Red Planet – Blue Pencil

Red Planet – Blue Pencil by Jane Davitt ©2001

Explanatory Note

Red Planet

In 1949 Robert Heinlein submitted a juvenile called ‘Red Planet’ to Scribners. They published it only after many cuts and changes in the plot and this is the version referred to as the 1949 edition in this article.

After Heinlein’s death the book as Heinlein originally submitted it, with no cuts or alterations, was printed by Del Rey. This is referred to as the restored edition in this article.

Additional text found only in the restored book is shown in italics. Additional text found in the 1949 publication but not the restored book is enclosed in [brackets]. Where text in the 1949 publication was in italics and need to be referred to for purposes of comparison, it is shown in UPPER CASE to avoid confusion. When a page reference is given, the first page number refers to the restored edition, the second to the 1949 book.


It is entirely appropriate that the first altered text in Red Planet was the phrase, “Shut up.” When Heinlein was forced by editorial pressure to make changes in his 1949 juvenile he was indeed silenced and the thrust of his message blunted and warped. As he phrased it in a letter to Alice Dalgleish, one of Scribner’s editors,

‘I have made great effort to remove my viewpoint from the book and to incorporate yours, convincingly – but in so doing I have been writing from reasons of economic necessity something that I do not believe. I do not like having to do that.’ [1]

This should, incidentally, serve as a caution to those who insist on interpreting Heinlein’s personal beliefs from his fiction…. it is not always a reliable source.

Young readers a half century later, who will in all probability be reading the restored edition, complete with all its additional text, should find little in its pages to shock them, nor would they perhaps appreciate how galling it was for Heinlein to make the changes that resulted in the original publication. They will simply enjoy the story, smile at Willis’s antics and be thrilled by Jim and Frank’s adventures as they race across a planet to save their families from bureaucratic treachery and the hardships of a Martian winter.

So what difference do the changes make? A word for word comparison of the two texts reveals changes in every chapter, some major, covering significant plot and philosophical areas, some minor, yet cumulative, as slang and ‘inappropriate’ concepts are tidied away. Perhaps the most puzzling editing comes in the deletion of dozens of single, innocuous words and phrases which, when reinstated, give the text more depth of detail. Unless text length was a burning issue it is difficult to understand why these particular changes were made.

It is possible to identify several major areas targeted or affected by the editing; the characters of Jim Marlowe and Dr MacRae, the sub plot concerning the sex of Willis, the historical and philosophical rationale behind the gun laws on Mars, the use of contemporary slang and the sometimes significant deletion of single words or phrases. To a certain extent, these areas both overlap and impinge on one another; for example the changes in the way gun ownership is treated result in two very different portrayals of Jim Marlowe.

So, why were the changes made at all? It is difficult to judge if Alice Dalgleish was tailoring the book to suit the sensibilities of the library list out of the knowledge that it would otherwise be rejected, or applying her own, rather narrow, standards to the story and finding it lacking. A little of both perhaps. The end of the 1940’s was still a time when writing for children was hedged about with many restrictions; it would be at least two more decades before the rigid distinctions between fiction intended for children and that aimed at adults were eased.

During the discussions of the changes needed in ‘Red Planet’, Heinlein pointed out to Miss Dalgleish that the content of the Scribner adult catalogue contained much that would conceivably shock to a young reader, turning 18 who had previously been,’…sealed in cellophane, sterile in vitro,’ [2] and then exposed to the full gamut of adult reading.

As one book about girl’s fiction from 1839 to 1975 puts it,

‘Of all biological phases, adolescence surely is the one in which bodily experiences are of paramount importance; yet for reasons of convention, squeamishness, and the idea that their audience was in need of moral guidance at every level, children’s authors until recently have been prohibited from mentioning many of its most fundamental aspects.’ [3]

This is certainly borne out in the 1949 publication, where Jim is unable to advise his mother, as he does in the restored edition, that, ‘” Uh, there’s a toilet right across the hall,”‘ when he takes her to his old room at the school to rest.

It is also useful to consider the position of ‘Red Planet’ within the body of Heinlein’s work. It was his third juvenile, following closely on the heels of ‘Rocket Ship Galileo’ (1947) and ‘Space Cadet’ (1948) but it represents a significant shift in approach in a few short years. ‘Rocket Ship Galileo’ has its fans but most would consider it to be somewhat lacking in originality and rather formulaic. ‘Space Cadet’ had livelier characters but was still based around a familiar plot: the training of young men in a military organization. ‘Red Planet’ on the other hand was different; an attempt to depict a whole new way of life on a strange planet complete with mysterious aliens but written in such a way that the reader feels at home almost at once. Heinlein had found his balance, targeted his audience and was all set to produce some of the most memorable works in his oeuvre.


The sanitized conversation of the 1949 publication does have both positive and negative effects; it detracts from the colourful personality of the Doctor and it makes Jim and Frank seem unnaturally polite at times but it does mean that the 1949 publication seems less old fashioned than the restored book. Nothing dates as fast as colloquialisms and some of the expressions the two boys use in the restored edition have a quaint tang to them. Perhaps in this area, the editor unwittingly did the book a service. That said, the prissiness that alters ‘bellyache’ to ‘tummy ache’ and ‘deuce’ to ‘dickens’ tends to grate when one considers the intended audience of teenage boys, not renowned for the purity of their language!

Some of the humour is lost too; Phyllis, Jim’s sister, is a marginal character in both books but in the restored edition she seems less two dimensional; akin to other young, independent Heinlein females with irritating brothers. Part of the excised dialogue between the siblings is so realistic that it is a pity to lose it,

‘Phyllis said, “Take the charges out of your gun, Jimmy, and let me practice with it.”

“You’re too young for a gun.”

“Pooh! I can outshoot you.” This was very nearly true and not to be borne; Phyllis was two years younger than Jim and female besides.

“Girls are just target shooters. If you saw a water- seeker, you’d scream.”

“I would, huh? We’ll go hunting together and I’ll bet you two credits that I score first.”

“You haven’t got two credits.”

“I have, too.”

“Then how was it you couldn’t lend me a half credit yesterday?”

Phyllis changed the subject.’ P12/P15.

The alterations of dialogue do not just affect the two boys or their friends; Doctor MacRae is censored even more than they are. This is because he tends to use a very idiomatic style of speech; for instance when he wants to advise Kelly, waiting at the school, that it is safe to emerge he says, ‘”Okay. You –” MacRae grabbed one of his squad by the arm.”- tear back and tell Kelly that allee allee out’s in free.”‘

This reference to a children’s game was evidently deemed too obscure for readers. He also uses the phrase ‘”little red schoolhouse”‘, when he is alerting Dr Rawlings to the hostage situation at the school. This is a reference to the single room schoolhouses common in nineteenth century America; perhaps this was altered to simply, ‘school house’ for the sake of overseas readers.

In his case the slang adds an aura of antiquity to his personality, something that may be of significance in the restored book where his lifespan seems longer than his appearance warrants. The doctor is fond of blunt speech, and uses the one expletive of the book, deleted, naturally, in the 1949 publication,

‘”The Company hates the expense of moving us, but more important they are bloody anxious to move more immigrants in here faster than we can take them; they think they see a cheap way out by keeping North and South Colony filled up all the time, instead of building more buildings.”‘ P 145/P 130.

His scathing denunciation of Gibbs is likewise diluted,

‘” I might mention in passing [add] that I was a man grown when this Gibbs party was still wetting his diapers [drooling on his bib] –”‘

Yet it is clear that he is an educated man; his speech has an almost theatrical sound to it at times, as if he is, as James Gifford comments in his recent book on Robert Heinlein, ‘…a virtual caricature of the crusty old frontier doctor.’ [4]

There is also a tendency to confine the references of the 1949 book to those that would be familiar to young readers, understandable from one perspective but limiting in educational value. For instance, when Smitty discusses the terms of his loan to the boys, a reference to Shakespeare’s Shylock is deleted from the original edition, ‘” I’ll have both of yours, on one I.O.U., at six per cent – per month. The security will be the pound of flesh nearest your heart.”‘ Was it really thought that the readers would not pick up the allusion? In a similar way there is an amendment of Doctor MacRae’s praise of Frank’s idea about using the Martians to help them, ‘”It just might work. It’s worth a whirl. That notion of making use of Martian immunity is positively Machiavellian [brilliant], Frank; you should go into politics.”‘ Heinlein preferred not to talk down to his readers; these changes must have irritated him.

In considering the deletion of individual words, it is interesting to see how much of a difference the small changes can make. For instance, during the negotiations between Mr. Marlowe and Beecher we are told that, ‘Beecher seemed excessively pleased with himself.’ The inclusion of ‘excessively’ gives us a clearer picture of Beecher as somewhat unbalanced; he is gloating rather than simply satisfied that the plans of the colonists are not going well.

Similarly, when Frank is defending his career choice of rocket pilot to Doctor MacRae, he says, ‘”Why not?’ Francis answered doggedly. “I might make it.”‘ The extra word, ‘doggedly’ adds much emphasis; we can see that Frank is truly determined, even in the face of disapproval from a respected mentor. This makes his actions in leaving the school to warn the colony and thereby risking that career even more laudable.

We also lose much that hints, however faintly, of a criticism of authority, be it parental or scholastic. When Jim invites Frank and the doctor for dinner at the start of the book, Frank declines on the grounds that his mother thinks he spends too much time at Jim’s house. The doctor replies,

‘”My mother, if she were here, would undoubtedly say the same thing,” admitted the doctor. “Fortunately I am free of her restraining influence. Call your mother, Jim.”‘

Later, when the boys are at school and are discussing Howe’s sweeping changes in the school routine, they are told by a cynical older boy,

‘”Get wise to yourself kid. A man wouldn’t go into school teaching if he didn’t enjoy exercising cheap authority. It’s the natural profession of little Napoleon’s.”

“Stoobie wasn’t like that!”

“Stoobie was an exception. Most of them like rules just for the sake of rules. It’s a fact of nature, like frost at sundown. You have to get used to it.”‘ P 50 / P 47.

It is not just words like ‘stinker’ that are targeted in the 1949 edition (deleted at least three times from descriptions of Howe) but anything that hints even faintly at sex, including a change in the clothing habits of the colonists.

At the start of the book we are given a description of the Doctor from Willis’s point of view,

‘The Mars creature saw an elderly male Earthman almost completely covered with wiry grey-and-white hair. The hair was thin on top, thick on chin and cheeks, moderately thick to sparse on chest and arms and back and legs. The middle portion of this strange, unMartian creature was concealed in snow-white shorts [and shirt].’

Notice that although in the restored edition Jim is described as being appropriately clad for indoors in bright red jockey shorts, the Doctor in the 1949 publication wears a shirt.

The Doctor accompanies Jim home for dinner and we are given a further hint that clothing indoors on Mars is slightly skimpier than on Earth, ‘Jim’s mother met them: Doctor MacRae bowed [.] a bow made no less courtly by bare feet and a grizzled, hairy chest.’

After he engages in some mild flirtation,

‘Jim’s mother blushed. She was wearing a costume that a terrestrial lady might choose for sunbathing or gardening and was a very pretty sight, although Jim was certainly not aware of it.’

Heinlein’s attempts to show that in a climate controlled environment Earth style clothing is unnecessary are weakened by restricting this freedom to the youngsters. It is a point he makes in other stories, written for an older audience; there are references in “The Black Pits of Luna” to moonsuits that, ‘show an awful lot of skin.’ [5] In “It’s Great To Be Back” such suits are described as, ‘six ounces of nylon’ [6]. This speculative extrapolation of future fashions was evidently seen as too daring in 1949.

Guns and Oaths

One of the most significant changes in the book, possibly the one that irked Heinlein the most, occurs during the dinner visit of Dr. MacRae, when we are told a little about the way weapons are regulated on Mars. In the version that was published first, Jim leaves his gun where his baby brother can get it and is reprimanded by his father. Much emphasis is put on Jim’s failure to live up to the oath he took in front of a Council when he was permitted to be a licensed gun owner. We are told that his father,

[‘”guaranteed that you would obey the regulations and follow the code, wholeheartedly and all the time – not just most of the time.”‘]

This has echoes of the Scouting oath and is intended, at Miss Dalgleish’s insistence, to present a picture of a society where the owning of weapons is controlled and subject to approval from a governing body.

To Heinlein this was anathema. He roundly informed Miss Dalgleish in a letter that, in his opinion, the right to bear arms is the basis of all human freedom; a remark that he later puts into Jim’s mouth, as a quotation from Dr MacRae. He was also opposed to the licensing of guns and disliked the fact that, in order to make the book suitable for publication he had to, ‘Build up the licensing into a complicated ritual, involving codes, oaths, etc. – a complete reversal of evaluation.’ [7]

In the restored edition there is still a form of licensing; when Phyllis asks to be allowed a gun of her own, her father suggests that Mrs Marlowe take her to city hall to be licensed. The difference is that the necessity for such licensing is not approved of by Mr Marlowe and is attacked strongly by Dr MacRae,

‘”Sir, it is not the natural limitations of this globe that I object to; it is the pantywaist nincompoops who rule it- these ridiculous regulations offend me. That a free citizen should have to go before a committee, hat in hand, and pray for permission to bear arms – fantastic! Arm your daughter, sir, and pay no attention to petty bureaucrats.”

Jim’s father stirred his coffee. “I’m tempted to. I really don’t know why the Company set up such rules in the first place.”‘ P13 restored edition.

In the 1949 publication, Phyllis is never shown to be a gun user, neither is her mother, although one of the reasons she gives for wanting a gun is to be able to help her mother by taking on the duty of protecting her younger brother when he plays outside; the Martian fauna containing some dangers.

Later in the story, when the colonists are trapped inside the school we are told that,

‘Men and women, boys and girls, t[T]he colony listed hundreds of licensed gun wearers – and yet a handful of gun fighters outside, as few as two, could keep them holed up.’

Notice how the reference to an entire colony of armed citizens is deleted; the implication being that such a widespread gun ownership was not an acceptable part of a story for teenagers.

The Journey of James Marlowe

The character of Jim, or rather its development, is drastically affected by the cuts. In the 1949 publication he and Frank are quite similar. Jim tends to be more likely to speak without thinking, as he does when he defends his home and family against Howe’s disparaging comments but generally, when Willis is not involved, he and Frank are much alike. In the restored edition Jim initially takes on a far more aggressive personality, in sharp contrast to Frank’s more sensible and pragmatic attitude. This cannot be simply put down to gun ownership by someone too young to be responsible; in both versions Jim has a weapon and has been trained in how to use it, in both stories we see him firing it at water seekers and at a sniper. The difference is that in the restored edition Jim seems to have no qualms about threatening to use his gun whenever he perceives there to be a danger to himself or Willis. The undeniable fact that in most, if not all, of the cases, using his weapon would increase rather than decrease the problem or danger makes this reaction seem immature, even foolhardy.

The reason for having an apparently flawed hero is of course to provide an object lesson. It is a common theme in a Heinlein juvenile to have the hero learn and grow from the events he experiences during the course of the book. In Jim’s case he is apparently only given a short time in which to mature; the period from Howe’s confiscation of Willis to the end of the book is a scant thirteen days. Heinlein manages to sidestep this potential weakness in the plot by making those days count by cramming them with hardship and difficult decisions and with the interlude in which Jim watches months and months of Willis’s memories. This strange vision or trance enables Jim to evaluate a long period of time in a few short hours. It is a pivotal event in the changes in his personality, changes that can perhaps be mapped by his various reactions to the idea of losing Willis. Jim still has moments of impetuousness but this experience seems to begin the process of stabilizing his emotional responses.

At the start of the book no amount of well meaning advice from friends or family will persuade him to let Willis hibernate or remain in familiar surroundings. He reacts emotionally to the temporary loss of Willis in the school; tears pouring down his face as he vows vengeance on Howe. Later, when he and Frank are resting with the Martians and Gekko tells him that Willis cannot be returned to him he goes on a disruptive rampage through the building, searching for his friend,

‘Jim would no more have disturbed a Martian in a trance, ordinarily, than an American western frontier child would have teased a grizzly – but he was in no shape to care or notice; he shouted in there, too, thereby causing an unheard-of and unthinkable disturbance. The least response was violent trembling; one poor creature was so disturbed that he lifted abruptly all of his legs and fell to the floor.’ P 114/ P 102.

When Gekko manages to catch up with Jim he picks him up and holds him like a child and it is as a child that Jim responds,

‘Jim sobbed and beat on the Martian’s hard thorax with both his fists. Gekko endured it for a moment, then wrapped a third palm flap around Jim’s arms, securing him. Jim looked wildly up at him. “Willis,” he said in his own language, “I want Willis. You’ve got no right!”‘

The 1949 publication lacks a description of Jim’s reaction to the loss of Willis at the end of the story. The doctor remarks that he is going to break the news to Jim and Mr Marlowe replies that Jim won’t like it. In the restored book we are actually shown Jim’s reaction and see that he has mellowed considerably,

‘Jim took it well. He accepted MacRae’s much expurgated explanation and nodded.”I guess if Willis has to hibernate, well, that’s that. When they come for him, I won’t make any fuss. It’s just that Howe and Beecher didn’t have any RIGHT to take him.”‘

To fully appreciate the growth in Jim that allows him to be so reasonable at the end of the story, it is necessary to examine his earlier actions in the restored book. The 1949 publication deletes or waters down Jim’s aggressive responses and the changes in his personality are lacking. The Jim we meet at the start of the book is little different than the one at the end. The restored book benefits from the inclusion of the incidents because they provide a benchmark against which Jim’s emotional growth can be measured.

The changes begin at the point where he and Frank leave for their new school. The journey is broken at Cynia where they meet up with a Martian, Gekko, who picks up Willis. The Martian was meditating so the boys carefully stepped round him; Willis then attracted his attention by rubbing against his legs and letting out some ‘mournful croaks’; probably an attempt to communicate in Martian. What he said is not translated but it may even have been a request to be picked up. The Martian emerged from his trance, bent down and scooped up Willis. Jim reacts strongly to this fairly innocent action in the restored book,

‘”Tell him to put Willis down! Or, so help me, I’ll burn his legs off!”

“Oh, now, Jim, you wouldn’t do anything like THAT. It would get your whole family in trouble.”

“If he hurts Willis, I sure will!”

“Grow up [Relax]. Martians never hurt anybody.”‘

Throughout the book much is made of the fact that the Martians are sacrosanct; Jim and Frank even use this as a way of resolving the siege at the end of the story.

‘Every human who set foot on Mars had it thoroughly drummed into him that the natives must not be interfered with, provoked, nor their customs violated – nor, above all things, hurt.’

Jim knows this, has been brought up with it and yet he is prepared to break the taboo simply because Willis has been picked up, possibly at his own request. His instinctive reaction is to use his weapon to protect his friend; we do not know if he would have carried through his threat but that he made it at all is indicative both of his impetuous nature and the degree to which he feels responsible for Willis.

When Frank manages to communicate with the Martian, Jim is picked up and carried towards the city with Willis. He again wants to reach for his gun, but is physically too tangled up to do so,

‘He cradled Willis in one arm; his other two arms came snaking down suddenly and enclosed Jim, one palm flap cradling him where he sat down, the other slapping him across the belly. Jim was unable to get to his gun, which was just as well.’

Yet, moments later, after gazing into the Martian’s eyes, Jim is overwhelmed by a feeling of trust and friendship. This sudden change in attitude is underlined by Jim’s physical reaction to the Martian’s odour, ‘Worse, the little supercharger on the top of Jim’s mask compressed not only the thin air, but also he body odor of the native; the stench was overpowering.’

Strong words and ones that Frank evidently agrees with; when he is picked up a few moments later he says, rather rudely, ‘”Judas- what a smell! Pew!”‘

However by this time, the Martian has managed to calm Jim down to such an extent that not only is he no longer bothered by the, ‘stink of his kind’, he has already forgotten that he ever was bothered, ‘”Smell? Don’t be a sissy. He smells better than you do.”‘

This part of the book was probably deleted for the same reason that three references to Howe being a “stinker” are deleted; it was perhaps felt to be in bad taste. Yet the deletion costs us not only a significant hint about the mental powers of the Martians but also a link to the 1956 book, Double Star in which Lorenzo Smythe has a similar reaction to the smell of Martians, cured in his case by hypnosis.

The demonstration of Gekko’s control is impressive. All of Jim’s hostility drains away in moments. It could also provide an explanation of his excessively protective feelings about Willis, a younger Martian but with talents of his own. This nuance is missing in the book as it first appeared. It could be argued that it is interaction with the Martians that speeds up Jim’s maturation rather than the actual adventures he and Frank experience. Certainly Gekko and the water sharing experiences play their part in opening Jim’s eyes to feelings which he would normally have buried and ignored. During the first water sharing alone he changes his attitude quite radically.

‘He was acutely aware of the presence of the Martians, of each individual Martian, and was becoming even more aware of them with each drifting minute. He had never noticed before how beautiful they were. “Ugly as a native” was a common phrase with the colonials; Jim recalled with surprise that he had even used it himself, and wondered why he ever had done so.

He was aware, too, of Frank beside him and thought about how much he liked him. Staunch – that was the word for Frank, a good man to have at your back. He wondered why he had never told Frank that he liked him.’ P 35 / P 34.

After the “growing together” ceremony with their new friends, the boys resume their journey to school. The arrival of Mr. Howe, the new headmaster is the cause of much disturbance as he makes sweeping changes in the way the school is organized. After he discovers and confiscates Willis, he makes the most significant changes; the abolition, in the original book, of the Student Council and the post of student armourer in charge of weapons. Neither the council nor the armourer is mentioned in the restored book; this seems to be another attempt by the editor to stress that weapons are not readily available to the students and are closely monitored. In both books the headmaster is to be in charge of all the guns in the future, including those belonging to licensed gun owners. Frank thinks that the primary reason for the change is that when Mr. Howe confiscated Willis, Jim’s reaction was so extreme that he feared for his own safety: ‘”There was murder in your eye and he saw it.”‘

This is a fair comment; as Howe left their room with Willis, Jim had tears streaming down his face. He turned to Frank and said,

‘”I should have burned him,” he muttered. “I should have burned him down where he stood.”

“Suppose you did? Want to spend the rest of your life in an asylum?” [Frank went on] Don’t let him get your goat, fellow; if he gets you angry, you’ll do something silly and then he’s got you.”‘ P 53/ P 50.

Again there is no overt threat to Willis; Jim has dug himself into a hole by his insistence that Willis is a free agent and not a pet. Incidentally, this is not borne out by the events in the book; Jim seems to treat Willis exactly as one would a pet, albeit a pet that can talk. Like John Thomas and Lummox in ‘The Star Beast’ the balance of power is ostensibly weighted on the side of the human. If he had carried out his threat it is difficult to see how the situation would have been improved. Could Jim really think that after killing his headmaster he would be allowed to keep Willis?

Next day Jim reads the notice about surrendering weapons and says,

‘”I’m not going to give up my gun. Dad wouldn’t want me to. I’m sure of that. Anyhow, I’m licensed and I don’t have to. [I’m a qualified marksman, I’ve passed the psycho tests, and I’ve taken the oath; I’m as much entitled to wear a gun as he is.]”‘ P 54/ P 51.

It has to be remembered here that in the restored edition where Jim expresses the wish to shoot Howe, there are no ‘psycho tests’. If there were it seems debatable as to whether Jim would have passed them at this point in his life.

When Jim visits the headmaster to retrieve Willis and send him home, there is, in the restored book, a section dealing with Howe trying to get Jim to hand over his gun ( hidden by Smitty – for a price) and Jim evading his questions in an attempt not to tell an outright lie about where his gun is. Jim certainly confirms Howe’s belief that he is dangerous; when Howe accuses him of lying (and Jim is lying by omission), he is told, ‘”You know that I have no gun, or you wouldn’t dare say that.”‘ The implication seems to be that Jim would have shot Howe for calling him a liar.

As Frank and Jim discuss plans for leaving, Jim once again has to be calmed down by his clearer headed friend,

‘”I’ll wait until daylight and just walk out. If Howe tries to stop me, so help me, I’ll blast him.”

“The idea,” Frank said dryly, “is to get away, not to stir up a gun battle. What you want to do is pull a sneak.”‘

During all of this melodrama, Frank remains the voice of reason but he must be getting a little worried about Jim’s emotional stability. This is not to say that Frank is a man of peace but he waits until the true perfidy of the non migration plan is exposed by Willis to make a stand,

‘”That fat slug,” Frank said softly,” I wonder how he would like to tackle a winter at Charax? Maybe he’d [HE’D] like to stay inside for eleven or twelve months at a time – or go outside when it’s a hundred below. I’d like to see him freeze to death – slowly.”‘

Frank then goes on to discuss getting the money they need,

‘” We’ll get it out of Smitty.”


“We’ll get it. I’ll tear off his arm and beat him over the head with it if I have to. Let’s go.”‘

Frank’s threats are more rhetorical, whereas Jim’s involve using a gun with which he is expert and are thus both more believable and more dangerous.

At least Jim agrees with Frank that guns were not an option when it comes to the scene at the scooter station where the driver leaves without them. Jim blames himself for getting out of the scooter to eat but Frank points out,

‘”Can you imagine us shooting it out with a couple of innocent bystanders and hijacking the scooter? I can’t.”

“Uh – no. I guess you’re right.”‘

An interesting comment found in both versions of the book occurs when the two boys are with their Martian friends for the second time and Jim is told that Willis cannot be returned to him. ‘It is not important that Jim did not have his gun with him; Gekko could not inspire the hatred in him that Howe did.’

This seems to imply that Jim needs to know and dislike someone to be able to threaten them with his gun but as has been shown this is not really the case. Consider his reaction later on in the story when his father, not fully comprehending the situation, advises him to surrender. There is no one present who could conceivably be considered an enemy or a threat yet, ‘His right hand, almost instinctively, was hovering around the place where his holster ordinarily hung.’

His father, if he had noticed this, must have been even more worried a few moments later when he tells him of the charges Howe has made against him and Jim responds,

‘” I’ll ‘theft’ him! If he ever shows up around me, I’ll burn him down!”


“Well, I will!”‘

Mr. Marlowe is obviously taken aback at his son’s attitude but it is interesting that when Mr. Sutton shows up with Frank a few moments later, he too, has a similar reaction to threats,

‘”Pop told them that if they touched me he’d burn their legs off [make them sorry]”, Frank said proudly ,”and he would too.”

Jim caught his father’s eye. Mr. Marlowe looked away.’

The reader is being encouraged to approve of a supportive father, Mr. Sutton, even though he is, at this point, behaving in a manner that seems far from exemplary. One can sympathise with Jim and understand Frank’s pride but at the same time feel that perhaps such bellicose threats are an over reaction.

If the Martians and their mental powers play a significant part in Jim’s growth it must also be remembered that Jim is accompanied by a human role model: his friend, Frank. Frank is the peacemaker, in many ways the most rational of the pair. He is the one who constantly reminds Jim of the consequences of his actions. It is noticeable that Frank does not approve of Jim’s, often wild, threats; at one point he literally wrestles Jim to the ground and sits on him in an effort to calm him down. Frank could be viewed as a shadowy figure in the book; a sidekick rather than a co lead character but in fact he is an example of what Jim needs to become in order to be an asset to the colony rather than an immature child. Jim tends to model himself on Doctor MacRae, quoting his words and turning to him in times of crisis but Frank is in many ways a more suitable mentor. Frank undergoes many hardships himself in the course of the book; worry over his mother if the migration does not take place, a physically exhausting journey when he is ill and yet does not seem to change much. Given his importance in the book this can be taken as an indication that he is already on the right track and needs no significant alterations in his character.

The combination of Frank’s influence as a peer and a friend and the mystical forces used by the Martians serve to divert Jim from his rather reckless behavior patterns and onto the road to adulthood. In the restored book this is a significant part of the story: in the 1949 publication it is not stressed as much due to the deletion of Jim’s aggressive threats.

Dr MacRae, Back Seat Driver or Eminence Grise?

The complex character of Dr MacRae dominates the book, though his influence over Frank and Jim seems greater in the restored edition. He is, by virtue of his age, the senior member of the colony (some even speculate that he is The Senior in disguise…. that theory, enticing though it would be to explore, is however outside the scope of this article!) but his adventurous attitude, ‘[salty comments and outrageous observations]’ make him both a mentor and an ally to the boys. They turn to him, rather than their own parents, confide in him, trust him and quote his words constantly throughout the book. For example, Jim, in discussing Smitty’s business like approach to Howe’s new rules remarks,

‘”He reminds me of something Doc used to say ‘Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.'”

“That’s not necessarily so. My old man says Doc’s a crackpot. Come on.”‘

This rapport is shown in the opening pages, as he attempts to dissuade Frank from his chosen career as rocket pilot, a passage missing from the 1949 publication that also gives a hint at the difference between the society on Earth and that on Mars, paving the way for the later conflict.

‘”See here, Frank, do you really want to live a life bound around with rules and regulations and discipline?”

“Mmmm…I want to be a pilot. I know that.”

“On your head be it. Me, I left Earth to get away from all that nonsense. Earth has gotten so musclebound with laws that a man can’t breathe. So far, there’s still a certain amount of freedom on Mars. When that changes –”‘ P 6 / P 11.

The character of Dr MacRae is a real scene stealer in both books but in the restored edition he is even more intriguing, rather carelessly dropping clues about his past that, if true, would make him practically an Old One himself. It is possible that Heinlein was laying the foundations for the doctor being a member of the Howard Families and thus tying in his juvenile series to the Future History timeline that he had developed. It is equally possible that Scribners would have frowned on this link between one of their juveniles and ‘Methuselah’s Children’ which at this point had only appeared in the ‘pulps’. Miss Dalgleish viewed these early science fiction magazines with some scorn as being rather ‘cheap’. [8] Heinlein may also have decided that setting all of his stories, especially full-length books intended for younger readers, within the Future History framework was too restrictive. The different versions of aliens and Earth itself that occur in the juveniles would tend to indicate that he preferred them to stand alone.

The first hint that the Doctor is older than he appeared comes at the dinner party with Jim’s family,

‘”Tell me, sir, do you know what television was used for when it first came out?’

“No. How would I?”

“Well, I didn’t see it myself of course, but my father told me about it. It seems –”

“Your FATHER? How old was he? When was he born?”

“My grandfather then. Or it may have been my great grandfather. That’s beside the point.”‘ P 15/ P 17.

Later when the boys are sent to him to be checked over after their journey and they are discussing Jim’s strange experience with the old Martian, invisible to Frank, he again lets something slip,

‘”Sure you did – because seeing takes place in the brain and not in the eye. I can close my eyes and ‘see’ the Great Pyramid shimmering in the desert heat. I can see the donkeys and hear the porters yelling at the tourists. See ’em? Shucks, I can smell ’em – but it’s just my memory.”

Jim looked thoughtful but Frank looked incredulous. “Say, Doc, what are you talking about? You never saw the Great Pyramid; it was blown up in World War III.” Frank was, of course, correct as to his historical facts; the eastern allies should never have used the Pyramid of Cheops as a place to store atomic bombs.

Dr MacRae looked annoyed. “Can’t you permit a man a figure of speech?”‘ P 135/6 / P 121.

He continually uses expressions that stand out as being somewhat old fashioned and Heinlein uses this subtly at times to show how far ahead in the future Red Planet is set; for example, the doctor is old yet he refers to, ‘”way back when women wore skirts,”‘ as if that change in fashion was long in the past. To the modern reader it may seem that this small reference was deleted because what is there to marvel at in a woman not wearing a skirt? It is more likely that it was deleted in the 1949 publication because the widespread fashion for women’s trousers was relatively new. In Britain,

‘Women took to wearing trousers when working in factories, Civil Defence or turning out at night into their air-raid shelters. If the war can be credited with producing any fashion in women’s clothes it was the popularizing of trousers for women of all ages.’ [9]

It is probable that American women also found that trousers were a liberating, useful addition to their wardrobe but this change was viewed with some horror by traditionalists who felt that trousers were both unfeminine and immodest. Donning a pair of slacks in a story set in the 1940’s was often used as a metaphor for a female character shedding inhibitions. Consider for example this quotation from a novel set in wartime Britain and written in 1960,

‘She bought two woolen jerseys and a pair of stout walking-shoes, and – most daring and exciting of all – she bought a pair of navy-blue trousers and a polo jersey.’ [10]

Later, when she wears the trousers for the first time she discovers that,

‘The trousers were not as comfortable as she had expected – there was a strange flappy feeling about the legs – but whether they were comfortable or not she was determined to wear them, for they were symbolic of her new life.’ [11].

The doctor also has a slightly subversive effect on the boys. He makes no bones about encouraging them to deceive their parents in both versions of the book. Jim and Frank approach him with a plan for escaping the siege at the school and ask what his opinion is, only to be told,

‘”However, about the other stunt – the garbage can paratrooper act – if you ask your father, he’ll veto it.”

“Can’t you ask him? He’ll listen to you.”

“I said ‘IF you ask your father,’ you idjut. Do I have to wipe your nose for you?”‘ P 166 / P 148.

In the aftermath of the fight we get another indication of Dr MacRae’s original views as he comments that Beecher is clearly paranoid. Dr Rawlings agrees and says that Beecher will need to be hospitalized but MacRae has other ideas,

‘”Certainly, certainly,” agreed MacRae, “but speaking non-professionally, I’d rather see the no-good so-and-so hang. Paranoia is a disorder only contracted by those of fundamentally bad character.”

“Now, Doctor,” protested Rawlings.

“That’s my opinion,” insisted MacRae and I’ve seen a lot of cases, in and out of hospital.”‘ P 183 restored edition.

It is somewhat amusing that in the 1949 publication this section is replaced by an attempt by Mr Marlowe to get MacRae to take over the headmastership of the school until a replacement for Howe can be appointed. The suitability of MacRae for such a position is debatable but it’s a moot point; he refuses vehemently and we lose the chance to see him in control of the school, a situation which might have had far longer lasting effects on the pupils than Howe’s petty restrictions.

Mama Willis?

Another major revision in the plot, linked again to what seems excessive prudery on the part of the editors, occurs when the boys are recuperating with the Martians and wake up to discover that Willis has apparently laid eggs during the night. This entire sub plot was excised from the 1949 publication, much to the detriment of the story. The fact that Willis has done something extraordinary makes the Martians’ anger at those who would harm him more believable. Without it we never really appreciate why he is important though both versions speculate that he is a baby Martian, a caterpillar to their butterfly. We are given a clear picture of the imperturbable Martians, who wait long minutes before speaking, being jarred out of their normally calm behaviour,

‘Neither of the boys had ever seen a Martian hurry before, nor show any signs of excitement. Gekko let out a deep snort and left the room at once, to return promptly with as many companions as could crowd into the room. They all talked at once and paid no attention to the boys.’

The story closes with the deaths, one could say the executions, of Beecher and Howe and the tense negotiations between the Martians and the colonists, represented by the ubiquitous Doctor, which end with a tenuous peace between the two races. In the restored edition we also get confirmation that Willis is not all he seems,

‘”That’s the trouble. It’s very complicated and I don’t know where to start. Willis IS important and it does matter that he’s a she.”‘

(One wonders incidentally, why it was initially assumed that Willis was male; because he used Jim’s voice as his own perhaps?)

We are then told that Willis’s Martian name means, ‘”In whom the hopes of a world are joined”‘ Mr. Marlowe comments, “Sounds like a name for a messiah, not a bouncer”‘

It is tempting for readers to make a connection between this comment and the plot of ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ especially as the Martians in both books appear to be the same; ‘Red Planet’ though written first is of course set later than the events of ‘Stranger’.


Red Planet is one of four Heinlein books reissued in a restored form. The reasons for the editing are not the same in each case and each version has its fans and critics. ‘Podkayne of Mars’ has perhaps the least amount of new or changed words but the alteration of the ending has a profound effect on the rest of the book. ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ is unchanged as far as plot goes but is enriched (or encumbered) by hundreds of tiny additions to the text. Perhaps the most similar case to ‘Red Planet’ is ‘The Puppet Masters’ which, although unquestionably an adult book was divested of much of its darker and more adult themes. The difference is that the cuts were made in an effort to create a book that was more suitable for serialization in a magazine: length, rather than content was the primary factor. Certainly Heinlein was willing to make those changes as they did not result in a book that endorsed views contrary to his own.

It is partly because ‘Red Planet’ as it first appeared was not written the way that Heinlein wanted it to be written that the restored edition is more valuable to a Heinlein reader who also enjoys the sometimes dangerous, always exhilarating, hobby of analyzing the stories. There is less point in analyzing the 1949 book; it was so altered that Heinlein seriously put forward the suggestion that Miss Dalgleish should be named as a co-author. That is not to say that the 1949 publication has no merits but weighed against the loss of Heinlein’s intended message it cannot be viewed as superior or preferable. The reader may not endorse the message but it is authentic Heinlein, not watered down or twisted Heinlein. If we are to have a target to aim at, let it be a valid one. It is also weakened by the lack of emphasis on Jim’s growth and the references to the importance of Willis as a hope for the future.

What then is the message or theme of ‘Red Planet’? It seems to be an exploration of a frontier society and the need for a return to the values of the past which served America so well as the vast land was tamed. Echoes of even more distant history are evoked in the tension between the Earth based Company and the Mars based colony, resolved once more in favour of the colonists and their fight for independence.

It is interesting to note several passing references in the book which link the Martian colony to America’s past. For instance, when Jim disturbs meditating Martians, this is described as being akin to an American child of the frontier taunting a grizzly. I have mentioned Doctor MacRae’s use of the term, ‘little red schoolhouse.’ Earlier in the book, when MacRae and Marlowe are discussing gun licensing, the Doctor also mutters, ‘something that combined ‘Danegeld’ and the ‘Boston Tea Party’ in the same breath.’

On a less serious note, when Phyllis asks for an explanation of the term, ‘folk dancing’, the Doctor mentions an important tradition of the pioneering families, ‘” These kids are missing something. I think I’ll organize a square-dancing club. I used to be a pretty good caller, once upon a time.”‘

When the colonists meet to discuss the recording that Willis has made about the migration, Doctor MacRae makes a direct link between the situation in which the colonists find themselves and that of the Americans before the War of Independence,

‘”The question is not whether or not we can last out a polar winter; the Eskimo caretakers do that every season. It isn’t just a matter of contract; it’s a matter of whether we are going to be free men, or are we going to let our decisions be made for us on another planet, by men who have never set foot on Mars!

“Just a minute – let me finish! We are the advance guard. When the atmosphere project is finished, millions of others will follow. Are they going to be ruled by a board of absentee owners on Terra? Is Mars to remain a colony of Earth? Now is the time to settle it!”

There was dead silence, then scattered applause. Marlowe said,” Is there more debate?”

Mr. Sutton got up.” Doc has something there. It was never in my blood to love absentee landlords.”

Kelly called out, “Right you are, Pat!”‘ P 145/ P 130.

Later, Doctor MacRae spells it out again in another impassioned speech to the colonists as they debate their options in the school,

‘”Now as I see it, this is a frontier society and any man old enough to fight is a man and must be treated as such – and any girl old enough to cook and tend babies is an adult, too. Whether you folks know it yet or not you are headed into a period where you’ll have to fight for your rights. The youngsters will do most of the fighting; it behooves you to treat them accordingly. Twenty-five may be the right age for citizenship in a moribund, age-ridden society like that back on Earth, but we aren’t bound to follow customs that aren’t appropriate to our needs here.”‘ P 158/ P 141

The story ends with Doctor MacRae’s vision for the future a real possibility after the negotiations with the Martians and there is a final nod to history,

‘”Is the Proclamation of Autonomy written? Did the folks go for it?”

” Yes, it’s written – we cribbed a good deal from the American Declaration of Independence I’m afraid, but we wrote one.”

In this milieu, with the dangers from the Martian fauna (and indeed the Martians themselves) weapons and a trained, armed citizenry are seen by Heinlein to be essential. The changes that were made in the text militated against this vision; it is implied that only men were armed and the restrictions applied to gun ownership would have been seen as unnecessary by Heinlein. As he remarked in a letter to Miss Dalgleish,

‘I am aware of the dangers of guns, but I do not agree that those dangers can be eliminated nor even ameliorated by coercive legislation – and I think that my experience entitles me to my opinion at least as much as school teachers and librarians are entitled to theirs.’ [12]

And there indeed lies the heart of the matter and the reason to prefer the restored edition; we may want to disagree with Heinlein or we may be in profound agreement but no matter what our views, we want to apply them to the story as written by Heinlein.

Jane Davitt


1. ‘Grumbles From The Grave’ P 62 [return]

2. ‘Grumbles From The Grave’ P 77 [return]

3. ‘You’re a brick, Angela!’ P 97 [return]

4. ‘Robert A Heinlein A Reader’s Companion P 158 [return]

5. ‘Green Hills Of Earth’ P 63 [return]

6. ‘Green Hills Of Earth P 80 [return]

7. ‘Grumbles From The Grave P 62 [return]

8. ‘Grumbles From The Grave’ P 53 [return]

9. ‘You’re a brick, Angela!’ P 284 [return]

10. ‘Spring magic’ P 35 [return]

11. ‘Spring Magic’ P 46 [return]

12. ‘Grumbles From The Grave’ P 64 [return]


‘Red Planet’ Robert A Heinlein Victor Gollancz Ltd 1963

‘Red Planet’ Robert A Heinlein Ballantine Books 1990

‘Robert A. Heinlein A Reader’s Companion’ James Gifford. Nitrosyncretic Press 2000. ISBN 0-967987-1-5

‘Spring Magic’ D. E. Stevenson. Fontana Books 1960.

‘You’re a brick, Angela!’ Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig. Victor Gollancz Ltd 1976 ISBN 0 575 02061 X

‘Grumbles From The Grave’ Robert A. Heinlein edited by Virginia Heinlein. A Del Rey Book Ballantine Books December 1990. ISBN 0-345-36941-6

‘The Green Hills Of Earth’ Robert A Heinlein. Pan Books 1956. ISBN 0 330 10679 1

There are two editions of Red Planet referred to in this article. The original 1949 publication was published by Scribners. The edition I used was published in 1967 by Pan Books Ltd 4th printing 1978 ISBN 0 330 107127. The restored book is a Del Rey Book published by arrangement with Charles Scribner’s Sons. First revised edition January 1990. ISBN 0 345 34039 6.