THE SEVEN WONDERS OF BARSOOM SERIES
THE RELIGION OF ISSUS I:
First Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsooom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Coming up with any list of wonders is always going to disappoint some
fans. The selections are largely random and arbitrary and of such a bias,
they likely expose more about the person that chooses them than the actual
wonders themselves. Thus, the necessity of runner-ups, just to make sure
all of the salient high points of Martian civilization are realized and
It should be noted that I have dealt with religion upon Mars much in
the same way ERB dealt with it in his novels: full of superstition and
hyprocisy based on fear and deception. Personally, I feel that our planet
would be better off without any of it. That's why only the sadistic Temple
of the Sun made my list of Seven Wonders, and, even then, in last place.
Needless to say, there is a lot written about the religion of Issus
and it is both important in the history of Barsoom as well as the frank
illustrations they give us about religion on Earth.
A. Structure and Beliefs.
The religion of Issus, like almost all organized religions on Earth,
is composed of three layers of deceit and error. The first layer is composed
of the laity, the millions of Barsoomians, red, yellow, and green, who
adhere to its belief system based on fear and superstition without question.
The second layer is composed of the clergy, the Holy Therns, bald-headed
white people wearing blond wigs, who know the deception of the first layer,
but are themselves the victims of the deception of the third layer. The
third layer is composed of the true aristocracy of the religion, the Black
Pirates, or First Born, of Barsoom, led by their goddess, the shriveled
old hag, Issus herself, Goddess of Death and Daughter of the Lesser Moon.
Of course, Issus herself, deceived her own people into believing that she
was all-knowing and all-powerful, a myth that John Carter, the savior of
Mars, exposed violently.
We first hear about the religion of Issus in A Princess of Mars
during a conversation between John Carter and Dejah Thoris while they are
both captives of the Tharks, a tribe of Green Martians:
“‘In the name of my first ancestor, then,’
she continued, ‘where may you be from? You are like unto my people, and
yet so unlike. You speak my language, and yet I heard you tell Tars Tarkas
that you had but learned it recently.
We soon learn why Dejah Thoris was so concerned at the beginning of the
next volume in the first three novels which make up what is known as “The
John Carter of Mars Trilogy,” The Gods of Mars. Ironically,
John Carter himself is ERB's poke at Christianity: his initials are the
same as Jesus Christ's; he has a supernatural advent upon another world;
and at the end of the
All Barsoomians speak the same tongue from the
ice-clad south to the ice-clad north, though their written languages differ.
Only in the valley Dor, where the river Iss empties into the lost sea of
Korus, is there supposed to be a different language spoken, and except
in the legends of our ancestors, there is no record of a Barsoomian returning
up the river Iss, from the shores of Korus in the valley of Dor. Do not
tell me that you have thus returned! They would kill you horribly anywhere
upon the surface of Barsoom if that were true; tell me it is not!’
“Her eyes were filled with a strange, weird light;
her voice was pleading, and her little hands, reached up upon my breast,
were pressed against me as though to wring a denial from my heart.
“‘I do not know your customs, Dejah Thoris, but
in my own Virginia a gentleman does not lie to save himself; I am not of
Dor; I have never seen the mysterious Iss; the lost sea of Korus is still
lost, so far as I an concerned. Do you believe me?’
“And then it struck me suddenly that I was very
anxious that she should believe me. It was not that I feared the results
which would follow a general belief that I had returned from the Barsoomian
heaven or hell, or whatever it was.” (PM/11.)
first novel, he expires in self-sacrifice at the atmosphere factory
just in time to save the whole planet. He then disappears and ten years
later – a little longer than the three days it took Jesus to return – Carter
resurrects back on Mars: in its Heaven. So, in debunking religion, ERB
virtually creates a religious myth of his own, nearly stated as dogma in
Carter’s defense in the Temple of Reward. (See below)
Carter finds himself back on Barsoom after suddenly astral-travelling
from his cottage overlooking the Hudson River; he has no idea where he
is. He wakes up naked in a strange and beautiful forest of gigantic multicolored
trees; the ground is covered with a close-cropped sward of scarlet vegetation.
It all appears to be parklike in its upkeep. Through the trees he sees
un-Martian sight: an open sea.
As he leaves the forest he comes to a broad expanse of meadow land;
to his left, the sea as far as he can see; to his right, a mighty river
flowing between scarlet banks as it empties into the sea. A little distance
up the river mighty perpendicular gold metal bluffs rise thousands of feet
high, at the base of which the river emerges from a subterranean tunnel.
Then Carter sees the gruesome blue plant men, the caretakers of the
park: monsters who suck the blood from their victims. Carter hears a weird
cry from the bluffs, the plant men rally and attack a group of Green Martians
who have gathered on top of a boulder to defend themselves. The plant men
kill all but one with their hammer-like tails and Carter joins in the fight
to help the one survivor, who turns out to be Tars Tarkas.
After an incredible battle with the plant men and the great white apes
who are called to help their monster allies, Carter and Tars Tarkas escape
in a tree trunk and climb up the inside of the tree to a cave in the golden
cliffs. Michael Whelan does a great job depicting this battle in his cover
art of a Ballantine paperback. (See ERBzine
While exploring a corridor inside the cave, Tars Tarkas explains everything
“‘You have not told me where we are,’
I reminded him.
As they proceed, a mysterious voice warns them to turn back:
“‘We are where I expected to find you, John Carter
– and another. Many years ago you heard the story of the woman who taught
me the thing that green Martians are reared to hate, the woman who taught
me to love. You know the cruel tortures and the awful death her love won
for her at the hands of the beast, Tal Hajus.
“‘She, I thought, awaited me by the Lost Sea of
“‘You know that it was left for a man from another
world, for yourself, John Carter, to teach this cruel Thark what friendship
is; and you, I thought, also roamed the care-free Valley Dor.
“‘Thus were the two I most longed for at the end
of the long pilgrimage I must take some day, and so as the time had elapsed
which Dejah Thoris had hoped might bring you once more to her side, for
she has always tried to believe that you had but temporarily returned to
your own planet, I at last gave way to my great yearning and a month since
I started upon the journey, the end of which this day you have witnessed.
Do you understand now where you be, John Carter?’
“‘And that was the River Iss, emptying into the
Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor?’ I asked.
“‘This is the valley of love and peace and rest
to which every Barsoomian since time immemorial has longed to pilgrimage
at the end of a life of hate and strife and bloodshed,’ he replied. ‘This,
John Carter, is Heaven.’
“His tone was cold and ironical; its bitterness
but reflecting the terrible disappointment he had suffered. Such a fearful
disillusionment, such a blasting of life-long hopes and aspirations, such
an uprooting of age-old tradition might have excused a vastly greater demonstration
on the part of the Thark.
“I laid my hand upon his shoulder.
“‘I am sorry,’ I said, nor did there seem aught
else to say. “‘Think, John Carter, of the countless billions of Barsoomians
who have taken the voluntary pilgrimage down the cruel river since the
beginning of time, only to fall into the ferocious clutches of the terrible
creaturs that to-day assailed us.
“‘There is an ancient legend that once a red man
returned from the banks of the Lost Sea of Korus, returned from the Valley
Dor, back through the mysterious River Iss, and the legend has it that
he narrated a fearful blasphemy of horrible brutes that inhabited a valley
of wondrous loveliness, brutes that pounced upon each Barsoomian as he
terminated his pilgrimage and devoured him upon the banks of the Lost Sea
where he had looked to find love and peace and happiness; but the ancients
killed the blasphemer, as tradition has ordained that any shall be killed
who return from the bosom of the River of Mystery.
“‘But now we know that it was no blasphemy, that
the legend is a true one, and that the man told only of what he saw; but
what does it profit us, John Carter, since even should we escape, we also
would be treated as blasphemers? We are between the wild thoat of certainty
and the mad zitidar of fact – we can escape neither.’” (GM/3.)
“‘Fools! Fools!’ it shrieked. ‘Thinkest
thou to defeat the eternal laws of life and death? Wouldst cheat the mysterious
Issus, Goddess of Death, of her just dues? Did not her mighty messenger,
the ancient Iss, bear you upon her leaden bosom at your own behest to the
They fight off banth after banth that keep mysteriously appearing, and
with the aid of a mirror on the back of Tars Tarkas’s harness, Carter discovers
a secret revolving door, jumping through it into another chamber on the
other side. He fights and kills two lesser therns in the chamber with the
help of one of the prisoners chained against a wall, a totally naked girl
“‘Thinkest thou, O fools, that Issus will give
up her own? Thinkest thou to escape from whence in all the countless ages
but a single soul has fled?
“‘Go back the way thou camest, to the merciful
maws of the children of the Tree of Life or the gleaming fangs of the great
white apes, for there lies the speedy surcease from suffering; but insist
in your rash purpose to thread the mazes of the Golden Cliffs of the Mountains
of Otz, past the ramparts of the impregnable fortresses of the Holy Therns,
and upon your way Death in its most frightful form will overtake you –
a death so horrible that even the Holy Therns themselves, who conceived
both Life and Death, avert their eyes from its fiendishness and close their
ears against the hideous shrieks of its victims.
“‘Go back, O fools, the way thou camest.’” (GM/3)
turns out to be Thuvia, Princess of Ptarth. After she calms and sends
away the attacking banths, she confronts Carter and Tars Tarkas with their
folly, explaining her history:
“‘Tell me,’ I said, ‘and who be you,
and why a prisoner yet with power over the ferocious beasts of the place
that denotes familiarity and authority far beyond that which might be expected
of a prisoner or a slave?’
They discuss their chances for escape, recruit the other prisoners, and
Thuvia leads them to a chamber where they can all get weapons. On the way
they she tells them:
“‘Slave I am,’ she answered. ‘For fifteen years
a slave in this terrible place, and now that they have tired of me and
become fearful of the power which my knowledge of their ways has given
me I am but recently condemned to die the death.’
“‘What death?’ I asked.
“‘The Holy Therns eat human flesh,’ she answered
me; ‘but only that which has died beneath the sucking lips of a plant man–
flesh from which the defiling blood of life has been drawn. And to this
cruel end I have been condemned. It was to be within a few hours, had your
advent not caused an interruption of their plans.’
“‘Was it then the Holy Therns who felt the weight
of John Carter’s hand?’ I asked.
“‘Oh, no; those whom you laid low are lesser therns;
but of the same cruel and hateful race. The Holy Therns abide upon the
outer slopes of these grim hills, facing the broad world from which they
harvest their victims and their spoils.
“‘Labyrinthine passages connect these caves with
the luxurious palaces of the Holy Therns, and through them pass upon their
many duties the lesser therns, and hordes of slaves, and prisoners, and
fierce beasts; the grim inhabitants of this sunless world....
“‘Now and again some hapless pilgrim, drifting
out upon the silent sea from the cold Iss, escapes the plant men and the
great white apes that guard the Temple of Issus and falls into the relentless
clutches of the therns; or, as was my misfortune, is coveted by the Holy
Thern who chances to be upon watch in the balcony above the river where
it issues from the bowels of the mountains through the cliffs of gold to
empty into the Lost Sea of Korus.
“‘All who reach the Valley Dor are, by custom,
the rightful prey of the plant men and the apes, while their arms and ornaments
become the portion of the therns; but if one escapes the terrible denizens
of the valley for even few hours the therns may claim such a one as their
own. And again the Holy Thern on watch, should he see a victim he covets,
often tramples upon the rights of the unreasoning brutes of the valley
and takes his prize by foul means if he cannot gain it by fair.
“‘It is said that occasionally some deluded victim
of Barsoomian superstition will so far escape the clutches of the countless
enemies that beset his path from the moment that he emerges from the subterranean
passage through which the Iss flows for a thousand miles before it enters
the Valley Dor as to reach the very walls of the Temple of Issus; but what
fate awaits one there not even the Holy Therns may guess, for who has passed
within those gilded walls never has returned to unfold the mysteries they
have held since the beginning of time.
“‘The Temple of Issus is to the therns what the
Valley Dor is imagined by the peoples of the outer world to be to them;
it is the ultimate haven of peace, refuge, and happiness to which they
pass after this life and wherein an eternity of eternities is spent amidst
the delights of the flesh which appeal most strongly to this race of mental
giants and moral pygmies.
“‘The Temple of Issus is, I take it, a heaven
within a heaven,’ I said. ‘Let us hope that there it will be meted to the
therns as they have meted it here unto others.’
“‘Who knows?’ the girl murmured.
“‘The therns, I judge from what you have said,
are no less mortal than we; and yet have I always heard spoken of with
the utmost awe and reverence by the people of Barsoom, as one might speak
of the gods themselves.’
“‘The therns are mortal,’ she replied. ‘They die
from the same causes as you or I might; those who do not live their allotted
span of life, one thousand years, when by the authority of custom they
may take their way in happiness through the long tunnel that leads to Issus.
“‘Those that die before are supposed to spend
the balance of their allotted time in the image of a plant man, and it
is for this reason that the plant men are held sacred by the therns, since
they believe that each of these hideous creatures was formerly a thern.’
“‘And should a plant man die?” I asked.
“‘Should he die before the expiration of the thousand
years from the birth of the thern whose immortality abides within him then
the soul passes into a great white ape; but should the ape die short of
the exact hour that terminates the thousand years the soul is forever lost
and passes for all eternity into the carcass of the slimy and fearsome
silian whose wriggling thousands seethe the silent sea beneath the hurtling
moons when the sun has gone and strange shapes walk through the Valley
“‘And even then, O Prince,’ she cried,
‘the arm of the Holy Thern is long. It reaches to every nation of Barsoom.
His secret temples are hidden in the heart of every community. Wherever
we go should we escape we shall find that word
Before they reach the weapons room, they meet a Holy Thern of the Tenth
Cycle, Sator Throg:
of our coming has preceded us, and death awaits
us before we may pollute the air with our blasphemies.’” (GM/4.)
“He wore in addition to his leathern
trappings and jewelled ornaments a great circlet of gold about his brow
in the exact center of which was set an immense stone, the exact counterpart
of that which I had seen upon the breast of the little old man at the atmosphere
plant nearly twenty years before....
The thern orders them to stop, but Thuvia raises her revolver and fires
point blank, killing him instantly, revenging herself. This had been the
Holy Thern on watch who had coveted her and made her his plaything for
fifteen years. Thuvia notices a remarkable resemblance between the thern
and Carter and gets an idea:
“The stone worn by the thern who confronted us
was of about the same size as that which I had seen before; an inch in
diameter I should say. It scintillated nine different and distinct rays;
the seven primary colors of our earthly prism and the two rays which are
unknown upon Earth, but whose wondrous beauty is undescribable.” (GM/4.)
“She smiled and for answer approached
the body of the man she had just slain, and kneeling beside it removed
the circlet of gold from the forehead, and then to my utter amazement lifted
the entire scalp bodily from the corpse’s head.
The escaping party takes the body of Sator Throg along with them and eventually
find the weapons storeroom where Carter takes the opportunity to get some
sleep. He is awakened by gunfire. The other prisoners are ambushed and
killed by a search party: Carter, Thuvia, and Tars Tarkas only survive
because they were sleeping on the floor. The leader of the ambush is specifically
looking for them, but Carter pretends he is Sator Throg and is offended
by the ambush, telling the leader that he has captured the suspects, thus
accounting for Tars Tarkas, and that the dead white body on the floor belongs
to John Carter. But, of course, the white body is bald and the leader suspiciously
and grudgingly accepts Sator Throg’s story:
“Rising, she advanced to my side and placing the
yellow wig over my black hair, crowned me with the golden circlet set with
the magnificent gem.
“‘Now don his harness, Prince,’ she said, ‘and
you may pass where you will in the realms of the therns, for Sator Throg
was a Holy Thern of the Tenth Cycle, and mighty among his kind.’
“As I stooped to the dead man to do her bidding
I noted that not a hair grew upon his head, which was quite as bald as
“‘They are all thus from birth,’ explained Thuvia
noting my surprise. ‘The race from which they sprang were crowned with
a luxurious growth of golden hair, but for many ages the present race has
been entirely bald. The wig, however, has come to be a part of their apparel,
and so important a part do they consider it that it is cause for the deepest
disgrace were a thern to appear in public without it.’” (GM/4.)
“‘What will the fellow do first, Thuvia?’
I asked. ‘How long will it be before they may return for us?’
They head for the top of the cliffs and come to an opening overlooking
the Valley Dor. This scene is vividly depicted by Thomas Yeates. (See,
it’s the third picture down on the left in the Barsoom Portfolio II):
“‘He will go directly to the Father of the Therns,
old Matai Shang. He may have to wait for an audience, but since he is very
high among the lesser therns, in fact as a thorian among them, it will
not be long that Matai Shang will keep him waiting.
“‘Then if the Father of Therns puts credence in
his story, another hour will see the galleries and chambers, the courts
and gardens, filled with searchers.’
“‘What we do then must be done within an hour.
What is the best way, Thuvia, the shortest way out of this celestial Hades?’
“‘Straight to the top of the cliffs, Prince,’
she replied, ‘and then through the gardens to the inner courts. From there
our way will lie within the temples of the therns and across them to the
outer court. Then the ramparts – O Prince, it is hopeless. Ten thousand
warriors could not hew a way to liberty from out this awful place.
“‘Since the beginning of time, little by little,
stone by stone, have the therns been ever adding to the defences of their
stronghold. A continuous line of impregnable fortifications circles the
outer slopes of the Mountains of Otz.
“‘Within the temples that lie beyond the ramparts
a million fighting-men are ever ready. The courts and gardens are filled
with slaves, with women and with children.
“‘None could go a stone’s throw without detection.’”
“At our right the sun was setting, a
huge red orb, below the western range of Otz. A little below us stood the
Holy Thern on watch upon his balcony. His scarlet robe of office was pulled
tightly about him in anticipation of the cold that comes so suddenly with
darkness as the sun sets....
They finally make their way to the gardens of the therns, assisted by a
pack of banths Thuvia has recruited. There they discover that the therns
are under attack by many fliers of the Black Pirates of Barsoom, who are
stealing as many beautiful women as they can get their hands on.
“The declining sun lighted brilliantly the eastern
banks of Korus, the crimson sward, the gorgeous forest. Beneath the trees
we saw feeding many herds of plant men. The adults stood aloft upon their
toes and their mighty tails, their talons pruning every available leaf
and twig. It was then that I understood the careful trimming of the trees
which had led me to form the mistaken idea when first I opened my eyes
upon the grove that it was the playground of a civilized people.
“As we watched, our eyes wandered to the rolling
Iss, which issued from the base of the cliffs beneath us. Presently there
emerged from the mountain a canoe laden with lost souls from the outer
world. There were a dozen of them. All were of the highly civilized and
cultured race of red men who are dominant on Mars.
“The eyes of the herald upon the balcony beneath
fell upon the doomed party as soon as did ours. He raised his head and,
leaning far out over the low rail that rimmed his dizzy perch, voiced the
shrill, weird wail that called the demons of this hellish place to attack.
“For an instant the brutes stood with stiffly
erected ears, then they poured from the grove toward the river’s bank,
covering the distance with great, ungainly leaps.
“The party had landed and was standing on the
sward as the awful horde came in sight. There was a brief and futile effort
at defense. Then silence as the huge, repulsive shapes covered the bodies
of their victims and scores of sucking mouths fastened themselves to the
flesh of their prey.
“I turned away in disgust.
“‘Their part is soon over,’ said Thuvia. ‘The
great white apes get the flesh when the plant men have drained the arteries.
Look, they are coming now.’
“As I turned my eyes in the direction the girl
indicated, I saw a dozen of the great white monsters running across the
valley toward the river bank. Then the sun went down and darkness that
could almost be felt engulfed us.” (GM/5.)
Carter manages to highjack one of their fliers, but the weight of the
three of them is too much, so he sets the controls and jumps off, letting
Tars Tarkas and Thuvia get away while he holds off a dozen or so Black
Pirates. An anchor clunks him on the head, he makes a leap for it, and
escapes as the ship attached to the anchor floats off. Carter climbs aboard
after dispatching a Black Pirate trying to prevent him from boarding. There
is some great cover art of this scene by Frank Schoonover and Gino D’Achille
which can be viewed at ERBzine
The rest of the crew are sleeping and he spies a thern girl bound to one
of the rapid firing guns. He releases her and together they dispatch all
but one to the Lost Sea of Korus below. The sole survivor, Xodar, is securely
bound in his harness, and then the girl queries about who he is and where
he is from for she has seen through his disguise, the whole time openly
flirting with him. Carter tells her he is from another world; the girl
believes him and introduces herself:
“‘I am Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang,
Holy Hekkador of the Holy Therns, Father of Therns, Master of Life and
Death upon Barsoom, Brother of Issus, Princess of Life Eternal.’” (GM/7.)
Carter takes the ship as high as it will go to answer two questions as
Phaidor and Xodar succumb to the lack of oxygen: the first is to prove
that Phaidor is just as mortal as he is; the second is to dispell the common
Barsoomian rumor that the Black Pirates come from Thuria, the lesser moon.
He brings these facts to their attention:
“‘There is immortality only in Issus,’
she replied. ‘And Issus is for the race of the therns alone. Thus am I
Carter tells them he intends on taking both of them to Helium as witnesses
to the false religion of Issus. Then Xodar distracts him with a long history
lesson of his race and religious beliefs:
“I caught a fleeting grin passing across the features
of the black as he heard her words. I did not then understand why he smiled.
Later I was to learn, and she, too, in a most horrible manner.
“‘The other,’ I replied, ‘is that our dusky friend
here does not hail from the nearer moon – he was like to have died at a
few thousand feet above Barsoom. Had we continued the five thousand miles
that lie between Thuria and the planet he would have been but the frozen
memory of a man.’
“Phaidor looked at the black in evident astonishment.
“‘If you are not of Thuria, then where?’ she asked.
“He shrugged his shoulders and turned his eyes
elsewhere, but did not reply.
“The girl stamped her little foot in a peremptory
“‘The daughter of Matai Shang is not accustomed
to having her queries remain unanswered,’ she said. ‘One of the lesser
breed should feel honored that a member of the holy race that was born
to inherit life eternal should deign even to notice him.’
“Again the black smiled that wicked, knowing smile.
“‘Xodar, Dator of the First Born of Barsoom, is
accustomed to give commands, not to receive them,’ replied the black pirate.”
“‘The First Born of Barsoom,’ he explained,
‘are the race of black men of which I am a Dator, or, as the lesser Barsoomians
would say, Prince. My race is the oldest on the planet. We trace our lineage,
unbroken, direct to the Tree of Life which flourished in the center of
the Valley Dor twenty-three million years ago.
Xodar is able to distract Carter long enough to prevent him from noticing
a black battleship bearing down on him until it is too late. He is hence
captured and Carter and Phaidor are bound together and placed in a cabin
below decks. Phaidor tells him she fears her fate for in the millions of
years the Black Pirates have only stolen women:
“‘For countless ages the fruit of this tree underwent
the gradual changes of evolution, passing by degrees from true plant life
to a combination of plant and animal. In the first stages the fruit of
the tree possessed only the power of independent muscular action, while
the stem remained attached to the parent plant; later a brain developed
in the fruit, so that hanging there by their long stems they thought and
moved as individuals.
“‘Then, with the development of perceptions came
a comparison of them; judgments were reached and compared, and thus reason
and the power to reason were born upon Barsoom.
“‘Ages passed. Many forms of life came and went
upon the Tree of Life, but still all were attached to the parent plant
by stems of varying length. At length the fruit tree consisted in tiny
plant men, such as we now see reproduced in such huge dimensions in the
Valley Dor, but still hanging to the limbs and branches of the tree by
the stems which grew from the tops of their heads.
“‘The buds from which the plant men blossomed
resembled large nuts about a foot in diameter, divided by double partition
walls into four sections. In one section grew the plant man, in another
a sixteen-legged worm, in the third the progenitor of the white ape and
in the fourth the primeval black man of Barsoom.
“‘When the bud burst the plant man remained dangling
at the end of his stem, but the three other sections fell to the ground,
where the efforts of their imprisoned occupants to escape sent them hopping
about in all directions.
“‘Thus as time went on, all Barsoom was covered
with these imprisoned creatures. For countless ages they lived their long
lives within their hard shells, hopping and skipping about the broad planet;
falling into rivers, lakes, and seas, to be still further spread about
the surface of the new world.
“‘Countless billions died before the first black
man broke through his prison walls into the light of day. Prompted by curiousity,
he broke open other shells and the peopling of Barsoom commenced.
“‘The pure strain of the blood of this first black
man has remained untainted by admixture with the other creatures in the
race of which I am a member; but from the sixteen-legged worm, the first
ape and renegade black man has sprung every other form of animal life upon
“‘The therns,’ and he smiled maliciously as he
spoke, ‘are but the result of ages of evolution from the pure white ape
of antiquity. They are a lower order still. There is but one race of true
and immortal humans on Barsoom. It is the race of black men.
“‘The Tree of Life is dead, but before it died
the plant men learned to detach themselves from it and roam the face of
Barsoom with other children of the First Parent.
“‘Now their bisexuality permits them to reproduce
themselves after the manner of true plants, but otherwise they have progressed
but little in all the ages of their existence. Their actions and movements
are largely matters of instinct and not guided to any great extent by reason,
since the brain of a plant man is but a trifle larger than the end of your
smallest finger. They live upon vegetation and the blood of animals, and
their brain is just large enough to direct their movements in the direction
of food, and to translate the food sensations which are carried to it from
their eyes and ears. They have no sense of self-preservation and so are
entirely without fear in the face of danger. That is why they are such
terrible antagonists in combat.’” (GM/7.)
“‘Do you know where we are going?’ she
It is obvious that Phaidor has fallen in love with Carter and desires to
make love to him. If it is not obvious to you now, then see what happens
“‘To solve the mystery of the eternal hereafter,
I imagine,’ I replied.
“‘I am going to a worse fate than that,’ she said,
with a little shudder.
“‘What do you mean?’
“‘I can only guess,’ she replied, ‘since no thern
damsel of all the millions that have been stolen away by black pirates
during the ages they have raided our domain has ever returned to narrate
her experiences among them. That they never take a man prisoner lends strength
to the belief that the fate of the girls they steal is worse than death.’
“‘Is it not a just retribution?’ I could not help
“‘What do you mean?’
“‘Do not the therns themselves do likewise with
the poor creatures who take the voluntary pilgrimage down the River of
Mystery? Was not Thuvia for fifteen years a plaything and a slave? Is it
less than just that you should suffer as you have caused others to suffer?’
“‘You do not understand,’ she replied. “We therns
are a holy race. It is an honor to a lesser creature to be a slave among
us. Did we not occasionally save a few of the lower orders that stupidly
float down an unknown river to an unknown end all would become the prey
of the plant men and the apes.’
“‘But do you not by every means encourage the
superstition among those of the outside world?’ I argued. ‘That is the
wickedest of your deeds. Can you tell me why you foster the cruel deception?’
“‘All life on Barsoom,’ she said, ‘is created
solely for the support of the race of therns. How else could we live did
the outer world not furnish our labor and our food? Think you that a thern
would demean himself by labor?’
“‘Is it true that you eat human flesh?’ I asked
“She looked at me in pitying commiseration for
“‘Truly we eat the flesh of the lower orders.
Do not you also?’
“‘The flesh of beasts, yes,’ I replied, ‘but not
the flesh of man.’
“‘As man may eat of the flesh of beasts, so may
gods eat of the flesh of man. The Holy Therns are the gods of Barsoom.’
“I was disgusted and I imagine that I showed it.
“‘You are an unbeliever now,’ she continued gently,
‘but should we be fortunate enough to escape the clutches of the black
pirates and come again to the court of Matai Shang I think that we shall
find an argument to convince you of the error of your ways. And – ,’ she
hesitated, ‘perhaps we shall find a way to keep you as – as – one of us.’”
“Again her eyes dropped to the floor,
and a faint color suffused her cheek. I could not understand her meaning;
nor did I for a long time. Dejah Thoris was wont to say that in some things
I was a veritable simpleton, and I guess that she was right.
Carter gives up his attempt to create a human conscience in Phaidor after
she has offered herself to him:
“‘I fear that I would ill requite your father’s
hospitality,’ I answered, ‘since the first thing that I should do were
I a thern would be to set an armed guard in the mouth of the River Iss
to escort the poor deluded voyagers back to the outer world. Also should
I devote my life to the extermination of the hideous plant men and their
horrible companions, the great white apes.’
“She looked at me really horror struck.
“‘No, no,’ she cried, ‘you must not say such terribly
sacrilegious things – you must not even think them. Should they ever guess
that you entertained such frightful thoughts, should we chance to regain
the temples of the therns, they would mete out a frightful death to you.
Not even my – my –’ Again she flushed, and started over. ‘Not even I could
save you.’” (GM/8.)
“I said no more. Evidently it was useless.
She was even more steeped in superstition than the Maritans of the outer
world. They only worshipped a beautiful hope for a life of love and peace
and happiness in the hereafter. The therns worshipped the hideous plant
men and the apes, or at least they reverenced them as the abodes of departed
spirits of their own dead.’” (GM/8)
Xodar returns and allows them on deck to witness the entrance to the Sea
of Omean and the real Martian heaven, enjoying the look of dismay in Phaidor’s
eyes as he tells her:
“‘It will be an excellent lesson for
the daughter of the therns,’ he added, ‘for she shall see the Temple of
Issus, and Issus, perchance, shall embrace her.’
They fly back the same way they had escaped, and Carter marvels at the
sight of the south polar ice cap; they cross over the great bowl depression
of the Otz Valley. Xodar acts as their tour guide:
“Phaidor’s head went high.
“‘What blasphemy is this, dog of a pirate?’ she
cried. ‘Issus shall wipe out your entire breed an’ you ever came within
sight of her temple.’
“‘You have much to learn, thern,’ replied Xodar,
with an ugly smile, ‘nor do I envy you the manner in which you will learn
“‘Yes,’ answered Xodar. ‘You crossed
this ice field last night in the long chase that you led us. The Otz valley
lies in a mighty depression at the south pole. It is sunk thousands of
feet below the level of the surrounding country, like a great round bowl.
A hundred miles from its northern boundaries rise the Otz Mountains which
circle the inner Valley of Dor, in the exact center of which lies the Lost
Sea of Korus. On the shore of this sea stands the Golden Temple of Issus
in the Land of the First Born. It is here that we are bound.’” (GM/8.)
If all of this geography is getting too much for you, some wonderful maps
have been drawn depicting both the south and north poles that can be viewed
at ERBzine #2807.
They cross a village of lost souls inhabited by pilgrims who lost their
nerve to finish the voyage or those who escaped and feared their fates
if they returned to their homeland.
“Xodar had left us to attend to some
duty on the vessel, and Phaidor and I stood alone beside the rail. The
girl had not once spoken since we had been brought to the deck.
In this scene and in a few others, ERB perfectly captures the cognitive
dissonance of the human mind when it is confronted with facts that contradict
what it has been taught to believe.
“‘Is what he has been telling me true?’ I asked
“‘In part, yes,’ she answered. “That about the
outer valley is true, but what he says of the location of the Temple of
Issus in the center of his country if false. If it is not false – ’ she
hesitated. ‘Oh, it cannot be true, it cannot be true. For if it were true
then for countless ages have my people gone to torture and ignominous death
at the hands of their cruel enemies, instead of to the beautiful Life Eternal
that we have been taught to believe Issus holds for us.’
“‘As the lesser Barsoomians of the outer world
have been lured by you to the terrible Valley Dor, so may it be that the
therns themselves have been lured by the First Born to an equally horrid
fate,’ I suggested. ‘It would be a stern and awful retribution, Phaidor;
but a just one.’
“‘I cannot believe it.’
“‘We shall see,’ I answered.” (GM//8.)
Overcoming religious delusion is the greatest challenge the human mind
can face and ERB manages to capture it in a very artistic and nonplayful
Xodar then takes their ship to a volcanic opening and descends thousands
of feet to a subterranean sea, Omean, where they are escorted the base
of the Land of the First Born in a submarine. As the craft submerges, Phaidor
becomes pathetic in her denial:
“Phaidor grasped my arm.
ERB chose this point to start a new chapter. We must always remember that
except for harnesses that are worn for utility and ornamentation, everyone
is naked on Mars, with genitalia fully exposed. (See “Nakedness on Mars,”
#3177.) When we fully understand this, we begin to understand ERB's
problems he faced with both his family and the censors, because, after
all, John Carter is a married man. This story was told to the public in
the winter and spring of 1913, at the height of Victorian morality and
“‘Save me!’ she whispered. ‘Save me and your every
wish shall be granted. Anything within the power of the Holy Therns to
give will be yours. Phaidor –’ she stumbled a little here, and then in
a very low voice, ‘Phaidor is already is yours.’
“I felt sorry for the poor child, and placed my
hand over hers where it rested on my arm. I presumed my motive was misunderstood,
for with a swift glance about the apartment to assure herself that we were
alone, she threw both her arms around my neck and dragged my face down
to hers.’ (GM/8.)
ERB spends the next few paragraphs of chapter nine to explain that he
is not a ladies man and that he is a fool in the ways of a man with a maid,
but this is always a subtle tip-off that what is being narrated is racy,
suggestive, and sometimes pornographic. The reader is left to his or her
imagination as to exactly what transpired before Carter broke off the embrace
and explained his
great love for his incomparable princess to Phaidor. Phaidor is madly
in love with Carter and is extremely jealous, taking the opportunity to
act like her race still controls the world:
“‘Dog,’ she hissed. ‘Dog of a blasphemer!
Think you that Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, supplicates? She commands.
What to her is your puny outer world passion for the vile creature you
chose in your other life?
Carter seems to understand the mental turmoil she suffers and not to add
any more discomfort, merely points to the nearest porthole to remind her
that they are underwater going to a certain doom. She sits down on a bench,
her face buried in her arms, sobbing “more like a very unhappy little
girl than a proud and all-powerful goddess.” (GM/9.)
“‘Phaidor has glorified you with her love, and
you have spurned her. Ten thousand unthinkable atrocious deaths could not
atone for the affront that you have put upon me. The thing that you call
Dejah Thoris shall die the most horrible of them all. You have sealed the
warrant for her doom.
“‘And you! You shall be the meanest slave in the
service of the goddess you have attempted to humiliate. Tortures and ignominies
shall be heaped upon you until you grovel at my feet asking the boon of
“‘In my gracious generosity I shall at length
grant your prayer, and from the high balcony of the Golden Cliffs I shall
watch the great white apes tear you asunder.’” (GM/9.)
Continued in Part II: ERBzine 3309a