H.G. WELLS' BARSOOM!
H.G. Wells' Mars
H.G. Wells' Martians on Mars
Creatures on Wells Mars? Apes and Men, oh My!
Creatures on Barsoom: Kaldanes and Rykors, Oh My!
Locating Wells' Martians
Evolution of Wells' Martians
A Little Problem
John Carter's War of the Worlds
Edgar Rice Burroughs
~ War of the Worlds Frontispiece and Title Page 1913
~ H. G. Wells
It is now an established literary conceit to merge Edgar Rice
Burroughs' Barsoom with the malignant Martians of H.G. Wells.
It’s been done by George
Alec Effinger, in “Mars: The Home Front,” in the Kevin J. Anderson
anthology War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches as well as by Alan
Moore at the opening of his second volume of The League of Extraordinary
Further, fans and theorists, including the Wold
Newton people, have written extensively of the mixing and matching
of the worlds. Personally, I tend to take the Wold Newton stuff
with a grain of salt, those people have too strong a tendency to discard
inconvenient facts and invent imaginary facts to make their theories fit.
But nevertheless, H.G. Wells’ Mars and Burroughs' Mars have been mixing
reputably and disreputably for quite some time now.
Well, what of it? After all, both A
Princess of Mars and War
of the Worlds are in public domain, and any author is free to mix
and match them in any old way. They are both Mars stories,
written originally in or around the same era, and arguably the most famous
such stories of the age. Joining them up is as natural as Frankenstein
vs. Dracula. After all this time, the urge to merge them as
some sort of pastiche is as natural and relentless as gravity.
But is this simply a Frankenstein creation, a lumbering crudely sewn monster,
bolts sticking out of its neck, swinging about wildly as mismatched parts
grind together? Or is there the possibility of something more
Can we actually go into H.G. Wells, version of Mars and Martians and
find traces that we could call Barsoom? Is it possible to look
through the Barsoom stories and find things that would point towards Wells’
invaders? Could we actually locate the home of Wells’
Martians on Barsoom? Could we find related species?
Can we place Wells invaders in an ecologically and evolutionarily sensible
context on Barsoom?
In short, can Wells Mars and Martians, and Burroughs Barsoom be fit
I think that the answer to all these questions, is yes.
On the surface, the world of Barsoom has no place for the implacable
Wells' Martians. And on the other side of the coin, it hardly
seems that Wells contemplated humans or white apes or green men on Mars.
And yet, if we study the canon carefully, there does seem to be a bit of
imaginative scope within Wells which might admit to mixing in Barsoom.
Let us consider the Mars delivered to us by H.G. Wells.
From War of the Worlds, published in 1898, there is this broad description:
“The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind
the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles,
and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that
received by this world. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth,
older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life
upon its surface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely
one seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling
to the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water and
all that is necessary for the support of animated. Nor was
it generally understood that since Mars is older than our earth, with scarcely
a quarter of the superficial area and remoter from the sun, it necessarily
follows that it is not only more distant from time's beginning but nearer
its end. The secular cooling that must someday overtake our
planet has already gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its physical condition
is still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorial
region the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter.
Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans have shrunk until
they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slow seasons change huge
snowcaps gather and melt about either pole and periodically inundate its
temperate zones. That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly
remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars.
Their world is far gone in its cooling and this world is still crowded
The remark about oceans still covering a third of the world suggests that
even at this time, there was still some consensus that the dark spots were
oceans or seas. But even by this time, the idea was being increasingly
adopted that Mars oceans were gone, or at best, damp remnants.
The picture of Mars here as a dying world, its oceans withering, its air
attenuated, is not significantly different than the one Percival Lowell
would develop, or that Arnold in his Gulliver Jones might embrace.
It’s not too different from Burroughs' Barsoom, and in fact, in loose terms,
it represents the state of science knowledge and thought.
But Wells gives us a little bit more of his Mars. The year before
of the Worlds, he wrote a story called “The
Crystal Egg,” which stands as a sort of indirect prequel to War
of the Worlds. The story concerns an odd crystal object
in a vendor’s curio shop, and a Mister Cave, the proprietor of the shop
who discovers that he can see into the crystal, into another world, Mars.
Mister Cave’s world is identified as Mars within the story, and for
very good reasons. This world has a regular cycle of day and night
equal to our world, the sun is a little smaller, the midnight sky a little
darker, it has two small swiftly moving moons, and most damning,
the same stars and constellations, Sirius, the Pleiades, Aldebaran, and
the Great Bear, in our sky are recognizable on this world. . . Which
must mean that it is within the same solar system!
And the fact that the stars and constellations are the same, means that
the crystal egg is giving a glimpse into a location on the northern hemisphere
Wells' Martians on Mars
It isn’t clear whether Wells had War of the Worlds in mind when
he wrote “The Crystal Egg.” It’s quite possible, that he’s
got two different Mars in mind. In the Egg, Wells describes
three kinds of apparent being on Mars, the predominant one being a winged
flyer. But there is another Martian race, larger and more dangerous,
consider this excerpt from the short story:
“...on the causeways and terraces, large-headed
creatures similar to the greater winged flies, but wingless, were visible,
hopping busily upon their (two) hand-like tangle of tentacles....Mr. Cave
was unable to ascertain if the winged Martians were the same as the Martians
who hopped about the causeways and terraces, and if the latter could put
on wings at will. He several times saw (animals) feeding among certain
of the lichenous trees, and once some of these fled before one of the hopping,
round-headed Martians. The latter caught one in its tentacles, and then
the picture faded suddenly and left Mr. Cave most tantalisingly in the
My, my. So here Wells has large-headed or round-headed Martians,
wingless, with two tangles of tentacles, which move around the ground and
preying upon other creatures. Now, compare this description,
from War of the Worlds:
“They were, I now saw, the most unearthly
creatures it is possible to conceive. They were huge round bodies - or,
rather, heads - about four feet in diameter, each body having in front
of it a face. This face had no nostrils- indeed, the Martians do not seem
to have had any sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large darkcoloured
eyes, and just beneath this a kind of fleshy beak. In the back of this
head or body- I scarcely know how to speak of it - was the single tight
tympanic surface, since known to be anatomically an ear, though it must
have been almost useless in our dense air. In a group round the mouth were
sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two bunches of
eight each. These bunches have since been named rather aptly, by that distinguished
anatomist, Professor Howes, the hands. Even as I saw these Martians for
the first time they seemed to be endeavouring to raise themselves on these
hands, but of course, with the increased weight of terrestrial conditions,
this was impossible. There is reason to suppose that on Mars they may have
progressed upon them with some facility.”
Note the big heads, the common description of the tentacle clusters as
hands, and the facility with which the Martians on their home world hop
about on their ‘hands’, while the ones on Earth struggle to do so.
The Martians on both worlds are predators, preying on mammals or mammal-like
animals. These particular “Crystal Egg” Martians, seem very
close, perhaps identical to the War of the Worlds Martians.
As for Martian machines, in the “The Crystal Egg” we have these interesting
“On another occasion a vast thing, that
Mr. Cave thought at first was some gigantic insect, appeared advancing
along the causeway beside the canal with extraordinary rapidity. As this
drew nearer Mr. Cave perceived that it was a mechanism of shining metals
and of extraordinary complexity. And then, when he looked again, it had
passed out of sight.”
Not quite a Martian War Machine from War of the Worlds.
But it does have a loose passing resemblance to Wells description of the
Martians handling machines, which are described as swift, metallic insect-like
machines of extraordinary swiftness and complexity, as we see here:
“In this way the curious parallelism
to animal motions, which was so striking and disturbing to the human beholder,
was attained. Such quasi-muscles abounded in the crablike handling-machine
which, on my first peeping out of the slit, I watched unpacking the cylinder.
It seemed infinitely more alive than the actual Martians lying beyond it
in the sunset light, panting, stirring ineffectual tentacles, and moving
feebly after their vast journey across space.”
In short, “The Crystal Egg” seems an effective prelude to the War of
the Worlds, giving us a glimpse of Wells Martians on their home world.
There is a hidden subtext, one which Wells never alludes to, but which
must certainly have occurred to his readers, and which may have been in
The Crystal Egg, it is shown, is but one of many sitting on elevated
spires in the Martian city. Moreover, it is one that the flying
Martians periodically peer through, as they do others. It seems
that these Eggs have been sent out by the Martians to spy or observe other
worlds. Mr. Cave is so consumed by his observations that he
attempts to make contact with the Martians who occasionally observe....
And is later found dead. His death, while observing, is attributed
to natural causes, as he is a lonely man in poor health. A
mysterious stranger is out to buy the egg, which thereafter mysteriously
But was it? Certainly, the Martians seemed to be the source
of the Eggs. These Eggs were arranged in an organized fashion
within their city, and they seemed well aware of its use. But
just as clearly, they were employed for covert observation, one may assume
that if they wished to make actual contact with humans, they could have
easily devised some equivalent means. Mr. Cave’s death, coming
after his attempts to make contact with the Martians, and shadowed by the
mysterious purchaser and mysterious disappearance, leave a slight hint
of malicious proceedings....
Almost as if Cave’s Martians were planning something unpleasant for
our little world, perhaps an invasion? A ‘War’ of the
Now, we’ll be honest here. So far as I know, Wells never
came out and said, ‘The Crystal Egg’ was a warm up prequel
story for ‘War of the Worlds’, I was dropping a few hints to my fans, Mr.
Cave was killed by the invaders, and the Martians of that story are definitely
the ones of my novel.’ He never said any of that.
So, effectively, we are speculating. On the other hand,
the descriptions of some of the Martians and Machines of ‘The Crystal Egg’
resemble War of the Worlds Martians to an uncommon degree, even
to the same idiosyncratic terms of identification, such as ‘hands’ for
tentacle clusters. Mr. Cave is surrounded by suspicious events, and
the two stories are written only a year apart. So it’s almost
certain that ‘The Crystal Egg’ was either a very deliberate prequel, or
it was a notional prequel in which Wells began to develop the ideas and
images that later went into the novel. Either way, I think
we’re justified in treating the two stories as a whole: H.G.
So, what else do we learn about H.G. Wells Mars? Well,
first things first, the Martians that invade are not the only ones.
There are at least two other races of Martians, one of them quite surprising.
There is a winged race of Martians, as described by Mr. Cave:
“The air seemed full of squadrons of
great birds, manoeuvring in stately curves.....suddenly something flapped
repeatedly across the vision, like the fluttering of a jewelled fan or
the beating of a wing, and a face, or rather the upper part of a face with
very large eyes, came as it were close to his own and as if on the other
side of the crystal.....The attention of Mr. Cave had been speedily directed
to the bird-like creatures he had seen so abundantly present in each of
his earlier visions. His first impression was soon corrected, and he considered
for a time that they might represent a diurnal species of bat. Then he
thought, grotesquely enough, that they might be cherubs. Their heads were
round, and curiously human, and it was the eyes of one of them that had
so startled him on his second observation. They had broad, silvery wings,
not feathered, but glistening almost as brilliantly as new-killed fish
and with the same subtle play of colour, and these wings were not built
on the plan of a bird-wing or bat, but supported by curved ribs radiating
from the body. (A sort of butterfly wing with curved ribs seems best to
express their appearance.) The body was small, but fitted with two bunches
of prehensile organs, like long tentacles, immediately under the mouth.
It was these creatures which owned the great quasi-human buildings and
the magnificent garden that made the broad valley so splendid. And Mr.
Cave perceived that the buildings, with other peculiarities, had no doors,
but that the great circular windows, which opened freely, gave the
creatures egress and entrance. They would alight upon their tentacles,
fold their wings to a smallness almost rod-like, and hop into the interior.”
These creatures are so peculiar that Mr. Cave describes them first as bats,
then as birds, and then as cherubs. But clearly, they are non-human.
The picture is of ribbed insectlike wings, quite unlike those of bats,
which roll up. The creatures have humanlike round heads and
large eyes, small mouths, small bodies and two sets of tentacles beneath
the head which are used for both land travel and as hands.
It appears that they are most closely related to the ‘Big Head’ ground
hopping Martians, although it’s not at all clear what the relationship
is between the two kinds of Martians. We may be looking at two different
sexes, or at different life stages, or perhaps at two separate but related
species. Mr. Cave even speculates that perhaps the ground
hopping ‘big heads’ are the same creatures, who have some means of detaching
or removing their wings... A suggestion that perhaps the wings themselves
were artificial. However, Mr. Cave never sees wings detached,
and his ground hopping Martians seem different enough that they are clearly
not the same creature.
We presume that this race of winged Martians did not invade Earth in
of the Worlds because our gravity would be two much for their wings.
Mr. Cave saw his winged Martians as the dominant species, but this may
be due to his own vantage point, rather than objective reality.
Of course, the winged Martians and the ‘big head’ Martians, were not
the only creatures on Mars that Mr. Cave observed:
“But among them was a multitude of smaller-winged
creatures, like great dragon-flies and moths and flying beetles, and across
the greensward brilliantly-coloured gigantic ground-beetles crawled lazily
to and fro.”
“.....beyond this was a wide grassy lawn
on which certain broad creatures, in form like beetles but enormously larger,
In short, what we have here is an insectopia, a land of giant beetles and
dragon flies, both flying and crawling along the ground.
The implication here is that the flyers themselves, given the structure
of their wings, are probably of insectoid descent, which further implies
that the ‘big heads’ are also insectoid in origin.
Creatures on Wells Mars? Apes and Men, oh My!
There is, however, a very strange anomaly. Mr. Cave observes
“He several times saw certain clumsy
bipeds, dimly suggestive of apes, white and partially translucent, feeding
among certain of the lichenous trees, and once some of these fled before
one of the hopping, round-headed Martians. The latter caught one in its
tentacles, and then the picture faded suddenly.”
This is very peculiar. What is an apparent, mammal-like, endoskeletal
vertebrate, particularly a semi-bipedal ape creature, doing here in an
ecology otherwise dominated by insects and the Martians we’ve seen.
There is no room, in this ecology, and no time for a single advanced ape-like
vertebrate to evolve. So where does it come from?
Why describe this biped creature as an ape at all? Although
these tantalizing lines are all we have, we must assume that Mr. Cave deliberately
chose ‘ape’ rather than man, because its features, appearance, movement
were more apelike than manlike, despite its bipedal nature.
It is still remarkable though, and the ‘white apes’ of H.G. Wells stick
out like sore thumbs in his version of Mars. One is tempted
to speculate that here we may have the inspiration of Burroughs Great White
Apes of Mars.
But apparently, there are not just ‘white apes’ on Wells’ Mars, but
something very like humans, as we see in this passage in Chapter 2 of the
Second Part of War of the Worlds:
“Their undeniable preference for men
as their source of nourishment is partly explained by the nature of the
remains of the victims they had brought with them as provisions from Mars.
These creatures, to judge from the shrivelled remains that have fallen
into human hands, were bipeds with flimsy, silicious skeletons (almost
like those of the silicious sponges) and feeble musculature, standing about
six feet high and having round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets.
Two or three of these seem to have been brought in each cylinder, and all
were killed before earth was reached. It was just as well for them, for
the mere attempt to stand upright upon our planet would have broken every
bone in their bodies.”
These bipeds are definitely not Mr. Cave’s ‘white apes.’
They have round erect heads and large eyes in flinty sockets, suggesting
something very close to human. Little more can be told about
them, since obviously, they were killed before reaching Earth, their bodies
shrivelled utterly drained of fluid by the Martians, and now subject to
extensive decomposition and the shock of Earthfall. Whether
their flimsy spongelike skeletons were natural to their lives, or some
side effect of their drainage, shock of impact and decomposition is arguable.
Like the apes, these Manlike creatures are also the prey of the ‘big
head’ martians, and they’re just as inconsistent with the other glimpses
of Martian life that Mr. Cave spies through his egg.
In fact, these Martian humans and apes seem rather more suggestive of
Barsoom. One can, after all, be suspicious that Burroughs may
have read ‘The Crystal Egg’, but we can be almost sure that he read War
of the Worlds.
Like Burroughs' red and green men, and for that matter, like the Kaldanes,
Wells’ Martians are telepathic:
“I watched them closely time after time,
and that I have seen four, five, and (once) six of them sluggishly performing
the most elaborately complicated operations together without either sound
or gesture. I have a certain claim to at least an elementary knowledge
of psychology, and in this matter I am convinced- as firmly as I am convinced
of anything- that the Martians interchanged thoughts without any physical
intermediation. And I have been convinced of this in spite of strong preconceptions.
Before the Martian invasion, as an occasional reader here or there may
remember, I had written with some little vehemence against the telepathic
Finally, let’s take a moment to consider the vegetation seen in the Crystal
“There were also trees curious in shape,
and in colouring, a deep mossy green and an exquisite grey, beside a wide
and shining canal.... The terrace overhung a thicket of the most luxuriant
and graceful vegetation, and beyond this was a wide grassy lawn....beyond
that, and lined with dense red weeds.... among a forest of
moss-like and lichenous trees... that it was these creatures which
owned the great quasi-human buildings and the magnificent garden that made
the broad valley so splendid. ... “
The red weeds, of course, provide another layer of identity to link ‘The
Crystal Egg’ with The War of the Worlds, suggesting that Wells was
using the same ideas for both, or perhaps that the two stories were genuinely
“Apparently the vegetable kingdom in
Mars, instead of having green for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red
tint. At any rate, the seeds which the Martians (intentionally or accidentally)
brought with them gave rise in all cases to red-coloured growths. Only
that known popularly as the red weed, however, gained any footing in competition
with terrestrial forms. The red creeper was quite a transitory growth,
and few people have seen it growing.”
But the descriptions of plants are not too different from those that Burroughs
himself uses, earthly plants with slightly unearthly colours and shapes.
Overall, the description of the fertile valley is almost similar to that
of the Valley Dor.
And finally, let me humorously quote this bit of Wells, and have the
reader think of Burroughs red men:
“The Martians wore no clothing. Their
conceptions of ornament and decorum were necessarily different from ours;
and not only were they evidently much less sensible of changes of temperature
than we are, but changes of pressure do not seem to have affected their
health at all seriously.”
Its almost tempting to see a shadow of influence there.
Did Burroughs initial fantasies involve a heroic Earthman turning the tables
on the Martians, perhaps rescuing a nude, telepathic captive princess from
the tentacled monsters of pure intelligence that preyed upon her race?
It’s almost tempting to see the bald Therns, cannibal intellectuals preying
on the red Martians much as Wells Martians must have preyed upon Wells
Marsmen, as a sort of stepped down version. The sumptuous garden
of the Valley Dor is more than a little reminiscent of the lush valley
seen by Mr. Cave, right down to the ‘white apes.’ And
of course, the Kaldanes of the later Chessmen
of Mars seem strangely reminiscent of Wells invaders. There
are peculiar similarities in the shades and descriptions of vegetation,
as between Burroughs and Wells, perhaps the one coloured the other?
is all just groundless speculation. I’m being mischievous,
after all, if Mr. Lupoff can claim that Arnold’s Gulliver Jones is the
for John Carter’s Barsoom, I think that with equal merit, I can offer up
Wells’ Mars as an equivalent inspiration. It’s not at all certain
that Burroughs ever saw Gulliver Jones, but he almost certainly read Wells’
novel, and quite probably his short story.
The real truth of the matter, is that all three, and for that matter,
other writers, were truly influenced by the astronomers of their
day, particularly Lowell and Schiaparelli. Their similar visions
of Mars as desperate dying worlds laced by canals and hosting human and
inhuman races is born of the science and prejudices of the day.
But what the hell, I didn’t put White Apes and Humans on H.G. Wells
Mars, he did that himself. And having done so, we can’t
say that perhaps there wasn’t some slight influence on Burroughs.
Barsoom may well include Wells’ Mars, or Wells’ Mars might have contained
the seeds of Barsoom.
Creatures on Barsoom: Kaldanes and Rykors, Oh My!
Now, take a moment and consider again Wells' descriptions of his Martian
invaders, (dubbed Sarmaks by George Alec Effinger in his John Carter story,
and dubbed Marvaders by certain fans, both names obvious plays on Martian):
“They were huge round bodies- or, rather,
heads- about four feet in diameter, each body having in front of it a face.
This face had no nostrils- indeed, the Martians do not seem to have had
any sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large darkcoloured eyes,
and just beneath this a kind of fleshy beak. In the back of this head or
body- I scarcely know how to speak of it- was the single tight tympanic
surface, since known to be anatomically an ear, though it must have been
almost useless in our dense air. In a group round the mouth were sixteen
slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two bunches of eight each.
These bunches have since been named rather aptly, by that distinguished
anatomist, Professor Howes, the hands. .....their physiology differed
strangely from ours. Their organisms did not sleep, any more than the heart
of man sleeps. Since they had no extensive muscular mechanism to recuperate,
that periodical extinction was unknown to them. They had little or no sense
of fatigue, it would seem. On earth they could never have moved without
effort, yet even to the last they kept in action. In twenty-four hours
they did twenty-four hours of work, as even on earth is perhaps the case
with the ants.”
Meanwhile, we have Burroughs' Kaldanes from the Chessmen of Mars,
bodiless heads that ride headless bodies. The Kaldanes inhabit
a lost section of Barsoom called Bantoom. The Rykors are humanoid
bodies, apparently derived from some Barsoomian primate and cross bred
with Barsoomian humans to have only residual heads. They appear,
without Kaldanes, to be crawling creatures, able to breath and move about,
but barely able to feed themselves.:
“The heads were hideously human and grotesquely
inhuman at the same time. The eyes were far apart and protruding.
The nose scarce more than two parallel vertical slits set vertically above
a round hole that was the mouth.... the loathesome head rolled from the
body and was now crawling on six short spider like legs.... two stout
chelae which grew just in front of its legs and resembled an earthly lobster....
he extended a little bundle of tentacles from the posterior part of the
Wells discusses the internal structure of his Martians, essentially giant
brains with severely atrophied organs:
“The internal anatomy, I may remark here,
as dissection has since shown, was almost equally simple. The greater part
of the structure was the brain, sending enormous nerves to the eyes, ear,
and tactile tentacles. Besides this were the bulky lungs, into which the
mouth opened, and the heart and its vessels. And this
was the sum of the Martian organs. Strange as it may seem to a human being,
all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes up the bulk of our
bodies, did not exist in the Martians. They were heads- merely heads. Entrails
they had none. They did not eat, much less digest. Instead, they took the
fresh, living blood of other creatures, and injected it into their own
veins. I have myself seen this being done, as I shall mention in its place.
But, squeamish as I may seem, I cannot bring myself to describe what I
could not endure even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood
obtained from a still living animal, in most cases from a human being,
was run directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal....
The physiological advantages of the practice of injection are undeniable,
if one thinks of the tremendous waste of human time and energy occasioned
by eating and the digestive process.”
The Kaldanes, similarly, are brains with very little else going for them,
as Ghek tells us in Chessmen of Mars:
“Your brain is bound by the limitations
of your body. Not so ours. With us, brain is everything.
Ninety per centum of our volume is brain. We have only the
simplest of vital organs and they are very small for they do not have to
assist in the support of a complicated system of nerves, muscle, flesh
and bone. We have no lungs for we do not require air...."
Wells discusses his Martian’s abandonment of bodies:
“Our bodies are half made up of glands
and tubes and organs, occupied in turning heterogeneous food into blood.
The digestive processes and their reaction upon the nervous system sap
our strength and colour our minds. Men go happy or miserable as they have
healthy or unhealthy livers, or sound gastric glands. But the Martians
were lifted beyond human frailties.”
The Kaldanes attitude towards bodies, is flatly contemptuous:
“When your body becomes fatigued, you
are comparatively useless. When it is sick, you are sick. If
it killed you die. You are the slave of a stupid mass of useless
flesh and bone and blood. There is nothing more wonderful about your
carcass than the carcass of a banth. It is only your brain that makes
you superior to a Banth, but your brain is limited by your body.”
And beyond that, Wells discusses their hypothetical origins and evolution
in very Kaldane-like terms:
“It is worthy of remark that a certain
speculative writer of quasi-scientific repute, writing long before the
Martian invasion, did forecast for man a final structure not unlike the
actual Martian condition. His prophecy, I remember, appeared in November
or December, 1893, in a long-defunct publication, the Pall Mall Budget,
and I recall a caricature of it in a pre-Martian periodical called Punch.
He pointed out- writing in a foolish, facetious tone- that the perfection
of mechanical appliances must ultimately supersede limbs; the perfection
of chemical devices, digestion; that such organs as hair, external nose,
teeth, ears, and chin were no longer essential parts of the human being,
and that the tendency of natural selection would lie in the direction of
their steady diminution through the coming ages. The brain alone remained
a cardinal necessity. Only one other part of the body had a strong case
for survival, and that was the hand, "teacher and agent of the brain."
While the rest of the body dwindled, the hands would grow larger.
There is many a true word written in jest, and here in the Martians we
have beyond dispute the actual accomplishment of such a suppression of
the animal side of the organism by the intelligence. To me it is quite
credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves,
by a gradual development of brain and hands (the latter giving rise to
the two bunches of delicate tentacles at last) at the expense of the rest
of the body. Without the body the brain would, of course, become a mere
selfish intelligence, without any of the emotional substratum of the human
Meanwhile, the Kaldanes look forward to that same relentless process of
"From the beginning of time, Nature has
laboured arduously towards the consummation of this purpose.
At the very beginning, things existed with life, but with no brain.
Gradually, rudimentary nervous systems and minute brains evolved.
Evolution proceeded. The brains became larger and more powerful.
In us, you see the highest development; but there are those of us who believe
that there is yet another step - that some time in the future, our race
will develop into the super-thing, just brain. The incubus
of legs and chelae and vital organs will be removed.
The future Kaldane will be nothing but a great brain.”
“We men, with our bicycles and road-skates,
our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns and sticks and so forth, are
just in the beginning of the evolution that the Martians have worked out.
They have become practically mere brains, wearing different bodies according
to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and take a bicycle in
a hurry or an umbrella in the wet.”
refers to the Martians Machines, of course. But the Kaldanes
also have bodies that they put on and take off according to their needs,
wearing their Rykors like we wear suits of clothes.
There are other similarities. Both races seem strongly telepathic.
Both reproduce asexually, the Wells’ Martians by budding, and the Kaldanes
by clone eggs laid by a single ‘King’.
Thus, with Wells’ Martians and Burrough’s Kaldanes, we have two creatures
that exhibit some physical similarities, but interestingly, the deeper
you go into their philosophies and evolution, the more identical they become.
I speculated earlier, of course, that Burroughs might well have taken
some inspiration from Wells’ War of the Worlds, but when it
comes to the Chessmen of Mars, its impossible not to believe that
Burroughs had read Wells and that his Kaldanes were influenced strongly
by Wells’ Martians, to the extent that one is clearly related to or descended
from the other.
Clearly, the Kaldanes are Burroughs' adoption and modification of Wells’
Martians. A tribute or borrowing if you will. Thus,
in any taxonomical sense, the two races are clearly linked.
Thus, we have an interesting bit of reciprocity. H.G. Wells
gave us white apes and humans on his Mars, as well as telepathy and red
and purple vegetation. Burroughs gives us evolved, bodiless
brains committed to cold intellect, wearing bodies like clothes.
Wells and Burroughs Mars now have at least five points of significant overlap.
We have come full circle, H.G. Wells’ Mars is on Barsoom.
Wells' Martians on Barsoom
But then, of course, we must ask... If Wells Mars is Barsoom,
then where on Barsoom are Wells Martians?
As always, geography rules. First let us turn
to descriptions of the geography that Mr. Cave sees in his crystal:
“The view, as Mr. Cave described it,
was invariably of an extensive plain, and he seemed always to be looking
at it from a considerable height, as if from a tower or a mast. To the
east and to the west the plain was bounded at a remote distance by vast
reddish cliffs. These cliffs passed north and south -- receding in an almost
illimitable perspective and fading into the mists of the distance before
they met. He was nearer the eastern set of cliffs.... and passing
up the valley exactly parallel with the distant cliffs, was a broad and
mirror-like expanse of water... a wide and shining canal.”
All right, first of all, this is real geography we’re talking here.
Mr. Cave’s view is from a high elevation, perhaps hundreds of feet in the
air, and clear in every direction. The features he sees are
entirely unambiguous, and more, they seem large enough and distinctive
enough to actually be able to locate. This isn’t a case, for
instance, of some guy who describes his home as ‘between a couple of low
hills, with a winding river,’ rather, the geography described should stand
out like a sore thumb.
This is a large plain, likely several miles, or even dozens of miles
across, bounded on both sides by ranges of red cliffs. These
cliffs run roughly north to south, and are vast and immense, so extensive
that they vanish into the distance without apparent diminishment.
A river or canal runs down the centre. And obviously, we have
to be in the northern hemisphere, or no lower than the equator, because
we can see northern hemisphere stars from this valley.
Okay, so with a description like that, it should be hard to miss.
The first thought, of course, whenever we think of a giant valley on Mars
with high cliff walls, is obviously Valles Marinis, but unfortunately,
that immense canyon system runs east to west, not north to south.
Besides, on Barsoom, the Valles Marinis is well established as being the
site of the Toonolian Marshes for over half its length, and as identified
broken canyons and forest areas for the balance, the whole area being well
colonized by red man city states, so there’s no room for Wells' Martians
But here’s the truly interesting thing. If we go and look
at the MOLA topographic Map of Mars (never leave home without it) we can
actually find a little piece of Mars that fits our requirements.
If we take a look at the area of Mars known as the Tharsis (the big
brown mass with white spots) highlands, and if we look further on the left
side, between the immense central volcano Olympus Mons (the big white spot),
and the group of volcanoes collectively known as Tharsis Montes (the
central trio of white spots), we see a remarkable feature resembling the
spikes of a green trident sticking out from Tharsis. This is
the area of approximately 5 degrees latitude, and -140 degrees longitude
on the topographic map.
Now, if you are employing the internet version of the Topographic map,
you can actually zoom in on features. We can see close up on
this little trident feature, and we’ll see that the central prong of the
trident is actually a long straight cliff or mountain range, moving roughly
north/south (actually, slightly off true north, perhaps northwest), as
is the inner prong of the trident, closest to Tharsis. Effectively,
what we have here is a wide, deep, flat valley running and opening between
two roughly north/south straight cliff ranges. In short, we
seem to have found a far better geographical match than we deserve.
And, of course, there is more. The Tharsis mound is a highland
region, the highest on Mars. Created by volcanic uplift, it is well
above the level of Barsoomian clouds. As with mountain
ranges on Earth, it’s a barrier to water bearing clouds and water vapours.
Thus, we can expect that water clouds and moisture in the atmosphere, travelling
through the air, encounters the Tharsis barrier and can go no further.
The clouds, bunching up like a traffic jam, release their moisture as rain,
or as streams and rivers flowing down the Tharsis cliffs. And
of course, where geography shapes or guides the clouds and moisture into
geographical corners and cul de sacs you will get an accumulation of water.
Thus, our valley, bordered by two sets of cliffs, and extending out
from Tharsis, just south of the largest mountain on Mars, is likely to
be extremely well watered, with a healthy river or canal extending out
upon Barsoom. This explains the lushness, as compared to most
of Barsoom. It fits.
This area is in a largely unexplored portion of Barsoom, the impenetrable
and barren Tharsis highland acts as a barrier to exploration from the east,
and the western cliffs would also act to conceal it. Cartographers
or explorers would take the Western cliffs as the beginnings of Tharsis,
and not the sign of a valley. Only by entering the mouth of
the Valley would it be discovered.
And of course, there are a couple of collateral bits of evidence.
It is just north of the area we have provisionally identified as the Kaldane’s
Bantoom, and there is speculation that Wells Martians may well be related
to the Kaldanes.
Meanwhile, it is south of the area of Tempus Terra in the northern edges
of the Tharsis Mound, an area we have identified provisionally as the Opal
Sea and Hither lands of Gulliver Jones. In the League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen, of course, Gulliver Jones is depicted as leading
his Hither against the Martians. And geographically at least,
this seems feasible. Gulliver would simply have lead his people around
the edge of Tharsis, skirting Olympus Mons and then heading straight down
Further, the redoubt or fortress of the Martians in Alan Moore’s comic,
is depicted as being inside an immense valley surmounted by high cliffs
on either side.... A valley mis-identified by some as Valles Marinis,
but whose appearance and description match may match well enough to the
trident valley we’ve identified on the topographic map.
Around on the other side of Tharsis, and comfortably back in Burroughs,
is the shallow end of Valles Marinis, hosting dried forested portions of
the Kaolian region, inhabited by at least a few species of giant insect,
notably the wasplike sith.
A final thought takes us back to Wells. Obviously, the most
benign spot for the Martians to launch their cylinders would be from the
Equator. And in order to construct their immense cannon, they
would need access to both vast amounts of energy and metals.
The volcanic Tharsis region would probably be the richest source of minerals
and geothermal energy on the planet, as well as a perfect launch site.
In short, not only is the geography of Wells’ Martian region consistent
with a bit of real geography on the actual Mars, but it fits in quite well
with Burroughs Barsoom, and with Alan Moore’s pastiche.
of Wells' Martians on Barsoom
Here is the problem. How shall I put it?
Wells’ Martians seem biologically.... Inconsistent, on Barsoom.
Just as Wells’ apes and humans seem somewhat inconsistent on his Mars.
Think about it. Barsoom is wall to wall vertebrates, everything
has an internal skeleton, and all too often, way too many limbs.
There’s no shortage of bone and muscle, tooth and claw, and animal attributes
of every sort.
Meanwhile, the Kaldanes seem peculiarly out of place. Obviously,
they’re not vertebrates, they are not creatures of internal skeletons.
They possess insectlike legs and chelae. Wells’ Martians with
their soft round bodies, waving tentacles and rudimentary organs seem similarly
foreign to the Barsoomian ecology that we know. The Wells’
Martian life we see in the crystal egg includes a flying species, equally
alien to Barsoom as we know it, with both tentacles and insectlike legs,
and further, most of the fauna we see through Wells crystal egg is insect
life, including gigantic beetles.
So where do these creatures come from? Allan Moore,
in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen seems to have Gulliver
Jones and John Carter suggesting that Wells’ Martians are themselves alien
invaders to Mars. Essentially, that they’re foreign to Barsoom.
Moore obviously was wrestling, in part, with the same problem that I am.
The Wells’ Martians obviously seem foreign to the ecological context of
Barsoomian life. They don’t seem to fit.
This theory is espoused by fans and Wold Newton writers, and even by
later day science fiction, such as the 1980's War of the Worlds
TV series which acknowledged Mars was a dead planet, and therefore the
invaders must be from farther out.
Well, the ‘alien hypothesis’ would solve a lot of problems, but it doesn’t
seem to hold up.
In Burroughs Chessmen of Mars, it seems clear that the Kaldanes
evolved as a sort of spider or insect. Specifically, the Kaldanes
co-evolved with their Rykors, and are definitely home grown Barsoomians.
This poses a problem. The Kaldanes are all too clearly
close relatives to Wells Martians. If the Kaldanes are home
grown, then so are Wells Martians.
Moreover, Wells himself, in both his “Crystal Egg” and his War of
the Worlds offers no suggestion that his Martians are from anywhere
but Mars. Quite clearly, their evolution is consistent with
his view of Mars as an ancient and dying world.
So on a strict reading of the canonical text, it seems that they are
stuck on and with Barsoom.
Alan Moore’s version of John Carter notwithstanding, the Wells' Martians
are local boys, just like the Kaldanes, Green Men, Red Men, Hither, etc.
It should be noted that John Carter, in Moore, is bent on genocide.
He’s united the entire rest of the planet with the sole objective of wiping
these creatures out, so it may make sense that he refers to them as foreign
Wells gives no taxonomy or evolution for the Martians, at one point,
he warns that they could have evolved from creatures like us, but in the
"Crystal Egg," he seems to place them in an ecology dominated by, or based
on, insects, which suggests that they are ultimately some form of insect
(On the logic that if the dominant lifeform is a big critter, and your
planet’s ecology is dominated by dinosaurs, then your dominant critter
is a dinosaur, or if your ecology is dominated by mammals, the apex creature,
Man, is probably a mammal).
So, what are we to make of this? The most rational conclusion
is that both the Kaldanes and Wells’ Martians are highly evolved insect
life forms. Well, evolution doesn’t just produce one
off's or happy monsters. If you had highly evolved insect forms
like Wells’ Martians and Burroughs' Kaldanes, you have to have a variety
of other evolved insects, effectively, several lines of species, and even
an insect ecology.
And in fact, this is what Wells’ shows us through the "Crystal Egg."
Interestingly, Burroughs also hints at other highly evolved insects in
the form of the Sith, a giant wasp of the Kaolian forest, and the giant
spiders of Ghasta in the southern hemisphere. It’s hard to
see how Burroughs' own giant insects, the Sith and Spiders could have evolved
in ecologies so dominated by vertebrates.
The conclusion must be that on Barsoom, there was a parallel,
isolated ecology of insect life, separate from the principal ecologies
of the vertebrate life. Where was this?
We can rule out the life around the polar ocean. Although
divided into three lobes or great seas, all of these ocean shores would
have been filled by fish and colonized by various sorts of lobe fin fish.
Thus, the oceans and their shores would be dominated by vertebrate life.
The Hellas Basin, or Torquas Sea, had conditions far too similar to
the ocean shores, and was likely colonized by vertebrate life moving overland
from several directions. The ring of uplands around Hellas
was too gradual, and broken in too many places to prevent infiltration
from the species moving out from the shorelines.
Meanwhile, the Argyre basin, the site of the Valley Dor and Sea of Korus,
appears to have evolved as a plant utopia, eventually producing carnivorous
plants and the remarkable plant men.
In contrast, the insect utopia that produced the Kaldanes and other
remarkable forms, has to have four requirements:
1) It had to be remote from the other areas and
geographically distinct, there had to be physical barriers of some sort
to prevent Vertebrate life from invading and overwhelming the insect forms,
or vice versa (depending on which line of evolution was advancing first
and which had the most potential). In short, it had to be literally
locked off or isolated.
In fact, the area of Mars most likely to satisfy all of these conditions
is roughly where we find the Kaldanes and Wells Martians. Just
south, in the shadow of the Tharsis bulge: This would be a
region, protected through much of its northern area by the Tharsis cliffs
and highlands, an impassable barrier for life on Mars. Directly south
is the South pole. On the East and West, this area is about as far
as you can get from either the Hellas or Argyre sea basins, both of which
are isolated by mountain and highland barriers. From either of these
basins, you would have to pass through a lot of extremely rough and unforgiving
desert and mountain territory to get to this region. Further, the
region just below Tharsis is itself broken up by low mountain and highland
barriers. In short, it is likely to be (and still is in John
Carter’s time) one of the most difficult and inaccessible regions on the
planet. So, it’s a perfect site for an ecological island.
2) It had to be reasonably hospitable to life.
Obviously, we couldn’t be looking at a sparse desert, but rather, something
hospitable enough and stable enough that it could support a rich distinctive
ecology, and the opportunity for that ecology to refine and diversify itself
over millions of years.
3) But it had to have conditions sufficiently different
from those the vertebrates thrived in that they could not easily colonize
the region. In short, there had to be a certain degree
of ‘unfriendliness’ whether this be in the severity of seasons, the distribution
of water, the average temperatures, temperature extremes, etc.
4) There has to be some geographical relationship of sophisticated
insect species now, even assuming that they diffused out of their homeland.
For instance, we don’t see Kangaroos in England, nor do we see Bears in
New Zealand. However, we do see Kangaroos in New Guineau, which
was once connected to Australia. And we can trace Bears from
Europe to Asia to North America, areas which are or were all geographically
related. By this same token, we should be reluctant to assume
that major insect species simply plopped down randomly on the planet, or
evolved in the regions that they are now in. Rather, we should
assume that they evolved in some central or common region, and either remained
there or traveled to their current habitats in sensible ways.
However, the harsh and inaccessible conditions of the surrounding terrain
do not necessarily mean that this region itself is harsh. It
is likely to be well watered by drainage down from Tharsis, and its edges
are close enough to the polar seas that primitive life might well make
it into the region from time to time, depending on climactic conditions.
Such life might well find a potential garden of Eden with all the requirements
to support a blooming ecology.
Of course, garden of eden is a relative term. Normally,
for life, Martian nights and days elsewhere are moderated by the polar
ocean or the south hemisphere seas. These large bodies of water
regulate climate by soaking up heat during the day and releasing it during
the night, much as oceans and seas do on Earth. Thus, in the
lowland regions of these areas, the climate is pretty steady, from day
to night and from summer to winter. The temperature changes,
but the fluctuations are not savagely extreme. On the
other hand, without a large body of water to regulate temperatures, fluctuations
become extreme, days are sweltering, nights are freezing, summers are blistering,
winters are savage. I have personal experience of this, having
grown up on the Atlantic coast and moved out to the Canadian prairies.
One could only expect that conditions on Barsoom beneath Tharsis, well
away from any moderating body of water, would be more extreme.
These strong fluctuations in temperature would certainly act as a barrier
to more advanced vertebrates, who were more adapted to relatively stable
climates. The temperature ranges would get them, again and
again. Even for desert adapted vertebrates more used to temperature
ranges, the large amounts of moisture and water in the region would combine
with temperature to form a barrier. It wouldn’t keep the vertebrates
out of the region forever, but it would hold them off for a good long time,
allowing life in this region to develop in its own way.
Finally, it makes sense in terms of the dispersal that we are familiar
with. The Kaldanes of Bantoom are still in or near the homeland.
The Wells’ Martians have clearly moved out, occupying a valley once bordering
an ancient sea, but still hugging the line of the Tharsis bulge.
The Sith of the Kaolian forest has also followed the Tharsis bulge, moving
even further. Meanwhile, the spiders of Ghasta have spread
within the southern hemisphere, not too far from the homeland.
The species distribution either diffuses overland through the southern
hemisphere, or follows the outlines of Tharsis. It works.
Here we might expect Barsoomian insects to evolve into sophisticated
and gigantic forms over long ages, and to even develop sophisticated brains
and societies. Of course, the Insect Utopia would not
endure indefinitely on Barsoom.
Sooner or later, the vertebrates would evolve to the point where their
species would invade the insect regions. Among the earliest invaders
might have been the Great White Apes and Banths who seem ubiquitous across
the planet. We note that in Bantoom, the Rykors have long been
incorporated into the Kaldane’s evolution and society, and that they are
familiar with the depredations of Banths (although practically no other
vertebrate animal intrudes). Even in the Wells’ Martians secluded
valley, white apes appear. Life adapts, evolves and expands.
It is inevitable that life forms would spread to every point they could
reach, and as they grew more sophisticated and adaptable, their reach would
expand. Eventually, the insect utopia would be breached.
The result would be a mass extinction of much of the sophisticated insect
life. It’s likely that the insects of Barsoom, as on
Earth, simply had less potential and more handicaps than the vertebrates.
With more potential to exploit, the vertebrates would inevitably out-compete
and wipe out most insects. There’s also the comparative sizes of
the two competing ecologies. The Insect Utopia occupied at
most, a fertile crescent in the shadows of Tharsis and some hinterlands.
A few million square miles at most. In comparison, vertebrate
life dominated the polar sea shorelines and lowlands as well as the Hellas
basin. Their territory was tens of millions of square miles.
Competitive pressures were stronger in the diverse and manifold vertebrate
regions, their species were more adaptable and robust.
It would be similar to that experienced when old world fauna invaded
through North America into South America. Many South American
species, with less potential, from a smaller ecological area and therefore
less robust, were simply wiped out.
Pockets of insect life would survive in isolated regions, of course.
The heartlands of insect utopia would provide the best refuges for insects
and the greatest challenges for vertebrates. The more robust insects
would fight back against the vertebrate invasion, surviving in the new
ecology and even spreading into vertebrate regions, as we see with the
spiders and sith. The vertebrates would incorporate these new
insect species into their ecology, just as, in certain areas, vertebrates
would be incorporated into the bastions of the remaining insect ecology.
It would be at this point that the Kaldanes and Wells two races of Martian
would split off from each other, maintaining their own isolated ecological
enclaves. The Kaldanes clearly began to enter into symbiotic
relationships with host vertebrates, suggesting that their areas had become
a mixed insect/vertebrate ecology. The Wells’ races of
Martians, in contrast, appeared to have remained much further in the core
of the remaining pure insect ecology. Without the limitations
of symbiotic vertebrates, the big heads became even bigger, doubtless using
their mental faculties to best advantage. The big heads eventually
began to prey on vertebrates, but vertebrates remained a relatively small
part of the ecology in these areas. The flyers likely dominated
the cliffsides of Tharsis.
As Barsoom began its long decline, and the seas vanished, it appears
that the big heads and flyers left the shadow of Tharsis, whose environment
had begun to deteriorate, and moved to a sheltered valley adjacent one
of the former seas. They were clearly seeking a more stable
geographical area, and a watered river or canal valley bounded on both
sides by long impenetrable cliffs would be both eminently defensible and
feature extremely stable climate.
A Little Problem
There is one small obstacle to unifying Wells and Burroughs Mars.
Wells’ Mars had themselves quite a loud and nasty invasion of Earth, round
about 1898-1899. Neither John Carter nor any other of
Burroughs protagonists, in the series, ever actually refer or say anything
that could be construed as a reference to this invasion.
This has got to be a pretty big gap. After all, one can
imagine that if Martians with tentacles and crap like that had trashed
England in their giant machines, this would have certainly coloured views
for a long time. John Carter’s arrival on Barsoom was
around 1867 or thereabouts, so obviously, wouldn’t have been influenced
by the War of the Worlds.
But why on Earth would Gulliver Jones or Ulysses Paxton want to go there,
given that their journeys were taking place well after the Martian invasions,
when presumably everyone knew what the Martians were like?
In the case of Jones, we might make an excuse or two for him, his adventures
were published in 1905, so they occurred before this. It is possible
that his journey to Mars occurred before the War of the Worlds.
On the other hand, Paxton goes to Mars during WWI, around 1917, or nearly
twenty years after the Martian Invasion. Surely he’s got to
suspect that its not all Red Princesses and Green Men.
But there’s never a mention or a hint, not even so much as an awkward
silence. That’s a bit hard to swallow.
Of course, we can offer some fairly speculative explanations.
We can assume that the world was not so tightly woven together in those
days. Thus, for America and for Europe, England was a remote
far off country. In 2001, the entire world watched the World
Trade Centres fall. But 1899 is a different country, communication
is slower and less immediate. The telegraph could splash the
news of the Martian invasion of England onto front pages in America, but
the information will come through laboriously slow as a series of dots
and dashes, there will be no photographs, descriptions and reports will
be terse and second hand. There won’t be front page photos,
live television, or endless camcorder records. At best, you’ll
get a few badly drawn sketches based on secondhand information.
In short, for much of the world, the impact of a Martian invasion of
England, might not have the same immediate and worldwide impact as a major
terrorist attack or disaster like the Tsunami in the modern day.
The world of 1899 was far more accepting of the notion of life, of intelligent
life, on other worlds, so that would not necessarily have been as shocking.
Meanwhile, a number of factors would have limited the shock and acted to
restore complacency. The invasion seemed confined to England,
and the invasion was remarkably short lived, only a matter of weeks.
Finally, the Martians simply were unable to cope with Earth’s conditions,
clearly shutting the door on the whole matter.
So, one might imagine a stir for a year or two, but eventually, people
would settle down, get on with their lives and forget about it.
Particularly when no further invasions are forthcoming. I imagine
the English would still be somewhat traumatized, but John Carter, Gulliver
Jones and Ulysses Paxton are all Americans.
One thing which would certainly insert itself into public consciousness
is the fact that there are humans, or humanoids on Mars, in addition to
the ugly Wells creatures. So, doubtless all sorts of fancies
or fantasies would be spun to the public to explain both humans and the
failure of the big heads to return.
Of course, this might explain the failure of the War of the Worlds
to create a big long lasting ripple. But still, there must have been
some awkward moments between Carter and his nephew.
Indeed, if we’re willing to read generously into Burroughs canon, one
very peculiar fact does stand out. There are, awkward pauses
for which there is no apparent explanation.
Consider, according to these timelines:
John Carter goes to Mars originally in 1866, returns to Earth
in 1876 and leaves for Barsoom again in 1886, after which Burroughs finds
his manuscript for Princess of Mars.
In 1898, John Carter returns to visit Burroughs and tell him of his
and his son’s adventures. This is just before the War of
the Worlds, which likely takes place sometime between 1898 and 1900
(call it 1899). So obviously, the conversations and discussions
between them are not tainted by the War of the Worlds.
But then, following the War of the Worlds, there is a twenty
seven year gap to John Carter’s next visit in 1925. Well, that’s
a huge awkward silence, is it not? It seems a cold chill
has descended between Earth and Mars for an entire generation, possibly
as an indirect result of the Martian invasion?
The next contact is five years later, via Paxton and the Gridley Wave,
in 1935. And ten years later, in 1940, there is another Gridley
Wave transmission from Paxton.
Now, here’s something very peculiar. Despite the clear fact
that Burroughs is receiving Gridley Wave transmissions in the '30s and
'40s, there is no official contact between Mars and Earth until the Moon
Maid reports it in 1967.
Again, there’s an inexplicable cold radio silence for thirty years,
where the channels seem open, but Earth isn’t officially willing to receive.
Is this further evidence of fallout of chill from the War of the Worlds?
Or how about this: Although Burroughs has received
the Princess of Mars manuscript as early as 1886, and hears the
next three stories by 1898, it isn’t until decades have passed before Princess
of Mars is published in 1912, with the three succeeding stories coming
out of the next decade.
Now, it may be curious why Burroughs does not publish John Carter’s
manuscript between 1886 and 1898, but perhaps he feels no need to do so.
It’s an odd curio. However, in 1898, he’s now in possession
of no less than four manuscripts.... So why does it take well
over a decade to publish them?
Or for that matter, Arnold’s Gulliver Jones may well take place
prior to 1898, but is not published until 1905. Why the delay?
Because, in 1899, the Martian invasion occurs, and after that, adventures
of humans on Mars are literary poison. The public has well established
ideas of what Martians look like, what Mars is like, and what the relationship
to earth is, all horrible, and simply will not look at anything that deviates
from those ideas.
Over time, the idea of humans on Mars percolates through of course.
The shock of the invasion wears off. The trauma diminishes,
and slowly, people become more open. As the ‘big head’ Martians
become trite and cliched, people become more and more fascinated by the
tantalizing evidence that there are indeed human martians, whose remains
were found in the invaders capsules.
The ‘literary chill’ is so profound that it takes Arnold six years to
publish Gulliver, which essentially merely tests the waters and
is unsuccessful. Burroughs waits a full thirteen years for
the sting of the Martian invasion to fade before offering up John Carter’s
manuscript, and only after it is successful, does he release the others,
one at a time, all of the time, carefully avoiding the very impolitic fact
of the invasion.
Only after the manuscripts success is confirmed, does John Carter dare
to return to earth to carry on his relationship with is nephew.
How John Carter determines that the manuscripts have been successful is
another question. He may simply have decided to wait a good
decade before checking things out.
Despite the thawing of the literary and social chill, of course, there
is a political chill. Thus gridley wave radio contact between the
two worlds is ignored by Earth governments and scientists for a generation
between 1935 and 1940 and 1967.
And of course, the only effort to actually go to Mars is by Carson,
who is a bit of a daredevil in 1930. He may not even
have been born at the time of the Martian invasion, so he’s clearly not
deterred from wanting to go and check the place out. Indeed,
he’s probably intrigued by the mystery of the ‘big heads’ failure to follow
up their invasion, and the reports of humans on Mars.
Earth governments have no interest whatsoever in sending a ship to that
clearly hostile world, no sense looking for trouble, until well after
peaceful communication is established in 1967, and the ‘Big Heads’ are
confirmed to be long gone.
Essentially then, it might just be possible to actually read in the
‘big awkward silences’ some hints that Wells' War of the Worlds
occurred on Burroughs Earth, and has resulted in a certain delicacy and
avoidance around the topic.
Finally, and this is obviously conjecture on my part, the War of
the Worlds may well have had an impact on Burroughs Earth.
In the Moon Maid, Burroughs writes that the first world war continued,
almost uninterrupted, off and on until the 1960s on Earth.
In our world, of course, there was an almost 20 year gap between the two
world wars, to be followed by a cold war through the '60s.
In Burroughs world, the war seems to have been an almost continuous, generations
spanning conflict, with perhaps shorter periods of peace and stability.
Wells, in War of the Worlds, writes that human inventors found Martian
machines to be fertile inspiration for their inventions. The
implication is that the alien technology of the Martians has boosted Earth
technology in some respects. At least some of those boosts
would be in military technology, the Martians were using poison gas, for
instance, fifteen years before humans would.
So, is it possible that the influx of useable Martian technology helped
to prolongue and extend Earth’s World War, so that instead of a couple
of short, sharp, brutal conflicts, Burroughs world ended up in a long dragged
out affair? Something to think about.
Carter's War of the Worlds
Of course, Burroughs and Wells were dealing with copyright issues in
their day, and as working writers, knew better to step on each others toes.
They would have each recognized that they were doing radically different
things with their Mars, and the others versions of Mars would not have
been all that compatible with what they were doing, or what they were interested
But, not so the modern day, where a couple of reputable professionally
published writers of literary reputation have boldly stepped into the fray
and shown John Carter fighting the War of the Worlds on Barsoom.
I’m frankly of mixed minds on this stuff. The minute you
step away from canonical sources, you enter dangerous territory.
In particular, its dangerous to mix media, to go from novels to comics
to movies, as each tends to modify the material. This is precisely
where so much of the Wold Newton stuff goes off the rails, by mixing media
and failing to distinguish canonical and noncanonical material.
But in this case, I think that without fully accepting the George Alec
Effinger and Alan Moore stories, we should acknowledge that these are both
writers of high literary and popular reputation, who in these and other
works exhibit a well known fidelity to their source materials, and whose
pastiches are commercially and professionally published. So,
call it semi-canonical. Something we can play with, and even,
with reservations, accept.
Effinger opens up John Carter’s War of the Worlds with the beginning
of the story. In short order, we’re shown Carter at peace in
Helium, the discovery of the kidnapping of Dejah Thoris, his travel to
the formerly unknown land of the Sarmaks where the big gun is in preparation...
And after that, it offers only hints and outlines, while reassuring us
that everything turned out in the end and the threat is ended.
Alan Moore, on the other hand, delivers us the end of the story.
John Carter, as the Warlord of Mars, has put together a worldwide coalition
of races and nations to obliterate the Sarmaks from existence. Gulliver
Jones is part of John Carter’s alliance. There is a clear reference
to Dejah Thoris, and unpleasant things having happened to her, but its
not clear whether she’s living or dead, free or still a hostage, healthy
or injured. The Sarmak have clearly been pushed back
through their valley, to their final redoubt, and as the walls of their
fortress are breached, and their race slaughtered, they launch their final
capsules towards Earth.
There are numerous small discrepancies in Moore’s comic from the canonical
sources: Gulliver flies on his carpet, but in the novel, it wraps around
him like a cocoon, the Thoats have clawed feet rather than nailless hooves,
Gulliver’s look and dress are reminiscent of Laurence of Arabia, while
John Carter’s look and costume seem to be some hybrid between British officer
and oriental potentate. They’ve both become rather English.
But despite this, we can at least reasonably accept that George Alec
Effinger has given us the beginning, and Alan Moore has provided us with
the end, of the story that Edgar Rice Burroughs never told, the missing
saga of John Carter’s life. The middle, of course, remains
unknown and unknowable.
And here, I will leave it to the reader....