Part 1 of a 16,700-word article by Den
is Mars, and Mars is a Shared World
Writers and Other Stories on the Shared World of Mars
A Note About
PERCY GREG 1880
ACROSS THE ZODIAC
Where on Barsoom?
CAMILLE FLAMMARION 1884
REINCARNATION ON MARS
LE FAURE 1889
AMAZING ADVENTURES OF A RUSSIAN
Is this Barsoom?
MR. STRANGER’S SEALED PACKET
Is this Barsoom?
ROBERT CROMIE 1890
A PLUNGE INTO SPACE
GUSTAVUS W. POPE 1894
JOURNEY TO MARS, THE WONDERFUL
On John Carter’s
In the Biblical terms, the Apocrypha are the unofficial
books that are not part of the formal bible, yet they were contemporary
religious documents of the Christian or Jewish faith. As such,
they’re not part of the "official" religious canon, but represent a semi-legitimage
body of external lore.
Burroughs Barsoom stories constitute the nine
novels and six novellas written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This
is the ‘canon’ or the ‘true and official’ Barsoom. In
a larger sense, the canon includes the Moon Maid, which references
Barsoom, as well as Carson’s Venus, which also references John Carter,
though more indirectly. The Barsoom series makes use of the
Gridley Wave, which means that it connects to Pellucidar, and Pellucidar
connects to Tarzan. Thus, the larger canon is all of Burroughs
inter-relating series, all of which, including Caspak and Poloda, must
be deemed to be taking place within the same Burroughs universe.
Everything else, including fanfiction, comic strips,
comic books, pastiches, artwork, movie treatments, etc. is ‘unofficial’
stuff, outside the formal canon. The stories of George Alec
Effinger, the strips of John Coleman Burroughs, the work of Alan Moore
and discussions of Dick Lupoff are all Apocryphal. And by and
large, it’s troublesome apocrypha that doesn’t fit well with the canon.
Coleman Burroughs' Green Martians, for instance, are drawn to conform
to the requirements of a newspaper strip and look nothing like the written
descriptions. Comic book stories either tell the official stories
but get them wrong, or tell new stories, but make such changes in characters
that they’re not consistent with the original works. But then
again, this is why the Apocrypha are Apocrypha, because they don’t quite
mesh with the Canon.
But there’s also another vein of Apocrypha I propose
to mine here. And that is, the Mars stories of other writers
from Burroughs time period between 1880 and 1940. There is
a basic commonality to most of the Mars stories by different writers.
They were, after all, writing about the same world, and sharing the same
is Mars, and Mars is a Shared World
Mars was well established both in science and
the popular imagination. The moon was originally the world
on which fantasists had set their journeys to outer space.
As late as the 1830's, hoaxes and stories about life on the surface of
the moon were being published. After all, the moon was pretty
huge in the sky. But through the 17th and 18th century as telescopes
improved it was increasingly clear that the moon was a dead, waterless,
airless world devoid of life. The possibilities of imagination
were closed off for the moon.
For Mars, those possibilities were opening up.
Telescopes, from Galileo on, showed Mars as a globe. Moreover, features
were discernible. In the 18th century, astronomers clocked
the Martian day, discovered the polar caps and watched them swell and shrink.
Mars was a world with a day the same length as our own, with seasons like
our own, divided into discernible regions of light and dark, ice and snow.
Clouds and storms were observed, proving that Mars had an atmosphere and
weather. Reputable astronomers speculated about the possibilities
of life and habitation.
Meanwhile, around this time, theories of evolution
and cosmic formation were developing and mixing in popular consciousness.
A kind of cosmic theory of evolution, of life progressing ever upwards
was emerging. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was morphed
into a sort of inevitable progression, from fish, to frogs, reptiles, dinosaurs,
mammals and ultimately humans. In popular imagination ‘man’ was the
inevitable ultimate result of evolution, at least up to this point.
Thus, the thinking was that the beings of other
worlds would themselves be human, or reasonably close with slight variations.
The notion that alien beings might be radically unlike ourselves was, if
not heretical, certainly not unquestioned, though people like Percival
Lowell and H.G. Wells and the more strictly rational argued like this.
The notion that life went through a cycle of
birth to death. Life began, grew, evolved to its pinnacle as humans
and animals were born, grew, and reached their peak. And then,
humans and animals, over time, aged, grew weaker and eventually passed
away, as did Life in general and even planets. This shifted
into a kind of notion explaining the solar system. Venus the
young world full of wet rains and primeval beasts, likely hot and lush,
full of oceans and primitive jungles. Earth was the ‘just
right’ world, in its prime, with the proper balance of ocean and land,
of rains and sun, sporting the sophisticated pinnacle of life, man itself.
Mars was the older world, past its prime. Its air, self evidently
thinning, its mountains and continents wearing away, its oceans drying
up, the whole planet cooling off. It seemed logical that if
Mars was further along than Earth in the cosmic life cycle, that it would
have life and intelligence, and that these would be further advanced than
ours. But further advanced was not necessarily superiority,
Mars was in its decline, and thus the intelligences of Mars were in decline.
Apparent proof of intelligence on Mars, and of
the decline in that world, came in 1877 when Schiaparelli announced his
discoveries of Canals. Canals were big during this time,
the Suez canal bisected Africa and Asia, uniting the Mediteranean with
the Red Sea. The Eerie and St. Laurence canals of North America
extended shipping for hundreds of miles. The Panama and Nicaragua
canal projects promised to separate North America from South and unite
the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Schiaparelli’s ‘canali’ included
66 razor straight lines, some of them parallel, some of them crossing each
other, running from presumably wet dark areas, through dry regions.
While people might argue over whether they were natural or not, it was
hard not to see them as the work of intelligent beings engaged in irrigation
on a dying, drying world.
It was also the same year that Mars' two moons
were discovered, moons unlike any others in the solar system.
It was a year of conjunction, of close approach, which happened only once
or twice every few decades, so most telescopes were engaged with Mars.
Mars was very big and very big news in popular consciousness.
For scientists and for writers and the public,
Mars was hardly a blank place. It was a very well defined world,
no more or less mysterious than Africa or Asia. We knew what
it looked like from a distance, we knew its size, its day, its weather
and seasons. We knew the light areas were likely deserts, we
knew it was an old world so that erosion had worn away its mountains and
continents. We knew that its seas were diminished remnants (as Schiaparelli
believed), though that perception evolved to the belief that its seas were
entirely gone (as Lowell believed), but still, moisture survived in the
sea bottoms. We knew it had life, probably much like our own.
And from the evidence of Canals, people assumed that there were intelligences,
a civilization probably much like our own, but trapped upon a dying world,
undertaking great works.
The result is that it was quite natural
for writers writing about Mars to essentially be writing about a very similar
place. As I’ve said, it's not a blank slate, but rather
a well known territory and writers wrote within the knowledge of that territory
and the science and pseudoscience beliefs of the time. Mars,
from the very beginning was a shared world, much the same way that the
American west was a shared world for different writers fictional and non-fictional
characters. Writers who wrote the west took a shared setting,
they weren’t dropping samurai and gorillas in, but working with cowboys
and gunslingers. Mars, in its own way, was almost as rigourously
defined for writers. So, they tended to use the same ideas, and the
same tropes over and over. And it wasn’t just a dry dying world of
deserts crossed by canals, with evaporating seas and sheltered valleys.
The faculty of telepathy, for instance, is almost
universal. Telepathy was considered an advanced mental faculty,
a higher faculty, so it was only natural that the Martians, being from
an older world, should possess it in some degree. Besides which,
it got us neatly and quickly around the language barrier.
A great many, perhaps most of the Martians encountered,
including Burroughs, were human. Their skin colours might vary, but
they were basically human beings, though usually from a culture more technologically
or intellectually sophisticated. Because Mars was believed
to be a dying desert world, there was a subtle tendency to draw upon elements
of Arabian culture or 1001 nights by many writers. The Arabian
culture, or bastardized visions of it in Europe, were seen as an old civilization,
past its prime and in decline. So often bits of that would
get mixed up in various ways.
Alternately, writers might choose to emphasize
the ‘evolution’ of Martian society, of a race whose intellectual attainments
choked off its moral or its emotional side. There were a number
of stories depicting Martians whose intellectual sophistication was balanced
by a lack of emotion and often a lack of will or motivation.
These Martians were apathetics, accepting the fate of their world, lacking
the will to struggle. Of course, others were depicted as being
made monstrous for logic without emotion. H.G. Wells invaders
were the ultimate expression of this.
Apart from humans, interestingly enough, winged
manlike creatures were the next most popular. Partly, of course,
this was the apple not falling far from the tree. Angels lived
beyond the earth in Heaven. So it’s not rocket science to imagine
angel-like winged beings living beyond the earth on worlds in outer space,
like Mars or Venus. And it did make a certain kind of sense,
after all, the gravity was lighter so flying creatures were more plausible.
Between 1890 and 1920 there were at least eight stories or novels featuring
this sort of Martian, including the creatures of H.G. Wells’ “The Crystal
Egg” and Gustave LeRouge’s “Prisoner of Planet Mars.”
Other mythical or semi-mythical creatures, often
variations of human forms were seen. There were four Martian stories
between 1890 and 1920 which featured dwarves of various sorts, often cave-dwellers.
Giants showed up a few times, though usually these were human giants.
Even H.G. Wells’ creatures began to show up repeatedly.
Mars was considered to be an Earthlike world,
so writers filled it with earthlike plants, mosses, trees, grasses, shrubs,
and usually mixed the colours up, adding red and purple after the planet’s
colour. Earth was a green and blue world, Mars was obviously
a world of reds and rust. And of course, it was presumed to
have its own animal life, both similar and different from Earthly fauna.
Again, sometimes the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, both Wells and
Arnold included apes on their Mars.
So, Gustavus Pope’s Journey to Mars, Edwin
Arnold’s Gulliver Jones and Gustav LeRouge’s Prisoner of Mars
weren’t the sources of Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. Rather,
they were all shaped by the same planet, including the views of the planet,
the beliefs in ‘inevitable evolution’ and life cycles on planetary scales.
In a similar way, the Cisco Kid wasn’t the inspiration for other fictional
or real gunslingers, they were all products of the same setting.
It’s all happening on the same Mars.
It may be an imaginary Mars, and each writer may go off in a different
direction, but in a sense, the Mars of novels and stories of 1880 to 1940
was a shared universe, a shared world.
Burroughs just called his Barsoom, but the reality
is, that he was simply writing in the same metafictional Mars that everyone
else was. But here’s the thing about Barsoom. There
was just so damned much of it. Burroughs Barsoom stretched
out to nine novels and six novellas, thousands of pages and hundreds of
thousands of worlds, and within that, swamps, rivers, mountain ranges,
dried sea beds, cities, races, religions, cultures and history. In
short, Barsoom overwhelms all the other renditions of the fictional Mars
of this day. In contrast, Matthew Arnold wrote only one Mars
novel. Otis Adelbert Kline wrote two and a novella. H.G.
Wells wrote a novel and short story, but only the short story depicted
the actual planet. Gustave LeRouge wrote two novels, but only
one was actually set on Mars. Pretty much everyone else wrote
single novels, short stories or included Mars visits as parts of larger
works. Many of the other works, because of their smaller volume
also tended to describe smaller slices of Mars. Arnold’s Gulliver
Jones wanders about in a relatively small area, Wells’ story describes
only a single valley. So the result is that on any composite
vision of Mars, Barsoom tends to occupy a lot of the territory.
So why not just call it all Barsoom, since Mars is no longer the world
we dreamed of.
Writers and Other Stories on the Shared World of Mars
That old shared Mars, the one that endured from
1877 to 1950, the one of science and myth, popular consciousness and writers
fantasy, has vanished now. The Mars revealed by space probes
has largely replaced it. So Barsoom is, for better or
worse, a good a name as any for that older shared Mars. Now
the thing is, if you’ve got a shared meta-world, then the natural temptation
is to locate it all together. Thus famous real and fictional gunslingers
crossed paths in the old west, and H. Rider Haggard’s Africa rubbed shoulders
More recently, there have been literary pastiches
by people like A. Bertram Chandler, George Alec Effinger and Alan Moore
placing John Carter in conflict with Wells' Martian invaders, throwing
Gulliver Jones or Otis Albert Kline’s Mars into the mix. In
part because of the connections to Burroughs between Wells, Arnold and
Kline, I’ve explored and tried to place each of these writers' "Mars" on
the same world as Barsoom.
But anyway, if these three writers' works can
be incorporated into Burroughs Barsoom, what about others?
Are there other writers stories or novels about Mars that will fit in too.
Actually, there are. Now mostly obscure and forgotten, there
are a number of stories and novels from between 1880, after the discovery
of the canals and moons of Mars, and 1940 when the vision of Mars as a
live world had faded.
Most of these works are out of print and quite
hard to find. This poses some problems and if you want to track
them down and read them you may well be out of luck. Moreover,
because I myself haven’t read most of them, I can only go by brief descriptions.
Descriptions which are extremely tantalizing, but which, unfortunately
do not allow the sort of detailed and thorough analysis of geography, biology
or culture, which would allow us to place a work in context on either Barsoom
or the geography and geology of real Mars. Unfortunately, I’ve only
got the broadest strokes to work with, and thus, my comments are wholly
speculative and I can hardly place too much weight on the poor delicate
Finally, I must note that in some, perhaps in
many cases, some of stories will not and cannot fit on Barsoom at all,
or contain elements that are completely inconsistent with what we know
of Barsoom. For instance, the Human Pets of Mars features
Martians who are essentially ten-legged octopi, or decapods, who have no
resemblance to anything, and who breeze back and forth easily seem completely
incompatible with Barsoom. There’s also Thomas Edison’s Invasion
of Mars and Nikola Tesla’s Invasion of Mars about either of
which, the less said the better, but feature fleets of Earth spaceships
travelling out to wreak devastation on the red planet. Inspired originally
by H.G. Wells, these were simple potboiler newspaper serials, bereft of
imagination or intelligence, but which presumed technology and actions
that simply cannot have taken place in Burroughs universe.
And of course, this work ignores the Burroughs
inspired Mars stories of the 50's and 60's, like Michael Moorcock’s "Michael
Kane," Leigh Bracket’s Sword of Rhiannon and "Eric John
Stark," and A. Bertram Chandler’s Alternate Mars.
This obviously cannot be complete.
There are doubtless novels and stories that would fit that I’ve missed,
as well as many that won’t fit. But that’s okay.
Mostly, it just has to be interesting and entertaining.
Note About Space Travel
Initially, I was going to dismiss any mention
of Earth or Martian spaceships as being completely contradictory to the
Burroughs universe. Where Earthlings or Martians travel back
and forth by spaceship seemed at first to be quite contradictory to the
established Burroughs canon.
After all, in the Moon Maid, Burroughs establishes
that the first official Barsoomian space expedition to Earth is launched
in the 21st century, in 2015, and is lost. This is followed,
a few years later by Earth’s first expeditionary ship to Barsoom in 2024,
which makes it only as far as the moon.
So talk of rocketships or spaceships in the late
19th or early 20th century seems ludicrous in the Burroughs universe.
Didn’t, oughtn’t, can’t and ain’t happening. If they can’t
manage it well into the 21st century, there’s no chance in the late 19th.
However, I’ve reconsidered. Carson
‘Wrong Way’ Napier builds himself a rocket and flies to Mars in 1932, nearly
a full century prior to the ‘Moon Maid’ expedition. Now to
be fair, he doesn’t get to Mars, but he does wind up on Venus, so there’s
proof that local interplanetary distances can be traversed by Earthlings
in the earlier part of the 20th century, and perhaps even slightly earlier.
And further, given that we’ve borrowed War
of the World and "The Crystal Egg" from Mr. Wells, we must assume that
technology from the Martian invasion was in fact cannibalized and might
have made it into the hands of intrepid space explorers or inventors.
We might also consider that in his writings, anti-gravity is a fact of
at least one of his novels, First Men in the Moon, where his protagonists
encounter insectlike beings who occupy the outer (but not inner) surface
of the Moon. Anti-gravity shows up in quite a few space voyages.
The question of course, is why there’s such a
huge gap between Carson’s lone expedition of 1932 and the Moon Maid
expedition of 2024? This problem, on its first look, seems
insoluble. But I think a couple of factors come into play.
First, it is likely that the Martian invasion
of the War of the Worlds put a damper on any thoughts of official
space travel. Earth had survived an invasion, there was no
future invasion apparently forthcoming, why go looking for trouble?
Space travel was not an official priority, and was unofficially discouraged.
This left only the occasional wealthy malcontent or consortium of intrepid
and financially secure explorers to take a chance.
Secondly, we must note that the Barsoom was not
only an official, but a major expedition. It had a large crew, provisions
for years, staterooms, etc. The Moon Maid's Barsoom
was the equivalent of a Battleship or of Admiral Perry’s Great White Fleet.
Meanwhile, Carson’s attempt was in comparison, the equivalent of a relatively
small sailboat crossing the Atlantic or Pacific. Yes, it’s
theoretically possible to cross the Atlantic in a sailboat, but there’s
a very good chance of not making it at all.
Those space travellers of Earth of the late 19th
or early 20th century were probably sailing against the odds, and for those
few who managed to reach a neighboring world and live to tell about it,
there were likely many who set off and were never heard from again.
Out in space, even in the mid-19th century, Barsoom’s
civilization definitely possesses anti-gravity technology, through its
mastery of the eighth and ninth rays, and during the reign of the Warlord,
in Swords of Mars, begins to make exploratory flights to Thuria.
Yet, the trips to Thuria are not so much new or revolutionary technology,
as the application of technologies (environment seal, life support, anti-gravity
etc.) that Barsoom has had lying around for thousands of years.
Further, with respect to Barsoom, we note that
technology is not uniform but varies locally. Helium’s flyers
are the most advanced known. The First Born’s flyers, however,
are designed for submersible flight. Jahar’s flyers are technologically
inferior compared to Barsoom. Kaol has no flyers at all, though
they later acquire them. Meanwhile, isolated regions such as
Manator, Ghasta and Bantoom have no flyers and no firearms.
Even more isolated societies, such as the Orovars of Horz, have even lower
Yet, we must note that once upon a time, the level
of technology on Barsoom was higher even than that of Helium today.
Indeed, in another paper, I’ve speculated that Thuria may actually be an
artificial world, created tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago by
the fallen civilization of the Orovars. So it’s possible that
somewhere on Barsoom, some lost and isolationist city still possesses the
capacity to travel through interplanetary space, should it wish to.
So, theoretically, we might have isolated spaceships
from Barsoom, the products of isolated and isolationist cities, which manage
to make it to Earth. So, in the context of Burroughs universe
and Barsoom, we might be prepared to accept some limited occasional normal
space travel between worlds.
ACROSS THE ZODIAC
In 1880, one of the first Mars novels was Percy
Greg’s Across the Zodiac:
Story of a Wrecked Record. Allegedly, this chronicled and event
taking place 50 years before, which would place it in 1830.
In this account the Astronaut, a privately-built
ship of 150 feet long, 50 feet wide and 20 feet high, was the first human
spacecraft to travel to Mars. The Astronaut was propelled
by Apergy, but a force that had to be generated and controlled, something
more similar, perhaps to the Barsoomian bouancy rays. The electrical
generators recycled the ship’s air and powered the Apergy machines which
directed atomic force to repel the Sun's gravity.
Which seems like a very, very anomalous technology for 1830's Earth.
Mars, the ship's destination, had an "advanced
race" practicing polygamy and atheism; the Martians also had dirigibles,
poison-gas guns, electric tractors, 3-D talkies, and the duodecimal system.
His Martians had developed a form of utopia based on advanced technology
and telepathic ability, which enabled them to punish people for wrong thoughts.
However, they did not have resistance to a disease of earthly origin "contracted
from rose-seeds," so the hero left in a hurry.
Actually, the Greg Martians don’t seem all that
much like Barsoomians. They aren’t fun loving enough.
The telepathy thing, of course, is shared with Burroughs, Arnold and Wells,
but they didn’t get that from Greg, or from each other. Rather,
all four authors, and many others, picked up on a pseudo-science notion
that was floating around.
Greg’s Martians are an ancient civilization, so
ancient, and so intellectually evolved, that they have lost touch with
feelings. They are passive and apathetic, with little interest
in the world around them.
This sort of "listless ancient decadence" shows
up again and again in Mars novels of the era. Before Wells
put his spin on things, the ultimate result of intellectual development
at the expense of emotions was apathy. The super-intelligent
civilizations of the Martians were frequently depicted as passionless,
placid and lifeless. The super-civilizations of these Martians
had no gumption, no motivation. In the end, they had not the
motivation to fly their own spaceships.
Wells of course put a different spin on it.
His super-intelligences were highly motivated, the loss of emotions simply
made them more ruthless and relentless. Burroughs, for his
part, restored vitality to his Martians, depicting them as struggling valiantly
if fatalistically as their world died slowly. In a sense, in
Burroughs, Barsoom is dying more quickly than its inhabitants, so they’re
kicking up a fuss.
Does this mean that the passive Martians are incompatible
with Barsoom? Perhaps not. Barsoomian civilization,
the dominant cultures that John Carter knows, are shaped by the great collapse.
Everything from semi-feudal slavery, city-state political organizations,
the rule of war-chiefs in the form of Jeds and Jeddaks , the emphasis on
war and warriors over science or trade, were all formed in the great collapse
of the previous Barsoomian civilizations. And the thing is,
that although Barsoom is no longer in a state of active collapse, these
societies have not changed. They are still shaped by that disaster.
But was this the only response to the great disaster?
Perhaps some societies, partially sheltered from the ongoing collapse,
simply turned inwards. They made fatalism a religion, becoming
intellectual, unemotional, passive, taking very little part in the affairs
of the planet. For convenience, we’ll call them Apathetics.
On Barsoom, cities of Apathetics, some of them
conceivably preserving extraordinary levels of technology, may exist in
remote locations, uninvolved with the lands around them and isolated from
the mainstream of Barsoom’s warrior cultures.
So, conceivably, these Martians might well tuck
away neatly in some corner of Barsoom.
REINCARNATION ON MARS
1884 - Camille Flammarion - Les Terres du
Ciel (The Worlds in the Sky) (Marpon-Flammarion).
A man and woman who died at the top of a mountain
find themselves reincarnated on Mars, a touching reunion that includes
a few descriptions of martian flora and fauna. Then a
few years later, we have in 1889, Camille Flammarion writing -Uranie
wherein a man awakens on Mars and meets his reincarnation.
I’m not sure if this fits into Barsoom or not.
Forget about any geographical description, and I have no idea whether the
flora and fauna is at all compatible. However, Camille Flammarion
is worth a couple of Burroughs footnotes (see ERB's
Personal Library). First, because as an astronomer, he was
noted for compiling all of the observations of Mars over two centuries,
a landmark and pivotal work of scholarship which both Schiaparelli and
Lowell built upon (See the Valdron Barsoomian Geography Series).
Second, and for some purposes, much more interestingly,
Flammarion in his fiction popularized a notion that people were reincarnated,
not on Earth or Heaven, but on Mars. This was apparently a
fad. The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated,
as arguably, John Carter, Ulysses Paxton and Tangor appear to die, or are
brought near death, before going off to their respective worlds.
I’ve called the phenomenon Astral Teleportation, but quite possibly, it
is actually death on this world and reincarnation on another world.
Burroughs once, talking about religion, expressed a hope of being reincarnated
on some other world, so perhaps he took this critical idea directly or
indirectly from Flammarion.
& LE FAURE
AMAZING ADVENTURES OF A RUSSIAN
1889 Henry de Graffigny & Georges
Le Faure - Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'un Savant Russe [The
Amazing Adventures of a Russian Scientist] - Volume 2: "Le Soleil et
les Petites Planetes" [The Sun and the Small Planets] (Edinger).
A team of French and Russian scientists
explore the Solar System on the Ossipoff. Through three
volumes, they explore the inner planets, the moon, and then the outer solar
system. In the second volume, they make a short trip to Mars,
where they meet the inhabitants.
The heroes arrive on Phobos, which is atmospherically
connected to Mars, and travel in a balloon down to the Red Planet, wearing
pressure suits. During the next five chapters, they meet winged humanoids,
masters of an aerial technological civilization. Artists drawings
depict bald, insect-winged human-like creatures wearing robes, as well
as a remarkable floating city in the sky, hung from box kites.
All right, in John Carter’s Barsoom, Thuria is not normally atmospherically
connected to Mars, no iffs ands or butts. On the other hand,
in Beyond the Farthest Star, Burroughs' Poloda solar system features
a ring of worlds all sharing an atmosphere, so that one can literally fly
an airplane from one world to the next.
Well, if this is the normal state for Poloda, then obviously, this is
one more peculiarity of physics in Burroughs universe. Mars
and Thuria are extremely close bodies, among the closest in the solar system,
so its possible that this same kind of phenomena may appear between Barsoom
and Thuria under freakish special conditions. Our explorers may well
have been mistaken when they took it for a permanent state.
As for the winged humanoids, these are not part of Burroughs writings,
but they do seem similar to the flying Martians of Wells’ ‘The Crystal
Egg’, as well as to the butterfly winged ‘little people’ of Otis Adelbert
Kline’s Swordsman of Mars as well as a handful of other similar
creatures as you will see in the subsequent reports.
MR. STRANGER’S SEALED PACKET
In Mr. Stranger's Sealed Packet, MacColl was also something of
a pioneer in his choice of subject. It was the third novel in English about
Mars to be published. In 1880 Percy Gregg published Across the Zodiac,
and in 1887 Hudor Genone published yet another novel with Mars as its subject,
Bridegroom: A Romance. MacColl's Mr. Stranger's Sealed Packet
then followed in 1889, and before the turn of the century, another eleven
novels about Mars were published in English.
McColl flies off in an armed and armoured spaceship to visit Mars.
Once he gets there he discovers that Mars is quite habitable.
It possesses gigantic prehistoric seeming animals, and vegetation similar
to Earth except that it tends to be scarlet or purple.
McColl’s stranger describes spectacular scenery, including an Ocean:
“It was a glorious spectacle. A majestic
ocean lay before me, rolling its heavy swell against the rocky bases of
a long, sweeping range of precipitous mountains underneath me. This range
was broken and indented in many places by deep ravines, down which foaming
torrents rushed headlong, forming numberless cascades and waterfalls, the
confused noise of which was almost deafening. The sea ran in among the
clefts and fissures of the rocky shore in long and narrow streaks--in some
places cutting whole portions off and forming them into islands.”
The Martians turn out to be human, a race or nation of people calling themselves
the Gremsun. Their skin colour is bluish and they have
large hazel eyes. Both features are caused by the food they eat.
The Martians, including men women and children dress uniformly in what
looks essentially like a Victorian bathing suit--a single garment, exposing
only the head and neck, the arms below elbow, and the feet and legs
to about the knee, red for men and green for women. Both sexes had
short, black, curly hair. They all speak and act like Victorians,
they’re civilized to a fault. These people are dull, dull,
dull. Their technology is sophisticated, they distill their food
from the air. Though the society is technologically advanced in that it
has self-propelling carriages, electric light and phonographic machines
that can register speech as writing, it lacks totally the technology of
This is unfortunate for the Gremsun because Mars also has barbarians,
who are called the Dergdunin. The war with the barbarians gives Stranger
the opportunity to play the hero, as the spaceship is also equipped for
defence and attack, and so he saves the peaceful civilized Gremsun from
the barbarian hordes.
The Stranger also winds up falling in love with and marrying the daughter,
Ree, of the Martian family he has been staying with. The Stranger
eventually brings his Martian wife back to Earth for sightseeing, but it
turns out, in a plot development that anticipates Wells, that she has no
resistance to earthly bacteria and dies. This by the way, is not
a particularly shocking development, Englishmen in the colonial days were
always travelling to foreign colonies and dying of local bacteria.
It was one of the known hazards of colonialism. The Stranger,
touched by tragedy, drops off his story with earthlings, and returns to
Mars to spend his life.
If this is Barsoom, then we can only say that Mr. Stranger has landed
upon the dullest and most repressed and inbred part of the planet.
We can only place this as a Barsoomian society in an extremely isolated
and apathetic enclave.
That having said, many of the elements of Burroughs Barsoom are present.
The civilized nation with its super science, the barbarians prepared to
tear the whole thing down, the romance with a Martian debutante.
Further, the blue skin of these Martians is remiscent of Gustavus Pope’s
blue-skinned Martians of Journey to Mars.
The biggest obstacle, apart from the Gremsun being so weeny and pathetic,
and the tedious pace of the novel is the fact that the Stranger records
a Martian ocean. Not on Barsoom buddy! Still, it
may be that the Stranger has been mistaken in his observations, he may
have surveyed one of the surviving seas, like Korus or the Opal Sea.
Or he may have observed a rush of water following the polar melt.
Without the actual text, it’s hard to say. Still, given
other similarities, we might, for the time being, provisionally locate
this on Barsoom, although it’s not clear where exactly.
A PLUNGE INTO SPACE
1890. Robert Cromie's A Plunge into Space
(prefaced by Jules Verne)
This tale also featured a spaceship, the Steel Globe, a jet black metal
sphere, 50 feet in diameter, powered an electrically-generated form of
anti-gravity. It was secretly built on an undisclosed site in Alaska, and
its destination was, once again, Mars.
The more highly developed Martian reason had made Mars a paradise even
though growing conditions had gotten worse. But their reason had also been
developed at the expense of their emotions. They had lost their vitality
and motivation too. In this novel, that meant the Martians could not get
enthusiastic about anything. Not only could they not get enthusiastic about
arrivals from Earth; they could not get enthusiastic about their own space
travel. They had it and lost interest in it.
In short, they were our second great example of that stream of Barsoomian
culture we choose to call the Apathetics.
JOURNEY TO MARS, THE WONDERFUL
ITS BEAUTY AND SPLENDOR,
ITS MIGHTY RACES AND KINGDOMS,
ITS FINAL DOOM.
Pope was an American doctor living in Washington D.C., who wrote both
fiction and nonfiction. He followed up his Journey to Mars with Journey
to Venus, introducing some of the same characters. He also did an inner
world novel, and a fairly well received book about Shakespeare.
Arnold's Gulliver Jones was never published in the United States during
Burroughs' time. It only appeared in England. Pope has a leg up in that
his books were published in the US. But of course, we've no evidence that
Burroughs ever saw either.
Still, Pope's book has his adherents who argue that its possible claim
to have inspired A Princess of Mars is as good or better than Gulliver
Jones. Among the proponents was noted SF critic and historian Sam Moskowitz.
The novel begins with our protagonist Frederick Hamilton, a Lieutenant
in the US Navy, serving on the USS Albatross in the Antarctic seas when
it wrecks. Hamilton and a Maori seaman (a comic relief racist stereotype,
unfortunately) are cast up on a barren rocky island, although at the ends
of his strength, he manages to rescue a weird looking stranger and then
When he wakes up three weeks later, he's on his way to Mars. Hamilton
has encountered an expedition of red, yellow and blue Martians, who use
telepathy to communicate with him, and who travel space by riding the magnetic
lines between the two planets' poles. The blue-skinned Martians are the
"Nilata," and the yellow-skinned men are the "Arunga," though this may
refer to their cities or nations, rather than their races.
Obviously, these three races are fairly suggestive, since Burroughs
Barsoom also has its red and yellow Martians. Coincidentally, Burroughs
yellow Martians are inhabitants of the north pole, and are shown to have
mastered magnetic technology, areas that figures prominently in Pope's
Travel between Earth and Mars in Gustave's story, involves travelling
along magnetic pathways, a sort of cosmic short cut, which begins and ends
at the north pole of each planet. This is why Hamilton meets his Martians
at their base at Earth's south pole, and why he winds up in the sea around
As for Blue Martians, well, Burroughs does not record any. But Burroughs
does have blue haired Thurians, who I've argued in Secret
of Thuria are actually an isolated Barsoomian colony from their
previous civilization. So it might well be that this expedition includes
Okars, Red Men and Thurians. Alternatively, at least one of the other
Martian novels, McColl’s Mr. Stranger’s Sealed Packet provides for
a race of 'blue' Martians, so this may simply be a race undiscovered
by John Carter. I wonder if they sing?
Interestingly, Hamilton at first does not realize these people are Martians.
Why would he? His first theory is that they are inhabitants of Pellucidar,
or at least, of a hollow inner earth, and have come into the surface through
the polar opening. It's a weird little overlap with Burroughs, notable
because, as I said, I believe Hamilton also wrote an inner world
novel, which further identifies us with Burroughs universe.
Anyway, on arriving at Mars, the spaceship, riding lines of magnetism,
splashes down near one of the poles, winding up in a shallow polar sea.
This is, itself, not necessarily inconsistent with Barsoom. The Martian
poles are the final great bodies of water on Mars and feed the canals,
so it stands to reason that in the summer, their edges might be slushy
and produce a rim of lakes or seas.
Hamilton finds that the Martians, like John Carter's Barsoom, combine
a feudal society and swordsmanship with high technology. They have crystal
globes (shades of Wells and Arnold), 'ethervolt cars' which use anti-gravity
batteries, and spindle-shaped aircraft, both of which are fairly reminiscent
of Barsoom's flyers.
I'm not too concerned with differences in names and terminology, after
all, both Hamilton and Carter are translating their respective Martians
into English, so its quite possible that they might take the same terms
in the same language and render it differently in English.
Hamilton discovers, like Carter, that his strength on Mars has doubled,
though he attributes this to more oxygen in the air, rather than gravity.
He observes that the Martians travel on giant birds, much like the Malagors
that appear in two of Burroughs Martian adventures, or the Gawrs that appear
in Kline’s two Martian adventures.
Anyway, once he arrives on Mars, Hamilton travels about a bit, visiting
Mars wild seas and encountering sea monsters within, traveling through
kingdoms, enjoying banquets and festivals. He learns many interesting things
about Mars, including that the population is eight billion, that the canals
visible from space are actually densely packed urban areas, and other cool
things which are apparently quite incompatible with Barsoom.
During one festival, he rescues the beautiful yellow-skinned Princess
Suhlamia from drowning, and of course they fall in love. This introduces
the worm of intrigue, since Prince Diavojahr also had his eye on Suhlamia.
Diavojahr is a bad egg, since he's half Plutonian. He challenges Hamilton
to a duel and is soundly beaten. Diavojahr then conspires to have Hamilton
accused of treason and condemned to death in order to blackmail Suhlamia
into marrying him. Luckily, some of Suhlamia's friends rescue him.
But there's a bigger problem. Phobos and Deimos, Mars Moons, are about
to fall on it. Or perhaps the danger is a rain of asteroids or meteors.
This isn't really clear from my internet searches. But the imminent threat
is the reason for the original expedition to Earth. The Martians are looking
to relocate. So off Hamilton goes to Earth to look for a tidy place to
pack eight billion Martians.
While he's gone, disaster strikes, but not in the form of asteroids.
Rather, Prince Diavojahr has instigated a palace revolution and is trying
to take over Princess Suhlamia's nation. He threatens to shut down the
magnetic transmitting station to make it impossible to return to Mars.
The novel ends with Hamilton passing on the manuscript he has written,
preparing to return to Mars.
But things must have worked out all right because when next we see Hamilton
in Journey to Venus he's with his Princess Suhlavia, time has passed and
they're heading off to Venus. I can only assume that the Phobos and Deimos,
or the asteroids and meteors missed Mars after all.
Anyway, that's as much as I've been able to glean from internet researches.
The book is described as slower paced than Burroughs' book. Critics have
noted that it's often dragged down by expository travelogue stuff, or Jules
Verne technobabble. Hamilton, as a protagonist, is too perfect and therefore
dull. And of course, the racist treatment of the Hamilton's Maori companion
Alas, there's only one Burroughs, and if his predecessors had had his
touch, we would have remembered them better.
John Carter’s World?
Sounds familiar? Published some 18 years before A Princess
of Mars and 11 years before Gulliver Jones, science fiction
historian Sam Moskovitz has written a paper suggesting that it may well
have been the real inspiration for Burroughs' work. The similarities
lead to the novel being re-published in the '60s, with a foreword by Moskovitz,
setting out his theory. Apart from the many similarities, this
novel was actually published in America. Gulliver Jones was
published only in England.
Is Frederick Hamilton's Mars really John Carter's Barsoom?
Setting aside the hard kernel of apparently contradictory material which
I'll address later, there are endless remarkable similarities. The red
and yellow races, the polar/magnetic thing, the high culture/feudal society,
the princess, the derring do, the giant birds, swordplay and anti-gravity
The one really difficult thing to swallow is that these Martians have
space travel, or at least, some limited and special type of space travel
involving riding magnetic lines. This seems beyond the technology we know
of in Helium. But then again, Helium may not be the technological apex.
It may be that some isolated and isolationist city has preserved some of
the space travel technology of the previous age. In any event, its clear
that the space travel of the Martians depicted here is not conventional
space travel, but a sort of special loophole, which may not be very easy
and in fact which may only exist under certain conditions.
In fact, if we wanted to play it this way, we could suggest that this
isolationist city of either Blue, Red or Yellow Martians may be the willing
or unwilling, direct or indirect source of the anti-gravity, space travel
technology used by Earthlings in the late 18th and early 20th centuries.
Unfortunately, with the information that we have, we can't really locate
Hamilton's journeys on Mars or Barsoom with any reasonable certainty. It's
likely, given the yellow Martians, that he's mixed up with the North Pole.
He clearly is landing in one of the polar regions during the height of
the summer melt in that hemisphere, and he does seem to go on a bit of
a tour through the populated regions. But unlike Wells, Arnold or even
Le Rouge we don't have enough geographical information to work with.
So, what about the apparent contradictions? The seas Hamilton describes,
the eight billion Martians he reports, Diavojahr's half-plutonian ancestry,
the heavily populated canal regions and so forth? If these things, any
of them, are absolutely literally true, then there's no way that Hamilton's
world could be Barsoom.
Now, I suspect if I keep slagging the Wold Newton types, I'm going to
get into a fight sooner or later. But what the heck, eh? The Wold Newton
types start with the assumption that their core works are all fictionalized
and modified versions of adventures that really happened. Names have been
changed to protect the innocence, writers have omitted certain facts, added
certain ones in to liven up or fill in blank or dull spots in the narrative.
So, they're dedicated to excavating the 'true' story from the fictional
ones. Which means that they can do nifty things like cross the works of
different authors, something that I'm dabbling with here. But it also means
that they freely mix and match their mediums, taking bits and pieces from
everything from books to comic strips to movies and television, without
worrying as to the 'authenticity' or 'canonical' nature of a story. Thus,
as far as James Bond goes, an Ian Fleming novel, a movie and a cartoon
are all on the same level for instance. Of course, when you're casting
your net this wide, you pick up all sorts of contradiction, but since these
are fictionalized versions of real events, that means that the contradictions
are obviously invalid. And since there are gaps, one is entitled to fill
in the gaps between various fictional works by inventing new facts, or
even substituting the fictional facts for your new ones. The result,
occasionally is a towering incandescent mess which all too often collapses
under its own weight. The Wold Newton stuff works best when it tries to
stay tightly confined within a particular set of defined canonical works.
For my own approach to these crossovers, I use a different tactic. I
assume that the events and information depicted in a work are true, at
least so far as the narrator or protagonist goes (a fine but important
point). And I try to be more stringent in defining my canons. One of my
favourite devices is the 'unreliable narrator.'
I'll give you an example: John Carter is a vicious, vicious, vicious
bastard. Now, the thing with Carter is that it's hard to realize. All of
his stories are narrated by him, and he sets great store by the chivalric
virtues. Yet while dueling a Thern in Gods of Mars, he casually
breaches Barsoomian chivalry by pulling out a pistol and shooting him.
Later in Warlord of Mars, dueling a superb Okarian, he distracts
the man and runs him through while his back is turned. Even later, while
spending time in the First Born Valley of Kamtol, he sadistically and
slowly cuts an inferior swordsman to pieces in a duel. This
is not a nice guy. It's true John Carter puts great store by chivalry and
has many fine qualities. But he's also got a mean streak a mile wide. This
is a man, after all, who went from being a slave to a chieftain of Tharks
in record time. The lesson: There are subtle discrepancies between what
John Carter tells us and what he actually does.
A similar case is Gulliver Jones, a man who is clearly a petty thief.
When you read Gulliver, one of the things you'll notice is he's always
casually and innocently tucking small valuable objects into his pocket
and then forgetting about them. Gulliver is also clearly not one for long
range thinking, despite several warnings of Ar-Hap's plans to invade the
Hither city of Seth, he never stops to realize or even thinks to warn anyone.
In short, the text of the novel presents to us, a picture of Gulliver slightly
at odds with, and substantially less flattering than the Gulliver who narrates.
Then there's Julian of the Moon Maid, who works quite hard to
explain the Moon's inner world to us, but speculating with only limited
evidence and without a lot of background, it's quite likely he gets quite
a few things wrong.
And of course, the most practical example is Carson Napier, a self-styled
interplanetary explorer of boundless confidence, who, we discover over
and over, couldn't navigate his way out of a paper bag. When you're with
Carson, you're about to get lost, is the running theme of his books.
All of this shows us is that the narrators are, to some degree unreliable...
Although that's an ugly word. The better term, perhaps, is fallible. They
can make mistakes, they can get things wrong, they may misunderstand, misinterpret,
jump to the wrong conclusions. Often their observations are limited or
partial, they, like the rest of us, must rely upon what they are told.
So, in Journey to Mars, consider our protagonist, Frederick Hamilton.
Is he unreliable? Fallible? Consider this: On a planet with only 40% gravity,
Hamilton concludes or accepts that his strength has apparently doubled
because the oxygen content in the atmosphere is slightly richer in oxygen....
Hello? Duh! But let's be gentle with poor Hamilton, he's not a scientist,
he's a 19th century naval man transported to another planet. Sure, he got
it wrong, but he made an honest mistake. So the question is: Is it possible
he really is on Barsoom and that the discrepancies we see are merely mistakes
or misinformation on his part.
Here's another. The Martians believe, and thus Hamilton believes, that
Phobos and Deimos, Thuria and Cluros, are about to fall from orbit. (Which
might explain the participation of blue haired/skinned Thurians on the
Earth expedition). But, obviously, both in Hamilton's succeeding novel,
on Burroughs Barsoom, and in real life Mars, this doesn't happen. Thuria
and Cluros remain happily in place. Hamilton's Martians, and therefore
Hamilton himself, have simply gotten it wrong. Or Hamilton may have
misunderstood the time frame by twenty million years or so.
Does Hamilton's Mars really sport eight billion people, or did he make
a mistake transliterating Martian numerical terms into earth ones? In fact,
Burroughs himself made such a mistake when chronicling Martian measurements,
he left a critical unit out. Or possibly, did the Martians themselves exaggerate
their numbers, possibly to discourage him from thoughts of Earth conquest,
or to persuade him they were unstoppable or some other reason.
They show him seas. Well, there are a few small seas left on Mars. Omean,
Korus, the Toonolian Marshes and Gulliver Jones Opal Sea. We note that
John Carter had returned to Barsoom in 1886 and had his adventures in the
Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars between 1886 and 1892. So by this time,
Korus is no longer a lost sea, and hypothetically, might be a well known
tourist destination for a certain class of sightseers. Has Hamilton simply
misinterpreted what he saw, taking Korus or the Opal Sea for far larger
bodies of water?
Hamilton believes that Martian cities are built up along the canals.
Perhaps he really did see a few instances of this, and generalized it to
the whole planet. If he really does believe that there are eight billion
people, well they've got to go somewhere. So, a few limited observations
and some wrong information could build up some erroneous pictures of the
planet for him.
Diavojahr is described as half plutonian. Given the difficulties Hamilton
may have translating Martian into English, perhaps he's misunderstood Instead
of being from Pluto, perhaps his parentage is really partly from an a 'plutonian
Unfortunately, without being able to read the novel itself and analyze
it in detail, it's hard to really make a firm argument that Frederick Hamilton
is on Barsoom. The best that I can say is that despite apparent damning
contradictions, it may be possible to resolve those contradictions, and
that the potential historical importance and the other close similarities
should entitle this story to a place on Barsoom. It may or may not fit,
but it seems a decent and even attractive possibility.
Unfortunately, for Gustavus Pope's posthumous reputation, it appears
that Richard Lupoff was a stronger champion than Sam Moskowitz, and it
was Gulliver Jones that claimed the glory and the reflected 'half light'
immortality. That said, I'd really love to find this some day and go through
it carefully, to see whether and how or if it might be fully integrated
into Barsoom, and whether we can identify the locations clearly on Mars.
in ERBzine 1406
BARSOOMS: Part II