THE SEVEN WONDERS OF BARSOOM SERIES
V. THE HIDDEN CITIES IN THE
FOREST OF LOST MEN:
THE FIFTH WONDER OF BARSOOM
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
We come now to the Fifth Wonder of Barsoom: the Hidden Cities in
the Forest of Lost Men. We are introduced to this fabulous place in
“The Invisible Men of Mars,” one of the four stories that make up Llana
of Gathol, the femme fatale who is everything you would expect
from a union between of Gahan of Gathol and Tara of Helium.
In this story, ERB explores different aspects of invisibility that were
not covered previously in A
Fighting Man of Mars (the cloak of invisibility) and Swords
of Mars (invisibility by telepathic suggestion). This time
the invisibility is pharmaceutical, caused by a pill taken once a day.
The results, in the hands of ERB, are both amusing and entertaining.
John Carter and his granddaughter, Llana of Gathol, have just escaped
from the hothouse city of Pankor in an exciting and dramatic breakout in
Carter’s personal one man flier. Days later, tired and hungry, they spot
a lush forest below:
“It was a hilly country; and in the long,
deep valley I saw one of those rarest of all sights on Mars, a splendid
forest. Now, to me, a forest means fruits and nuts and, perhaps, game animals;
and we were hungry. There would doubtless be mantilia plants too, the sap
of which would quench our thirst; and so I decided to land. My best judgment
told me that it was a risky thing to do, and subsequent events proved that
my judgment was wholly correct.” (LG/IV-1.)
Carter lands in the forest and, leaving Llana in the flier, he goes on
the hunt for food:
“The forest consisted principally of
skeel, sorapus, and sompus trees. The first two are hardwood trees, bearing
large, delicious nuts, while the sompus trees were loaded with a citrus-like
fruit with a thin red rind. The pulp of this fruit, called somp, is not
unlike grapefruit, though much sweeter. It is considered a great delicacy
among Barsoomians, and is cultivated along many of the canals. I had never
seen any, however, as large as these, growing wild; nor had I ever seen
trees on Mars of the size of many of those growing in this hidden forest.”
As Carter is picking fruit and nuts, he hears Llana scream. He drops the
fruit and nuts and runs to her rescue, but as he reaches the spot where
they landed, he sees his flier, with Llana in it, rising from the ground.
He makes one of his famous jumps, leaping a good thirty feet into the air
in an attempt to grap the handrail of the flier. He just misses it, but
is able to see Llana on the deck absolutely alone with no one at the controls
before he loses his grip and falls back to the ground. He is then captured
by a patrol of invisible soldiers and as he is led to their city, he learns
a a lesson about the forest:
“‘We are coming to a bad place,’ said
the voice; ‘you had better take my arm.’
Carter discovers that the voice belongs to Kandus and that his captors
are from the city of Invak, and in a few more minutes they are before its
“I groped out with my right hand and found an
arm that I could not see. I grasped what felt like an upper arm, and as
I did so my hand disappeared! Now, my right arm ended at the wrist,
or at least it appeared to do so; but I could feel my fingers clutching
that arm that I could not see. It was a most eerie sensation. I do not
like situations that I cannot understand.
“Almost immediately we came to an open place in
the forest, where no trees grew. The ground was covered with tiny hummocks,
and when I stepped on it it sank down a few inches. It was like walking
on coil springs covered with turf.
“‘I’ll guide you,’ said the voice at my side.
‘If you should get off the trail here alone you’d be swallowed up. The
worst that can happen to you would be to get one leg in it, for I can pull
you out before it gets a good hold on you.’
“‘Thank you,’ I said; ‘it is very decent of you.’
“‘Think nothing of it,’ replied the voice. ‘I
feel sorry for you; I am always sorry for strangers whom Fate misguides
into the forest of Invak. We have another name for it, which, I think,
better describes it – The Forest of Lost Men.’
“‘Is it really so bad to fall into the hands of
your people?’ I asked.
“‘I am afraid that it is,’ replied the voice;
‘there is no escape.’
“I had heard that one before; so it didn’t impress
me greatly. The lesser peoples of Barsoom are great braggards; they always
have the best swordsmen, the finest cities, the most outstanding culture;
and once you fall into their hands, you are always doomed to death or a
life of slavery – you can never escape them.” (LG/IV-2.)
“Invak! The city in the Forest of Lost
Men. At first only a gate was visible, so thickly set were the trees that
hid the city wall – the trees and the vines that covered the wall....
Carter asks Kandus to explain to him the mystery of their invisibility
and why they become visible once they pass the threshold into the corridors:
“Immediately the gates swung open, and beyond
I saw a lighted corridor and people moving about within it; then my rope
tightened and I moved foward toward the gate; and ahead of me, one by one,
armed men suddenly appeared just beyond the threshold of the gateway; one
after another they appeared as though materialized from thin air and continued
on along the lighted corridor. I approached the gate apparently alone,
but as I stepped across the threshold there was a warrior at my side where
the voice of Kandus had walked.” (LG/IV-3.)
“‘It is very simple, but it is the secret
of the Invaks,’ he replied. ‘I may tell you, however, that we are invisible
in daylight, or rather when we are not illuminated by these special lamps
which light our city. If you will notice the construction of the city as
we proceed, you will see that we take full advantage of our only opportunity
This leads to some amusing situations which we will cover below. Soon,
Carter discovers another feature about Invak:
“‘Why should you care whether other people can
see you or not?’ I asked.
‘Is it not sufficient that you can see them and
“‘Unfortunately, there is the hitch,’ he said.
‘We can see you, but we can’t see each other any more than you can see
“Just then I saw an open courtyard ahead
of us, and as the warriors passed out of the lighted corridor into it they
disappeared. When Kandus and I stepped out, I was walking alone again.
It was most uncanny.
Carter is taken to one of these courtyards and chained to a large tree
trunk, and there experiences the strange sights and sounds of the city:
“The city was spotted with these courtyards which
gave ventilation to the city which was, otherwise, entirely roofed and
artificially lighted by the amazing lights which gave complete visibility
to the inhabitants. In every courtyard grew
spreading trees, and upon the city’s roof vines
had been trained to grow; so that, built in the center of the Forest of
Lost Men, it was almost as invisible from either the ground or the air
as were its people themselves.” (LG/IV-3.)
“I could hear voices crossing and recrossing
the courtyard. I could see people come down the corridors and then fade
into nothingness as they stepped out into the courtyard. I could see the
backs of men and women quite as suddenly in the entrances to the streets
as they left the courtyard.” (LG/IV-3.)
He discovers that his old friend from Zodanga, Ptor Fak, is chained to
the tree next to him and Carter learns that his friend is a fountain of
information as they strike up a conversation:
“‘Tell me,’ I said; ‘how do they make
Carter is later taken to the Jeddak of Invak, Ptantus, who wants Carter
to perform for him as a jumping jack, and as Carter prepares to do so,
we get an idea of how high the city roof is from the ground:
“‘They have developed something that gives them
invisibility for perhaps a day; it is something they take internally –
a large pill. I understand that they take one every morning, so as to be
sure they will be invisible if they have to go outside the city. You see
it takes about an hour for the stuff to work, and if the city were attacked
by an enemy they’d be in a bad way if they had to go out and fight while
“‘What enemies can they have around here?’ I asked.
‘Kandus told me that even the green men are afraid of them.’
“‘There is another city in the forest inhabited
by an offshoot of this tribe,’ explained Ptor Fak; ‘it is called Onvak,
and its people also possess the secret of invisibility. Occasionally the
Onvak’s come and attack Invak, or lie in wait for the Invak hunting parties
when they go out into the forest.’
“‘I should think it might be rather difficult
to fight a battle in which one could see neither foe nor friend,’ I suggested.
“‘Yes; I understand that there’s never very much
damage done, though occasionally they capture a prisoner. The last battle
they had the Invaks took two prisoners, and when they got them into the
city they discovered that they were both their own men. They never know
how many of their own people they kill; they just go slashing about them
with their swords, and Issus help whoever gets in the way.’” (LG/IV-4.)
“I looked up at the ceiling. It was only
about fifteen feet from the floor. ‘That would only be a hop,’ I said.
Carter is befriended by an Invakian noble woman, Rojas, who is worried
for him when she learns he is to duel Motus, the greatest swordsman in
Invak, and as an aside we learn an additional fact about the Barsoomian
game Jetan, or Martian chess:
“‘Well hop then,’ said Ptantus.
“I turned and looked behind me. For about twenty
feet between me and the doorway men and women were crowded thickly together.
Thanking my great ability and the lesser gravity of Mars, I easily jumped
completely over them. I could have made a bolt for the door then, leaped
to the roof of the city and made my escape; and I should have done it had
it not been that Llana of Gathol was still a prisoner here.” (LG/IV-5.)
“‘I do not wish to see you killed,’ she
said, and clung to me tightly.
Carter, Ptor Fak, and Rojas conspire to escape with the help of the invisibility
pills that Rojas slips inside Carter’s pocket pouch:
“‘You haven’t a thing to worry about, I shall
not be killed; and Motus will never have Llana of Gathol or any other woman.’
“‘You can tell his friends to start digging his
grave immediately,’ said Ptor Fak.
“‘You are that sure?’ said Rojas.
“‘We have the princess,’ said Ptor Fak, which
is the same as saying in America “It is in the bag.” The expression derives
from the Barsoomian chess game, jetan, in which the taking of a princess
decides the winner and ends the game.” (LG/IV-8.)
“Her presence reminded me that she had
dropped something into my pocket pouch and I opened it casually and put
my hand into it. My fingers came in contact with a number of spheres, about
the size of marbles, and I knew that the secret of invisibility was mine.”
The time comes for Carter to duel Motus, and much of the action is controlled
by the ticking of the great clock on the wall of the throne room:
“I glanced at the great clock on the
wall. It was exactly the 8th zode which is the equivalent of 10:48 P.M.
Earth time.” (LG/IV-10.)
The mechanics and science of this wonderful clock are later explained,
belying all criticism that there is little science in the science fiction
“A Martian day is divided into ten zodes,
their being four tals to a xat, or two hundred to a zode. The dials of
their clocks are marked with four concentric circles; between the inner
circle and the next outer one the zodes are marked from one to ten; in
the next circle, the xats are marked from one to fifty between each two
zodes; and in the outer circle two hundred tals are marked between the
radii which pass through the zode numbers and extend to the outer periphery
of the dial. Their clock has three different colored and different length
hands, one indicating the zode, the second one the xat, and the longest
one the tal.
The great clock of Invak takes on dramatic importance in Carter’s duel
with Motus, for in a moment of bravado, Carter taunts Ptantus that he will
kill him at a predetermined time:
“(Editor’s note: I have before me the diagram
of the dial of a Martian clock drawn for me by John Carter many years ago.)”
“‘One more tal, Motus,’ I said. A tal is about
eight tenths of an earthly second.” (LG/IV-10.)
“...and it was pretty close to what we call midnight
then, the Barsoomian midnight occurring twenty-five xats after the eighth
“‘It is not time to kill you yet, Motus,’
I said, glancing up at the clock, ‘when the hand points to eleven xats
past the 8th zode, I shall kill you.’
At the appointed time, Motus, who has been literally hacked into a piece
of hamburger, loses his will and runs from the room, threatening to ruin
“‘Silence,’ screeched the referee.
“‘What is the slave saying?’ demanded Ptantus
in stentorian tones.
“‘I said,’ I shouted back at him, ‘that I should
kill Motus at exactly 8 zodes, 11 xats. Watch the clock, Ptantus, for at
that instance you are going to lose your wager, and Motus his life.’” (LG/IV-10.)
“The fight was to have been to the death
and Ptantus had wagered that I would not kill Motus. If I did not kill
him, I feared that Ptantus would then claim the money; so I risked everything
on an art I had often practiced for my own amusement. I carried my sword
hand far behind my right shoulder and then brought it forward with all
my strength, releasing the blade point first. It flew like a sped arrow
and drove through Motus’s body below the left shoulder blade at exactly
11 xats past the 8th zode.” (LG/IV-10.)
Carter chose this time for the kill because it allowed him the time for
his invisibility pill to kick in. After killing Motus, he is being escorted
back to his tree when he makes his escape in the first courtyard, using
Invakian invisibility to his advantage. There are a few amusing incidents
as an invisible Carter rescues an invisible Llana with the help of Ptor
Fak and Rojas, who are also invisible. When Carter picks up Llana to toss
her onto the roof, we learn that the height of the roofs of Invak are the
same height as the ceiling in the Jeddak’s reception room:
“There was no overhanging tree in this
courtyard, and the roof was fifteen feet above the ground. ‘You are about
to have an experience, Llana,’ I said.” (LG/IV-12.)
A. Structure and History.
The hidden cities of Invak and Onvak are located in the Forest of Invak,
also known as the Forest of Lost Men. It is a lush forest and a rarety
on Mars. The Forest of Lost Men has a double meaning: it stands for all
the people who wander into the forest and are done in by the hummocks or
the Invakians and Onvakians. It also stands for the Invakians and Onvakians
themselves, for being invisible, they are lost as to each other. The city
of Invak is in the center of the forest, so the city of Onvak must be off
to a side of the forest. The Onvakians were once part of the Invakians,
so we assume there is little difference in the structure of their cities.
The strange hummocks appear in clearings in the forest and can swallow
people whole if they wander off the right path. Some of the trees in the
forest are the tallest of their type that Carter has ever seen, and he
saw some mighty tall ones in the Valley Dor.
The city of Invak is surrounded by a wall that largely cannot be seen
because of close growing trees and vines. Practically the only thing that
can be seen in the wall is the gate at which Carter enters. The city is
comprised of streets and courtyards, the streets being roofed corridors.
The courtyards are primarily used for ventilation and are in the open air,
full of overhanging trees that largely conceal the city from above. Special
vines are grown on the rooftops, which are fifteen feet high, making the
whole city invisible to the naked eye. Thus, the city is perfectly camouflaged.
There is no mention of towers, spires, or domes, and in one of the chambers
where we find the Jeddak Ptantus, the ceiling is fifteen feet high. In
the other chamber, the throne room, the only thing mentioned out of the
ordinary is the great clock on the wall.
The Invakians achieve both invisibility and visibility by the means
of two marvelous inventions: the invisibility pill, a sphere about the
size of a marble; and the visibility lamps, special lights that make an
invisible person visible. Each Invakian takes a pill every day, thus maintaining
a constant state of invisibility out in the open air. Only in the lights
of the city are they able to see each other, thus maintaining the semblance
B. The Sword Move Trick.
True fans of Barsoom would have recognized the trick Carter used at
the end of his duel with Motus as one he likely learned from Kantos Kan
in the Warhoon arena, for at the time that Carter took notice of it, it
was novel to him:
“I had little hope that he could best
his giant adversary who had mowed down all before him during the day. The
fellow towered nearly sixteen feet in height while Kantos Kan was some
inches under six feet. As they advanced to meet one another I saw for the
first time a trick of Martian swordsmanship which centered Kantos Kan’s
every hope of victory and life on one cast of the dice, for, as he came
to within about twenty feet of the huge fellow he threw his sword arm far
behind him over his shoulder and with a mighty sweep hurled his weapon
point formost at the green warrior. It flew true as an arrow and piercing
the poor devil’s heart laid him dead upon the arena.” (PM/19.)
The only other time I recall Carter learning better swordsmanship from
a Martian was in his duel with the old man in charge of the Guardian of
the North magnet in Warlord of Mars. Carter’s uncanny ability
to learn while he is fighting is how he became known as the best swordsman
on two planets.
C. The Great Clock.
Here is where ERB really has some fun and mocks all critics who say
there is little science in ERB’s science fiction. Sure, the science in
ERB’s science fiction is high school science – not Ph.D. rocket science
– but it is still obviously there. In fact, the scientific information
ERB gives about Mars in this series is extremely accurate as to the length
of days, its rotation around the sun, its size – all else is, of course,
like his Africa, a total figment of his imagination.
ERB first described Martian time in The Gods of Mars in
a footnote while announcing the time set for Carter to be tried for heresy
“Late in the afternoon a messenger arrived
from Zat Arras to inform us that we would be tried by an impartial body
of nobles in the great hall of the temple at the 1st zode on the following
day, or about 8:40 A.M. Earth time.
“Wherever Captain Carter has used Martian measurements
of time, distance, weight, and the like I have translated them into as
nearly their equivalent in earthly values as is possible. His notes contain
many Martian tables, and a great volume of scientific data, but since the
International Astronomic Society is at present engaged in classifying,
investigating, and verifying this fund of remarkable and valuable information,
I have felt that it will add nothing to the interest of Captain Carter’s
story or to the sum total of human knowledge to maintain a strict adherence
to the original manuscript in these matters, while it might readily confuse
the reader and detract from the interest of the history. For those who
may be interested, however, I will explain that the Martian day is a
trifle over 24 hours 37 minutes duration (Earth time). This the Martians
divide into ten equal parts, commencing the day at about 6 A.M. Earth time.
The zodes are divided into fifty shorter periods, each of which in turn
is composed of 200 brief periods of time, about equivalent to the earthly
second. The Barsoomian Table of Time as here given is but a part of the
full table appearing in Captain Carter’s notes.
We find a discrepancy later on in the same story when it comes to how many
more minutes a Martian day is from an Earthly day:
" 50 xats................................1 zode
" 10 zodes.............................1 revolution
of Mars upon its axis." (GM/16; emphasis added.)
“Why had I forgotten the great difference
in the length of Martian and Earthly years! The ten earth years I had spent
upon Barsoom had encompassed but five years and ninety-six days of Martian
time, whose days are forty-one minutes longer than ours, and whose
years number six hundred and eighty-seven days.” (GM/20; emphasis added.)
Somehow, in the telling of this story, the Martian day grew from 37 minutes
longer than an Earth day to 41 minutes longer than an Earth day. But we
will not let this get in our way, for once again ERB has hidden a puzzle
inside the story of the duel with Motus.
If we imagine the Earthly day beginning at midnight, with the 12 at
the top of the dial, then the beginning of the Martian day, 6 A.M. Earthly
time, would be at the top of the dial, to wit, the tenth zode. We know
a zode is approximately 2.4 hours (10 zodes = 24 hours, 37 or 41 minutes.)
Thus, Carter’s trial would begin 2.4 hours after the tenth zode, or at
the beginning of the 1st zode.
For a good depiction of the Martian clock, and for some great cartography,
see the right side panel of “A Geographic Chart of the Planet Barsoom,”
by Larrie Ivey (ERBzine
The puzzle is in figuring out in Earth time what time is 11 zats past
the 8th zode? With this in mind, we are given several equivalents as clues:
I came up with approximately 11:20 P.M. How about you? In other novels
ERB gives the measurements and speeds for the two moons, as well as the
distance equivalents for Mars in another table. Thus, there is plenty of
science for the readers to digest if they want to take the time to work
the puzzles out. But as ERB told his readers, he was more interested in
the story than in confusing his readers.
1. 6 A.M. Earth time..................................10th
2. Midnight Earth Time..............................25 xats past the
3. 10:48 P.M Earth Time............................The 8th zode.
4. 8:40 A.M Earth Time..............................The 1st zode.
And there you have it, ERB’s Hidden Cities in the Forest of Lost
The Fifth Wonder of Barsoom.