Interview: Tamora Pierce

How did you first come to discover the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs?

Back in the 1960s, I was complaining to my dad about having nothing to read.  He had a lot of the Burroughs books at the time, and he handed me the first Barsoom book.  I was hooked!

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

Burroughs had a way of painting the setting and the characters so that, even though they were completely different from anything I’d seen in my life, I could see them as clearly as if they were right in front of me.  Those visions of this alien world were just as fresh when I re-read A PRINCESS OF MARS recently.  Also, the girls didn’t sit around in the background as they did in so many of the other books I read—they piloted the flying machines, and they fought.  I loved that!

What sort of an influence do you think the Barsoom books have had on the development of fantasy & science fiction?

I know a lot of other science fiction fans will probably hate me for this, but with the exception of the Heinlein juveniles, I found a lot of early sf to be static and stiff.  The colors of Barsoom were always so vivid, and the characters’ imaginations often rode very high.  The ideals of the heroes, masculine and feminine, were more like the medieval novels I liked to read.  I think those things had an effect on the more freewheeling subgenre of space opera, along with Burroughs’ explorers’ ethic.

Who is your favorite character in the Barsoom canon? (And why?)

Woola the Calot!  Like so many abused animals, he responds to affection, and his bond to Carter means he will defend his friend.  That’s now—when I was a kid, my hero was Tars Tarkas.  There’s just something about green men . . .

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add? 

The thing that strikes me in general about Burroughs’ work now is that unlike so many writers of his time, he had no problems whatsoever with strong women.  He didn’t think that a woman who could handle weapons and lead warriors lost in terms of femininity, or that they would repulse strong men.  I never realized until now that for years other books paled in comparison, because their female characters were either feminine and weak, or strong and unattractive.  It may well be that Burroughs set me on the path I walk today, writing strong girls and women and the kind of boys and men who can appreciate them.