Okay, let's be blunt. I'm not sure whether to accept Tarzan on Mars as part of our ongoing greater Barsoom. I realize that I might be a little late in drawing a line here.
At this point, we've accepted and integrated the Martian stories and novels of Edwin Arnold, Otis Kline, Gustave LaRouge, C. S. Lewis, Tolstoy, Leigh Brackett, Lin Carter and even H. G. Wells into the mix. And we've also expanded the Burroughs solar system into a pulp universe that includes lost lands, Pellucidar, Venus and worlds as far out as Ganymede and Callisto. So after all that, do we have a right to say no?
Well, we've always got that right. It's fair to explore Burroughs Barsoom novels as a group. Clearly, the eleven of them connect up, they’re intentionally happening in the same landscape and the same time frame. Same with treating his Venus, Pellucidar and Tarzan novels as discrete groups with their own continuities. Burroughs threw in enough connecting factors between his series that its possible to treat it as a greater 'universe.'
Stepping out a bit further, Arnold is touted as the inspiration for Burroughs, and his Mars as a model for Barsoom. Kline, Tolstoy, Bracket and Carter all took their inspirations very directly from Burroughs and Barsoom. Wells and Lewis' have been retroactively joined to Barsoom by later writers, in professional or commercial works. All of these guys were operating off of or in the same sort of ‘meta-landscape’ the same vision of Mars as a dessicated, dying world in its twilight, based on the works of guys like Lowell and Schiaparelli. So, given the various commonalities, the connections, the borrowings and tributes, we can justify a greater Barsoom. Or at least, we can try.
But Tarzan on Mars? That's basically a step above fanfic. Or a half step. It was never professionally published. Let's face it, if we let every fanfic and every interpretation and revision through the door, then the whole thing becomes incoherent. There are too many contradictions and eventually no way to make them work. The whole thing becomes an exercise in silliness vanishing up its rear end. An infinite series of versions of Mars becomes an impossible planet.
On the other hand, Tarzan on Mars isn't quite an ordinary fanfic. For better or worse, it's a near mythical piece of work, vastly greater in reputation than in its mundane pages. It's a part of the lore, part of the history. So if it's an illegitimate piece of work, it's an illegitimate piece that should be acknowledged.
Ultimately, I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if it's in or out. But it is certainly worth discussing. And perhaps the bit that is most interesting to discuss is the strange and sacrilegious journey of La from Priestess of Opar to Goddess of Barsoom.
As it turns out in the novel, La has been an egg-laying Barsoomian all along. Go figure.
It's a plot twist to the Tarzan series guaranteed to kill half the true blue Tarzan fans stone dead, and then to set them spinning in their graves. It's a curve ball to leave the Barsoom fans flat footed and jaw dropped. It's a hell of conceit, and one way or the other, its an idea big enough and wild enough to justify Tarzan on Mars pseudo-legendary place in Burroughs folklore. La of Opar really is Issus of Barsoom?
The Shocking Words of La!
Come on! That’s too big a whopper to swallow. Byrne pulled that out of his ass, didn’t he? I mean, there’s nothing in the Tarzan canon to even hint that about La. She’s not dropping mysterious allusions to the red planet, her eyes don’t linger upon Mars, they don’t worship. There’s nothing, heavy handed or subtle in any of Burroughs Tarzan stories that would give any credence to this fanciful bit of fluff. Or is there?"I am La, high priestess of the Temple of the Sun, in the city of Opar. We are descendants of a people who came to this savage world more than ten thousand years ago in search of gold. ...”Burroughs wrote that, not Byrne. He wrote it in the Return of Tarzan, in La’s first appearance. A little later, in the same passage, Burroughs writes:"Many ships went back and forth between this new world and the old...."and:“You are such a man as I imagine the forbears of my people must have been -- the great race of people who built this mighty city in the heart of a savage world that they might wrest from the bowels of the earth the fabulous wealth for which they had sacrificed their far-distant civilization.”Wow! It's rare to be able to trace inspiration to its source. But in these stunning words, I think we find the genesis of Tarzan on Mars. In literally her first appearance in the Tarzan series, in her first words to Tarzan, La announces that she and her people are not of this world, they come from beyond, from another world.
Surely then, this is a confession that she's from another planet, Barsoom possibly, or the Moon or Venus... all inhabited worlds in Burroughs oevre. At the very least, it's a hint, it's an opening of the door, an invitation to speculate. After all, what do we really know about La and Opar? Not too much. They're there, there's obviously a deep history, but the details are glossed over.
For those who denounce Byrne's sacrilege in setting up La as a Barsoomian goddess, let's never
forget:* It was Burroughs who had La announce that she was of a people who came from another world tenIt was Burroughs that opened the door and made the connections. Burroughs who opened up the possibility and laid the groundwork. Byrne simply walked through it. Having said that, did Burroughs really mean to suggest that La was from Barsoom? Well, the Barsoom series either pre-dated Tarzan or was damned near concurrent.
thousand years ago.
* It was Burroughs who made the deliberate choice to inextricably tie Barsoom to Tarzan and
Pellucidar, through the device of Jason Gridley and his remarkable 'Gridley Wave' radio.
* It was Burroughs who inserted himself as a narrator for both Pellucidar and Barsoom, and thus
indirectly with Tarzan.
A Princess of Mars was written in 1911 and published in 1912. Tarzan of the Apes was published that same year. The Return of Tarzan came a year later, appearing in magazines in the same year as Burroughs' Gods of Mars. Warlord of Mars was being written in June of 1913, and then appeared in Magazines the following years.
Both Tarzan and Barsoom were blossoming in Burroughs mind, feverishly occupying his attentions. Barsoom had transmuted in Gods and Warlords into a world, not just of dead or dying cities, but of lost and hidden races and strange worship. So it isn't out of the question that there may have been conscious or unconscious influence of Barsoom in the creation of Opar and of La. I don't think that we can really rule out the notion that La's ultimate origins might have been tinged with Barsoom, somewhere in Burrough's conscious or subconscious mind. He might have even deliberately played with the thought. It’s possible.
On the other hand....
It strikes me as unlikely. Burroughs frequently used the term "world" in the Tarzan series, but almost never in the context of referring to a planet. Rather, Tarzan or Burroughs tended to refer to "world" in the sense of a social or cultural context. The society of English lords and of Great Apes were 'worlds', the Jungle was a 'world', the desert another 'world.' World reflected a psychological state, a relationship to a particular environment.
So although we have La speaking, and not Tarzan or Burroughs, it's likely that La is using it in the sense it comes up with in the Tarzan novels. She's probably not referring to another planet. In any event, the rest of her origin following up on those startling words seems to argue against Barsoom:“Their cities stretched from a great sea under the rising sun to a great sea into which the sun descends at night to cool his flaming brow. They were very rich and very powerful, but they lived only a few months of the year in their magnificent palaces here; the rest of the time they spent in their native land, far, far to the north. During the rainy season there were but few of the inhabitants remained here, only those who superintended the working of the mines by the black slaves, and the merchants who had to stay to supply their wants, and the soldiers who guarded the cities and the mines.”The description here seems to refer to a bronze or iron age culture, not a spacefaring interplanetary culture. Of course, La is speaking in Mangani, and I’m pretty sure that Mangani doesn’t contain words for half the concepts she is uttering, so we have to assume that, whatever she’s talking about, it’s beyond the scope of the language and is being framed in prosaic Mangani terms, being translated upwards and outwards through elliptical description and metaphor. It's doubtful that the Mangani vocabulary has sophisticated astronomical concepts like planets and worlds. Or for the notion of ‘world’ as a cultural space. Or for notions of lost continents, ancient sea empires, colonies, commerce, slaves and merchants.
"It was at one of these times that the great calamity occurred. When the time came for the teeming thousands to return none came. For weeks the people waited. Then they sent out a great galley to learn why no one came from the mother country, but though they sailed about for many months, they were unable to find any trace of the mighty land that had for countless ages borne their ancient civilization--it had sunk into the sea.” (The Return of Tarzan, chapter 20)
So even if she was saying I'm from another planet, dumbass!" she'd be stuck with Mangani limitations, and would have to frame it in such prosaic Mangani terms, translating ideas into their loosest Mangani equivalents, that you couldn't necessarily tell.
And this sort of leads to an interesting thing. Why do we take her statement that she’s from another world as ‘metaphorical’ and her description of the fall of a more mundane Island civilization as literal. It could as easily be the other way around, the claim to be from another world is the literal statement, and the rest of it is dumbing down the concepts until the ape man can grasp or misunderstand them. Perhaps La’s history really is a mediated mangled description of a spacefaring race.
But Tarzan's lost cities show no evidence of extraordinary technology or sci-fi level achievements. The best interpretation seems to be that La’s use of ‘world’ is the same sort of use common to the Tarzan books, and that La is describing Atlantis, or Lemuria or Mu, or some similar lost terrestrial civilization.
In the later books, such as Chapter 12 of the Jewels of Opar, for instance, Opar's founding culture is referred to as Atlantis, but the evidence is ambiguous at best. Burroughs is merely recapping the description given by La, and not having the characters add to the narrative. Neither La herself or any of the Oparians ever claim to be from Atlantis.
Still, there’s enough in Burroughs own words to justify Byrne’s flight of imagination, and there’s enough there that we the readers, should we choose, can make an arguable case of it. So if La, Princess of Barsoom, offends thee, take it up with Edgar Rice.
The Immortal Priestess?
Is La actually a Barsoomian? Well, that would explain her immortality... Except that Burroughs never actually says she’s immortal. For that matter, Burroughs never suggests Tarzan is immortal, or even particularly long lived.
We know from Tarzan of the Apes that John Clayton was born in 1888. His latest official recorded adventure by Burroughs was back in 1947, which would put him in at 59. Still long in the tooth, but potentially quite virile without any enhanced longevity. There are a lot of 50somethings, who with the advantage of good diet, healthy lifestyle, exercise and good genes have most of the strength, stamina and reflexes of their '20s and '30s, and who have added considerable cunning to the mix. Tarzan doesn’t need any immortality or longevity in the period of Burroughs own canonical books.
That said, however, as time went on, Burroughs found himself wrestling with the subject a bit. He continually wrote Tarzan as a relatively young or mature man at the height of his powers. A twentysomething or thirtysomething Tarzan was one thing. A fortysomething Tarzan was barely passable. A fiftysomething Tarzan was pushing it. A Tarzan in his sixties... Okay, credibility was going to start snapping soon.
In Tarzan’s Quest, published in 1935-36, Burroughs made his first effort to write his way out of that corner. Tarzan would have been about 48 years old at that time, give or take. Burroughs had Tarzan encounter an immortal tribe called the Kavuru, and acquiring their pills for himself, Jane and his friends. Of course, there were a couple of problems. The Kavuru had to keep taking the pills to maintain their longevity, and Tarzan had only a limited supply, limited even further by the fact that he divided them up. And of course, the Kavuru made their pills by extracting the glands from young girls, so Tarzan’s longevity pills, not only required regular consumption, but required acts of cannibalism of vampirism. Maybe not such a good idea, morally considered. Doesn’t send the right message, know what I mean.
In one of the last books in the series, Tarzan and the Foreign Legion, published in 1947, (later Tarzan novels attributed wholly or partially to Burroughs were published posthumously, and are presumably set prior to Burroughs death), Burroughs, acutely aware of a Tarzan approaching his sixtieth birthday, has his Ape Man states that an incredibly young/old Witch Doctor made him immortal. Apparently, Burroughs has faced up to his problem and written around it. Of course, Burroughs didn’t live much longer after that, so we don’t know what he might have done with it, whether he would have told that story, or developed or elaborated some further justification.
Subsequent novels by Leiber, Farmer, Lansdale, and unauthorized novels such as Werpers, took place decades removed from Tarzan’s original period. The comic strips and comic books remained vital through the sixties and seventies, even into the eighties and nineties. Movies of the sixties and seventies extended Tarzan’s period of operation into impossible lengths beyond a normal human span. The Tarzan of many of these subsequent works, if born in 1888, would had to have been in his seventies and eighties, but still remained impossibly youthful and vital. Often writers, artists and filmmakers dealt with it by not dealing with it, ignoring the matter completely. Sometimes the past would be rewritten. But necessarily, some did acknowledge it, and then you sort of had to sneak up on the notion of an immortal, or at least unnaturally long lived, Tarzan.
Mostly though, this seems to be a mostly post-facto extrapolation of fans, and particularly of Philip Jose Farmer, who kept extending Tarzan’s lifespan first through Tarzan Alive, then with novels, such as Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees, Dark Heart of Time, etc. extending Tarzan and ‘clones’ into the modern day and through time travel into the remote past.
La for her part appears in four canonical Burroughs Tarzan novels from 1913 through 1937, a span of 24 years. Assuming that she encountered Tarzan as a teenager, she might still be in her late thirties or early forties at her last appearance. It wouldn’t be out of the question for La to retain most of her youth and beauty over much of this period in a normal life span. Indeed, in Return of Tarzan, La herself seems to specifically repudiate immortality, presenting herself as the latest in a long line of priestesses:"But why are you more human than the others?" asked the man.Note that La speaks of ancestors, an ancestral line, and hereditary inheritance of her position. That’s not ‘immortal talk.’ Of course, perhaps an immortal might be inclined to dodge the issue. Whatever La might be, it is established early on that she’s no fool.
"For some reason the women have not reverted to savagery so rapidly as the men..... My strain has remained clearer than the rest because for countless ages my foremothers were high priestesses--the sacred office descends from mother to daughter.” (Return of Tarzan, Chapter 20)
On the other hand the passage is interesting in that it clearly separates La from the other Oparians, even the human appearing Priestesses. La seems far more human, far more out of place, than even her sister priestesses. This may be significant, if we are asking whether La truly is of Opar. The point is echoed by this passage:“but by some queer freak of fate, aided by natural selection, the old Atlantean strain had remained pure and undegraded in the females descended from a single princess of the royal house of Atlantis who had been in Opar at the time of the great catastrophe. Such was La. “ (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)Again, there’s the suggestion that La is unique, visibly unique in Opar. That she’s far more human, far purer and undegraded than the other Oparians. Perhaps because she’s immortal and not a product of a mixed line? Or Barsoomian? Or just a freakishly pure human lineage in Opar?
The passage itself, however, suggests that La is not eternal or immortal, and certainly not Barsoomian, but merely the product of a long line of Oparian royalty. In Jewels of Opar, Burroughs writes of her at chapter twelve:“She had grown to young womanhood a cold and heartless creature, daughter of a thousand other cold, heartless, beautiful women who had never known love.”We don’t know what Burroughs bases all this on this on. Authorial authority I suppose. La’s actual history or geneology is not actually discussed or revealed by La or any other character, so perhaps its merely a bit of colour by Burroughs. Or possibly he’s speaking as the voice of god. But this passage makes her sound pretty mortal.
Another factor arguing against immortality is her tumultuous career as high Priestess in Tarzan’s era. One would think an immortal Goddess/Priestess would be pretty solidly established. Instead, her position seems precarious, she is twice overthrown, once to the point of being forced from Opar altogether, on a later occasion, dissidents leave Opar to found their own cult. That hardly argues for a reign of centuries or millenia, although perhaps Tarzan is simply a major destabilizing force. He’s the sort of guy who can walk in and upset thousands of years of tradition.
On the other hand, there is this quote in Tarzan the Invincible:“As he viewed her now in the light of day he was struck again by the matchlessness of her deathless beauty that neither time, nor care, nor danger seemed capable of dimming, and he wondered what he should do with her;”This comes in the fourth appearance of La, after decades have passed for both La and Tarzan. It could be, and likely is, mere hyperbole. But the reference to ‘deathlessness’ and her apparent immunity from time, might be at least a hint that she is immortal, or at least incredibly long lived. Decades have passed, so Tarzan may well be observing that she has not aged at all. Assuming that La was between 18 and 24 at the time she originally met Tarzan in 1912, then she would be between 37 and 43 by Tarzan the Invincible. It’s an unfortunate fact that in the harsh conditions of savage Opar, we would expect beauty to fade fast. If she’s still holding up, she’s either gifted with luck and amazing genes, or she truly is deathless.
Immortal or immensely long lived characters appear in Tarzan’s Quest as the ageless vampiric Kavaru. So who knows? If he’s allowing one race of immortals in the Tarzan continuity, we can’t quite rule out that he didn’t allow the possibility of an immortal La. Indeed, La is a pretty appealing returning character, and if Burroughs has taken the step of conferring supernatural or longevity on Tarzan.... Well, it would such a shame to let a character like La go to waste through aging. It’s entirely hypothetical, but it seems at least likely that Burroughs was deliberately or unconsciously opening this door for La.
Whatever Burroughs' intentions, the notion of an immortal or long-lived La has caught on with many subsequent writers. Perhaps it’'s because she’s such an enduring and unique character in the Tarzan series. There's the temptation, the desire, to use her again and again, not to let her go, so she like Jane gets updated with Tarzan.
Perhaps it’s some subtle carryover from her inspiration, H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha, who really was immortal. Whatever the reason, the fact is that canonical Burroughs doesn’t really deal with it, or if he did come to it, he seems to have come to it late after his characters were established and had been around a little too long to be natural. Nevertheless, the idea is so deeply rooted among subsequent writers and artists now that it seems impossible to dislodge.
If La actually is deathless, as Burroughs hints, there’s no explanation for it. Conceivably she and Tarzan have the same witch doctor. Or perhaps their immortalities are linked. Perhaps they’ve both used Ayesha’s eternal flame. Or perhaps La finds immortality through a different route than Tarzan.
But the point is, if Burroughs is indeed allowing the possibility, in Tarzan the Invincible then conceivably, this allows us to tie it to her opening claims in Return of Tarzan to be from another world. And what other world could that be? The Kalkars and Vah-Nah of Burroughs moon have normal life spans. The people of Amtor have only achieved an immortality serum mere centuries ago. Only the Barsoomians with their thousand year life spans and potential immortality seem to come close to fitting the bill. So if La is really deathless or nigh-immortal, and really from another world or descended from another world... Then where else but Barsoom?
THE FORBIDDEN CITY, RECONSIDERED
Setting aside those three very suggestive passages in La’s opening speech, and leaving the obvious connections of Jason Gridley, Pellucidar and the fictional Burroughs, is there anything in Tarzan’s world that might connect to Barsoom, to La as Issus?
Unfortunately, there’s no more pregnant comments by La. In the subsequent appearances of La and Opar, after the Return of Tarzan -- Tarzan and Jewels of Opar, Tarzan and the Golden Lion, Tarzan the Invincible and The Tarzan Twins and Jad Bal Ja, we don’t really get any more suggestive hints, no startling pronouncements. Opar is strictly a lost colony of a lost Atlantean-type civilization. The Oparians are degenerate beast-men, and La is merely the Priestess/Goddess.
Is there nothing at all?
There is Tarzan and the Forbidden City.
To be fair, it’s far from the best of the Tarzan novels. Burroughs is clearly tired and going through the motions. The flare, the inventiveness, the mystery and adventure that Tarzan at his best captures is almost absent here.
All the pieces are there. There’s the lost and hidden valley with its warring cities, much like Tarzan the Terrible, or Tarzan and the City of Gold, or Tarzan and the Lost Empire. But we don’t really see much of them, they’re almost perfunctory. They aren’t degenerate like Opar, mad like Xuja, or truly exotic like Pal-Ul-Don.
Like Pal-Ul-Don this lost valley features strange and exotic animals including prehistoric monsters. But here, they’re barely alluded to. Tarzan fights a T-Rex the size of a bull, and battles sea serpents and horned sea rhinos, but nothing much comes of it.
There’s even an exotic barbarian queen, like La of Opar or Nemone of Athne. But unfortunately, nothing much happens there. She’s more bitch than mystery and hardly interesting.
It’s as if Burroughs is in a slump. He has to do an adventure, he keeps throwing in classic bits and pieces, but is hardly motivated to breath life into them.
Ah well. There are some interesting things in Tarzan and the Forbidden City. Essentially, this lost valley features the two warring cities of Ashair and Thobus, founded over three thousand years ago by travelers from the north. Burroughs never calls them Egyptians, but implication is that they are Egyptians, but oddly, this is never really supported. The Queen of Ashair and the King and Queen of Thobus are not referred to as Pharoahs, there are no pyramids, there are no obelisks, no great sphinx’s, no hieroglyphics, no mummies, no jackal headed or bird headed deities, in short none of those exotic touches that might make the book come alive and scream EGYPT.
Some things are reminiscent of Egypt. The names, some of them at least, have a sort of pseudo-Egyptian flavour. The central lake is called Horus, or the Holy Horus, reminiscent of the Egyptian god. Oddly, Horus himself is not worshipped as a god per se. Meanwhile, each city worships a single god, respectively Chon and Brulor, incarnated or represented by a living and vulnerable human being, neither of which seem particularly Egyptian. Most significantly the top god or goddess, the only other one mentioned besides Chon and Brulor is Isis.
Of course, this admits a bit of ambiguity. Are these cities reminiscent of Egypt, or of Barsoom? Is the lost lake Horus named after the Egyptian God, or the lost Barsoomian sea of Korus? Is it the Egyptian Isis that is the ruler, or is it Barsoom’s Issus? Perhaps both the Egyptian Isis and the Isis of Thobus and Ashair derive from Barsoom’s Issus?
Thobus and Ashair are pretty primitive and low tech to be Barsoomian colonies. But it might be possible to argue that the culture of Thobus and Ashair were influenced by contact with Barsoomians, as was Opar. Indeed, Ashair seems to be a fairly obvious corruption or derivation of Opar or Ophir, arguing for some sort of connection or link between the two societies.
But if that’s so, why is La stuck in Opar rather than some more hospitable land like Ashair?
THE SECRET CIVILIZATION
"From that day dated the downfall of my people. Disheartened and unhappy, they soon became a prey to the black hordes of the north and the black hordes of the south. One by one the cities were deserted or overcome. The last remnant was finally forced to take shelter within this mighty mountain fortress." (The Return of Tarzan, the soliloquy of La, Chapter 20).Here’s a question? How does La know for sure that Opar is the last remnant of their ancestral civilization? She can’t know for sure. Which implies that perhaps there are other fragments.
Burroughs sets a lot of lost civilizations in Africa, and broadly, they fall into two categories. There’s stuff that we know where it comes from: Leftover Mayans, renegade Crusader states, small Christian offshoot sects, lost Roman colonies.
Then there are places which don’t seem to have clear origins at all. Opar comes first of course. But there’s also the lost city of Xuja. The warring states of Athne and Cathne. Ashair and Thobus may be part of this group. The mysterious immortal white tribe of Kavuru. The Amazon nations of Kaji and Zula. The city of the Bolgani, and a later lost tribe of Bolgani from Tarzan and the Lion Man.
Burroughs himself drops a few hints. The city of the Bolgani lays in the valley of Opar and almost certainly the two share a common origin. One of Burroughs characters speculates that the cities of Athne and Cathne may be descended from the same Atlantis to which Opar’s origins are attributed. The amazons of Kaji and Zula are located remarkably near Athne and Cathne. Ashair is all too obviously a phonetic distortion of Opar or Ophir.
This group of cities all seem to share overlapping traits. Almost none of them possess or employ the bow and arrow, lucky for Tarzan. The Athneans and Cathneans are quite mystified, the Oparians never use it, the Ashair and Thobus use spears instead. The Oparians work with clubs and spears.
Most of them seem to be ruled by Queens or Priestesses, or their societies feature co-equal gender based hierarchies of male and female priests/priestesses or royalty. Opar, Athne, Ashair, Xuja and Kaji and Zula are all ruled by Queen’s. In Thobus the Queen is co-equal with the King.
Lions are venerated by Athne, Xuja and the Bolgani city. Apart from that, each city seems to sport a patron deity - the Sun for Opar, the Elephant for Cathne, a parrot of Xuja. H.Rider Haggard’s Kor features competing Sun and Moon cults.
They’re all ancient, mostly caucasian societies. And the architecture for these cities is remarkably consistent. They are all walled cities, with immensely high walls. Internally, their works feature domes, towers and minarets. Visually, despite or perhaps because of Burroughs minimal description, they all resemble each other.
It’s likely that they’re the remnants of a long lost civilization, perhaps indigenous to Africa, perhaps remnants of a network that began in Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu.
Actually, Philip Jose Farmer puts a lot more effort and does a much better job of sketching out this lost civilization, particularly in his novels of Opar. I’d recommend them to any reader.
For our purposes, what is interesting is that it may have been a civilization that may have had contact with space traveling Barsoomians before its fall.
BACK TO ISSUS
Of course, Byrne’s novel stacks the deck when it comes to connecting La and Barsoom.
According to Byrne, she lays eggs, that should settle the issue right there. During the course of the novel, La refers a few times to a 'terrible secret' which prevents her from taking a mate, retroactively references to her being an egg layer. But there's more.
Unlike her fellow priestesses, she is clearly not aging, and indeed, turns out to be very old, perhaps immortal. Definitely immortal or near immortal, according to Byrne.
The 'old tongue' of Opar, the religious language which is spoken as an alternative to Mangani, turns out to be an archaic form of Barsoomian.
And finally, there's the piece of jewelry, the Great Star of Issus, which originates upon Barsoom: But is discovered in Tarzan's Opar. Good gosh.
On the other hand, she's not quite a typical Barsoomian. Fair skinned like the white Barsoomian races, she's got a full head of hair, unlike the Therns, and that hair is dark, unlike the blond and redheaded Orovars. She is, in Barsoomian terms, superhumanly strong (undoubtedly the extended stay in Earth’s gravity and a savage primitive lifestyle). And of course, she's on earth.
Exploring how she got out there may actually shed some light on the early Barsoomian picture.
Through the good graces of Bill Hillman, I've recently had the opportunity to review Tarzan on Mars (and for that matter, Tarzan at Mars Core).
Before getting too far into it, I’d like to take a quick look at Barsoomian religion and the nature of Issus. In brief, the original religion of Barsoom, and the dominant religion for much of its history was Tur-ism (also known as Zar or Zhar worship). In brief, Tur was a sun spirit who evolved to be a monotheistic sun god dominating Barsoomian society. The omnipresence of the Tur cult could be seen in the endless Tur references in personal names, geographic names, astronomical terms, mathematics, etc. on Barsoom. Indeed, the Tur cult was so pervasive that it left traces on Earth, Venus, Pellucidar and even Callisto and Ganymede.
The Tur cult remained dominant on Mars right up until shortly before the cataclysm. However, over time, a second major religious tradition arose which was at the time roughly equivalent to secular humanism.
This was the Iss Cult and its intellectual roots derived from the journeys of exploration which showed Barsoomians that their world was far more complex than Tur would have it. The Iss cult for much of its development would appear to have been less a religion and more a philosophical proto-scientific movement. However as it spread and gained adherents it took on more and more religious trappings. The Philosophical/Religious aspects of the Iss cult were water/fertility as represented by a sacred river and tree of life. Interestingly, just as a person could be both a faithful Christian and a scientist in our world, so too could a Barsoomian be a devotee of both Tur and Iss.
Indeed, Tario’s (the Lotharian villain of both Thuvia, Maid of Mars and Tarzan on Mars) own name (Tur-io) is derived from the Tur faith, as was his refuge Lothar (Lo-Tur).
It is clear that La while in Opar and later when transported to Barsoom was a dedicated sun worshipper, which means that she herself, despite being acclaimed as a goddess, was actually probably a Tur worshipper.
Nothing ever remains static of course. Even in a protean philosophical movement leaders emerge through force of personality, they hunger for more power, they enforce discipline and conformity. This was Tario and his associates, a group of pre-eminent Barsoomian scientists and philosophers. Tario attempted to centralize the Iss cult, creating both a core doctrine and a managing structure. To do this, he needed a figurehead, a representative or central figure of the faith.
Someone who would be the pure and holy face, while he and his ran things in the background. This was to be his daughter, La, gifted with immortality through his experiments, and possessed of political and perhaps psychic skills near his own. (Tarzan on Mars)
Of course, things didn't turn out well. La turned on her father and his followers and managed to expell them in the ensuing power struggle. (Tarzan on Mars)
Thereafter, Tario responded by creating the Cult of Komal, or cult of the Banth, endorsing a near fascist concept of 'will' as the source of power. Tario was well on his way to being a proto-Nazi. He made his headquarters in the original Lothar and gained some success and adherents.
Unfortunately, when the cataclysm hit, the glorification of strength and the denigration of women and 'womanly' qualities, meant that only men survived. No doubt they simply considered their own women disposeable and believed that they could collect some other nation's women, trading or bargaining on their strength. That didn't happen. (Thuvia, Maid of Mars). [Barsoom Religions: ERBzine 1741]
In the meantime, the power struggle with Tario left La in command of the Iss Cult, or the Iss Movement if you'd have it that way. She took the title of Iss-Us. Roughly, it would translate as 'Highest of Iss', or perhaps in human terms, Pope.
She accumulated a retinue of First Born as a personal bodyguard, alluded to in Tarzan on Mars, and seen in distorted form in Gods of Mars. This was a move that began the split between the major Thern and First Born versions of the cult.
Of course, the title, as so often happens, slowly begins to morph into something else. Long lived or immortal even by Barsoomian standards, she came by some to be considered to be a goddess, or received equivalent treatment and adulation. Terrestrial history is full of this sort of thing, and there's a lot of instances of religious or secular leaders being elevated to 'godhood.'
With us so far? Okay, excellent.
Next, I need to clear up some misconceptions about Barsoom, history and humanity.
First, as a principle, all humans in the solar system and elsewhere are derived from Earth. Humans organically belong on Earth, they are related to primates and other mammalian species, and they share a complex evolutionary history with Earth's life which places them directly on the planet. Anatomically modern humans emerged perhaps a quarter of a million years ago. Recognizeable human types, perhaps half a million years before that.
Prior to humans there were at least two parahuman species from separate lines of evolution which created creatures astonishingly similar to modern humans. Respectively, 'half-hooved' loping ghouls and lengs descended from Baboons (seen in Lovecraft), and prehensile tailed tree people descended from new world monkeys. (Seen in Burroughs Pal-Ul-Don and Pellucidar, Kline’s Irimatri and Williams Lost Land of Jongor). But we won’t worry too much about them. [Monkey Men: ERBzine 1485 ~ Lovecraft: Almost Human: ERBzine 1787]
Anyway, the point is that all humans everywhere, even on Barsoom, are descended from original human populations originating on Earth. How did they get out and around... Well, anatomically modern humans possessed a near unique racial trait of astral teleportation. When the stars were right, certain among them could literally jump between worlds. Under the right conditions, with the right training, and perhaps certain technologies, populations could be and were established on other worlds. [Are Barsoomians Human?: ERBzine 1418]
But this creates a mystery for Mars. Humans on Mars have been identified in several time periods going all the way back to the Cretaceous era, which seems flatly impossible. (The City Outside the World and Flame of Iridar by Lin Carter, Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett, the Michael Kane Trilogy of Michael Moorcock)
What is happening here is that these archaic Barsoomian populations are actually descended from time jumpers. Literally, they may be the descendants of Barsoomians who have fled cataclysm (perhaps a future cataclysm in some cases) by fleeing into the past. It's likely that many of these 'colonies in the past' naturally became extinct, while others became reclusive or transformed into nonhuman or human-transcendent beings).
However, the modern Martian population actually derives for the most part from the anatomically modern era. Yeah, more complicated than it needs to be. But bear with me.
Another misconception is the time period of the Martian decline. Actually, the deterioration of the Martian oceans began approximately 250,000 years ago, as Burroughs writes. However, at the time, and for much of the time, it was far from a catastrophe. The decline was for the most part, gradual, and it was even welcomed.
Remember that Mars has no plate tectonics, no active geology. It's landscape thus resembled Australia, an ancient continent of poor and easily exhausted soils. In Australia, for hundreds of millions of years, nutrients have been washed into the sea. The processes of uplift, mountain forming, tectonic volcanoes, etc., that replenished other continents were not present. Mars, over time, had the same problem of declining soil fertility. The decline of the oceans became a boon. Where were all the soil nutrients going? They were being washed into the sea where they formed a rich bed of silt offshore. When the oceans declined, these beds of silt became dry land and became astonishingly rich and productive soil. The result was actually a martian renaissance and the rise of the Orovar civilization. Occasional drops in sea level were a mixed blessing, perhaps dangerous in the long term, but the immediate blessing was always a bounty of new lands, new productivity, new economic opportunities, new and rich property. (Jared Diamond, Guns Germs and Steel for a view of similar soil exhaustion in Australia).
The Orovar civilization went from strength to strength, achieving space travel, and visiting or establishing colonies on a number of worlds. This was approximately 15,000 years ago, but may have been as recently as 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. It's one of those historical ironies that the Orovars could well have saved their world and avoided doom. They had the technology to harvest water from the rings of Saturn to replenish their own world. Unfortunately, they screwed it up, dooming their own world and creating a dark age across the solar system.
What happened? Well, it is chronicled by Otis Adelbert Kline in his novels. They encountered another spacefaring race - the Ma Gongi of the world we know as Luna. Luna at the time occupied a Trojan Orbit with Earth, or perhaps an intermediate orbit between Mars and Earth. After a short period of peace and shared exploration and development the two worlds went to war. The result was a cataclysm, the near destruction of the Martian atmosphere and biosphere, the elimination of most of its oceans.
The planetary catastrophe nearly extipated the existing Martian races, replacing them with the mongrel red men. (Swordsman of Mars) For the Ma Gongi of the Moon the consequences were even more devastating. Their world was all but destroyed, with the only survivors living in enclosed domes. A last ditch effort to avoid extinction left them orbiting Earth. (Maza of the Moon, Man in the Moon). The war raged across the solar system, leaving both Ma Gongi and Orovar relics scattered through the worlds.
The Orovars lost colonies became became the Zarovars of Venus, and were found in Irimatri in the Himalayas. The Ma Gongi founded the Chinese civilization, and left traces in South America and with the Huitsen of Venus (Jan of the Jungle, Tam Son of the Tiger, Planet of Peril, Port of Peril). An Orovar mining colony was abandoned to the Monkey-men in Jongor’s Lost Land in Australia (Robert Moore Williams, the Jongor trilogy).
Where does Earth fit into all of this? Well, at this time, Earth didn't count for much for either the Ma Gongi or the Orovars. Earth was an awful planet - the gravity was crippling, the air was too thick and humid, the place was full of diseases, and the natives were primitive savages. The most advanced civilization on Earth was Mu, and it was bass ackwards post-stone age types. They were people who thought sticking feathers on arrows was high technology. It's really hard to minimize just how unpleasant Earth was to the Martians and Ma Gongi.
Indeed, particularly for the visiting Orovars, disease was a major concern. You'll recall how devastating Earth germs proved to be to Martian life forms. (War of the Worlds, Mr. Stranger's Sealed Packet) The truth was that Earth was the origin of and home of the mammalian order, the center of the primate species, and the home of the human race. The other planets had been colonized by handfuls of astral-teleporters, they had a lot less genetic diversity. As isolated populations, they had grown up disease free. Thus, they were ultra-vulnerable to primate diseases, the risk of earth borne plagues was real and devastating. So the Orovars were not particularly interested in conquering the place.
Instead, the Orovars made contact with or even uplifted the Mu civilization, and established a few fortifications in isolated areas. Now, a word or two. I'm not sure if Atlantis ever existed. It probably did in some sense, but if so, its reputation is probably considerably exaggerated and it has been confabulated with other lost civilizations or colonies in the Atlantic and Mediteranean area. In a sense, there have been a lot of lost civilizations all generically known as Atlantis.
However, facts of the matter are that a study of sea bottom topography shows that there's no place for a lost continent and no remains of one, in the Atlantic ocean. At best, Atlantis was probably a temporary geological fluke, probably a microcontinent where the Azores now reside, pushed up and sunk by tectonic forces.
Mu on the other hand, existed. You can look it up, just google Zealandia. Mu was a well watered, very fertile, starfish shaped continent about half the size of Australia in the south Pacific. Its remnants are New Zealand and New Caledonia. Mu had been originally colonized shortly after Australia, and the people's ethnic and linguistic affiliations were closest to the Australians. But being a more temperate and rain swept continent than tropical and desert Australia, the population came to resemble Europeans in their features. They were not true caucasians, but merely a parallel development. I’ve got another article somewhere on Lost Continents, but for now, let’s do with the short version.
Conditions in Mu were perfect for the development of the first human civilization, the culture that the Orovars would make contact with. The Muans were sufficiently isolated and disease free that they posed no threat to the Orovars. Their immunity profile was close enough that the Orovars could reliably use them to determine what areas and conditions were safe. Basically, the Mu were an extremely isolated terrestrial population, disease free and thus no risk to the Orovars. Their isolation made them as vulnerable to diseases as the Orovars, so they could be great canaries in the coal mine.
Thus, the Orovars often worked with the Mu, and the two cultures were occasionally confused, resulting in vastly different legends of Muan technology and accomplishment. The Muans colonized another lost continent, Lemuria (Kerguelen Plateau), and established outposts on Skull Island and other locations. However, most of their mainland colonies were not ultimately successful, perhaps in part because of their immunological deficits. Some of their underground colonies and at least one South American colony survived into the 20th century though.
ISSUS ON EARTH
“By the gods!” he whispered, frightened. “This is the final proof! She is Issus! This is proof incontrovertible! Does she know it not? Cannot you, yourself, understand its significance?”This brings us back to La. She’s basically Iss-us, the Martian pope. Her cult is a rationalist one committed to exploration. If the Orovars really were travelling as far as Earth and Venus and establishing colonies or making contact with at least some local cultures, it makes sense that La might have traveled to Earth. Perhaps for science, perhaps for commerce, perhaps for exploration, or perhaps merely to bless worshippers in remote locations. Or perhaps it was a diplomatic mission, to preserve peace with the Ma Gongi, or to establish relations with the Lemurians. We’ve had traveling popes on Earth.
“She has not quite put two and two together yet, as we say on Jasoom,” replied the apeman, solemnly, “but ever since she revealed this incredible thing to me I have been gravely troubled by its significance. It answers, to me, the whole mystery of Atlantis.”
“That is another story, which explains why a continent called Africa, on Jasoom, was the apparent origin of a great race of black skinned men.”
Kar Komack’s head jerked up. “The First Born!” he exclaimed. “The original guardians of Issus!”
“And in a place called Egypt,” said Tarzan, “her legend must have been born andew, for they once worshipped a goddess called Isis.” (Tarzan on Mars, page 325)
When the war broke out, La was not on Mars, she was on Earth, probably on or near Mu. A Solar System Wide War paralyzed space travel. Instead of journeys of exploration and discovery, great fleets marshalled to destroy each other. Lone ships were relentlessly destroyed. La and her followers and retinue were trapped on Earth.
Then Mu coincidentally sinks. Or maybe not so coincidental. Mu was the major terrestrial ally of the Orovars, there's a war going on in which Planets are literally having oceans boiled away. So maybe what happens to Mu is not so coincidental at all. They just took a hit in the war.
During this time, a Mu fleet travels to Egypt and then to South America, where it establishes a city in a lost valley. Oddly, that lost valley is also host to a Ma Gongi population. (Jan of the Jungle by Otis Kline)
La avoids the destruction of Mu, however, having relocated to proto-Sumeria and proto-Egypt, where her sacred river/fertility cult take root and are known as the Ishtar and Isis cults. There’s also a sacred river cult based around the Ganges in India, so La might have been there establishing some version of the Iss cult. La has spent enough time on Earth that she has acquired a pretty fair degree of immunity.
Cut off from her home, La and her followers are vulnerable to native unrest, and to possible Ma Gongi agitation or attack. The primitive civilizations of Earth cannot truly offer her safety. Indeed, her presence may make some of them a target. Unable to reach the Orovar strongholds in the Himalayas, Norway or Pellucidar, La instead travels into the African continent, establishing the Isis and Tur cults among the Mu/Atlantean remnants (or the independent lost Khokarsan civilization) of the African interior.
Since we're looking at Immortal White Jungle Goddesses Living in Ruined Cities, it might be amusing to take a look at Ayesha, the likely inspiration of La, in H. Rider Haggard's groundbreaking novel, She. Of course, there's no actual indication in Burroughs or Haggard that the two are connected in any way, apart from that whole immortal, white jungle goddess presiding over a ruined lost city shtick. But that in itself might be something.
There is a hypothetical connection, depending on whether you accept Philip Jose Farmer's novels, 'The Dark Heart of Time', 'Hadon of Opar' and 'Flight to Opar' as canonical or semi-canonical Tarzan entries. It's seriously outside the time period of the Burroughs/Pulp era. But then again, Farmer is very clearly referencing or using Tarzan and not even being terribly subtle about it, and his Opar novels essentially connect Haggard's and Burroughs lost cities, all as parts of a now extinct central African civilization which existed in seas in what are now the Congo and Chad basins.
If we pretend that they're connected, then Ayesha was probably an acolyte of La. Note that Ayesha is phonetically quite similar to C.S. Lewis' Martian Goddess, Oyarsa, whose name amounts to 'Oyar-Iss-A' and probably originated as 'Orovar-Iss-A' or 'White Daughter of Iss.' Ayesha probably originates as Aya-Iss-A. 'Aya' is a Barsoomian root which seems to mean first or prime, 'Ay-Mad' being 'number one man', so that translates as First Daughter of Iss. Literally, first lieutenant to the Iss-Us. Interestingly, like La, Ayesha herself is a dedicated sun/fire worshipper, again implying that
the Iss Cult did not originally see itself as opposed to the Tur Cult.
But how does La end up in a hole like Opar with bestial men? We don’t really know. Given that the Isis cult appears in Thobus and Ashair as well as Egypt, and that Opar seems to have been civilized enough to have trade during King Solomon’s time, likely that she may have been fairly active even a few thousand years ago.
Here’s a thought. Perhaps the strange societies of the Bolgani-Men and Opar-Men are not entirely natural. La described Opar as a fortress, and its inhabitants are far more inhuman and far more powerful and dangerous than any other lost city. Perhaps La had instituted a breeding program to create ferocious superhuman warriors. She may have bred terrestrial humans with Mangani to create the Frightful Beast Men of Opar. She then refined breeding to create a servile race of near subhuman and docile gomangani, as well as a hyper-muscular race of Bolgani or Gorilla-Men. Or perhaps she merely stumbled over such a toxic situation.
Over millennia Opar society stratifies. The Oparians lose touch with the other cities for whom they were supposed to form the warrior/empire caste and turn inwards. The specialization of Oparian society, both in breeding and in training, means that the key skills to support civilization wither... the other cities were supposed to pick up that slack. Opar finds that its valley is too barren and infertile to support a large population, or if it was fertile, that fertility is too quickly exhausted. It goes into decline.
The Gorilla and Gomangani castes separate, retreating or being forced further into the valley. Two opposing societies of several races of semi-humans and near humans emerge. La’s impregnable fortress becomes her hell.
And somewhere along the millenia, La herself has a great fall. She loses her psychic powers and her memory, perhaps in an accident, perhaps an attack, it could be a fever or a head injury, or simply the passage of millenia after millenia. We don’t know when her fall from grace takes place, whether it happened before or after she came to Opar, or was even related to her coming to Opar.
Back on Barsoom, the Iss cult fractures without its Iss-Us. The First Born continue to worship an Iss with Issus, and appoint a new Issus from among themselves.
The Thern/Orovar part of the church declines to name an Issus, and instead becomes the mystery cult. For the Thern/Orovar, Issus becomes an abstract goddess, or even a non-goddess. As Tur faith fails in the Cataclysm, the Thern/Orovar version of the Iss Cult, with offshoots, such as the Manator, Oyarsa and Hither variants, becomes the dominant planetary religion. (Chessmen of Mars, Gullivar Jones, Out of the Silent Planet)
Only the residual branch of the Iss Cult among the Hither peoples in the northern hemisphere remember that their Issus or Isis is lost on Earth. (Gullivar Jones on Mars), or more accurately, is aware of an Isis cult on Earth.
Thus the original Issus, or Iss-Us, becomes the La of Tarzan. She is merely somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 years old, at most. Her lack of memory may simply be due to the vast period of time, or there may have been an intervening cause, a fever or injury at some point in her history, or even a mental block imposed by a more powerful psychic.
Interestingly, although on Barsoom she was allegedly a more powerful psychic than her father, in Opar she demonstrated no such talents, so there is evidence for some sort of block on both her powers and her memories.
Tario does indeed recognize her, in Tarzan on Mars, but he imagines that she is not his real daughter, but a fantasy figure modeled on his daughter, and thus a vessel for his incestuous urges. Her animalistic rejection of him plays on his own guilt.
And yes, La is not a typical Orovar. Her black hair suggests either that the Orovars may have had a minority brunette population, or perhaps that La herself had a few slight genes from the First Born. Family connections might explain why she chose her bodyguard and retinue from the First Born. So there you go . . .
But the fact that La had a personal retinue or honour guard of Black First Born, Byne suggests in Tarzan on Mars, may help to explain the populations of black skinned peoples in Melanasia in the Pacific (near where Mu would have been) and in Africa. They may have been a hybrid Barsoom/Earth population of the First Born.
And there you have it, gentle reader. Of course, its all fancy and conjecture, building castles out of scattered notions and bits of fluff.
It’s easy enough to reject, there’s ample grounds to call Opar a lost colony of Atlantis, and La the mortal descendent of a long line of Atlantean priestesses with no connection to Barsoom. We can shut that door, close it, lock it and throw away the key. We can dismiss it all as heretical nonsense. And I’m fine with that.
On the other hand, it was Burroughs himself who had La announce herself as of a race from another world. It’s Burroughs who joined Barsoom and Tarzan and Pellucidar with the Gridley wave, and Burroughs who wrote himself in as a character in the Barsoom, Pellucidar, Moon and Caspak series. It was Burroughs who created Issus on Barsoom, and Isis in Tarzan’s forbidden city, both inspired by the ‘real’ Isis and Ishtar of Egypt and Babylon. It’s Burroughs who created Sun worshipping cults on Barsoom and in Opar, who created the holy sea of Korus on Barsoom and the holy lake of Horus of the Forbidden City.
So, I don’t know that it’s absolutely heresy to take the ideas of Tarzan on Mars and have a bit of fun with them. Byrne’s inspirations can be traced back to Burroughs, and there are enough genuine connections to make it fun and interesting.
So it’s a matter of choice, take it or leave it. Just have fun.
Tarzan and La Art by Frank Frazetta
La Dreams by David Burton
From David Burton Artist Profile ERBzine 535
Return of Tarzan
A Princess of Mars
Tarzan of the Apes
Gods of Mars
Warlord of Mars
Jewels of Opar
Tarzan and the Foreign Legion
Tarzan the Invincible
Tarzan and the Golden Lion
The Tarzan Twins and Jad Bal Ja
Tarzan and the Lion Man
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Chessmen of Mars
Valdron's Tur references: ERBzine 1508
Valdron's Barsoom Religions: ERBzine 1741
Valdron's Monkey Men: ERBzine 1485
Valdron's Lovecraft: Almost Human: ERBzine 1787
Valdron's Are Barsoomians Human?: ERBzine 1418
Den Valdron's Fantasy Worlds of ERB
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