Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Family Fighting To Help Disney Censor John Carter

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Warlord of MarsOne thing you won’t see in Disney’s movie version of John Carter when it’s released this weekend is Dejah Thoris, or at least not Dejah Thoris as the original book’s author intended her. Here’s how Edgar Rice Burroughs described the series’ strong-willed, take-charge female character in the book Princess of Mars

And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life… Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.

That’s not the only passage like that in Burroughs’ books. Actually all of the books kind of go out of their way to describe Dejah Thoris not only as naked but sexually empowered. Disney is hoping no one will actually read the books to notice any of this is in there, because it definitely won’t be in their movie. It’s understandable from Disney and their adaptation, but what isn’t understandable is this kind of behavior from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ family.

Its seems the Burroughs estate has filed a lawsuit against comic publishers Dynamite who’ve put together a visual adaptation of the books which actually depicts Dejah Thoris as flat out naked. The suit according to THR makes some vague claim of copyright infringement, but there is no copyright issue here since the John Carter books were written in 1912. Any copyright on them has long since expired and the books are now in the public domain, which means they aren’t copyrighted.

If you read the fine print of the lawsuit, it becomes clear that what the Burroughs estate is really mostly worried about is the fact that Dejah Thoris is naked in the comics. Their suit claims the images in the comics “border on (and in some cases are) pornographic.”

Here’s a look at the cover of the comic in question…

Dejah Thoris

It’s worth noting that not only did Edgar Rice Burroughs write Dejah Thoris this way, she’s also been drawn this way for decades. Until more recently the covers of the John Carter books featured a very similarly nude Dejah Thoris. This one for example…

So why does the Burroughs family care? Here’s my theory. There’s a Disney movie coming out in which Dejah Thoris is toned down enough to be covered up and they’re marketing it to kids. Their suit says the comics are “confusingly similar” to their trademarks and that they’re worried people will believe the ERB estate has endorsed them. Consider for a moment that the Burroughs Estate plans to benefit greatly from this upcoming Disney film… and it’s not going to help their earnings potential if parents realize Dejah Thoris is supposed to be naked and sexually empowered.

All of this becomes particularly heinous when you consider the place of the Dejah Thoris character in the history of literature. She was, simply put, an inspiration. The book was written in 1912 and Burroughs’ attitudes towards women are somewhat shaped by the time. But in Dejah Thoris he really bucked the prevailing winds to create an almost feminist character, long before feminism was a reality.

Thomas F. Bertonneau, a professor of English at New York College, explains it best when he wrote that Burroughs’, “conception of the feminine that elevates the woman to the same level as the man and that – in such characters as Dian of the Pellucidar novels or Dejah Thoris of the Barsoom novels – figures forth a female type who corresponds neither to desperate housewife, full-lipped prom-date, middle-level careerist office-manager, nor frowning ideological feminist-professor, but who exceeds all these by bounds in her realized humanity and in so doing suggests their insipidity.”

Yes, Dejah Thoris is naked and sexual in the John Carter books but never in a way that’s exploitative. It’s quite the opposite really, her nudity and frankly the nudity of everyone in the books, is a symbol of their empowerment. Think of her portrayal as an early, nakeder, 1912 version of feminists burning their bras. And now Edgar Rice Burroughs own family is out to cover her up in shame in order to make a buck.

It’s all part of the modern move to tone down, marginalize, and polish the edge right off sci-fi, a genre once known for pushing boundaries. I’d rather have things go the other way. It’s time someone put the sex back in.


  1. starbase63 says:

    Jane Porter in the Tarzan books wasn’t much of a pushover either. It seems Burroughs liked strong women.

    • JT says:

      Agreed. Especially if you measure his female characters against the general view and most other depictions of women in his time.  

  2. VLaszlo says:

    Of all the dozens of articles about this lawsuit, you’ve said it best here.  Bravo.

  3. Thorn says:

    I’m all for raw gritty sci-fi, comics and PG13 movies but for Disney they made the right call guys.

    • Anonymous says:

      Nobody is saying Disney can’t cover her up in their movie. The hypocrisy is the Burreaus family suing to cover up the original work because it might hurt their profits.

  4. Rob Conlan says:

    That’s like going back and painting a big toothy grin on the Mona Lisa. 

  5. Baby Fart McGeeziaks says:

    The “Warlord of Mars” one is a little low brow in my opinion… she looks far more skank than bad ass empowered princess. The other ones are fine though. Of course as already mentioned… if it’s public domain, I don’t think there is much they can do about any of it other than maybe politely ask the publishers not to try to market it alongside the Disney merchandise in Wal-Mart.

    • JT says:

      Keep in mind that the Warlord one is the cover, so the cover for a comic is always going to be an amped up, over the top version of what’s actually inside. 

  6. Waverider says:

    They probably would have made more from the movie if she was naked. Lol. I read the books when I was a teenage. Their nakedness was never an issue and far away from pornographic in my mind, but of course in a movie it would be a constant in your face situation. The problem isn’t the character and the lack of clothes but our sexually repressive culture which can’t handle a vision of uninhibited natural beauty.

  7. Carter Fan says:

    This is a TRADEMARK issue. Author doesn’t seem to understand that. The nudity is just ancillary to the suit.

  8. RAAAAR says:

    You talk as if sex is the only thing that makes life worth living, and the only thing that can make a female character worth having in a book.

  9. Richard A. Tucker says:

    Ah, fanboy rantings. The fact is she’s depicted as a stripper with silicon in her breasts and wearing pasties in those Dynamite books. She’s not in the least bit structured like a real woman but as a fantasy plaything. Frazetta didn’t do that, and neither did the many other artists before him. No, the stripper look and pasty attired bimbo is the issue. Even Art Adams, as much as I like his work, can’t help but porno up the woman warrior with massive breasts, a tweaked little nose and small bee stung lips. I don’t have a problem with pornography. I have a problem with pornography inspired work in the world of comics. Having a slow sex life with your gal, by all means, go rent something racy and have a good time. However, turning Dejah Thoris into a pasty wearing bimbo is not paying homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ intentions. I’ve seen some of the alternative cover illustrations and some are very nice but others are just shameless fanboy trek, poorly wrought porn. It’s not the nudity. It’s the approach that’s lacking.
    As much as I don’t take issue with Burroughs use of nudity I do take issue with this crap and don’t blame the Burroughs people for demanding an end to it.
    Some of these artists need to grow up.
    And, if you see no difference between the way guys like Frazetta, Krenkel, Williamson, J. Allen St. John or even Richard Corben did it when compared to approach used by some of the artists from Dynamite, well, there’s the problem.