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Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation by Edwin Lester Arnold (1905)

Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation by Edwin Lester Arnold

A few years after H.G. Wells laid waste the Earth with his Martian invaders in The War of the Worlds, the Victorian poet Edwin Lester Arnold proposed a very different Mars, one of beautiful but decadent cities, inhabited by a docile people drifting blithely to their extinction. His hero is an American Jack Tar, burly of stature and tough of nature, and hence guaranteed to make a stir amongst the unassuming Martians into whose midst he has been haplessly thrust.

Alone one night on shore leave, Gulliver Jones makes the brief acquaintance of an odd little fellow who seems to have fallen from the sky as if by magic. The stranger is dead on arrival, and with no way to locate his kin; Jones comes into ownership of his only possession, a large and highly ornate carpet. Returning home to his unwelcoming lodgings and there finding himself without company or purpose, Jones makes a fervent wish to be on Mars, and in a flash gets exactly what he asked for. Wrapped up in the folds of the carpet, he is whisked through space and deposited without ceremony on the plains of Mars.

There follows an extraordinary series of adventures for the shanghaied sailor on a very unusual Mars, for the world that Arnold creates owes little to any scientific theory or literary fad of the time. The hand of Percival Lowell is not to be felt here, nor really any scientific influence. His Mars is neither dying nor desiccated and its inhabitants face no looming environmental disaster. They are however dying of apathy. Arnold's Hither people, as they style themselves, live a life of alcohol-dulled futility and make no protest when their savage neighbours demand tribute, including of course the fairest damsel in the land. Naturally Jones has stronger stuff coursing through his veins, and outraged at their lethargy sets out on a rescue mission. The Mars he travels across is one of storm tossed oceans and hostile jungles, in short a planet totally unrecognisable as Mars, but one which Arnold nonetheless imbues with a colour and vibrancy that is both touching and evocative.

This is not however an easy book to read, and you are struck by just how far ahead H G Wells was as a writer when you make the comparison between his and Arnold's work. Where Wells writes with clarity and economy, Arnold is very much stuck in a style of writing whose essential conceit is, why use ten words when you can use a hundred. His prose is incredibly florid and laced with syntax straining grammatical constructions that can seriously tax the reader, but despite this, you can't help but warm to his Mars, a place where a calloused Sailor can find himself dancing and capering hand in hand with the carefree Martians. It's all quite surreal and charming at times, but at the same time Jones is very much a man of his times and his barely contained contempt for the soft Hither and blatant sexism toward the female characters would be repellent were it not so unintentionally funny.

I think it would be wrong to imply that Arnold was engaged in the same kind of social commentary that Wells employed, he just doesn't strike you as that sophisticated a writer. The attitudes are very much his own, but its impossible to get greatly offended.

It seems reasonable to suggest that Arnold was influenced by H G Wells' The Time Machine, as his Hither folk and their foes the Thither are similar in substance to the Eloi and Morlocks. There were plenty of other books at the time which may have served as inspiration, but Arnold should be credited with creating a uniquely imagined Mars. Gulliver Jones may even have served in turn as an influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess Of Mars. Alas the character has not enjoyed the longevity of his literary cousin, and but for a all too brief run in Marvel Comic's Creatures On The Loose and a cameo in the recent League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, his Mars has indeed faded quietly away.

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See also

Books

1912
A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. A former American soldier is transported to Mars and finds himself caught up in war and adventure.

1898
Edison's Conquest Of Mars by Garrett P Serviss

Edison's Conquest Of Mars by Garrett P Serviss. The unofficial 1898 sequel to The War of the Worlds that sends the inventer Thomas Edison to Mars.

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