Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Dejah Thoris Paperdoll
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My mother was artistic, with all sorts of talents she never developed. One summer in the 50's, digging around in a box at the back of a closet in our Skaneateles house, looking for cast-off dresses in which I could play medieval princess, I discovered some treasures from her teen years that I thought were even more amazing than those old sequined party dresses.

Mother had dabbled in painting, pencil, charcoal, and watercolors, I’d known that because some landscape paintings were framed and up on the walls of the parental bedroom. I hadn’t realized, though, that she’d been pretty darn good at drawing the human figure, too.  Inside a letterhead stationery box I discovered a cache of hand-made paper dolls. (When “they” didn’t make what she wanted, Dorothy made her own!)

Neatly cut and colored in pencil and watercolor was an entire cast of romantic movie characters, some of whom I instantly recognized. Remember, these movies were TV staples during the early 50’s…First up was Robin Hood—Erroll Flynn, of course. There were even clothes, too, with tabs so fold over the basic figures, green robber’s attire, fur trimmed robes and/or mail were available for Robin of Locksley, and several dresses for Olivia de Havilland, as Maid Marion.  Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind; each pair had several outfits, even hats. , too, for both gentlemen and ladies, those because these were small, they had, over time, grown a bit the worse for wear.

Wow! Needless to say, I was impressed.

At the bottom of the box, though, was a set which puzzled me. There was a woman dressed in a sort of scanty two piece bathing suit and wearing a long necklace of “diamonds,” which you could tell by the shape. Because of my father’s stacks of the founding S/F magazines, Astounding Fiction and Amazing Stories, I got the otherworldly gist of her outfit, but the real tip off was that her skin was bright blue. She also had slanted eyes, black hair and a crown. The odd little scraps in the bottom of the box proved to be a sword and shield. There was a mate for her, too, a sort of Tarzan looking dude in a loin cloth, but he was flesh- toned.

What they were, I had no idea. So, box in hand I went downstairs to find Mom, show her what I’d found and learn the identity of the buxom blue and rather shockingly undressed girl and her equally exotic companion.  While I’d expressed how overwhelmed I was at her skill, Mother looked a little cross. “Put them back,” she said. “They're the very last ones I ever made. I don’t want you to play with them.”

I could certainly understand how she felt about her handiwork, even after having grown up--and all that. I told her that I would put them away carefully. Then she relaxed a little and we sat down in the kitchen and looked them over, while she reminisced about the movies and those stars who still, I could see, shone pretty bright for her.

“Mother, who is this blue girl?” We’d got to the last paperdoll in the box.

“Why that’s Dejah Thoris. Don’t you know who she is? She’s from A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author who wrote Tarzan.

Now, I’d loved Tarzan and had spent a lot of time pondering whether you could actually teach yourself to read as had young Greystoke. Learning to read hadn’t been all that easy for me—years later, I came to understand that I’m more than a tad dyslexic.

“But why is she blue?”

“Well, she’s a Martian. She lays eggs instead of having babies.  We’ll have to look around and see if we can find you my old books. It was a series that I really liked.”

The egg bit seemed weird, but, you know, I reasoned—aliens! I didn’t think of it right away, but, if Dejah Thoris laid eggs, did she need breasts?   

I think I’m one of the few who really enjoyed the CG extravaganza of 2009, called John Carter, but maybe you have to get acquainted with this pulpy bit of fantasy when you are young. However, I remain suitably impressed by the memory—as that’s all that’s left after 60 years--of my mother’s truly excellent paperdolls.    

 ~~Juliet Waldron

 Historical Novels, from the Middle Ages to the Victorian era:    Books by JW at Amazon
Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton's story:  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744