And now comes the part that readers find the most fascinating, that of the contest on The Field Of Honor. Gladiatorial contests are frequent occurrences in the novels of ERB. This one seems to combine Arthurian influences as well as Roman.
Burroughsí tenure of a couple years at the Chicago Harvard Latin School must have made an indelible impression on him. The recurrent, one might say underlying, Homeric influence from the Odyssey of Homer would indicate that the school concentrated on that work of Homer although not on The Iliad as there seem to be few references to the latter poem. In later years ERB would complain that he had learned Latin before English cramping his English style.
Perhaps, but I donít see anything glaringly wrong with his English style. His psychology makes him a little stiff but that's not through a lack of understanding English. It would be nice to know the curriculum of the Latin School and what texts he did study. Late in life when he wrote I Am A Barbarian his background as evidenced by the reading list he appended was shallow while not mentioning the great classical scholars. Still Roman themes are a recurring motif in the corpus. About this time he was rereading Plutarchís Lives that compares the lives of various Greeks and Romans so that the Lives may have been a text at school. Especially as he says that while rereading it he discovered that Numa was the name of a Roman king while he thought he had invented the name for the Lion.
Also Arthurian references pop up in Chessmen. In 1912 when his editor Metcalf of Munsey's asked him to write a medieval story that turned out to be The Outlaw Of Torn he claimed to have little knowledge of the period. Now, the Manatorian party leaving the city after Gahan entered is more reminiscent of Arthurian stories than Roman. The city of Manator itself also has a decidedly Camelot feel. The party's subsequent return and capture of Tara and Ghek has more of the courtly flavor than the Roman. In 1928's Tarzan, Lord Of The Jungle ERB would create a medieval society of lost Crusaders deep in the heart of darkness. So while he claimed to know nothing of medieval themes in 1912 by this time he seems to have done some reading in the field.
In many ways Manator bears a great resemblance to Mythological, Graustarkian and Ruritanian stories that he did admire as a young man. Combining all those influences with the Oz of Baum we have Manator.
Thus in addition to Roman gladiatorial contests we also have a similarity to medieval battle melees where the favors of women were of paramount importance.
Here we have the great mock battles and actual battles to the death played out on a gigantic Jetan board. Burroughs modifies the Earthly game of Chess to create a similar Martian game of Jetan complicated by the grotesque addition of battles to the death between the live 'pieces.' Indeed as is explained there had been games recorded in which the only survivors were the the two female prizes and one of the Jeds. Once again mimicking Arthurian literature ERB describes sword blows that cleave the opponent through the brain pan down to the breast bone. ERB seems to delight in the most violent and gruesome details. And lots of them.
A-Kor, his cellmate, fills Gahan in on what he must do to enter the games conveniently giving the latter enough money to bribe his team, get this, while returning the remainder to his purse.
The strategy is all very probable. The number of slaves from Gathol in Manator is enormous so Gahan has no difficulty in enrolling a team of Gatholians who will be fighting for their freedom. Gahan is familiar with Jetan as played elsewhere on Mars on a board so he has no difficulty with strategy. The main change in strategy is that when a piece captures another the pieces then draw swords and fight to the finish. Thus a piece can successfully evade capture negating strategy.
Relying on the prowess of his men and his own incomparable swordsmanship Gahan then makes a drive directly for the opposing Jed, U-Dor.
Can it be a coincidence that he who stands between himself and Tara is a man called U-Dor (door)? Considering the important roles doors play in these stories it would seem that U-Dor is one more door he must hack his way through to get to his objective.
The only other work Iíve seen where doors were so important was the old TV show, "The Mod Squad." In that TV series doors of every description were constantly being slammed; not just closed but slammed. I havenít quite figured out ERB's obsession with doors as yet.
While Chess and one imagines Jetan are supreme games of strategy Gahan seemingly abandons the fine points and gamesmanship and makes a drive straight for U-Dor. ERB says he was a good Chess player, while I have never played so perhaps the moves he describes are possible, especially as any move is good or bad depending on which player is the better swordsman. Gahan is the best so he experiences no difficulty in reaching U-Dor who he cuts down.
Tara and he are seemingly reunited. But while Tara thought she killed I-Gos he was only wounded. Present at the games he denounces Gahan and Tara who flee as aforesaid to the pits. Then begins the spectacular double climax; that of Gahan/ERBís triumph over John the Bully/O-Tar and the subsequent triumph of Gahan/ERB over Frank Martin/O-Tar.
To a large extent Chessmen is an examination of ancestor worship. Certainly the Taxidermist of Mars preserved ancestors going back at least five thousand years to the reign of O-Mai. ERB explains Gahan's and perhaps his own ideas on the significance of ancestors.
Gahan, a man of culure and high intelligence held few if any superstitions. In common with nearly all races of Barsoom he clung more or less inherently, to a certain exalted form of ancestor worship, though it was rather the memory of legends of the virtues and heroic deeds of his forefathers that he deified rather than themselves. He never expected any tangible evidence of their existence after death; he did not believe that they had the power either for good or for evil other than the effect that their example while living might have had on following generations; he did not believe therefore in the materialization of dead spirits. If there was a life hereafter he knew nothing of it, for he knew that science had demonstrated the natural phenomenon of ancient religions and superstitions.
The above is probably as close to a confession of faith as ERB is going to give. It is certainly one that I can accept for myself. The above may also be a reference to spiritual seances in which dead ancestors supposedly spoke through mediums. Harry Houdini was debunking such seances around this time much to the chargrinof ERB's literary hero, Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, who did believe is such ancestral contacts.
There may be a joke in that case when Gahan arose from O-Mai's bed ululuing and putting the fear of God into O-Tar exposing him as a coward.
Having thus disposed of O-Tar/John ERB turns to debunking O-Tar/Martin.
When Gahan was playing his joke on O-Tar I-Gos stole Tara away. He delivers her to O-Tar who is so smitten that he decides that he will marry her and take his chances with this she-banth.
O-Tar immurs Tara in a tower not unlike the story of Rapunzel. Her location is pointed out to Gahan who then makes a perilous climb of the tower in order to tell her that no matter what it looks like on the morrow's wedding date he will rescue her and she is not to commit suicide.
While talking to her through the grated window a eunuch sleeping at the foot of the bed awakes moving toward him sword in hand. Tara instead of shrinking back removes her little blade from her harness running the eunuch through the heart.
There must be significance to this scene as ERB is retelling the story of both John and Martin. If Emma was with ERB on the corner and abandoned him to his fate by walking on it would appear that ERB never forgave her while having Anima trouble ever after. Here he rectifies the situation by having Tara come to his defense acting with a both a blade and heart of steel. Thus not only has his Animus surrogate Gahan proved John/O-Tar to be the coward, but Tara the Anima figure defends Gahan/ERB from a similar attack by John absolving his Anima.
We now go to the wedding. Of course, having read the book several times in my case we know the story so I will just follow it. In the book John Carter tells ERB the details after the fact.
I-Gos has allied himself with Tara and Gahan against O-Tar. Before the wedding O-Tar retires to the Hall of Ancestors to commune with the dead. I-Gos has let Gahan into the hall where he sits as though stuffed on a stuffed Thoat. When O-Tar pauses beside him Gahan falls on him striking him on the forehead with the butt of a heavy spear.
Thus we establish that at this point O-Tar has become Frank Martin. Just as Gahan/ERB proved O-Tar a coward by merely rising in OíMaiís bed and making weird noises so now he reverses the situation in Toronto. Instead of ERB being struck on the forehead Gahan/ERB strikes O-Tar/Martin in the same place leaving him for dead.
Now, this is strange. Donning O-Tarís Golden Mask Gahan goes foth in O-Tar's guise to marry Tara. The Golden Mask undoubtedly refers to Martinís money bags to which ERB undoubtedly attributes whatever success Martin had with Emma. Why Gahan/ERB wore O-Tar's mask is fairly clear but why ERB would have isn't. Also if O-Tar hadn't recovered from the blow Gahan would have been married to Tara in O-Tarís name.
Perhaps ERB in a reversal means to imply that Emma would actually have been marrying him but won by Martin's 'golden mask.' By the process of reversal then ERB would have recovered and stolen Emma from Martin on the altar so to speak. Or, as he actually did.
The symbolism of the golden handcuffs then would mean that the proposed wedding of Emma and Martin would have a mere commercial transaction. Or, perhaps, he felt himself attached to Emma for financial reasons when he'd rather not be. Complications, complications.
While the two antogonists Gahan and O-Tar are staring each other down the 'cavalry' Gahan sent for has arrived. Carter and troops from Helium, Gathol and Manatos arrive to end the story.
O-Tar himself then falls on his sword like a true Roman thus redeeming his miserable life. Perhaps ERB is saying that that is what Martin should have done -- left the couple alone rather than constantly interfering.
If as Sigmund Freud argued dreams are based on wish fulfillment The Chessmen of Mars proves his case. In this series of dreams or nightmares ERB attempts to reverse the results of the three greatest disasters of his life.
John the Bully and Frank Martin are a matter of history. That ERB links his fiancial disaster with these two earlier disasters indicates that he knows he has crossed the line in his mistaken purchase of the Otis estate. He knows that he as no way out as he has the 'cavalry', John Carter and the united forces of Helium, Gathol and Manatos come to the rescue. In the final denouement of this error in 1934's Tarzan And The Lion Man even the cavalry can't help. Tarzan/ERB leaves the burning castle of God a defeated man.
His great dream of getting back to the land and becoming a Gentleman Farmer has crashed to the ground. His attachment to his fantasy can be traced in his letters with Herb Weston. Weston warned him as strongly as friendship would allow that it would be a mistaken approach to farming in any other way than on a factory basis with profit firmly in mind. ERB chose to ignore this sound advice probably believing that between books, magazines and movies his future was golden.
Unfortunately for himself his income crested in this very year, 1921. Undoubtedly because of his strong anti-Communist stance and his resistance to the Semitism being imposed on him his sources of income came under attack. Nineteen twenty-two was the last year he received income from movies until 1927-28. Publishing difficulties with McClurg's and G&D increased. His long time publisher, McClurg's, even refused outrightly to publish his opus of 1924, Marcia Of The Doorstep.
His foreign royalties once so promising slowly dried up because of political pressures. Later in the decade his troubles with McClurg's became so intense that he was forced to abandon that long standing relationship. No other major publisher would touch him. Why, will probably never be clear. After a tentative stab with a less established publisher he turned to forming his own publishing company. This move was apparently successful enough to float him through the early part of the thirties before the spring of his inspiration began to dry up.
In a desperate attempt to save Tarzana he attempted many expedients, none successful. He incorporated himself to protect his income from creditors. He subdivided a portion of Tarzana, he attempted to sell off acreage, he tried to turn part of the estate into an exclusive golf club, he turned part into a movie lot attempted to lease that out, he invited oil geologists to find oil on his land. He invested in airplane engines and airports. Nothing came of anything. In the end the magnificent estate slipped through his hands.
A premonition of all this can be found in the The Chessmen Of Mars. Even the name of the story indicates the he is involved in a chesslike game of many moves.
Stress was now to be ERB's other name.
A world famous figure, nominally rich, still retaining many of the trappings of wealth, he had gone from prince to pauper, regained his princely stature and now slipped back to the role of a prince in exile from the Promised Land.
Nothing daunted he went on working. In the end his magnificent intellectual property, Tarzan Of The Apes, would always save him from a fate worse than death. A form of wish fulfillment in itself, I guess.
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