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In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars novels the John Carter character seems to be immortal, never aging after some point. He can't remember experiencing a childhood and several generations of families referred to him as "Uncle Jack" and watched the family members grow old and die as he stayed young.

It seems clear that John Carter is more than an ordinary and exceptionally able human. The advantages he enjoys while on Mars are not entirely due to the difference in gravity, but also due to him being a meta-human (if you'll excuse the DC comics term for a lack of a better one).

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    After reading this question again, I wonder if it wouldn't be appropriate to specify if, by immortal, you mean he can't be killed or he never ages. – Tango Jan 16 '12 at 22:02
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    As a relative newcomer to the series and John Carter, in particular, I agree with all of the insight described in the posts I've read. I would like to answer with a question - Is John Carter in someway synonymous with Jesus Christ (at least loosely) connected, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Performing superhuman feats, defying death, helping others (same initials as the son of God), etc.. Perhaps like Jesus, Carter is able to leave his corporeal form and transcend into a greater and more powerful being!! Well, just my initial thoughts, as a newbie, reading the series for the first time...Anybody agr – user4488 Jan 31 '12 at 3:14
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    @Tango: "immortal" vs "invulnerable"? – endolith Jul 11 '14 at 3:31
  • Left ambiguous if the answer is immortal vs invulnerable, I prefer to think that Carter can be killed. For if he cannot, well there goes a lot of the thrill and suspense throughout the series. – Jeffrywith1e Jul 19 '14 at 15:31
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I've been researching this some:

There seems to be no actual statements that Carter is, in fact, immortal. However there is a lot of evidence that many people point out, including this passage:

"I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that some day I shall die the real death from which there is no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality."

This might suggest that he is immortal. But it could also be any of a number of other things. So it will have to be left up to the reader to decide. Which is probably exactly what Burroughs wanted. :)

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    I've read the John Carter books a number of times and @DampeS8N pretty much sums it up. He is never actually called immortal, yet he talks about being so old he can't remember his childhood many times. On the other hand, he remembers enough to know he is a Virginian. – Tango Dec 20 '11 at 16:21
  • afaik it's mentioned somewhere he stopped aging when he was first transported to Barsoom. Clearly he doesn't consider himself immortal or he'd be far more rash in taking risks :) but he's clearly not aging normally. – jwenting Jan 31 '12 at 6:59
  • The paragraph clearly suggests that while he does not age, he is quite capable of dying if, say, his head was cut off. The other "deaths" he speaks of did not involves anything like a sword through his heart, but rather "poison gas" or whatever was in the cave, etc (in the book). He is darn tough to kill and he does regenerate from minor wounds, but I would say his immortality is akin to Highlander or so - the right sword in the right place and its over. That said I did not read all ten books, so maybe he does recover from a sword through the heart?? – AJotr May 25 '12 at 23:03
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John Carter is never described by Burroughs as actually being immortal, which would imply that, in addition to being forever young, he would also be unable to be killed. He even states at one point that he is as susceptible to mortal wounds or violent death as any other man. Extended life spans seem to be a favorite theme of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and not only John Carter, but also Tarzan, Carson Napier of the Venus series, and both David Innes and Abner Perry of the Pelucidar series, all share that same gift. Also, the entire population of Barsoom has a potential life span of over a thousand years (and a single Mars year is almost twice as long as an earth year) with little or no signs of aging once physical maturity is attained, until the final few years of their extended life span. Even beyond that, Ras Thavis, in The Mastermind of Mars has developed a process for brain transplantation, allowing a person to change bodies whenever their current one becomes, for any reason, unusable, even to the point of being brought back from the dead if the process is performed within a reasonable amount of time.

Neither John Carter's nor the Barsoomian's extended life spans are ever mentioned in the movie, probably to avoid charges that the idea was ripped off from Gregory Widen's Highlander series, though. In fact, exactly the opposite is the truth.

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The idea of John Carter becoming weaker and weaker on Mars should apply to another, more well known fictional hero, who, as opposed to progressively becoming weaker as time passes, has actually become stronger.

Superman.

It goes without saying that science is seldom allowed to get in the way of a good yarn.

No implication that J C and Superman were the same type of heroes, just saying that both are fictional heroes, created in a time when adverse effects of low gravity on the human body were unknown, so it wasn't then a factor to be considered. Many fictional heroes, if scientific and/or historic fact, to name just two factors, were strictly adhered to, would never exist, making literature a much more boring media.

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folks, I'm new here, but not to the subject of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his characters, If I might offer my opinions...

The term "Immortal" is not interchangeable with the term "invulnerable." Yes, John Carter is immortal (Burroughs at one point refers to him as "the unaging Virginian) He cannot grow old, or, at least, he doesn't age as normal humans do. He can, however, be killed just like any other human. As Burroughs wrote him, however, as the greatest swordsman who ever lived, living in a society where single combat with swords is the highly preferred weapon of choice, him being killed is a highly unlikely event.

Carter's extended lifespan works out quite well on Mars, where the inhabitants live for as much as a thousand years, with those lucky enough to survive that long in Mars' warlike civilization show almost no signs of aging until the very last few years. If he were a normal mortal, he would grow old and die long before his beloved Dejah Thoris showed even the slightest signs of aging.

Incidentally, I might add that, by one method or another, all of Burroughs' series focus on a character who is unaging. Besides Carter, there is Carson Napier on Venus, who doesn't age because of an elixir given to him by the Venusians, Tarzan, who was granted immortality as a reward for saving a witch doctor, and David Innes, who explains his lack of aging by saying that, since time does not seem to exist in Pelucidar, his body simply doesn't realize that it should be growing older, therefore it remains young.

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    Unaging heroes allow you to write and publish lots of books without worrying about accrued time passing.... – Oldcat Aug 28 '14 at 22:11
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Time doesn't progress either faster or slower on Mars than it does on Earth, the discrepancy lies in the difference between Burroughs' original story and the movie version of that story. Carter stayed on Barsoom for ten years before returning to Earth, not the few weeks that seemed to pass in the movie. This is a glaring foul up when you consider the state of Carter's body when he returns. For that matter, why does he return to Earth once more bearded and wearing the clothes that were taken from him his first night among the Tharks, and covered bu a layer of dust?

The screenwriters simply fouled up in changing certain elements of the original story but leaving other elements that either were no longer consistent with the new story, or contradicted it completely.

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I think he is definitely meta-human (super-human), at least because it is impossible for any human to be so strong on Mars. I mean, it is impossible to be as strong as him for a longer period of time. He would probably become weaker and weaker (bone loss and so on, astronauts deal similar stuff) even with regular exercise and also the whole idea of transporting life essence from a dying body and reforming it on Mars is quite interesting. So we truly do not know what happened to him. Perhaps some higher entity brought him back from death and made him immortal and then sent him to Mars for some higher purpose?

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    at the time the John Carter series was written the bone and muscle degeneration in low-G environments was unknown, so I'd not credit John Carter of Mars with being superhuman because he doesn't display the symptoms. – jwenting Jan 31 '12 at 7:00
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On Earth, he is ageless, until he is killed. The one time we know that he is killed, in the cave, his astral body transports to Mars and his physical body remains in the cave.

When he later dies in the Atmosphere Plant on Mars, his soul (?) is returned to his earthly body, and he lives again on Earth.

It appears that he cannot die, one way or another.

None of this makes any sense--especially an astral soul traveling to Mars and yet having a physical body upon arrival--but these are typical contrivances of fantasy fiction evolving into science fiction in the early 20th century.

Remember that Carter says he does not know how old he is. He does not say that he doesn't remember his immortal past. He's simply not sharing it with us--perhaps because Burroughs himself didn't know who Carter was.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This answer would be stronger if you could cite passage from the books to support what you're saying. It would also be a more useful answer if you specifically addressed points that are not already covered in the accepted answer. Check out How to Answer. – DavidW Apr 23 at 2:41
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I think that time on Mars is faster (like the chamber of time on DBZ). When he is sent back to Earth it seems to have happened a long time and he could have only been on Mars a couple of weeks tops.

  • faster relative to what? How do you explain that? – The Fallen Oct 10 '12 at 16:32

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