THE SEVEN WONDERS OF
THE TWIN CITIES OF HELIUM:
The Second Wonder of Barsoom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Michael Whelan art
The Twin Cities of Helium are ERB's version of Utopia.
Even the name “Helium” itself evokes a light and airy romantic element,
and its twin Yellow and Red mile-high towers add to its charm. It is no
wonder that John Carter turned down being the Jed of Zodanga so that he
could live in Helium with his incomparable princess, Dejah Thoris.
Although Greater Helium – ruled by the great Jeddak Tardos
Mors – is described in more detail than Lesser Helium – ruled by Jed Mors
Kajak, the son of Tardos Mors and father of Dejah Thoris – a fairly accurate
idea of Lesser Helium can be gained by bits and pieces throughout the John
When the picture is complete there should be no argument
Twin Cities of Helium merit being known as the Second
Wonder of Barsoom.
The first time Helium is described is at the end of A
Princess of Mars, although the description is scanty:
“In the middle of the afternoon
we sighted the the scarlet and yellow towers of Helium, and a short time
later a great fleet of Zodangan battleships rose from the camps of the
beseigers without the city, and advanced to meet us....
Carter and his princess are married and parent an egg:
“The plain before the city became
a veritable shambles ere the last Zodangan surrendered, but finally the
carnage ceased, the prisoners were marched back to Helium, and we entered
the greater city’s gates, a huge triumphal procession of conquering heroes.
“The broad avenues were lined with
women and children, among which were the few men whose duties necessitated
that they remain within the city during the battle. We were greeted with
an endless round of applause and showered with ornaments of gold, platinum,
silver, and precious jewels. The city had gone mad with joy.
“My fierce Tharks caused the wildest
excitement and enthusiasm. Never before had an armed body of green warriors
entered the gates of Helium, and that they came now as friends and allies
filled the red men with rejoicing.
“That my poor services to Dejah
Thoris had become known to the Heliumites was evidenced by the loud crying
of my name, and by the loads of ornaments that were fastened upon me and
my huge thoat as we passed up the avenues to the palace, for even in the
face of the ferocious appearance of Woola the populace pressed close about
“As we approached this magnificent
pile we were met by a party of officers who greeted us warmly and requested
that Tars Tarkas and his jeds with the jeddaks and jeds of his wild allies,
together with myself, dismount and accompany them to receive from Tardos
Mors an expression of his gratitude for our services.
“At the top of the great steps leading
up to the main portals of the palace stood the royal party, and as we reached
the lower steps one of their number descended to meet us. He was an almost
perfect specimen of manhood; tall, straight as an arrow, superbly muscled
and with the carriage and bearing of a ruler of men. I did not need to
be told that he was Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium....
“We were then presented to Mors
Kajak, Jed of lesser Helium, and father of Dejah Thoris. He had followed
close behind Tardos Mors, and seemed even more affected by the meeting
than had his father.
“He tried a dozen times to express
his gratitude to me, but his voice choked with emotion and he could not
speak, and yet he had, as I was to later learn, a reputation for ferocity
and fearlessness as a fighter that was remarkable even upon warlike Barsoom.”
“In a golden incubator
upon the roof of our palace lay a snow-white egg. For nearly five years
ten soldiers of the Jeddak’s Guard had constantly stood over it, and not
a day passed when I was in the city that Dejah Thoris and I did not stand
hand in hand before our little shrine planning for the future, when the
delicate shell should break.” (PM/27.)
For nine years Carter serves in the councils and the armies
of Helium as a prince in the House of Tardos Mors. Then one day a flier
approaches the Greater City:
“Ten minutes after it touched
at the palace a message called me to the council chamber, which I found
filling with members of that body.
Who killed the keeper and assistant keeper of the atmosphere
plant, since all life outside of Okar depended upon it, is a mystery never
solved in the John Carter saga.
“On the raised platform of the throne
was Tardos Mors, pacing back and forth with tense-drawn face. When all
were in their seats he turned toward me.
“‘This morning,’ he said, ‘word
reached the several governments of Barsoom that the keeper of the atmosphere
plant had made no wireless report for
two days, nor had almost ceaseless
calls upon him from a source of capitals elicited a response....
“When I returned to my palace I
found that the rumor already had reached Dejah Thoris, so I told her all
that I had heard....
“Dejah Thoris and I with the other
members of the royal family had collected in a sunken garden within an
inner courtyard of the palace.” (PM/27.)
We learn more details about Greater Helium in The Gods
of Mars, where Carter is taken to be judged for returning alive from
Valley Dor by Zat Arras, sitting Jed from Zodanga, for Tardos Mors and
Mors Kajak have gone missing searching for Carthoris (the astute reader
will remember that they fell victim to the Guardian of the North in Kadabra):
“It was in the forenoon
that we arrived above the mile-high scarlet tower which marks greater Helium
from her twin city. As we descended in great circles toward the navy docks
a mighty multitude could be seen surging in the streets beneath. Helium
had been notified by radio-aerogram of our approach.
Carter discovers to his dismay that all 32 judges are from
Zodanga, who owed her defeat at the hands of the green hordes to John Carter:
“From the deck of the Xavarian we
four, Carthoris, Tars Tarkas, Xodar, and I, were transferred to a lesser
flier to be transported to quarters within the Temple of Reward. It is
here that Martian justice is meted to benefactor and malefactor.... Always
before I had seen prisoners of note, or returned wanderers of eminence,
paraded up the broad Avenue of Ancestors through dense crowds of jeering
or cheering citizens....
“We were lodged in a room upon the
south side of the temple, overlooking the Avenue of Ancestors down which
we could see the full length to the Gate of the Jeddaks, five miles away.
The people in the temple plaza and the streets for a distance of a full
mile were standing as close packed as it was possible for them to get.”
“A few moments before the appointed
time on the following morning a strong guard of Zat Arras' officers appeared
at our quarters to conduct us the great hall of the temple.
“In twos we entered the chamber
and marched down the broad Aisle of Hope, as it is called, to the platform
in the center of the hall.” (GM/17.)
“About us the vast circular
coliseum was packed to its full capacity. All classes were represented
– all ages, and both sexes. As we entered the hall the hum of subdued conversation
ceased until we halted upon the platform, or Throne of Righteousness, the
silence of death enveloped the ten thousand spectators.
The judges sentence him to death but the audience intervenes
and it is decided that the final determination will be made when Tardos
Mors returns or a year passes. Carter returns to his palace:
“The judges were seated in a great
circle about the periphery of the of the circular platform. We were assigned
seats with our backs toward a small platform in the exact center of the
larger one. This placed us facing the judges and the audience. Upon this
smaller platform each would take his place while his case was being heard.
“Zat Arras himself sat in the golden
chair of the presiding magistrate. As we were seated and our guards retired
to the foot of the stairway leading to the platform, he arose and called
“‘John Carter,’ he cried, ‘take
your place upon the Pedestal of Truth to be judged impartially according
to your acts and here to know the reward you have earned thereby.’” (GM/17.)
“In the avenues we found
a press of people, but they opened a pathway for us, and many were the
swords that were flung at my feet as I passed through the city of Helium
toward my palace upon the outskirts....
The sombre mood is broken by the return of Sola with the
good news that Dejah Thoris has been found:
“It was a sad and sombre party that
sat at the feast of welcom in the great dining hall of the palace of the
Prince of Helium that day.” (GM/17.)
“I waited to hear no more.
The great windows of the dining hall overlooked the avenue leading to the
main gate – they were upon the opposite side of the hall from me with the
table intervening. I did not waste time in circling the great board – with
a single leap I cleared table and diners and sprang upon the balcony beyond.
Thirty feet below lay the scarlet sward of the lawn and beyond were many
people crowding about a great thoat which bore a rider headed toward the
palace. I vaulted to the ground below and ran swiftly toward the advancing
Dejah Thoris is found, but she has been captured by the Black
Pirates and taken to the Temple of Issus. Secretly, Carter and his friends
hatch a scheme to raise a fleet to rescue the princess without Zat Arras’
knowledge, but before it takes shape Zat Arras' guards kidnap Carter one
night in his sleep:
“When they had come into
the corridor with me, they turned toward a secret panel in the wall which
led to the passage that terminated in the pits beneath the palace. That
any knew of this panel outside my own household, I was doubtful.” (GM/18.)
Carter is chained in a cell beneath the palace occupied by
Zat Arras for a full earthly year before being rescued by Carthoris. They
raise the fleet, have a glorious war with the First Born and Holy Therns,
but on the brink of victory, Dejah Thoris, Thuvia, and Phaidor are locked
inside the Temple of the Sun. As we have seen, this all ends in Kadabra
with Carter being made Warlord of Mars in the Temple of Reward.
We are given a more thorough description of Greater and
Lesser Helium in Thuvia Maid of Mars, as the spy, Vas Kor, travels
through them on a secret mission:
“Vas Kor’s destination
lay in Greater Helium, which lies some seventy-five miles across the level
plain from Lesser Helium. He had landed at the latter city because the
air patrol is less suspicious and alert than that above the larger metropolis
where lies the palace of the jeddak.
He is taken to a silk shop where the owner merchant has been
instructed to take the noble Vas Kor as a slave to the slave market:
“As he moved with the throng in
the parklike canyon of the thoroughfare the life of an awakening Martian
city was in evidence about him. Houses, raised high upon their slender
metal columns for the night were dropping gently toward the ground. Among
the flowers upon the scarlet sward which lies about the buildings children
were already playing, and comely women laughing and chatting with their
neighbors as they culled gorgeous blossoms for the vases within doors.
“The pleasant ‘kaor’ of the Barsoomian
greeting fell continually upon the ears of the stranger as friends and
neighbors took up the duties of a new day.
“The district in which he had landed
was residential – a district of merchants of the more prosperous sort.
Everywhere were evidences of luxury and wealth. Slaves appeared upon every
housetop with gorgeous silks and costly furs, laying them in the sun for
airing. Jewel-encrusted women lolled even thus early upon the carven balconies
before their sleeping apartments. Later in the day they would repair to
the roofs when the slaves had arranged couches and pitched silken canopies
to shade them from the sun.
“Strains of inspiring music broke
pleasantly from open windows, for the Martians have solved the problem
of attuning the nerves pleasantly to the sudden transition from sleep to
waking that proves so difficult a thing for most Earth folk.
“Above him raced the long, light
passenger fliers, plying, each in its proper plane, between the numerous
landing-stages for internal passenger traffic.
Landing-stages that tower high into
the heavens are for the great international passenger liners. Freighters
have other landing-stages at various lower levels, to within a couple of
hundred feet of the ground; nor dare any flier rise or drop from one plane
to another except in certain restricted districts where horizontal traffic
“Along the close-cropped sward which
paves the avenue ground fliers were moving in continuous lines in opposite
directions. For the greater part they skimmed along the surface of the
sward, soaring gracefully into the air at times to pass over a slower-going
driver ahead, or at intersections, where the north and south traffic has
the right of way and the east and west must rise above it.
“From private hangars upon many
a roof top fliers were darting into the line of traffic. Gay farewells
and parting admonitions mingled with the whirring of motors and subdued
noises of the city.
“Yet with all the swift movement
and the countless thousands rushing hither and thither, the predominant
suggestion was that of luxurious ease and soft noiselessness.
“Martians dislike harsh, discordant
clamour. The only loud noises they can abide are the martial sounds of
war, the clash of arms, the collision of two mightly dreadnoughts of the
air. To them there is no sweeter music than this.
“At the intersection of two broad
avenues Vas Kor descended from the street level to one of the great pneumatic
stations of the city. Here he paid before a little wicket the fare to his
destination with a couple of the dull, oval coins of Helium.
“Beyond the gatekeeper he came to
a slowly moving line of what to Earthly eyes would have appeared to be
conical-nosed, eight-foot projectiles for some giant gun. In slow procession
the things moved in single file along a grooved track. A half dozen attendants
assisted passengers to enter, or directed these carriers to their proper
“Vas Kor approached one that was
empty. Upon its nose was dial and a pointer. He set the pointer for a certain
station in Greater Helium, raised the arched lid of the thing, stepped
in and lay down upon the upholstered bottom. An attendant closed the lid,
which locked with a little click, and the carrier continued its slow way.
“Presently it switched itself automatically
to another track, to enter, a moment later, one of the series of dark-mouthed
“The instant that its entire length
was within the black aperture it sprang forward with the speed of a rifle
ball. There was an instant of whizzing – a soft, though sudden, stop, and
slowly the carrier emerged upon another platform, another attendant raised
the lid and Vas Kor stepped out at the station beneath the center of Greater
Helium, seventy-five miles from the point at which he had embarked.
“Here he sought the street level,
stepping immediately into a waiting ground flier. He spoke no word to the
slave sitting in the driver’s seat. It was evident that he had been expected,
and that the fellow had received his instructions before his coming.” (TMM/2.)
“Five minutes later the
merchant was leading his slave to the public market, where a great concourse
of people filled the great open space in the center of which stood the
ERB must have loved writing that part. In The Chessmen
of Mars we encounter a contradiction when Gahan of Gathol sails off
in the Vanator to rescue Tara during the greatest storm that has hit Barsoom
in the annals of recorded history. Carter does not follow him because of
the storm’s devastation in Lesser Helium:
“The crowds were enormous to-day,
for Carthoris, Prince of Helium, was to be the principal bidder.
“One by one the masters mounted
the rostrum beside the slave block upon which stood their chattels. Briefly
and clearly each recounted the virtues of his particular offering.
“When all were done, the major-domo
of the Prince of Helium recalled to the block such as had favorably impressed
him. For such he had made a fair offer.
“There was little haggling as to
price, and none at all when Vas Kor was placed upon the block. His merchant-master
accepted the first offer that was made for him, and thus a Dusarian noble
entered the household of Carthoris.” (TMM/2.)
“And in another instant
was the Vanator forgotten as the lofty, scarlet tower that had marked Lesser
Helium for ages crashed to the ground, carrying death and demolition upon
the city beneath.” (CM/3.)
With all of the detail to remember, it is easy to forgive
ERB for the contradiction since he had stated in The Gods of Mars
that the scarlet tower marked Greater Helium. (See above.)
When he wrote Swords of Mars, he had it right again:
“It is a long and lonely
journey from Zodanga to Helium, and this time it seemed stretched to interminable
length because of my anxiety for the safety of my princess, but at last
it was ended, and I saw the scarlet tower of greater Helium looming before
We find another one in the last John Carter story ERB wrote,
"Skeleton Men of Mars":
"Dejah Thoris, my incomparable
princess, and I were sitting upon a carved ersite bench in one of the gardens
of our palace in Lesser Helium when an officer in the leather of Tardos
Mors, Jeddak of Helium, approached and saluted." (JCM/II-1.)
The astute reader will recall that Carter’s palace was on
the outskirts of Greater Helium near the great gate. (See above.) Not much
is to be learned elsewhere. We are informed by Tan Hadron of Hastor in
Fighting Man of Mars that Carter’s palace is made of marble (FMM/1);
and that the library in Helium is called the Temple of Knowledge. (FMM/2.)
We also learn that Helium is an empire, including the cities of Hastor,
Tjanath, and Kobol. (FMM/1-2.) We know from The Gods of Mars, that
Zodanga was eventually incorporated into the Helium Empire. (See above.)
We also know from A Princess of Mars that Dejah
Thoris comes from a long line of scientists and inventors, as she relates
to the Tharks after they shoot down her flier:
“‘What is your name?’asked
Lorqual Ptomel, addressing the prisoner.
Later, after Carter rescues her from the humiliation of a
Green Martian, he asks her if the Green Martians are treating her cruelly:
“‘Dejah Thoris, daughter of Mors
Kajak of Helium.’
“‘And the nature of your expedition?’
“‘It was a purely scientific research
sent out by my father’s father, the Jeddak of Helium, to rechart the air
currents, and to take atmospheric density tests,' replied the fair prisoner,
in a low, well-modulated voice.” (PM/10.)
“‘Only in little ways,
John Carter,’ she answered. ‘Nothing that can harm me outside my pride.
They know that I am the daughter of ten thousand jeddaks, that I trace
my ancestry straight back without a break to the builder of the first great
waterway, and they, who do not even know their own mothers, are jealous
of me.’” (PM/13.)
Carter too likes to fiddle around and has made improvements
in the gearing of Helium fliers, but that Dejah's blood seems more dominant
in the area of science – remember, Carter is a fighting man not a scientist
– is borne out in Carthoris' invention of the directional compass, which
is fully described in Thuvia Maid of Mars:
“To Thuvan Dihn he explained
that he had been but testing an invention of his own with which his flier
was equipped – a clever improvement of the ordinary Martian air compass,
which, when set for a certain destination, will remain constantly fixed
thereon, making it only necessary to keep a vessel’s prow always in the
direction of the compass needle to reach any given point upon Barsoom by
the shortest route.
Should the enveloping force be interrupted in any direction
a delicate instrument immediately apprehends the irregularity, at the same
time imparting an impulse to a magnetic device which in turn actuates the
steering mechanism, diverting the bow of the flier away from the obstacle
until the craft’s radio-activity sphere is no longer in contact with the
obstruction, then she falls once more into her normal course. Should the
disturbance approach from the rear, as in case of fastermoving craft overhauling
me, the mechanism actuates the speed control as well as the steering gear,
and the flier shoots ahead and either up or down, as the
“Carthoris’ improvement upon this
consisted of an auxiliary device which steered the craft mechanically in
the direction of the compass, and upon arrival directly over the point
for which the compass was set, brought the craft to a standstill and lowered
it, automatically, to the ground....
“‘Provided,’ suggested Thuvan Dihn,
‘you do not chance to collide with some other night wanderer in the meanwhile.’
“Carthoris smiled. ‘No danger of
that,’ he replied. ‘See here,’ and he indicated a device at the right of
the destination compass. ‘This is my “obstruction evader”, as I call it.
This visible device is the switch which throws the mechanism on or off.
The instrument itself is below deck, geared both to the steering aparatus
and the control levers.
“‘It is quite simple, being nothing
more than a radium generator diffusing radio-activity in all directions
to a distance of a hundred yards or so from the flier.
oncoming vessel is upon a lower or higher plane than
“‘In aggravated cases,
that is when the obstructions are many, or of such a nature as to deflect
the bow more than forty-five degrees in any direction, or when the craft
has reached her destination and dropped to within a hundred yards of the
ground, the mechanism brings her to a full stop, at the same time sounding
a loud alarm which will instantly awake the pilot. You see I have anticipated
almost every contingency.’” (TMM/1.)
The spy, Vas Kor, disguised as a servant of Thuvan Dihn,
sees a demonstration of the device. This is why he is later sent to be
a slave of Carthoris, so that he can sabotage the device so that Carthoris
won’t be able to find Thuvia. But that’s another story.
It is my theory, and it is only that, that Zodanga is
representative of the Chicago of ERB's day: full of gangsters, political
corruption, and every crime imaginable. If that is the case, then the twin
cities of Helium may have been inspired by the Twin Cities of Minneapolis
and St. Paul, Minnesota. Though not free of crime, they were much cleaner
It seems by the time that Vas Kor entered the Twin Cities,
Helium had adopted the use of the Marentina ground fliers, for they appear
to have been a novelty to Carter when he first observed them. I can see
no difference between the ones in Helium and the ones in Okar.
Helium is also a place of marvelous scientific inventions.
They invented the canal system of Mars and the pneumatic tubes are wonderful
in description. I don’t know much about aviation history, but ERB seems
to be describing inventions that would later be associated with the automatic
pilot and radar. And of course they have the greatest fighting men and
the most beautiful women on the planet. Yes, this was ERB's Utopia.
And there you have it,
The Twin Cities of Helium: The Second Wonder of Barsoom!