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Volume 3309a
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF BARSOOM SERIES
THE RELIGION OF ISSUS II:
First Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsooom

by
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.


B. The Gardens and Golden Temple of Issus.

The submarine surfaces and they are taken to an elevator that speeds them upward to the domain of the First Born:
“When we emerged from the little building which housed the upper terminal of the elevator, we found ourselves in the midst of a veritable fairyland of beauty. The combined language of Earth men hold no words to convey to the mind the gorgeous beauties of the scene.

“One may speak of scarlet sward and ivory-stemmed trees decked with brilliant purple blooms; of winding walks paved with crushed rubies, with emerald, with turquoise, even with diamonds themselves; of a magnificent temple of burnished gold, hand-wrought with marvelous designs; but where are the words to describe the glorious colors that are unknown to earthly eyes where the mind or the imagination that can grasp the gorgeous scintillations of unheard-of rays as they emanate from the thousand nameless jewels of Barsoom

“Even my eyes, for long years accustomed to the barbaric splendors of a Martian Jeddak's court, were amazed at the glory of the scene.

“Phaidor’s eyes were wide in amazement.

“‘The Temple of Issus,’ she whispered, half to herself.

“Xodar watched us with his grim smile, partly of amusement and partly malicious gloating.

“The gardens swarmed with brilliantly trapped black men and women. Among them moved red and white females serving their ever want. The places of the outer world and the temples of the therns had been robbed of their princesses and goddesses that the blacks might have their slaves. 

“Through this scene we moved toward the temple.” (GM/9.)

They are allowed entry into the temple and are escorted through endless corridors, and finally ordered to get down on their hands and knees and crawl backwards into the receiving chamber of Issus:
“After we had crawled in this disgusting fashion for a matter of a couple of hundred feet we were halted by our escort.

“‘Let them rise,’ said a voice behind us; a thin, wavering voice, yet one that had evidently been accustomed to command for many years.

“‘Rise,’ said our escort, ‘but do not face toward Issus.’

“‘The woman pleases me,’ said the thin, wavering voice again after a few moments of silence. ‘She shall serve me the allotted time. The man you may return to the Isle of Shador which lies against the northern shore of the Sea of Omean. Let the woman turn and look upon Issus, knowing that those of the lower orders who gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face survive the blinding glory but a single year.’

“I watched Phaidor from the corner of my eye. She paled to a ghastly hue. Slowly, very slowly she turned, as drawn by some invisible yet irresistible force. She was standing quite close to me, so close that her bare arm touched mine as she finally faced Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal. 

“I could not see the girl’s face as her eyes rested for the first time on the Supreme Deity of Mars, but felt the shudder that ran through her in the trembling flesh of the arm that touched mine. 

“‘It must be dazzling loveliness indeed,’ thought I, ‘to cause such emotion in the breast of so radiant a beauty as Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang.’” (GM/9.)

The reader can well imagine the anticipation Phaidor felt at this moment. It is like when a child is first confronted with the idea of Santa Claus by its parents. I recall when I was about five or six years old I couldn’t wait for my turn at the store to sit in Santa’s lap and tell him everything I wanted for Christmas; it was literally the fulfillment of one of my greatest dreams. The only thing better would be to share a Coke with Santa after he came down the chimney. But when it finally came to my turn in the long line, I was speechless from the epiphany. Afterwards I was further humiliated by my mother and brother who made fun of my inability to speak, telling me that I would be lucky to get anything at all since Santa never heard my request. I remember sweating the time until Christmas, hoping that Santa could read my thoughts.

I'll never forget the mentally crushing experience I had when – tipped off in the fourth grade that Santa was just our parents – I found presents in my mother's closet and realized it was true. The cognitive dissonance this created in my mind nearly drove me crazy. When I confronted my mother with the story I had been told, she told me not to listen to rumors at school for Santa Claus was true. But when I confronted her with the facts in her closet, she was furious and wouldn't speak to me for days.

I have believed ever since that the idea of Santa Claus has a very dark side of keeping children in line, an early version of heaven and hell. Simply put, it is a form of mental terrorism in the wrapping of joy and presents, a pseudo-religion of rewards and punishments. Absolute belief in anything and cognitive dissonance go hand in hand. The pleasure of the Santa Claus fraud seemed to be more for the benefit of my mother than for me. 

The same thing is true when you eventually learn in school that the earth was not created in six days, the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden is just an ancient near east wisdom fable, and the rest of the Bible – God's alleged inerrant word – is just Hebrew and Greco-Roman mythology with a little historical fact thrown in to increase the deception. Yes, there is truth in the Bible, but it has to be deeply mined before it can be found, and only then with a mind steeped in the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But, back to the story. Carter is escorted out of the temple and Xodar tells him that since he spared his life he will try to make things as best for him as possible, unless Issus sends for him:

“‘Why would she send for me?’ I asked.

“‘The men of the lower orders she often uses for various purposes of amusement. Such a fighter as you, for example, would render fine sport in the monthly rites of the temple. There are men pitted against men, and against beasts for the edification of Issus and the replenishment of her larder.’

“‘She eats human flesh?’ I asked. Not in horror, however, for since my recently acquired knowledge of the Holy Therns I was prepared for anything in this still less accessible heaven, where all was evidently dictated by a single omnipotence; where ages of narrow fanaticism and self-worship had eradicated all the broader humanitarian instincts that the race might once have possessed.

“They were a people drunk with power and success, looking upon the other inhabitants of Mars as we look upon the beasts of the field and the forest. Why then should they not eat of the flesh of the lower orders whose lives and characters they no more understood than do we the inmost thoughts and sensibililties of the cattle we slaughter for our earthly tables.

“‘She eats only the flesh of the best bred of the Holy Therns and the red Barsoomians. The flesh of the others goes to our boards. The animals are eaten by the slaves. She also eats other dainties.’” (GM/9.)

Carter doesn’t realize it yet, but Xodar has just explained to him the ultimate fate of Phaidor, for there is no higher bred Holy Thern than her. The meaning of “other dainties” is suggested later in the story, and likely has to do with female genitalia.

Before they get too far, Carter is summoned back to Issus after Phaidor tells her that he had defeated the mighty Xodar and bound him with his own harness. Carter has to get down on his hands and knees again, and this time is ordered to rise and face Issus:

“‘Let the man turn and look upon Issus, knowing that those of the lower orders who gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face survive the blinding glory but a single year.’

“I turned as I had been bid, expecting such a treat as only the revealment of divine glory to mortal eyes might produce. What I saw was a solid phalanx of armed men between myself and a dais supporting a great bench of carved sorapus wood. On this bench, or throne, squatted a female black. She was evidently very old. Not a hair remained upon her wrinkled skull. With the exception of two yellow fangs she was entirely toothless. On either side of her thin, hawk-like nose her eyes burned from the depths of horribly sunken sockets. The skin of her face was seamed and creased with a million deep-cut furrows. Her body was as
wrinkled as her face, and as repulsive.

“Emaciated arms and legs attached to a torso which seemed to be mostly distorted abdomen completed the ‘holy vision of her radiant beauty.’

“Surrounding her were a number of female slaves, among them Phaidor, white and trembling.” (GM/9.)

Xodar is then brought in and humiliated in front of the First Born, sentenced to be the slave of the slave John Carter, who is sent back to Shador to await his chance to show his fighting prowess. Before he leaves, Phaidor runs up to him:
“‘Oh, do not leave me in this terrible place,’ she begged. ‘Forgive the things I said to you, my Prince. I did not mean them. Only take me away with you. Let me share your imprisonment on Shador.’ Her words were an almost incoherent volley of thoughts, so rapidly she spoke. ‘You did not understand the honor that I did you. Among the therns there is no marriage or giving in marriage, as among the lower orders of the outer world. We might have lived together for ever in love and happiness. We have both looked upon Issus and in a year we die. Let us live that year at least together in what measure of joy remains for the doomed.’” (GM/9.)
ERB takes this opportunity to show that he openly opposes free love and adultery, but we all know what a struggle Carter must have gone through as a real man to reject the naked and beautiful goddess Phaidor. She goes back dejected to Issus.

As Xodar and Carter are escorted out of the temple, Xodar is further humiliated among the men and women of the First Born. The women taunt him as inferior to Dator Thurid, a famous warrior among them. Thurid appears and attempts to kick Xodar in the testicles, but Carter intervenes and binds him in his own harness, exactly the same way he did to Xodar.

Carter and Xodar are then taken to Shador and have it out over Issus, after Carter attempts to cheer him up:

“‘Come, come!’ I cried. ‘There is hope yet. Neither of us is dead. We are great fighters. Why not win to freedom?’
“‘You know not of what you speak,’ he replied. ‘Issus is omnipotent. Issus is omniscient. She hears now the words you speak. She knows the thoughts you think. It is sacrilege even to dream of breaking her commands.’

“‘Rot, Xodar!’ I ejaculated impatiently.

“He sprang to his feet in horror.

“‘The curse of Issus will fall upon you,’ he cried. ‘In another instant you will be smitten down, writhing to your death in horrible agony.’

“‘Do you believe that, Xodar?’ I asked.

“‘Of course; who would dare doubt?’

“‘I doubt; yes, and further, I deny,’ I said. ‘Why, Xodar, you tell me that she even knows my thoughts. The red men have all had that power for ages. And another wonderful power. They can shut their minds so none may read their thoughts. I learned the first secret years ago; the other I had never to learn, since upon all Barsoom is none who can read what passes in the secret chambers of my brain.

“‘Your goddess cannot read my thoughts; nor can she read yours when you are out of sight, unless you will it. Had she been able to read mine, I am afraid that her pride would have suffered a rather severe shock when I turned at her command to “gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face.”’

“What do you mean?’ he whispered in a affrighted voice, so low that I could scarcely hear him.

“‘I mean that I thought her the most repulsive and vilely hideous creature my eyes ever had rested upon.’

“For a moment he eyed me in horror-stricken amazement, and then with a cry of ‘Blasphemer’ he sprang upon me.

“I did not wish to strike him again, nor was it necessary, since he was unarmed and therefore quite harmless to me.

“As he came I grasped his left wrist with my left hand, and, swinging my right arm about his his left shoulder, caught him beneath the chin with my elbow and bore him backward across my thigh.

“There he hung helpless for a moment, glaring up at me in impotent rage.

“‘Xodar,’ I said, ‘let us be friends. For a year, possibly, we may be forced to live together in the narrow confines of this tiny room. I am sorry to have offended you, but I could not dream that one who had suffered from the cruel injustice of Issus could still believe her divine.

“‘I will say a few more words, Xodar, with no intent to wound your feelings further, but rather that you may give thought to the fact that while we live we are still more the arbiters of our fate than is any god.

“‘Issus, you see, has not struck me dead, nor is she rescuing her faithful Xodar from the clutches of the unbeliever who defamed her fair beauty. No, Xodar, your Issus is a mortal old woman. Once out of her clutches and she cannot harm you.

“‘With your knowledge of this strange land, and my knowledge of the outer world, two such fighting-men as you and I should be able to win our way to freedom. Even though we died in the attempt, would not our memories be fairer than as though we remained in servile fear to be butchered by a cruel and unjust tyrant – call her goddess or mortal, as you will.’” (GM/10.)

Carter leaves Xodar in his thoughts and explores the prison, using his ability to leap high to get over the walls that separate the cells. He discovers another inmate, a young red Martian who is vaguely familiar to him. Here’s where ERB's mastery of pulp fiction comes into play.

Every reader knows before Carter does that the boy is his son, making the reader impatient for the epiphany, but not before ERB commands it. Moreover, throughout this story and the next one, Carter and his friends will make one stupid mistake after another, totally frustrating the reader. But this is the nature of cliff-hanger writing, and no one knew how to do it better than ERB.

The boy has been a prisoner for almost a year and is reaching the allotted time, but in the meantime he is a great fighter in the stadium where the monthly games are held. The boy has learned many things during his time there which will all come into play before the story is over. 

When he returns to the cell he shares with Xodar, he finds a different man. To paraphrase R.E.M., “That’s Xodar in the corner, that’s him in the spotlight, losing his religion”:

“‘I have been thinking very hard, John Carter,’ he said, ‘of all the new ideas you gave me a few hours since. Little by little I have been piecing together the things that you said which sounded blasphemous to me then with the things that I have seen in my past life and dared not even think about for fear of bringing down upon me the wrath of Issus.

“‘I believe now that she is a fraud; no more divine than you or I. More I am willing to concede – that the First Born are no holier than the Holy Therns, nor the Holy Therns more holy than the red men.

“‘The whole fabric of our religion is based on superstitious belief in lies that have been foisted upon us for ages by those directly above us, to whose personal profit and aggrandizement it was to have us continue to believe as they wished us to believe.’” (GM/10.)

Let’s all say, “Amen!” to that!

Before they can successfully plan their escape, however, Carter and the boy are called to compete in the arena.


C. The Monthly Rites of Issus.

Carter and his son, Carthoris – a combination of Carter and Thoris – are led to the Gardens of Issus by the same route that Carter had taken initially with Phaidor:
“When we reached the gardens of Issus we were led away from the temple instead of toward it. The way wound through enchanted parks to a mighty wall that towered a hundred feet in air.

“Massive gates gave egress upon a small plain, surrounded by the same gorgeous forests that I had seen at the foot of the Golden Cliffs.

“Crowds of blacks were strolling in the same direction that our guards were leading us, and with them mingled my old friends the plant men and great white apes.

“The brutal beasts moved among the crowd as pet dogs might. If they were in the way the blacks pushed them roughly to one side, or whacked them with the flat of a sword, and the animals slunk away as in great fear.

“Presently we came upon our destination, a great amphitheater situated at the further edge of the plain, and about a half a mile beyond the garden walls.

“Through a massive arched gateway the blacks poured in to take their seats, while our guards led us to a smaller entrance near one end of the structure.

“Through this we passed into an enclosure beneath the seats, where we found a number of other prisoners herded together under guard. Some of them were in irons, but for the most part they seemed sufficiently awed by the presence of their guards to preclude any possibility of attempted escape.” (GM/11.)

Carter asks Carthoris about the object of the assembly, whether it is a fight for the edification of Issus or something much worse:
“‘It is a part of the monthly rites of Issus,’ he replied, ‘in which black men wash the sins from their souls in the blood of men from the outer world. If, perchance, the black is killed, it is evidence of his disloyalty to Issus – the unpardonable sin. If he lives through the contest he is held acquitted of the charge that forced the sentence of the rites, as it is called, upon him.

“‘The forms of combat vary. A number of us may be pitted together against an equal number, or twice the number of blacks; or singly we may be sent forth to face wild beasts, or some famous black warrior.’

“‘And if we are victorious,’ I asked, ‘what then – freedom?’

“He laughed.

“‘Freedom, forsooth. The only freedom for us is death. None who enters the domain of the First Born ever leave. If we prove able fighters we are permitted to fight often. If we are not mighty fighters – ’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Sooner or later we die in the arena.’” (GM/11.)

Carter almost discovers that the boy is his son, then the guards summon them up a steep incline that leads out into the arena:
“The amphitheater, like all I had ever seen upon Barsoom, was built in a large excavation. Only the highest seats, which formed the low wall surrounding the pit, were above the level of the ground. The arena itself was far below the surface.

“Just beneath the lowest tier was a series of barred cages on a level with the surface of the arena. Into these we were herded. But, unfortunately, my youthful friend was not of those who occupied a cage with me.

“Directly opposite my cage was the throne of Issus. Here the horrid creature squatted, surrounded by a hundred slave maidens sparkling in jeweled trappings. Brilliant cloths of many hues and strange patterns formed the soft cushion covering of the dais upon which they reclined about her. 

“On both sides of the throne stretched a solid mass of humanity from top to bottom of the amphitheater. There were as many women as men, and each was clothed in the wondrously wrought harness of his station and his house. With each black was from one to three slaves, drawn from the domains of the therns and from the outer world. The blacks were all ‘noble.’ There is no peasantry among the First Born. Even the lowest soldier is a god, and has his slaves to wait upon him.

“The First Born do no work. The men fight – that is a sacred privilege and duty; to fight and die for Issus. The women do nothing, absolutely nothing. Slaves wash them, slaves dress them, slaves feed them. There are some, even, who have slaves that talk for them, and I saw one who sat during the rites with closed eyes while a slave narrated to her the events that were transpiring within the arena.” (GM/11.)

The first event is the Tribute to Issus, which marks the end of the allotted period of time for the girls that have looked upon her radiant glory. Ten splendid beauties from the proud courts of mighty Jeddaks and from the temples of the Holy Therns are led out into the arena. Here they would meet their ends and the next day provide the main course for the temple functionaries:
“A huge black entered the arena with the young women. Carefully he inspected them, felt of their limbs and poked them in the ribs. Presently he selected one of their number whom he led before the throne of Issus. He addressed some words to the goddess which I could not hear. Issus nodded her head. The black raised his hands above his head in token of salute, grasped the girl by the wrist, and dragged her from the arena through a small doorway beneath the throne.

“‘Issue will dine well to-night,’ said a prisoner beside me.

“‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

“‘That was her dinner that old Thabis is taking to the kitchens. Didst not note how carefully he selected the plumpest and tenderest of the lot?’” (GM/11.)

We are left to wonder what the “other dainties” are, since it was suggested it is more than just eating human flesh. Carter watches in horror as three monstrous white apes are unleashed upon the defenseless girls. He is enraged and knocks down his guard, takes his sword, and rushes into the arena to save the girls. This is ERB’s “Spartacus” moment. There are some really great depictions of this in the Frank Frazetta section in ERBzine #0423.

All hell breaks loose and a slave revolt begins. Carter and Cathoris, yelling, “Down with Issus,” rush the dais but Issus escapes at the last second through a secret bolt hole under the throne. Carter and Carthoris pursue Issus, but they become trapped in the chamber in which she fled. But Carthoris during his long stay knows his way around, and they find their way back to Shador using secret underground passages unknown to even Issus. They find their way back to Xodar and he agrees to join them in escaping, explaining fully their operations of the First Born:

“‘It will be,’ said Xodar, ‘when they find from whence you have come. That is but one of the superstitions which Issus has foisted upon a credulous humanity. She works through the Holy Therns who are as ignorant of her real self as are the Barsoomians of the outer world. Her decrees are borne to the therns written in blood upon a strange parchment. The poor deluded fools think they are receiving the revelations of a goddess through some supernatural agency, since they find these messages upon their guarded altars to which none could have access without detection. I myself have borne these messages for Issus for many years. There is a long tunnel from the temple of Issus to the principal temple of Matai Shang. It was dug ages ago by the slaves of the First Born in such utter secrecy that no thern ever guessed its existence.

“‘The therns for their part have temples dotted about the entire civilized world. Here priests whom the people never see communicate the doctrine of the Mysterious River Iss, the Valley Dor, and the Lost Sea of Korus to persuade the poor deluded creatures to take the voluntary pilgrimage that swells the wealth of the Holy Therns and adds to the numbers of their slaves.

“‘Thus the therns are used as the principal means for collecting the wealth and labor that the First Born wrest from them as they need it. Occasionally the First Born themselves make raids upon the outer world. It is then that they capture many females of the royal houses of the red men, and take the newest in battleships and the trained artisans who build them, that they may copy what they cannot create.

“‘We are a non-productive race, priding ourselves upon our nonproductiveness. It is criminal for a First Born to labor or invent. That is the work of the lower orders, who live merely that the First Born may enjoy long lives of luxury and idleness. With us fighting is all that counts; were it not for that there would be more of the First Born than all the creatures of Barsoom could support, for in so far as I know none of us ever dies a natural death. Our females would live forever but for the fact that we tire of them and remove them to make place for others. Issus alone of all is protected against death. She has lived for countless ages.’” (GM/13.)


D. The Demise of Issus.

They escape through the shaft of Omean and are eventually rescued by a fleet of ships from Helium. Zat Arras, temporary reigning Jeddak from Zodanga, is in charge of the fleet and he places John Carter, Carthoris, and Xodar, under arrest for escaping from the Valley Dor. They have a trial in Helium in the Temple of Reward where Carter gives his famous defense of his actions:
“‘Men of Helium,’ I cried, turning to the spectators, and speaking over the heads of my judges, ‘how can John Carter expect justice from the men of Zodanga? He cannot nor does he ask it. It is to the men of Helium that he states his case; nor does he appeal for mercy to any. It is not in his own cause that he speaks now – it is in thine. In the cause of your wives and daughters, and of wives and daughters yet unborn. It is to save them from the unthinkably atrocious indignities that I have seen heaped upon the fair women of Barsoom in the place men call the Temple of Issus. It is to save them from the sucking embrace of the plant men, from the fangs of the great white apes of Dor, from the cruel lust of the Holy Therns, from all that the cold, dead Iss carries them to from homes of love and life and happiness.

“‘Sits no man here who does not know the history of John Carter. How he came among you from another world and rose from a prisoner from among the green men, through torture and persecution, to a place high among the highest of Barsoom. Nor ever did you know John Carter to lie in his own behalf, or to say aught that might harm the people of Barsoom, or to speak lightly of the strange religion which he respected without understanding.

“‘There be no man here, or elsewhere upon Barsoom to-day who does not owe his life directly to a single act of mine, in which I sacrificed myself and the happiness of my Princess that you might live. And so, men of Helium, I think I have the right to demand that I be heard, that I be believed, and that you let me serve you and save you from the false hereafter of Dor and Issus as I saved you from the real death that other day.

“‘It is to you of Helium that I speak now. When I am done let the men of Zodanga have their will with me. Zat Arras has taken my sword from me, so the men of Zodanga no longer fear me. Will you listen?’” (GM/17.)

The men and women of Helium listen and escort Carter and his friends back to his palace, which is full of thern spies disguised as red men. He organizes a rescue fleet, secretly from the eyes of Zat Arras, but for nearly a year, he is held prisoner in the pits beneath Zat Arrras’s palace. Carthoris rescues him in time to lead a coordinated assault upon the First Born where he captures
Issus with his bare hands and discovers her final revenge:
“The repulsive creature, squatting there in terror, attempted to escape me and leap into a trap behind her. But this time I was not to be outwitted by any such petty subtrefuge. Before she had half arisen I had grasped her by the arm, and then, as I saw the guard starting to make a concerted rush upon me from all sides, I whipped out my dagger and, holding it close to that vile breast, ordered them to halt.

“‘Back!’ I cried to them. ‘Back! The first black foot that is planted upon this platform sends my dagger into Issus’ heart.’

“For an instant they hesitated. Then an officer ordered them back, while from the outer corridor there swept into the throne room at the heels of my little party of survivors a full thousand red men under Kantos Kan, Hor Vastus, and Xodar.

“‘Where is Dejah Thoris?’ I cried to the thing within my hands.

“For a moment her eyes roved wildly about the scene beneath her. I think that it took a moment for the true condition to make any impression upon her – she could not at first realize that the temple had fallen before the assault of men of the outer world. When she did, there must have come, too, a terrible realization of what it meant to her – the loss of power – humiliation – the exposure of the fraud and imposture which she had for so long played upon her own people.” (GM/22.)

A modern example of what Issus must have been going through is Adolf Hitler in his bunker as the Third Reich crashes down all around him and the Russians are at the gates. Like Hitler, even Issus herself is deluded, and her ancient and evil mind cannot handle the cognitive dissonance she faces:
“There was just one thing needed to complete the reality of the picture she was seeing, and that was added by the highest noble of her realm – the high priest of her religion – the prime minister of her government.

“‘Issus, Goddess of Death, and of Life Eternal,’ he cried, ‘arise in the might of thy righteous wrath and with one single wave of thy omnipotent hand strike dead thy blasphemers! Let no one escape. Issus, thy people depend upon thee. Daughter of the Lesser Moon, thou only art all-powerful. Thou only canst save thy people. I am done. We await thy will. Strike!’

“And then it was that she went mad. A screaming, gibbering maniac writhed in my grasp. It bit and clawed and scratched in impotent fury. And then it laughed a weird and terrible laughter that froze the blood. The slave girls upon the dais shrieked and cowered away. And the thing jumped at them and gnashed its teeth and then spat upon them from frothing lips. God, but it was a horrid sight.

“Finally, I shook the thing, hoping to recall it for a moment to rationality.

“‘Where is Dejah Thoris?’ I cried again.

“The awful creature in my grasp mumbled inarticulately for a moment, then a sudden gleam of cunning shot into those hideous, close-set eyes.

“‘Dejah Thoris? Dejah Thoris?’ and then that shrill, unearthly laugh pierced our ears once more.

“‘Yes – Dejah Thoris – I know. And Thuvia, and Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang. They each love John Carter. Ha-ah! but it is droll. Together for a year they will meditate within the Temple of the Sun, but ere the year is quite gone there will be no more food for them. Ho-oh! what divine entertainment,’ and she licked the froth from her cruel lips. ‘There will be no more food – except each other. Ha-ah! Ha-ah!’

“The horror of the suggestion nearly paralyzed me. To this awful fate the creature within my power had condemned my Princess. I trembled in the ferocity of my rage. As a terrier shakes a rat I shook Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal.

“‘Countermand your orders!’ I cried. “Recall the condemned. Haste, or you die!’

“‘It is too late. Ha-ah! Ha-ah!’ and she commenced her gibbering and shrieking again.

“Almost of its own volition, my dagger flew up above that putrid heart. But something stayed my hand, and I am now glad that it did. It were a terrible thing to have struck down a woman with one’s own hand. But a fitter fate occurred to me for this false deity.

“‘First Born,’ I cried, turning to those who stood within the chamber, ‘you have seen to-day the impotency of Issus – the gods are omnipotent. Issus is no god. She is a cruel and wicked old woman, who has deceived and played upon you for ages. Take her. John Carter, Prince of Helium, would not contaminate his hand with her blood,’ and with that I pushed the raving beast, whom a short halfhour before a whole world had worshipped as divine, from the platform of her throne into the waiting clutches of her betrayed and vengeful people.” (GM/22.)


The Goddess Issus and one of her Thern Priests -- by Jesse Marsh 
© 1952 by Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated 

One of the main reasons Hitler killed himself, not wanting to fall into the hands of the Russians or his own people, was because of the fate of Benito Mussolini, who was literally torn apart by his own people during their defeat by the allied forces in WWII. It still amazes me how prescient this story is in light of the things that were to come in Earth history.

The story of Dejah Thoris, Thuvia, and Phaidor in the Temple of the Sun can be found in ERBzine #3302. The door to their cell will not open again for another Martian year, to wit, 687 days, and is narrated in the final volume of The Trilogy, Warlord of Mars.

After the great victory over the First Born, the Holy Therns, and Issus, Carter makes many trips to the Temple of the Sun longing for his Princess, and about half way through the allotted one year period, he follows the black Dator Thurid in hopes that he will lead him to Matai Shang, who has so far escaped justice. Accompanied by his faithful calot, Woola, he follows Thurid to the Lost Sea of Korus, where they take boats up the River Iss:

“As I came up cautiously to the edge of the low cliff overlooking the Lost Sea of Korus I saw Thurid pushing out upon the bosom of the shimmering water in a small skiff – one of those strangely wrought craft of unthinkable age which the Holy Therns, with their organization of priests and lesser therns, were wont to distribute along the banks of the Iss, that the long journey of their victims might be facilitated.

“Drawn up on the beach below me were a score of similar boats, each with its long pole, at one end of which was a pike, at the other a paddle.” (WM/1.)

He follows Thurid into the subterranean tunnel from which the Iss emerges from the Golden Cliffs, and witnesses Thurid meeting up with Matai Shang and a few other therns.

Thurid knows a secret access to the Temple of the Sun and Carter follows them but gets lost in a wrong turn, and doesn’t find the trail again until much later. Before he can continue he must face two therns guarding the way. He disposes of one of them while Woola takes out the other:

“The diadem in the center of the circlet of gold upon the brow of Lakor proclaimed him a Holy Thern, while his companion, not thus adorned, was a lesser thern, though from his harness I gleaned that he had reached the Ninth Cycle, which is but one below that of the Holy Therns.” (WM/3.)
Carter then discovers the base of the Temple of the Sun just in time to see Matai Shang and Thurid escaping with Phaidor, Thuvia, and Dejah Thoris. He continues his pursuit through a labyrinth of underground passages, finally coming out on the other side of the Otz Mountains:
“But through it all we came at last to where the way led up a narrow gorge that grew steeper and more impracticable at every step until before us loomed a mighty fortress buried beneath the side of an overhanging cliff.

“Here was the secret hiding place of Matai Shang, Father of the Therns. Here, surrounded by a handful of the faithful, the hekkador of the ancient faith, who had once been served by millions of vassals and dependents, dispensed the spiritual word among the half dozen nations of Barsoom that still clung tenaciously to their false and discredited religion.” (WM/4.)

The therns are expecting him and Carter walks into a trap. In a courtyard beneath a three hundred foot tower, on a balcony thirty feet above him, Matai Shang, Thurid, Phaidor, and a bound Dejah Thoris and Thuvia, watch Carter fall into the trap. Matai Shang mocks the person that brought his reign to an end:
“‘Earth man,’ he cried, ‘you have earned a more ignoble death that now lies within our weakened power to inflict upon you; but that the death you die tonight may be doubly bitter, know you that when you have passed, your widow becomes the wife of Matai Shang, Hekkador of the Holy Therns, for a Martian year.

“‘At the end of that time, as you know, she shall be discarded, as is the law among us, but not, as is usual, to lead a quiet and honored life as high priestess of some hallowed shrine. Instead, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, shall become the plaything of my lieutenants – perhaps of thy most hated enemy, Thurid, the black dator.’” (WM/4.)

There is little to learn about the religion of Issus after this scene, other than the fact that neither Matai Shang, Thurid, or Salensus Oll, Jeddak of Kadabra, ever get to wed Dejah Thoris, for they, including Phaidor, all perish, bringing the religious leadership of Issus to an ignominous close.


ANALYSIS


A. First Layer of Deception.

The religion of Issus is world-wide, having infected the red, yellow, and green men equally. The belief at this level is never fully explained other than a sentimental belief in an afterlife of love and peace and happiness and eternal joy after a life of war and cruelty. It may involve some sort of sun worship, hinted at by the Temple of the Sun and the monthly rites of Issus, but if it did, it would have taken place in the secret temples in all of the communities of Barsoom. These were likely run by priests and lesser therns, as well as by high priestesses who had been wed to Matai Shang for a year.

They have been deluded into believing that the master race, the First Born, are merely black pirates from Thuria, the nearest moon, a belief held even by the therns. The latter have provided ancient romantic type skiffs at key spots along the River Iss before it flows underground for a thousand miles before emptying into the Lost Sea of Korus.

The story of the Martian Heaven, the Valley Dor, is so powerful a concept in the minds of the Barsoomians, that they do not question it out of superstitious fear of Issus. The only person to return alive to tell the truth about Valley Dor was tortured to death for his blasphemy.


B. The Second Level of Deception.

The second level of deception involves the therns, headed by the Father of the Therns, Matai Shang. The hierarchy beneath him appears to be according to what cycle a thern has achieved, involving what is assumed to be spiritual development or mastery of some kind of catechism or dogma.

The therns are divided into main categories: Lesser Therns and Holy Therns, the latter having reached the Tenth Cycle. Thorians are assumed to be of the Ninth Cycle. They inhabit the outer Golden Cliffs of the Otz mountains in palaces and temples and gardens overlooking the Valley Dor. They are deluded into believing that they are the master race. They are descended from a ancient race of fair-skinned blond-haired people, but likely through incest and degeneration have become bald, wearing blond wigs.

They are a flesh loving people in both senses: they eat it and it is assumed that they are libertines since Thuvia said that they are moral pygmies and Phaidor told Carter that they neither give nor take in marriage, with Matai Shang seemingly the exception.
They believe in a heaven within a heaven, to wit, the Temple of Issus. At the end of their allotted life span they make the journey to the Temple of Issus by some underground passage, and find a similar fate awaits them as the rest of the lower orders at the hands of the First Born, who eat them. The First Born maintain their delusion over the therns by revelations written in blood upon strange parchment that are secretly placed on Holy Thern altars by agents that travel through a secret tunnel from the Temple of Issus to the temples of the therns. This maintains a supernatural quality to the deception which the therns have never figured out.
Their beliefs are strange to say the least. They believe in a weird form of reincarnation where when they die before their allotted time they become a plant man, and if as a plant man they die before their allotted time, they then become a great white ape. Finally, if they die as a white ape before their allotted time, they become lost souls for eternity stuck inside the slimy bodies of silians, who inhabit the Lost Sea of Korus, the last existing ocean on Barsoom.


C. The Third Layer of Deception.

The third layer consists of the First Born. No one is looking for them upon the face of Barsoom for they have convinced the people of the planet that they are black pirates from Thuria, the nearest moon. They inhabit the true heaven on Barsoom, the Valley Dor. They have no fear of the plant men and great white apes, who fear them as pets.

One thing they share with the therns is cannibalism. They both enjoy eating human flesh and take joy in their cruelty. They have a strange belief in the Tree of Life myth, which is too long to go over again, but if the reader is interested, he can go back and read it in the section where Xodar is bound on his flier narrating it to Carter to keep him distracted.


D. Afterword.

In the pseudo-religious myth of John Carter, he first saves them from death by asphixiation, then resurrects on the planet to save them from evil. He is the antithesis of Jesus Christ, for he is the Prince of War, and not the Prince of Peace.

Barsoom covers by Gino d'AchilleI first heard of the John Carter saga when I was in exile in Canada in the early Seventies. David Bowie had come out with “The Spiders from Mars” and Time magazine did a whole spread on the history of science fiction dealing with Mars. When I returned to the States in 1973, I finished college and bought a set of the Ballantine editions with cover illustrations by Gino
D'Achille. I still have them, though they are well-thumbed and the pages are turning yellow and don’t have much time left before they crumble to dust.

I didn’t appreciate these books that much at first because I found the language tedious and awkward, having taken English college classes where the impressionistic limited adjective and short sentence style of Hemingway was in and the authors who used too many adjectives and long sentences were viewed as hack writers of pulp fiction and were out. I didn’t like the fact that ERB's style of writing slowed down my reading time. In the end, however, I was glad I had read them because four years later Star Wars was released and I immediately saw the influence of ERB on the story and the characters.

Morever, I came to learn in the late Eighties while attending law school – when I read my first Tarzan novels and was used to the writing style of the 19th century from reading old court opinions that forced my eye to slow down so that I could figure out what the holding of the case was – that the paid-for-by-the-word writing style of ERB had a certain poetic classical rhythm which was enchanting if you slowed down and enjoyed the story.

After practicing law for almost twenty years I was bored and out of a fluke, decided to reread the Carter saga. I was amazed at what I had missed the first time. I realized I was reading some of the greatest works of the imagination in the English language. It is an honor for me to write these articles, hoping that they will encourage readers to take up the saga once again and partake in the adventure that is John Carter's Barsoom.

And there you have it, ERB’s Religion of Issus: 
First Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom!

THE SEVEN WONDERS OF BARSOOM SERIES
7 WONDERS: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

RUNNERS UP: I.a | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII.2.2b.3a.3b | IX | X.2.3.4 | XI.2.3.

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WEB REFS
www.johncarterofmars.ca
A Princess of Mars
Gods of Mars
Warlord of Mars
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Chessmen of Mars
Mastermind of Mars
A Fighting Man of Mars
Swords of Mars
Synthetic Men of Mars
Llana of Gathol
Skeleton Men of Jupiter
John Carter and the Giant of Mars


BILL HILLMAN
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