Edgar Rice Burroughs's works were key influences. In an article written shortly before his death, Bradbury said the John Carter of Mars books and Harold Foster's 1931 series of Tarzan Sunday comics had such an impact on his life that "The Martian Chronicles would never have happened" otherwise. In an introduction he wrote for The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury cited the Barsoom stories and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson as literary influences.
The background of Mars shared by most of the stories, as a desert planet crisscrossed by giant canals built by an ancient civilization to bring water from the polar ice caps, is a common scenario in science fiction of the early 20th century. It stems from early telescope observations of Mars by astronomers from the 19th-century who believed they saw straight lines on the planet, the first of them being the Italian Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877. Schiaparelli called them canali (a generic Italian term used for both natural and artificial "grooves" or "channels"), which was popularly mistranslated into English as "canals", man-made water channels. Based on this and other evidence, the idea that Mars was inhabited by intelligent life was put forward by a number of prominent scientists around the turn of the century, notably American astronomer Percival Lowell. This ignited a popular fascination with the planet which has been called "Mars fever". Planetary astronomer Carl Sagan wrote:
Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.