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Gullivar of Mars
Edwin L. Arnold
Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 195 pages

Edwin L. Arnold
Edwin L. Arnold Son of Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904), the famous orientalist, journalist (chief editor of the London Daily Telegraph), and author of the long narrative epic The Light of Asia (1879), Edwin Lester Linden Arnold (1875-March 1, 1935) was born in Swanscombe, Kent, England and spent most of his childhood in India. He returned to England to study agriculture and ornithology. After much world travelling he settled down to a job as a journalist in 1883. He published his first books A Summer Holiday In Scandinavia (1877) and Bird Life In India (1887) before writing his first novel The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician, which relates the adventures of a warrior who is reincarnated through history. Phra first appeared illustrated and in 24 parts in the prestigious Illustrated London News. The first book edition (New York: Harper's, 1890) was a likely a pirated edition and bore none of the original illustrations, whereas the first, 3 volume British edition (London: Chatto & Windus, 1891) used about half the original illustrations. This edition was reprinted in the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library (Vol. XI, 1977). According to Richard A. Lupoff's introduction to the Ace edition of Gulliver of Mars, and others (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Phra the Phoenician probably inspired the character of Burrough's John Carter of Mars -- Lieut Gullivar being fairly wimpy in comparison -- while Lieutenant Gulliver Jones: His Vacation inspired more the plot and setting.

Arnold followed his Phra success with similar stories, the novelette Rutherford the Twice-Born [The Idler, 1892; collected in The Story of Ulla (1895)], and the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Lepidus the Centurion: A Roman of Today (1901) [reprint Arno Press, 1978], which flopped. It was not until 1905 that Arnold published his great Martian tale Lieutenant Gulliver Jones: His Vacation (1905; Ace F-296, first American edition as Gulliver of Mars). When it received a lukewarm welcome, Arnold stopped writing fiction altogether.

ISFDB Bibliography
University of Nebraska/Bison Books edition
Cover of 1910 A.L. Burt edition of Phra the Phoenician
E-TEXT: Gulliver of Mars: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
REVIEWS: Gulliver of Mars: 1, 2
Phra the Phoenician: 1, 2, 3 (at bottom), 4

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Gullivar of Mars This may come as a shock to some readers, but I have it on good authority that John Carter was not the first Earthling to make a miraculous visit to the planet Mars. Indeed, despite the obvious heresy, Lieutenant Gullivar Jones accomplished a voyage to the Red Planet aboard a miraculous flying carpet, raced about the alien landscape to rescue the beautiful Princess Heru, then escaped back to Earth aboard his carpet as the army of the tyrannical Ar-Hap burned Seth, the city of the beautiful Hither Folk.

Published in 1905 as Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, the book is clearly a literary ancestor of Edgar Rice Burroughs' more famous work. The superficial similarities are obvious, and it's likely that Burroughs had some exposure to the novel. Likewise, Arnold owes a significant debt to H.G. Wells, as the beautiful yet slothful Hither Folk and the barbaric yet industrious Thither Folk are clearly cut from the same mould as the Eloi and Morlocks from The Time Machine. And the most obvious literary parallel is imbedded in the title itself, as Gullivar Jones embarks on wild adventures in strange and distant lands, much the same as the title character from Swift's Gulliver's Travels. But while it's always fun to play the literary version of six degrees of separation -- particularly apropos now, with Gullivar Jones making cameo appearances in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books -- clever references and homages do not a good book make.

Is Gullivar of Mars a good book? That depends on the criteria. From a strictly plot standpoint, Gullivar never actually accomplishes anything -- although he has a great time doing so. He almost outwits his enemies, he almost defeats them physically, he almost gets the girl and saves the day, yet ultimately fails in all regards and inadvertently escapes home, where he promptly reunites with his estranged fiancée and is married the following week. It actually plays out like an extended episode from a sitcom, in which each week Gullivar blunders into all manner of outlandish adventures, only to have everything return to status quo by the end of the program. Tune in next week! Same time! Same channel!

Looking beyond the plot, however, it's clear that Arnold has a sly bit of satire going on. In this aspect, at least, he turns Wells on his ear. The graceful and elegant Hither Folk are sensual, even sexual, free of all cares and utterly slothful. Their society is one in decay, the knowledge which built their soaring cities long forgotten, their economy based on the labor of passive slaves. From top to bottom, the Hither Folk show all the ambition and initiative of a Deadhead that has taken one too many hits from the hash pipe. Individually, they're innocent and likeable, but as a society they're repulsive in the extreme, setting them apart from the childlike Eloi. The villains of the piece, the powerful and thuggish Thither Folk, are crude and violent. Yet they hail from a harsh clime, and every day is a battle for survival for them. Years before they conquered the meek Hither Folk and demanded tribute from the affluent beauties, and continue to show a barbarous violent streak. Individual Thither Folk Gullivar meets along the way are both honorable and industrious, helping him when needed and generously sharing their meager possessions. In this way, unlike the Morloks, the Thither Folk are far more sympathetic individually than the Hither Folk, yet their society is equally repellent.

More startling is Arnold's depiction of Gullivar. The epitome of the "ugly American," Gullivar is brimming over with arrogance and a certainty he is right in all courses of action he should choose. Perpetually condescending towards his hosts -- be they Hither or Thither -- he views them all with a benign racism that is either a subversive political commentary by Arnold or the author's personal beliefs (a reflection of the times) coming through. My personal take is that the former is more accurate, because at one point claims a vast swath of Mars for the United States, using the "Munroe Doctrine" as justification. He explains it to the befuddled natives: "Oh, it is simple enough, and put into plain language means you must not touch anything that is mine, but ought to let me share anything you have of your own." The satire is biting, but never bitter. A gentle humor and whimsy permeates the book, and while there is little here that is laugh-out-loud funny, Gullivar does inspire an almost perpetual smile from the reader.

Beyond the novel itself, the Bison Books edition from the University of Nebraska Press also contains two well-written end pieces: An introduction by Richard Lupoff and an afterword by Gary Hoppenstand, which do a very good job of establishing a literary and historical context for the work. Ultimately, Gullivar of Mars attempts to be many different things, and, like the titular hero, succeeds wholly at none of them. But it almost does on many occasions. Fans of Burroughs and Wells will find it of particular interest, as would anyone who has a taste for works that form the foundation of the modern genre.

Copyright © 2003 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction, and serves as fiction editor for His website can be found at

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