Disputes and misfires kept the hugely influential sci-fi tale from reaching theaters until now.
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It's been 100 years since Edgar Rice Burroughs created John Carter, who makes his big-screen debut in a film of the same name tomorrow—which makes the character older than pop culture icons as indelible as Superman, The Lone Ranger, James Bond, and Burroughs's own Tarzan of the Apes. But if John Carter isn't as prolific as those heroes, it's not for lack of trying. John Carter's long, strange journey to the big screen is arguably as interesting as the stories themselves. For 80 years, the John Carter rights have passed from filmmaker to filmmaker, whose various thwarted attempts at a John Carter film have made A Princess of Mars the cinematic equivalent—in both allure and potential for misfortune—of the Hope Diamond.
John Carter first appeared in a magazine submission by a young pencil-sharpener wholesaler named Edgar Rice Burroughs, who worked on his stories in secret. The serialized narrative that would eventually be collected as A Princess of Mars ran its first installment in pulp magazine The All-Story, where it was christened "Under the Moons of Mars" and credited to "Norman Bean." (To celebrate the centenary of its publication, Library of America is reissuing A Princess of Mars with a new introduction by Junot Diaz; as A Princess of Mars' actual copyright has expired, thriftier fans can read the entirety of the book for free at Project Gutenberg.) Buoyed by the story's success, Burroughs wrote many more Barsoom stories, which were collected in a further 10 books over the years.