I suppose it's a foolish exercise in gamesmanship trying to connect
one writer’s world to another. It’s the sort of thing that makes
eyes red and palms hairy, no good comes of it. But, it's a
game, and its fun. So, let's play.
There are different ways to connect one writers work to another.
The simplest and easiest is when they use the same characters.
Lord Ruthven or Dracula are well established characters who show up in
different works. Dick Miller has a recurring character who
appears in many Corman films. A character hardly needs to be central,
often one writers character is inserted into another writers story as a
cameo, a friendly nod or bit of tribute. The Wold Newton folk
are especially good at making these sorts of linkages.
Another approach is to find the characters bouncing around in a shared
world. Now, sometimes its an official shared world, such as
Aspirin’s “Thieve’s World” or Martin’s “Wild Cards” series, or the comic
universes of Marvel or DC comics.
Sometimes it’s a ‘public domain’ shared world. Such as the
old Wild West. There have been a great many fictional takes
on the Wild West. But there was a real Wild West, there were real
cowboys and gunslingers, there was a real Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billie
the Kid and Doc Holliday. There was an economy, a style of dress,
weapons, hats, traditions, looks and values. Hopalong Cassidy or
Josey Wales or Matt Dillon may not have really existed, but they’re all
set in this psychological space of the Wild West, a land both fiction and
real, a land shared.
Less poetically, there is only one contemporary New York, one contemporary
London, etc. So stories set in these places are set in the same time
and milieu as others in the same setting. There aren’t a hundred
different visions of London. There’s only London.
This is pretty much the approach that I’ve taken with the Mars and Venus
of the pulps. The Mars and Venus of that day was as much a
shared world as the Wild West or Darkest Africa or the streets of New York.
It didn’t matter that it never really existed, but rather, there was a
shared narrative, based partly on the science, partly on the philosophizing
of the day that seems to have been really powerful and influential.
Mars was the dying old world, its oceans dried up or drying, inhabited
by intelligences which built the canals to stave off the inevitable.
It was a world with a tinge of Arabian nights, of endless deserts.
It was a world of ancient peoples, of lost or dead cities, of mental arts
cultivated to high choler, a world of warlike beings. Venus
on the other hand, was Earth’s younger sibling, full of jungles and humid
reaching life, a world of angels and dinosaurs. Mars was the
decadent, Venus the primitive, and we would see these visions applied over
Lin Carter’s Callisto series is a bit of a stretch for me.
Obviously, it isn’t set on Mars, nor on Venus for that matter.
There’s no overt direct connection or tie in, and Carter’s stories are
written some 40 years after Burroughs penned his last Martian tale.
So why bother?
Well, partly because its so transparently a homage. Lin
Carter himself makes no bones about it. Jandar of Callisto is dedicated
to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Burroughs is invoked regularly in the blurbs
and pitches for his books. Now, he’s not responsible for the blurbs
on the covers, but the dedication is Lin Carter himself. But its
pretty clear that both Carter and his editors and publishers were going
after the Burroughs market.
One thing to keep in mind is that Burroughs, particularly his Martian
and Venus books had something of a revival in the 70's and 80's.
This was fueled in part by the discovery of additional unpublished or uncollected
manuscripts, in part by a boom in fantasy and science fiction during this
period. But he was hot, and it wasn’t just him. Robert E. Howard
got a new lease on life, or afterlife, as did Howard Philips Lovecraft,
Tolkien and a number of others. Carter himself played a significant
role in that revival, not just as a writer but as an editor. It can
be argued that his real contribution to the genre was as an editor, though
he was certainly a prolific writer.
Unfortunately, as a writer, I’m not terribly taken with him
I don’t actively dislike his writing, its not bad at all. But his
works strike me as rather too derivative. All too often, he seems
to want to write the stuff he really enjoyed reading. So in
addition to Burroughs, he also wrote Conan from Robert E. Howard, he dabbled
with Lovecraft and Baum’s Oz, he wrote Mars books in the style of Leigh
Bracket. Clearly, he wasn’t just doing it because it sold, although
clearly it did, but because he sincerely loved it. The trouble
is that he never really went pushing the envelope. In the end,
he seemed to consistently stick within the borders of what had been done,
never really pushing hard.
Often, his self-styled innovations are merely deliberately making the
mistakes that Burroughs or others avoided, resulting in slow dragging pace
or clunky bits or bad characterization. If Kline works because
his style so slavishly recalls Burroughs, Carter often doesn’t work because
his departures actually drag things down.
Of course, it might just be that I’m being a bit too hard on him.
Still, its hard not to see the Zanthodon, Callisto and Thongor series as
copies or even near faithful renditions of Pellucidar, Barsoom and Conan.
Be that as it may, Carter does at least have the virtue of honesty.
Not only does he dedicate his first Callisto book to Burroughs, but he
wrote an essay called “Creating a Fantasy Hero” in which he unapologetically
comes clean. The essay’s on the net somewhere in PDF format,
and I don’t propose to reproduce the whole thing, but a few quotes will
“These Callisto books of mine very obviously derive from the Mars books
of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I personally consider to be among the very
best fantastic adventure stories ever written....”
“I was doing a modern day version of John Carter...
“The Yathoons, of course, are my Callistan equivalent of Burroughs giant
green men, the Tharks. ... Even as my Yathoons parallel his Tharks,
my aerial galleons parallel his weightless Barsoomian flyers. This
paralleling extends even to the names of my hero and heroine. That
is, Jon Dark sounds and looks rather like John Carter, or is at least close
enough to the original name to remind you of it, while Darloona, the name
of my heroine, begins with the same letter as does that of Dejah Thoris.
The technique I used in this particular series was to keep reminding the
reader of Burroughs...”
“The knowledgeable reader, thus far, will perceive how carefully I am
paralleling Burroughs... Keeping in mind the typical Burroughs
story situations.... I also used a typically Burroughsian device
in this story.... While essentially Burroughsian in nature...
I am again taking my cues from Edgar Rice Burroughs...”
Not only is he aware, but he’s literally slavishly following, with only
the occasional twist and jig. Carter is very aware of his Burroughsian
influences. Perhaps this is the problem, he’s too conscious,
its too deliberately an imitation. You get the feeling Kline
just wanted to write thrilling novels with his Mars books. Carter
wants to write Burroughs novels with his Callisto books.
Now, normally, in a copyright lawsuit, or in an infringement case, or
in a connecting exercise like this, one of the things you want to prove
is that the writer has actually been exposed to his predecessor.
That he has knowledge, that there is a proven connection. Well,
we’ve got it here in spades.
So, is Callisto actually sharing Barsoom’s universe? Perhaps
on some level, this was in Carter’s mind. Consider this passage:
“My choice of Callisto, one of the larger of the many moons of Jupiter,
was not particularly difficult. Burroughs himself had already used
Mars, Venus and the Moon as settings for his own stories, which eliminated
them from competition.”
Well yes, except that, plenty of other writers, Bradbury, Brackett,
Kline, Moorcock had used Mars. Carter himself would write four novels
set on Mars, though he explicitly took Brackett as his inspiration there
(and Brackett herself took inspiration from Burroughs.) Indeed,
he goes down through the list of solar system worlds, noting other writers
have made use of them, including Mercury, and writes...
“Of course, that didn’t mean I couldn’t use Mercury if I really wanted
to, but for better or worse I settled on Callisto for my Barsoom.
Jandar of Callisto had a certain ring to it which I relished.”
So, what’s going through his little fanboy mind here? I
think it can be argued that, consciously or unconsciously, he was setting
his story in the same universe in the same cosmos as Barsoom itself.
Although its just as legitimate, perhaps more legitimate, simply to argue
that Burroughs Barsoom stories had so defined Mars that you simply couldn’t
credibly write that kind of adventure there any more... Mars was
Barsoom, the psychic world space was already occupied.
Nevertheless, he wanted to write his own Barsoom, and he was slavish
about following Burroughs, a writer whose works he obviously loved.
I suppose we could go either way on this point. Was there
an intention to set it in the same universe, or merely a slavish imitation?
At one point does one consume the other? Does it make a difference?
If it’s so close, doesn’t that simply open the door?
There are some textual cues and clues here and there which suggest
that there may have been more than simply imitation but incorporation.
In Master Mind of Mars, we discover that the Barsoomian adventures are
published in Burroughs universe as fiction. Ulysses Paxton reads
them in the trenches of World War One. There are other sorts of similar
references. The Pellucidar adventures are also published as
‘fiction’ in Burroughs Universe. Tarzan himself is believed
by many to be a fictional character. Over in Ralph Milne Farley’s
‘radio’ adventures, the chronicles also appear as fiction in Argosy.
What this means is that in Burroughs and Farley’s universes, or possibly
a joint universe, their characters adventures are both real and widely
circulated as fiction. It’s an interesting conceit, because in Farley’s
novel, his hero actually finds a copy of Argosy with his adventure, and
in another Radio pellucidar story (Radio Gun-Runners), the characters figure
out that they’ve entered an inner world by reading a previous adventure
So here’s an interesting thing. In Mad Empress of Callisto, John
Dark makes a direct reference to John Carter’s Barsoom adventures, which
he assumes is fiction. In Lankar of Callisto, the John Carter references
come fast and furious.
In Lin Carter’s fictional Callisto universe, Barsoom exists as a series
of novels.... Just as in our Universe.... And just as in Burroughs
Universe. So, in a peculiar metafictional sense, it opens the
possibility that the explicit references to Barsoom means that Thanator
may exist in the same reality.
Of course, this should be taken with a grain of salt. In addition
to Barsoom references, Carter also refers to a number of writers, works
and illustrators. So it may amount to nothing much.
But there’s also this little bit:
“For the captain noting my racial resemblance to Jandar, who also had
grayish eyes and fair skin, although his hair was yellow and not brown
A few pages on, there’s a reference to ‘blue-gray’ eyes, as a family
trait. For those not up on their Wold Newton, Gray eyes are often
a signifier of heroic blood relationships. John Carter has gray eyes,
and in fiction, so does Lin Carter.
So perhaps Carter is indeed suggesting that his fictional self is actually
a relative to the Warlord of Barsoom, and that Barsoom and Thanator share
On the other hand, there are Carter’s aerial galleons. Like
Burroughs, these are lighter than air craft. Carter employs a gas
which is impossibly lighter than hydrogen, effectively, anti-gravitational.
Burroughs employs a ‘ray’ which is lighter than hydrogen and which counteracts
gravity, but which in most respects behaves like a gas... It is kept
in tanks, channelled through valves and pipes, is capable of leaking away...
Like Burroughs ray, Carter’s gas seems to be effectively an anti-gravity
compound, in Lankar of Callisto, it is noted that the limit on the airships
altitude is where the air becomes too thin and too cold to breath.
The lifting gas is somehow lighter than helium or hydrogen, or capable
of cancelling out a much greater weight than helium or hydrogen.
Some basic physics here: Atoms are composed of electrons, protons
and neutrons in equal amounts. Different numbers of components
create heavier atoms and different elements with different properties.
At the top, you’ve got hydrogen, with one proton, one electron and one
neutron. Helium is next with two electrons, two protons and
two neutrons. A bit heavier is carbon, with four of each. And
then you get things like lead or iron with dozens of each.
This gives us the lifting properties of Helium and Hydrogen.
The atoms of these gases are much lighter than gases like Oxygen or Nitrogen
or Carbon, which make up most of Earth’s atmosphere. So, an equal
volume of hydrogen or helium will be much lighter than the equivalent volume
of regular air and it will tend to rise. Wrap that in a balloon
or container, and you’ve got a lifting force. By the way, heat
makes things expand, so a volume of hot air is lighter than a volume of
cold air, thats hot air balloons.
The trouble is, that a particular volume of hydrogen or helium doesn’t
give you that much lift. Take a helium balloon, let it go, and that’s
the last you see of it. The only weight its carrying is a thin rubber
skin, a negligible part of its volume. Attach a quarter to
it, and its stuck to the ground. The weight of the coin added
is sufficient to keep it down. You need more volume, to lift
So, for carrying any kind of load of solid material, you need a hundred
or a thousand times the volume of your solid. This is why balloons
and blimps are so big and why they carry such comparatively tiny baskets.
Now here’s the thing with both Thanatorian and Barsoomian airships.
We’re not looking at 1000 to 1 or 100 to 1 volume ratios. We
don’t even seem to be looking at 10 to 1 volume ratios. True, the
Thanatorians go to great lengths to reduce the weight of their ship, but
still, those things have to carry full crews, they have to be reinforced
to support and operate the wings, they still have to weigh several tons.
On Earth, we cut corners by reducing the mass of the hydrogen or helium
containers, thus, thin skinned ballons and blimps, even zeppelins are structures
covered by thin canvas. On the other hand, the Thanatorian and Barsoomian
airships are using containers and structures definitely thicker and heavier
than canvas. However lightly built a Thanatorian airship is,
it’s a frikking tank compared to a blimp.
What we seem to be looking at is a ratio of volume a lot closer to 1
to 1. Essentially, a given volume of this gas, cancels out a similar
volume of heavier element, such as water. Whatever this stuff
is, its not helium or hydrogen.
But this poses a problem. How can it possibly be lighter
than hydrogen. One proton, one electron, one neutron, that’s
as small and light an atom as you can get under normal physics. But
whatever this stuff is, its way, way lighter than that.
One possibility is that it is some sort of exotic sub-atom. Perhaps
it’s a relatively stable atom with an electron and proton, but no neutron.
Or perhaps its an ‘atom’ which contains an electron, but no proton or neutron,
with some sort of false nucleous holding it together. Or perhaps
its an electron with a virtual nucleous, for some reason, acting like it
has a nucleous. What does this give us? Well, 99.9%
of an atom’s weight is in the proton and neutron. The Electron weighs
Thus, a neutron free, single proton/electron atom would weigh slightly
less than half a hydrogen atom. Hmm, that’s not good enough.
On the other hand, a ‘virtual’ atom, with only an electron and a false
nuceous or other strange subatomic particles, might weigh 1000 times less
This would give us a ‘gas’ with the right lifting properties seen on
Barsoom and Thanator. It’s possible that under the right circumstances,
it might occur naturally. At a guess, since its freed electrons
behaving strangely, I’d probably associate it with the interactions of
powerful planetary magnetic fields, such as Thanator’s and Jupiter, and
potentially strange constituent elements.
Hell, it might even be relatively easy to manufacture, all you have
to do is strip electrons away and then ‘persuade’ them to act like full
fledged atoms. Of course, a cloud of free electrons acting
like atoms is probably not the most stable thing in the world, and it would
take relatively little energy to get them to bind with available real atoms,
which would be an explosive process. Something that Jandar
discovers on Callisto, when he first blows up a Zandahar ship, and then
blows up Zandahar itself.
The other possibility is that instead of being electrons masquerading
as full atoms, we might have something more exotic going on.
It used to be that there were believed to be only four fundamental forces
operating in the universe: Gravity, Electro-magnetism, Strong nuclear and
Weak Nuclear. Now, scientists have identified a dozen more,
including something called ‘hypercharge’ which seems to be an anti-gravity.
This ‘hyper’ force is used to explain, among other things, why the Universe
seems to be continuing to fly apart and expand, rather than being drawn
in by the cumulative gravity of its own mass. That’s right, a few
years back, it was believed that eventually, when the force of the big
bang dissipated, the gravity of the universe would cause it to eventually
start collapsing back in on itself in the big ‘crunch.’ Now
the best theories and measurements suggest that it will simply go on expanding
So, its possible that what the Barsoomians and Thanatorians are using
are truly exotic matter which contains particles or invokes forces which
counteract gravity, giving it a sort of shadow ‘negative’ mass.
Is there anything to support this interpretation? Well,
in Sky Pirates of Callisto, Jandar is told that the airships are capable
of altitudes where the crew cannot breath and which is so cold that they
could freeze to death. In the Barsoom novels, there’s a similar
incident recorded, an early airship actually goes above the breathable
portions of the atmosphere. At upper atmospheric levels, closer
and closer to vacuum, the low air density should still be heavier than
the collective volume of gas trapped inside the airship and the airship
Indeed, in Barsoom’s Swords of Mars, and in the Moon Maid, the lifting
gas actually seems to work in vacuum. There’s nothing lighter than
vacuum, not even our hypotheticsl false atoms made of single electrons
acting like they’ve got a nucleous. So for Barsoom at least,
and potentially Thanator, we may have an actual anti-gravity substance.
It’s possible of course, that Thanatorian lifting gas and the Barsoomian
ray are different things operating on different physics. I’ve given
two separate examples. But my own view is that given that the
Thanator airships were inspired by Barsoom’s, then the two are probably
using the same ‘exotic physics.’
In any event, both use flyers that are effectively, in appearance and
operation, equivalent to seagoing or sailing ships rather than actual flying
machines. The difference is that the Callistans are low tech,
using muscle power to propel, while the Barsoomians have engines and motors.
It’s hard not to see the ships as springing from the same basic conceptual
source. Indeed, in literary terms, the Thanator ships are directly
derived from Barsoom ships.
Of course, there is another overlap. Otis Adelbert Kline’s Martians
also have flying machines, and like the Thanatorians, these are ornithopters.
(Carter is well aware of Kline’s novels, since in Renegades of Callisto,
he offers up a dedication to him.) That is they’re machines powered
by bat wings. Carter would have been well aware, but let’s face it,
ornithopters are not uncommon in the pulps.
Speaking of the ‘ornithopter wings’ and the galleon shape, this might
not be as ridiculous as it seems. On earth, lighter than air ships
require a huge volume, so the basket or gondola really won’t fit and be
stable anywhere but dangling from the bottom. The Thanator and Barsoom
lighter than air ships require a lot less volume for their lifting compartments.
So it might well be viable to arrange the mass around the lifting compartments
in different ways.
As for the wings themselves, keep in mind that the Thanatorian ships,
have a lot less ‘sail’ or surface area in comparison to mass, than Earthly
airships. A blimp is .... well... blimp.
By nature, it presents a lot of surface to wind. A Thanatorian
ship, while still large, presents much less surface to wind, which means
that it is easier to maneuver, particularly if you’ve got controllable
sails to catch and tack into that wind. The Thanatorian ornithopter
wings on their airships are almost certainly designed with the idea of
catching and tacking into wind. If the Zandahar were originally true
sailors, they would have at least the rudiments of sailing.
At the same time, they have practically no power plant - their horsepower
is human muscle. On earth, fixed wing aircraft have power plants
with thousands of horsepower. This immense horsepower allows the
fixed wing aircraft to control their flight through the manipulation of
relatively tiny ailerons while traveling at high speed. Lacking that huge
horsepower, Thanatorian fliers travelling at low speeds might compensate
with large ornithopter wings to guide flight and contribute propulsion.
It’s worth noting that the smallest Thanatorian flyer, the two or four
man gig, is a fixed wing airship powered by propeller. Although it
has only one or two riders, its mass to horsepower ratio is much, much
better than the bigger Thanator ships. This suggests that the flexible
wings are a design adaptation to size and mass.
Still, the aerial ships of the two worlds must be considered a point
of overlap flying on the same fundamental principals and designs.
Then of course, there are linguistic overlaps. Now, I doubt
that Carter made a study of Barsoomian language or anything like that.
But it strikes me that in writing, he would have either read the novels,
or had read the novels many times. So, Barsoomian terms and
sounds were floating around in his consciousness or his unconsciousness.
Take for instance, the local name of his Callisto - Thanator.
This is very Barsoomian.
‘Tor,’ or course, is a common Barsoomian word, used for names, places
and numbers, and derived from the religious root word ‘Tur.’
‘Tur’ and ‘Tor’ are variants of each other, and together with other variants
like ‘Ter’ or ‘Thur’, show up constantly in the Barsoom books. I’ve
argued in another essay that ‘Tur’ and variants showed up constantly in
place and personal names as part of religious influence, much the way biblical
names or religious appellations (Saint) appear constantly in our society.
Than is also a common Barsoomian word which shows up quite regularly.
Than means soldier or warrior. It also shows up as a root in
commonly used words like ‘Panthan’ (Pan-Than, mercenary), or ‘Gorthan’
(Gor-Than, assassin), as well as personal names like Than Kosis.
Another variant of ‘Than’ may be ‘Tan,’ which gives us ‘Tan Hadron.’
And of course, adding an ‘a’ as a suffix to a word in Barsoomian often
denotes the feminine. Thus, Thuvia daughter of Thuvan, Sanoma Tora
daughter of Tor Hatan, Tavia, Dejah, etc. Barsooms Moon, Thuria,
then translates as ‘Daughter of Tur’, which is appropriate in Barsoomian
cosmology, because Tur lives in the Sun. His offspring would logically
inhabit the moon. Thuria also suggests that moons may be seen as
Which takes us to ‘Thanator’ or Thana-Tor. This translates
pretty easily to ‘Warrior-daughter’ or ‘Amazon’ or ‘Valkyrie’ of Tur.
Interestingly, ‘Than’ also shows up as a root in another Thantorian
word, ‘Chanthan’. ‘Chan’ alone in Thanatorian refers to something
equivalent to a knight. A ‘chanthan’ is a sort of landless gentry,
presumably a semi-military term, perhaps ‘foot-soldier’ although it is
also given as ‘mercenary.’ ‘Chan’ seems to be the root word
for soldier on Thanator, but it, itself may be a corruption of Than.
Did Carter sit down and work this out? Probably not, though
it may have happened subconsciously. I think what happened is that
he had all the Barsoomian stuff floating around in his head, he was looking
for a name for Callisto and this popped out, and he liked it because it
By the same token, the word for Jupiter is ‘Gordrimator.’ Once
again, we come back to the Barsoomian root word ‘Tur’ or ‘Tor.’
There are a couple of other Barsoomian allusions here. ‘Gor,’
or ‘Gur’ is a very common Barsoomian root word. There is the
province of ‘U-Gor’ in Fighting Man of Mars. There’s the assassin,
Gantun Gur in Synthetic Man of Mars. There is also Gor-Don
and Gor Hajus as personal names. A White Ape is named Gor.
Gur Tus and Gar Nal may be variant pronounciations of the name. And
Gor appears as a prefix in ‘Gorthan’ or Assassin. Its use for
assassins suggest that it may denote a singular property, perhaps lone,
There’s no Barsoomian word resembling ‘Dri’ or ‘Drim’ or ‘Drima’.
However, there is a word ‘Dur’ which means ‘one million’, ‘Dar’ means a
large military unit, and ‘Dor’ appears as a holy place name. Dor,
Djor and Dar appear as names. The leader of the holy Therns was Matai
Shang, which suggest that ‘Matai,’ or variants may be a holy name.
So, being very free with the Barsoom, Gordrimator might translate as
‘Unique’ (Large?) (place?) of ‘Holy’ ‘Tur’. Not too bad, considering
Jupiter’s prominence in the Callistan sky, and its reputation as the home
of the gods. I note that Lin Carter translates it differently.
Again, I’m pretty sure that Carter isn’t sitting down to work this out.
But once again, I think he’s got a head full of Barsoomian, and consciously
or unconsciously, he mixes and matches Barsoomian words until he’s got
something that feels right.
As I’ve said, we only have about 60 or 70 Thanator words to work with,
and Burroughs gives us only a couple of hundred words of Barsoomian.
Worse, Burroughs Barsoomian contains the ancient roots of an earlier Barsoomian
language. All of these languages, in their full form probably
run several thousand words apiece, which means we’ve got our work cut out
for us. To top it all off, we don’t have full or thorough translations
of many Barsoomian or Thanatorian words, or particularly their root words
or concepts. We have to guess at the meaning of root words
by their context in use in other words, hopefully several other words.
However, there are several Thanatorian words or roots, which seem to
have counterparts or relatives in either contemporary or ancient Barsoomian.
What we are looking at is often not an exact match, but in many cases,
some form of conceptual overlap. Here are some of the more
- ‘*hoon’ - Thanatorian root word for Yathoon and Zarkoon, descriptions
of non-human or alien intelligent beings. ‘Soom’ - Modern
Barsoomian root word for ‘world’ including alien worlds. The
prefix in Barsoomian specifies which world.
- ‘Oro’ - Thanatorian word for ‘Green’ Its worth noting
that this is also an unknown ancient Barsoomian root word, found in ‘Orovar.’
(People of ‘Oro’)
- ‘Hor’, Thanatorian root - ‘Uhorz’ - debt of honour, ‘Horaj’
- urgent, ‘Horeb’ - repulsive rodent. Hor appears to be an intensifier
denoting high or extreme quality. Barsoomian Root, ‘Horz’ -
ancient barsoomian city of Orovars, capital, ‘Hormad’ - artificial human.
Also frequent name. Again, possibly an intensifier signifying
superiority. The meaning in both Barsoomian and Thanatorian
may be very close or identical.
- ‘Mad’ - Thanatorian root, found in Komad, a military designation of
rank. Barsoomian root, found in ‘Hormad,’ ‘O-Mad,’ (one-name
man) ‘Aymad’ (number one man) and a number of personal names.
Again, there may be a very close or identical shared meaning.
- ‘Anth’ - Vanth in Thanatorian, antlered great
plains herbivore, much like a stag. Banth is the Barsoomian
lion. This is probably a coincidence, although there might
be a common root in ‘anth’ in both languages as a reference to some sort
- Then there is the Thanator city of ‘Tharkol,’ which obviously
seems derived from the ancient Orovar city of ‘Thark.’
- The name of the city ‘Farz’ resembles ‘Horz’ on Barsoom.
- ‘Ganatol’ is reminiscent of ‘Gathol.’
- ‘Perushtar’ has the familiar Tur/Tor suffix that is so common in Barsoomian.
What does this all amount to? Well it could easily
be a coincidence. But, there’s coincidence and there’s coincidence.
Certainly Carter up front about his borrowing, including phonetic borrowing
or allusions in the names of his protagonist. John Dark is
deliberately allusive to John Carter, while Darloona evokes Dejah, Carter
So, we can concede that he’s probably influenced by Barsoomian words
and terms in developing his own. Which enhances the closeness, but
isn’t necessarily proof that Thanator shares its solar system with Barsoom.
The question is, is this Thanatorian being influenced by ancient Barsoomian,
or simply Carter being influenced by Burroughs. In real life,
of course, there’s no such thing as Thanatorian or ancient Barsoomian.
The truth is that Carter’s head was spinning with Barsoom, he probably
read the books a dozen times over, and he was very deliberately invoking
Barsoom every chance he had. So its likely that the linguistic
overlaps are genuine, and either conscious, unconscious or a combination
of both in different cases.
Matter of Measurement
But then, how about this? A basic unit of measurement on
Thanator is the Korad, approximately seven terrestrial miles.
Interestingly, a Karad appears as a basic in Barsoomian measurements, being
one hundredth of the Martian circumference or roughly thirty six miles.
Near identical term as a unit of measurement....? That sounds
But, you know how it is, it could just be one of those freudian slips.
Again, Barsoom was floating around in Carter’s head as he was writing,
so he could have been trying to think of a word for measurement and it
just popped into his mind, and he never bothered to check.
Or maybe, and just maybe, this is one of those ‘in jokes’. Maybe
its deliberate, a subtle little nod in which he is establishing a connection
to Barsoom through sharing the term for a unit of measurement...
Measurement being one of those fundamental concepts.
And with respect to the Korad, there’s another coincidence.
In Renegade of Callisto, Carter writes:
“The Korad is a basic unit of land measurement employed on Thanator,
as we use miles, kilometers or leagues. It represents a fraction
of the distance from pole to pole, and according to the Thanatorian reckoning,
the jungle moon measures exactly 621.5 korads from pole to pole, a number
having some unexplained mystical or occult significance to them.
If the moon Callisto is 4,351 miles from pole to pole, as Captain Dark
agrees that it is, then one Korad is equivalent to about seven miles.”
Some things to ponder here. We can assume that in practical
terms, a Korad is pretty equivalent to seven miles, or Captain Dark would
have noted any serious discrepancy.
But what is a bronze age society which has yet to explore large portions
of its own world, doing basing its measures on pole to pole measurements?
And why Pole to Pole? Why not circumference, or diameter, or some
sensible local standard. It’s perhaps interesting that Barsoom uses
a similar standard of measurement, not pole to pole, but circumference.
The final coincidence is the ‘occult’ significance that is attached
to this measurement. Captain Dark suggests that the significance
relates to the number 621.5. But perhaps the real significance is
the distance, 4,351 miles, which is almost the same as the diameter of
Barsoom, 4,200. In fact, this is the only measurement you could get
from Thanator which would match in any meaningful way with any measurement
from Barsoom. Coincidence?
We are getting closer, I think. What we are looking for, I think,
is an unmistakeable tip of the hat. A reference which is so obvious
that it is incontrovertibly Barsoomian, and which definitely places the
two worlds in the same continuum with each other.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is the description of the Zarkoon:
“They were still somewhat larger than men, measuring about eight feet
from barbed, sinewy tail to cruel, hooked beak. Their wings resembled
those of immense vultures or condors and were covered with long feathers
of a metallic azure. Their heads were crested with a stiff topknot
of blue feathers, touched with crimson at the tips; their bodies were covered
with swarthy brownish yellow hide which paled to a bright canary yellow
at throat, breast, belly and thighs.... The oddest thing about the giant
bird winged creatures was that they were essentially anthropoid or humanlike
in form. Disregarding for the moment their brilliant blue plumage
of wing and prehensile barbed and featherless tails, their bodies were
quite manlike with long gaunt arms, whose hands ended in cruel hooked talons,
and long sinewy hind legs which terminated in powerful grasping claws.
Stark naked, their boy umber and yellow torsos were encoumbered with some
articles or implements, I could not at first discern. I awa
with an uncanny thrill of amazement that the bird-monsters wore crude harnesses
of leather straps from which dangled stone axes, flint knives, short throwiong
spears and a varity of curved scimitar like sword with a wicked glittering
blade of chipped obsidian..... One look I had into that nightmarish
face, all clacking parrot beak and mad, glaring orange eyes under blue
feathered, overhanging brow... From the gash in the breast of the
bird warrior, a weird purple gore dripped... Not the honest red blood
of men flowed in their veins, but the purple gore of monsters.”
Like the Yathoon, the Zarkoon are a biological anomaly on Callisto.
There are no birds on Callisto, all the flying animals identified are bat-winged
reptilians. There is only one other animal which bears feathers and
a beak, the Thaptors. But there seems to be no relationship to the
four legged Thaptors. Feathers are only modified scales, and there
are a number of four legged scaled animals, so Thaptors can likely be assigned
to the indigenous biology of Thanator. This seems to leave the Zarkoon
as something of a puzzle. Like the Yathoon, they simply do
not seem native to the planet.
Unlike the Yathoon, however, we’ve seen something very much like them
in Burroughs adventures. But not on Barsoom. Rather,
they seem reminiscent of the Angans of Amtor.
“They had low, receding foreheads, huge, beaklike noses, and undershot
jaws; their eyes were small and close set, their ears flat and slightly
pointed. Feathers grew upon their heads instead of hair....Similar feathers
also grow at the lower extremity of the torso in front, and there is another,
quite large bunch just above the buttocks--a gorgeous tail which they open
into a huge pompon when they wish to show off. . . their arms were very
long, ending in long-fingered, heavy-nailed hands. The lower part of the
torso was small, the hips narrow, the legs very short and stocky, ending
in three-toed feet equipped with long, curved talons Their chests
were large and shaped like those of birds. Their wings, which consist of
a very thin membrane supported on a light framework, are similar in shape
to those of a bat and do not appear adequate to the support of the apparent
weight of the creatures' bodies, but I was to learn later that this apparent
weight is deceptive, since their bones, like the bones of true birds, are
See any resemblances? There are differences of course. The
Angans have beaklike noses, the Zarkoon have actual beaks. The Zarkoon
are nocturnal, considerably bigger, and definitely more ferocious.
But apart from that, there is a definite resemblance.
All right, let’s be honest. Ask any writer to design flying
bird-men, and the result is going to look pretty similar. Feathered
scalps instead of hair, wings either for arms, or additional to arms, talons
and taloned feet, possibly a beak. So its entirely possible
that the Zarkoon are totally independent from Angans or Weiroo, there are
certainly a multitude of differences.
On the other hand, Carter has definitely read Burroughs Amtor books.
It would be hard to imagine how he has not. And he has almost certainly
been exposed to Burroughs Angan’s and Weiroo, as well as Kline’s Bird People,
and likely other writers avian-humans.
So it’s a debateable point. Were the Zarkoon intended to
be an independent creation? Were they subconsciously influenced by
the Angans? Were they consciously influenced? Were they intended
to be a variation of Angans? After all, Venus is a Jungle world,
and Thanator also goes by that name. I don’t think we’ve got a clear
answer on this, and frankly, I doubt that Carter could give us a clear
answer if he was alive. Sometimes the writing process is like that.
Nevertheless, there’s enough similarity between the Zarkoon and the
Angans that we identify the Zarkoon as another potential point of convergence
with Burroughs universe, this time connecting to Amtor rather than Barsoom.
And for the record, the amphibian Laj-Thad may well be related to amphibian
races seen in both Kline’s and Burroughs Venus, as well as perhaps being
related to the Lu of Caprona.
In Lankar of Callisto and Ylanna of Calisto, we might just have it.
Consider this passage from Lankar, as Jandar reveals the horror of the
Mind Wizards zombie slaves:
“They’ll send in the flesh robots first, and believe me, you haven’t
seen the worst of those babies yet. They’ve a few special ones they’ve
either bred genetically or tinkered together through surgery - there’s
one lumbering horror thirteen feet high,weighs half a ton and has six arms.
Christ, he makes Frankenstein’s monster look like Porky Pig...”
Thirteen feet all and a thousand pounds, with a horrific face.
This could be a Thark or a White Ape, or some variant. Of course,
it has six arms. But we never see the creature, so is it possible
that Jandar has mispoken and referred to arms where he meant limbs.
Meanwhile, in Ylanna of Callisto, in a passage early on in the book,
Ylanna, a Jungle girl from the Cave tribe in Cor Az, and Tomar, a young
Shandakorian, discuss the abominations of the Mind Wizard, among them....
“Tomar gave her a questioning glance, then realized what the girl referred
to. “The giant men...” he murmured, a slight grimace of disgust on
“Monsters would be a better name for them,” the girl said, “Some of
them have four arms and none of them are easy to kill!”
Four armed giants? Those are Tharks, ladies and gentlemen.
Burroughs Green men are so unique and distinctive that a reference to four
armed giants can’t be anything else but a Thark.
In Ylanna, true there’s a reference to the Mind Wizards going all Frankenstein,
and sewing corpses together.
Tomar nodded with distaste. “The Mind Wizards made them out of
parts of their captives,” the boy said grimly. “They were cut apart
and sewn together again, parts of one being added onto the bodies of others.
This might be an explanation for the four armed giants. But still...
One can imagine sewing regular sized corpses together to get four arms...
but giants? Nah, its Tharks. Obviously, there’s a small
tribe of Green Man or White Ape descendants over on the Dark side, or possibly
on the Mind Wizards home planet.
Of course, all by itself, four armed giants, while persuasive, wouldn’t
be conclusive. But when we add in the pseudo-Barsoomian terms, the
unit of measurement, and Carter’s obvious affection for Barsoom, I think
we’re pretty safe in saying that the matter is almost concluded.
In Lankar of Callisto, Lin Carter’s fictional altar ego makes a friend:
“As nearly as I could judge, the beast had six legs. They were
short and fat and crooked, like the legs of a bulldog, lending the monster
an absurdly bowlegged appearance. Its head was a trifle bulldoggish,
too. It was virtually neckless, with a remarkably ugly froglike face,
all goggling eyes and wide batrachian gash of a mouth that seemed to stretch
from ear to ear.... I could not help noticing that the wide froglike
mouth with the powerful bulging cheeks and wide underslung jaw was armed
with plenty of blunt, strong looking tusks.”
This is the Othode of Thanator. Approximately the size of a Bengal
tiger, with a hide like sued, and short purple fur. The Othode is
the Thanatorian version of a dog.
Now, check out this description:
“In response to her call I obtained my first sight of a new Martian
wonder. It waddled in on its ten short legs, and squatted down before the
girl like an obedient puppy. The thing was about the size of a Shetland
pony, but its head bore a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except
that the jaws were equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.”
“Calot. A dog. About the size of a Shetland pony and has ten short legs.
The head bears a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the
jaws are equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.”
Descriptions and drawings of the Calot generally give it short thick
It seems that the Thanatorian Othode is a pretty dead ringer for the
Barsoomian Calot, in terms of size, froglike face, and tusks.
Of course, the Othode at six legs is four short of the Calots ten.
But there’s another mystery here. The Othode is the only six limbed
creature described on Thanator. The other big predators and herbivores
are four legged.
The resemblance to the Calot suggests that the Othode may actually be
a Barsoomian import. Perhaps people take their dogs with them.
As for the reduction of limbs from ten to six, perhaps there’s more to
Barsoomian biology. I have cats with extra digits, so its not impossible
that a calot mutation might have wound up with fewer legs.
Finally of course, the identification of the Othode with a Calot becomes
almost irresistable because Carter, when he makes a friend of the creature,
refers directly to John Carter and Woola. So there’s no way that
the appearance of the Othode and its resemblance to the Calot is a coincidence.
Subject to the limbs difference, they appear to be the same, or at least
closely related species.
Okay, so we have a series that was deliberately based on Barsoom, a
series that refers to Barsoom internally, we have endless linguistic overlaps
between the two worlds, we have what seem to be references to Tharks from
Barsoom, we have what may be Angans from Amtor, and we’ve got two races
of frog faced, tusked, multi-legged alien dogs that could easily be mistaken
for each other. Who’s kidding whom?
Not only is Thanator definitely in the same solar system as Barsoom
and Amtor, but it seems pretty clear that the early Barsoomian Orovars
had contact with Thanator. Indeed, the Orovars and their allies
may well have settled Thanator, naming the planet after their own manner.
Or they may have met, merged with or dominated an indigenous human
population. My own view, however, is that given the lack of indigenous
hunter/gatherer societies, there probably was not a native human population.
As I’ve noted, Thanators cultures are almost exclusively city state based,
and we don’t see hunter/gatherer cultures, even in marginal areas.
It’s possible that the Zarkoon and Yathoon were so much more effective
at that lifestyle that they exterminated the primitive hunter/gatherer
Thanatorians... But that doesn’t explain their absence in regions
outside the Zarkoon or Yathoon ranges. The most likely explanation
is that they simply were not there.
Human life on Thanator was civilized and urban from the start, and that
means that it must have been transplanted from some other world.
Thus, given the linguistic overlaps, my guess is the Orovar together with
other Martian races, and perhaps a small contingent of Kline’s Ma Gongi.
But if Callisto was an Orovar colony, what happened to it? They
were the product of a pair of space travelling civilizations, what happened
to them? And even if they’re not, why haven’t they progressed
Perhaps the problem with Callisto was its intense fluctuating magnetic
field, that proved a hazard to space travelers. With adequate precautions,
the Orovar and Ma Gongi might have been able to visit Callisto safely,
and even establish a colony. But in the long run, the powerful magnetic
fields would eventually overwhelm the space technology of the travellers.
Or perhaps it was the war between the Ma Gongi and the Orovars which
nearly destroyed both Mars and the Moon. The war might not have touched
Thanator in any significant way, but left abandoned with the fall of the
two great space traveling civilizations, the Thanatorians might not have
been able to sustain a technological civilization, and regressed to an
early bronze/iron age. The Far Siders with more limited resources
regressed even further back to a subsistence level existence.
More likely, it was a combination. The intense fluctuating magnetic
fields made long term electronics unreliable or impossible. While
in contact with the home words, the colonies did okay. When contact
was lost the colonies were forced back to a more primitive level of technology,
retreating to a ‘muscle powered’ bronce age economy.
We can assume three principal colonies on Thanator in widely separate
locations - the Chaca, Peshtar and Kuthad. Once contact with the
homeworld and its technology was lost, each colony would be isolated and
thrown onto its own devices. The populations were probably initially
small, and even minor differences in ethnic composition might make a large
difference in how each population developed. A simple mutation in
an isolated population would spread like wildfire, further enhancing the
deviation and separation of each group. The races of Thanator
are likely descended from varying mutations and mixtures of Orovar and
So why didn’t the language diverge? Because the Orovar castaways
retained their literacy, and more than that, like many colonial societies,
they made a fetish of keeping alive the traditional language and traditional
When the castaway cultures made contact with each other, they were still
much closer linguistically and culturally than ethnically. A slow
exchange of technology and techniques probably re-standardized the language.
Of course, their origins on Barsoom are very far away. It
is likely that most histories only recall this part of their history as
unproven myth and legend. If we are correct, then two of the
original colony sites, Chaca and Kuthad are now gone. The official
histories of these people will focus on their travails and wanderings by
which they reached their present status. Only in the libraries
of the third, Perush, are we likely to find histories that may accurately
tell of the Orovars.
The historical origins of the Thanator may not be all that apparent
to John Dark. For one thing, he doesn’t have access to the libraries
of Perushtar. For another, the evidence is that the Thanator
language is probably derived more from ancient Barsoomian than modern,
and so certain critical terms may have changed over the millenia.
It’s likely, for instance, that ancient Barsoomians named planets as variants
of Tur, using that as a prefix or suffix, and that the ‘Soom’ suffix was
a later innovation. So Dark probably never hears the word ‘Barsoom’,
and the Thanatorians wouldn’t recognize it. In any case, Dark
being a man of action, probably has very little interest in, and consequently
less knowledge of, ancient legends and histories. Certainly, he wouldn’t
be troubled to unravel them.
In any event, we now have the first part of the story, the arrival of
humans on Thanator, and their isolation in three widely separated colonies
which became the prototypical city states. Eventually these City
States stabilized and grew, encountering one another, starting their own
City-state colonies, entering into wars and foundering upon ecological
crises. And this takes us to the story which we have already
explored in the Peoples of Thanator.
Finally, the yellow Mind Wizards may represent another Barsoomian offshoot
from the Okar, or if we want to be inclusive, we could identify them with
the Ma Gongi of Otis Kline’s Moon. Certainly in Kline’s universe
(which may well be Burroughs) the White Martians and the Yellow Moon men
explored the solar system together and co-founded colonies on each others
worlds. There’s a very strong implication that the Ma Gongi
also founded colonies on Earth and Venus.
We can assume pretty readily that Carter was also familiar with Kline’s
work, which also featured Martian Ornithoptors very similar to the Thanatorian
ones. So in our composite universe, the Mind Wizards are nothing
more than a nasty little lost colony of Ma Gongi. We do know
that Carter states that the Mind Wizards are not native to Callisto, but
are visitors from offworld.
Other likely offworlders probably include the Yathoon, the Zarkoon and
perhaps possibly a small obscure colony of Thark.