I am under the impression that the female characters in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, even those that have strong character traits, are often in need of protection or rescue by the male protagonists.

The only mention that I saw of physically strong women in ERB's writing is in this Wikipedia article:

Samary: A tribe that lives down-river from Havatoo in a set of caves. Somewhat like the mythical Amazons, their sex roles are flipped, with the women being larger, stronger, and more aggressive than the men, who have feminine-sounding names.

Are there any significant female characters in ERB's books that are depicted as physically strong?

  • 2
    Not particularly an answer, per se, but it sometimes (often?) happens that a work will have female characters who are strong or skilled in combat, but whose talents are an "informed ability," with male characters still doing most of the work. All of which is to say that even if Burroughs has female characters who are physically strong, they may still end up disproportionately "in need of protection or rescue by the male protagonists."
    – Adamant
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 18:50
  • @Valorum, I checked the story on project Gutenberg. She isn't.
    – Lurker
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 22:26
  • Have you checked the dates of publication of ERB's books? Commented May 11, 2017 at 15:18

4 Answers 4


Not quite "physically strong" but competent and courageous

I've always been a big fan of Thuvia from The Gods of Mars. She was kind of the odd woman out among the women of that story, compared to Deja Thoris, the damsel in distress, and Phaidor, the woman who loves John Carter but is really a bad guy. Thuvia just kind of is there as a sidekick, and I suppose she's supposed to love John Carter also (who doesn't!) but she doesn't really fit into any love triangles.

In any case, Thuvia subdues some banths, great beasts that would likely have overpowered the Hero (John Carter) and Sidekick (Tars Tarkas):

As I was about to spring into the conflict with my sharp long-sword I felt a gentle hand upon my shoulder and turning found, to my surprise, that the young woman had followed me into the chamber.

"Wait," she whispered, "leave them to me," and pushing me advanced, all defenceless and unarmed, upon the snarling banths. When quite close to them she spoke a single Martian word in low but peremptory tones. Like lightning the great beasts wheeled upon her, and I looked to see her torn to pieces before I could reach her side, but instead the creatures slunk to her feet like puppies that expect a merited whipping.

Incidentally, she did this from a power inherent to her, not because of some magic or trinkets

"When first I came here I angered Sator Throg, because I repulsed him. He ordered me to be thrown into one of the great pits in the inner gardens. It was filled with banths. In my own country I had been accustomed to command. Something in my voice, I do not know what, cowed the beasts as they sprang to attack me.

"Instead of tearing me to pieces, as Sator Throg had desired, they fawned at my feet.

She generally provided all the brain-power necessary for the escape from the Therns in the first part of the book, as well as a lot of the muscle through her banths. She also killed said Sator Throg, her slave owner, without much of a spare thought:

"Stop!" he cried. "What means this, Thuvia?"

For answer the girl raised her revolver and fired point-blank at him. Without a sound he sank to the earth, dead.

"Beast!" she hissed. "After all these years I am at last revenged."

Gods of Mars ended on a cliffhanger ending with Phaidor seemingly killing Deja Thoris, but in the sequel The Warlord of Mars we learn that

Thuvia had wrested the blade from the daughter of Matai Shang [Phaidor] before it had touched either Dejah Thoris or herself.

Of course by this point, Thuvia had been swept up alongside Deja Thoris as perpetual damsel in distress, a role she continued as damsel-in-chief of the next book, Thuvia, Maid of Mars. But for a while, at least, Thuvia was portrayed as a tough, competent sidekick.


Possibly. From the Martian Chronicals, Deja Thoris "She plays the role of the conventional damsel in distress who must be rescued from various perils, but is also portrayed as a competent and capable adventurer in her own right, fully capable of defending herself and surviving on her own in the wastelands of Mars." (Quote from Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dejah_Thoris )

But every hero needs a damsel to rescue, and fall in love with ... so while she was certainly competent - stateswoman, adventurer, etc - she also needed to be rescued on occasion.


I read most of his books many many years ago but still remember them. Most of the women in his books were physically strong. They tended to get kidnapped a lot but it was always by a group of men. In cave girl Nadara is much stronger then the Waldo and protects him. In A fighting man of Mars Tavia ( the girl ) fights alongside Tan ( the guy ) many times. There are actually very few weak women in his novels. The hero usually has super strength and has to rescue her but the heroin is almost always a strong person who needed to be rescued from overwhelming odds.


Tavia from "A Fighting Man of Mars" is shown as a warrior near-equal to her male counterpart, Tan Hadron. While he does instinctively try to keep her from harm, he also would prefer none-other fighting by his side. Thuvia of Ptarth, Tara of Helium, Dejah Thoris, and Jane Porter are all shown to be capable of surviving on their own in perilous situations. The men rescuing and protecting the women, of course, stems from the timeless tales of romance and chivalry that were always popular tropes of storytelling, but very few of Burroughs' women were mere damsels.

  • I think there is an answer here somewhere, but its hard to make out.
    – amflare
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 19:08

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