John Carter is a brawny, tawny, princess-wooing space hero.
But much more importantly, he's a Virginian.
That's why the Virginia Historical Society has amassed a collection of the “John Carter” books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which inspired the Disney movie that opens March 9.
The society doesn't have the first edition of the first book, 1917's "A Princess of Mars," because $1,000 was too much to pay for pulp fiction. Nevertheless, "we’ve managed to collect eight of the 11 books," says Frances Pollard, the historical society’s chief librarian. She won’t say how much the collection is worth: "They’re priceless to us." The books are on display in the historical society's library through March 16.
Burroughs had no connection to Virginia; in fact, his father was a veteran of the Union Army. But he chose to make his hero a Virginian Confederate officer, Pollard says, because the idea of a Virginia gentleman "meant something to the country."
Not to Martians, though. "I do not know what a 'gentleman' is nor have I ever heard before of Virginia," a Martian tells Carter in one of the books.
Pollard, despite not being much of a science-fiction fan, has combed the library's volumes for more Virginia references.
She found that John Carter is an ex-Confederate cavalry officer who lived two hours outside Richmond, by rail. Before moving to Mars, he occasionally came to town, once meeting someone at the Raleigh Hotel in Richmond (Pollard thinks this is the Jefferson Hotel). Carter’s best buddy is a Richmonder named Powell, who accompanies him on his fateful trip West to hunt for gold. But when Carter falls asleep in a cave and wakes up on Mars, his friend is nowhere to be seen. "Powell, I think, disappears from the rest of the book," Pollard says -- totally missing out, princess-wise.
In a later book, Carter dies. Temporarily, anyway. He's buried in an old cemetery in Richmond, which Pollard says could be the St. John’s Church cemetery, Shockoe Hill cemetery, or, most probably, Hollywood Cemetery.
Has any fevered Burroughs fan gone looking for the space hero's grave? "They’ll be disappointed if they do," Pollard says.