in which "a small metal globe is sent to earth with a description of the advanced civilization on Mars," and I can’t even find an image of the cover (bound in red cloth stamped in gold on front cover and spine), but I did discover an enlightening review that was published in The Academy, Vol. 74 (1908), a British literary publication:
It is unfortunate that Miss Hekking should begin her novel with a preface and a prologue. Both are unnecessary, for they only emphasise the laboured artificiality of the story that follows. Not that she writes badly, but the authoress has not convinced us that Mars was the natural sphere for the activities of her characters. Beylo, Amklu, Zarma, and Anayra might have lived in London or Ruritania, to judge by their language, which at times suggests Wardour Street and at others an eighteenth-century drawing-room. Anayra, the villain of the piece, succeeds so easily that the reader is amazed, and from being an unpopular prince he becomes King of Mars by means of an academic rebellion in which no blood is shed. Beylo, who is the mouthpiece of the story, is the slave of Zarma, with whom she is, of course, in love, and in his service she risks her life as often as it is necessary to keep the story going. Airships are inevitable in a story of this kind, for it is the accepted axiom that the unearthly spheres learn of earthly inventions and improve upon them.

The people of Mars, according to Avis Hekking, know a great deal of this earth, and there are many references to our planet in the novel. These airships, we are given to understand, render battles unnecessary, even when the mysterious ammunition "the White Fire" is discarded because of its ferocious thoroughness. Thus everybody is conspiring against someone else, because everybody is too humane to employ the obvious method for the destruction of the enemy. In this odd atmosphere is the scene of A King of Mars laid, and even the multiplicity of familiar adventures does not excite the reader. In an imaginative story all the imagination should not be on the part of the reader. He rightly demands a certain amount of plausibility from the novelist, and the writer of A King of Mars does not provide it. Her style is better than her powers of invention.
For some biographical bits about Avis Hekking, check out this research conducted by freelance British author and editor Steve Holland of the blog Bear Alley.


Crotchety Old Fan said...

ery cool find, thanks for that

Crotchety Old Fan said...

and fyi - copies of A King of Mars are available - for 350 and 650 respectively.

Paul said...

Thanks, Steve. Hopefully, Google will digitize the novel in the near future. I'm curious to see why the reviewer considered the preface & prologue unfortunate.