The Temple of the Sun is one of ERB’s most marvelous and sadistic inventions.
It is very important to imagine this temple properly to fully enjoy the
adventure of John Carter has he fights from pole to pole for Dejah Thoris,
his incomparable Martian princess. From the myriad descriptions it can
be quite confusing at times to see precisely how it works. Every detail
given must be studied carefully and compared with all other details before
a final picture can be developed. Though in most cases of ERB’s creations,
considerable room for doubt is left open in the reader's imagination.
Near the end of The Gods of Mars, Yersted, the First Born
captain of the Omean submarine, is the first to describe the Temple of
"'Hast thou ever heard of the Temple
of the Sun? It is there they will put her. It lies far within the inner
court of Issus, a temple that raises a thin spire far above the spires
and minarets of the great temple that surrounds it. Beneath it, in the
ground, there lies the main body of the temple consisting in six hundred
and eighty-seven circular chambers, one below another. To each chamber
a single corridor leads through solid rock from the pits of Issus.
Later, Xodar, Dator of the First Born, takes Carter to the Temple of the
Sun in an attempt to rescue Dejah Thoris, Thuvia, and Phaidor from the
cell Issus has put them into:
"'As the entire Temple of the Sun revolves once
with each revolution of Barsoom about the sun, but once each year does
the entrance to each separate chamber come opposite the mouth of the corridor
which forms its only link to the world without.'" (GM/20.)
"The black led us rapidly through the
inner chambers of the temple, until we stood within the central court –
a great circular space paved with a transparent marble of exquisite whiteness.
Before us rose a golden temple wrought in the most wondrous and fanciful
designs, inlaid with diamond, ruby, sapphire, turquoise, emerald, and the
thousand nameless gems of Mars, which far transcend in loveliness and purity
of ray the most priceless stones of Earth.
At the beginning of Warlord of Mars, John Carter states:
"'This way,' cried Xodar, leading us toward the
entrance to a tunnel which opened in the courtyard beside the temple....
"'Follow me, John Carter,’ replied Xodar, and
without waiting for my reply he dashed down into the tunnel at our feet.
At his heels I ran down through a half-dozen tiers of galleries, until
at last he led me along a level floor at the end of which I discerned a
"Massive bars blocked our further progress, but
beyond I saw her – my incomparable princess, and with her were Thuvia and
Phaidor. When she saw me she rushed toward the bars that separated us.
Already the chamber had turned upon its slow way so far that but a portion
of the opening in the temple was opposite the barred end of the corridor.
Slowly the interval was closing. In a short time then would be a tiny crack,
and then even that would be closed, and for a long Barsoomian year the
chamber would revolve until once more for a brief day the aperture in its
wall would pass the corridor’s end." (GM/22.)
"For sixth long months I haunted the
vicinity of the hateful Temple of the Sun, within whose slow-revolving
shaft, far beneath the surface of Mars, my princess lay entombed – but
whether dead or alive I knew not....
Following Thurid and Matai Shang, Carter overhears them in conversation:
"Six hundred and eighty-seven Martian days must
come and go before the cell's door would again come opposite the tunnel’s
end where I had last seen my ever-beautiful Dejah Thoris." (WM/1.)
"'I have heard of the Temple of the Sun,
Dator,' replied Mattai Shang, 'but never have I heard that its prisoners
could be released before the allotted year of their incarceration had elapsed.
How, then, may you accomplish the impossible?'
Hot on the heels of Thurid and Matai Shang, Carter and Woola come inside
the base of the Temple of the Sun:
"'Access may be had to any cell of the temple
at any time,' replied Thurid. 'Only Issus knew this; nor was it ever Issus’
way to divulge more of her secrets than were necessary. By chance, after
her death, I came upon an ancient plan of the temple, and there I found,
plainly writ, the most minute directions for reaching the cells at any
"Not ten minutes later we came into a
vast circular apartment of white marble, the walls of which were inlaid
with gold in the strange hieroglyphics of the First Born.
He opens the door by using the radium flash torch, shining it in the almost
invisible keyhole for timed periods of intensities of light:
"From the high dome of this mighty apartment a
huge circular column extended to the floor, and as I watched I saw that
it slowly revolved.
"I had reached the base of the Temple of the Sun!
"Somewhere above me lay Dejah Thoris, and with
her were Phaidor, and Thuvia of Ptarth. But how to reach them, now that
I had found the only vulnerable spot in their mighty prison, was still
a baffling riddle.
"Slowly, I circled the great shaft, looking for
a means of ingress....
"Then I continued my search for the entrance which
I knew must me somewhere about; nor had I long to search, for almost immediately
thereafter I came upon a small door so cunningly inlaid in the shaft’s
base that it might have passed unnoticed to the less keen or careful observer.
"There was the door that would lead me within
the prison, but where was means to open it?" (WM/3.)
"Slowly, the solid stone sank noiselessly
back into the wall – there was no hallucination here.
Carter begins to ascend the spiral stairway, but Woola drags him down,
and then across the floor to the opposite side of the chamber where there
is another doorway:
"Back and back it slid for ten feet until it had
disclosed at its right a narrow doorway leading into a dark and narrow
corridor that paralleled the outer wall. Scarcely was the entrance uncovered
than Woola and I had leaped through – then the door slipped quietly into
"Down the corridor at some distance I saw the
faint reflection of a light, and toward this we made our way. At the point
where the light shone was a sharp turn, and a little distance beyond this
was a brilliantly lighted chamber.
"Here we discovered a spiral stairway leading
up from the center of the circular room.
"Immediately I knew that we had reached the center
of the base of the Temple of the Sun – the spiral stairway led upward past
the inner walls of the prison cells. Somewhere above me was Dejah Thoris,
unless Thurid and Matai Shang had already succeeded in stealing her." (WM/3.)
"Here was another doorway leading into
a corridor which ran directly down a steep incline. Without a moment’s
hesitation Woola jerked me along the rocky passage....
"But a short distance from the circular chamber
we came suddenly into a brilliantly lighted labyrinth of crystal glass
"At first I thought it was one vast, unbroken
chamber, so clear and transparent were the walls of the winding corridors,
but after I had nearly brained myself a couple of times by attempting to
pass through solid vitreous walls I went more carefully.
"We had proceeded but a few yards along the corridor
that had given us entrance to this strange maze when Woola gave mouth to
a most frightful roar, at the same time dashing against the clear partition
at our left.
"The resounding echoes of that fearsome cry were
still reverberating through the subterranean chambers when I saw the thing
that had startled it from the faithful beast.
"Far in the distance, dimly through the many thicknesses
of intervening crystal, as in a haze that made them seem unreal and ghostly,
I discerned the figures of eight people – three females and five men....
"A moment later they had disappeared into a stone
corridor beyond the labyrinth of the glass." (WM/3.)
At the top of the Temple of the Sun is a huge circular central court,
a golden temple paved with a transparent marble of sheer whiteness. At
its base is another huge circular domed room made of white marble. From
the top of the dome of the base chamber to the floor the bottom of the
revolving central shaft descends, which contains 687 circular cells stacked
one upon another. In other words, between the central court above and the
large chamber at the base below, the revolving shaft must be approximately
5,496 feet from top to bottom if the cells are eight feet high, or 6,870
feet high if the cells are ten feet high. In comparison, the Sears Tower
in Chicago, the tallest building in the U.S.A., is 1,454 feet high.
We assume, for the shaft to work, that the connecting solid stone corridors
to each level must begin above the large chamber at the base below, for
there appears to be no intervening space between the massive metal bars
that block the end of the corridors and the cell door in the revolving
The corridors cut through solid stone leading to the outside walls of
each of the 687 cells are accessed by means of a tunnel corridor in a courtyard
outside of the temple’s central court, a literal descent into the Pits
of Issus. We are not told which way the temple revolves, clockwise or counterclockwise,
only that the corridor is lined up with the cell for only one full day,
then not again for another 687 days.
The inside of the shaft is accessed through a door at the base, only
opening to a key-lock combination that is tripped by light beams for a
certain amounts of time at certain intensities of light. An inside shaft
corridor runs along parallel to the outer wall, then cuts inward to a well
lighted chamber at the center of the shaft. A spiral stairway leading up
into the center of the shaft and its inner walls begins in the center of
It is not clear, however, if these inner walls are also accessed by
means of a labryinth of crystal corridors inside another chamber accessed
by means of a declining corridor on the other side of the central chamber.
This last chamber with the labyrinth is the hardest thing to imagine, if
one can imagine it at all.
When one fully realizes how long it would take to ascend or descend
all 687 levels of the temple, it boggles the imagination. It would be like
taking the stairs up 5 Sears Towers, stacked one on top of another. Surely,
the spiral staircase or the crystal corridors must have led to elevators,
for the time it would have taken Matai Shang and Thurid to have gotten
Dejah Thoris, Thuvia, and Phaidor, from their cell near the top of the
shaft – remember Carter had only to descend about six galleries before
coming to the corridor leading to Dejah Thoris’s cell – to the bottom where
Carter discovered them leaving a crystal corridor into a stone corridor,
appears unrealistic if they had to walk the whole way, even if downhill.
Not to mention the time it would have taken Matai Shang and Thurid to ascend
to the cell to begin with.
An elevator seems logical since a caged one was deployed to rise from
the depths of Omean to the Gardens of Issus above. We get an idea that
Omean, like the Temple of Sun's revolving shaft, is also thousands of feet
below the surface:
"For a moment the vessel hovered motionless
directly above the center of the gaping void, then slowly she began to
settle into the black chasm. Lower and lower she sank until as darkness
enveloped us her lights were thrown on and in the dim halo of her own radiance
the monster battleship dropped on and on down into what seemed to me must
be the very bowels of Barsoom.
After they journey by submarine, they are taken to the caged elevator:
"For quite half an hour we descended and then
the shaft terminated abruptly in the dome of a mighty subterranean world."
"Around the edge of the pool was a level
platform, and then the walls of the cave rose perpendicularly for a few
feet to arch toward the center of the low roof. The walls about the ledge
were pierced with a number of entrances to dimly lighted passageways.
Of course, this is just speculation. We must always remember that ERB created
impossible situations and then made them believable through brilliant narration.
It seems almost self evident to me, however, that at the top of the spiral
staircase was an elevator cage used for accessing the inner walls of the
cells. But it just may be that ERB never had to think this all the way
through for the parties Carter was seeking were no longer in the shaft
but leaving it.
"Toward one of these our captors led us, and after
a short walk halted before a steel cage which lay at the bottom of a shaft
rising above us as far as the eye could see.
"The cage proved to be one of the common types
of elevator cars that I had seen in other parts of Barsoom. They are operated
by means of enormous magnets which are suspended at the top of the shaft.
By an electrical device the volume of magnetism is generated and regulated
and the speed of the car varied.
"In long stretches they move at a sickening speed,
especially on the upward trip, since the small force of gravity inherent
to Mars results in very little opposition to the powerful force above.
"Scarcely had the door of the car closed behind
us than we were slowing up to stop at the landing above, so rapid was our
ascent of the long shaft." (GM/9.)
I must admit that the chamber with the maze of crystal corridors in
it, other than having an analogy with the carnival fun house of mirrors,
is beyond my imagination to fully grasp as corridors of access to the inner
walls of 687 cells stacked one on top of the other.
And there you have it:
ERB's Temple of the Sun, the Seventh Wonder of Barsoom!
SEVEN WONDERS OF BARSOOM SERIES
LIFE-SAVING PUMPING STATIONS OF MARS
TWIN CITIES OF HELIUM
HOTHOUSE CITIES OF OKAR
IN THE VALLEY OF THE FIRST BORN
HIDDEN CITIES IN THE FOREST OF LOST MEN
FIELD OF JETAN AT MANATOR
TEMPLE OF THE SUN
RELIGION OF ISSUS I
RELIGION OF ISSUS II
ISLAND OF MORBUS
SCIENTISTS OF MARS
GATHOLIAN GAMBIT IN JETAN
THE LESSER MOON
MARTIAN OCEANS AND THEIR CITIES
One: Korad, Thark, and Warhoon
Two: Aaanthor, Torquas, and Lothar I
Two: Aaanthor, Torquas, and Lothar II
Three: Gathol, Horz...and Opar I
Three: Gathol, Horz...and Opar II
ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS OF AMHOR
OF MARS I
OF MARS II
OF MARS III
OF MARS IV
GREEN HORDES OF MARS I
GREEN HORDES OF MARS II
GREEN HORDES OF MARS III
GREEN HORDES OF MARS IV
GREEN HORDES OF MARS V
GREEN HORDES OF MARS VI
GREEN HORDES OF MARS VII
CREATURES OF MARS I: PLANT MEN
CREATURES OF MARS II: GOOLIES
GLORY THAT WAS ONCE ZODANGA I