THE ISLAND OF MORBUS:
Third Runner-up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
The island of Morbus is located somewhere near the middle of the Great
Toonolian Marshes, likely about halfway between Phundahl on the western
end and Toonol on the eastern end. There, the experiments of the Ras Thavas,
the Master Mind of Mind, have taken on a Frankensteinian dimension: the
creation of the Hormads. This story is documented in ERB's ninth Barsoomian
novel, The Synthetic Men of Mars. The genius scientist-surgeon
faces many foes as he relentless conducts his unlimited research, unguided
by any ethical principles.
It can be said that this Runner-up Wonder is a sequel the last one dealing
with Toonol and Phundahl, but it deserves a special mention all of its
own. It is narrated in the first person by a red Martian from Helium, a
padwar in John Carter’s Guard named Vor Daj. He gives a whole new meaning
to the term, “fool for love.” But in the end he shows us what kind of bravery
innovation is possible when a red Martian puts his mind to something.
His story is translated by Vad Varo, aka Ulysses Paxton, then communicated
to ERB by means of the Gridley Wave.
In this story ERB must have had some of the most fun in his writing
career. Having given so much detail about Martian culture to his reading
audience in previous novels, he felt totally comfortable telling this story
from a Barsoomian point of view, an experiment he tried successfully before
in A Fighting Man of Mars, the seventh novel in the series.
This time, however, the narration takes a delightful turn in that Vor Daj
mostly relates his story from the body of a Hormad.
Things have not fared well for Ras Thavas since we saw him last, involved
in the brain transplantation business:
“Upon an island near Toonol, Ras Thava,
The Master Mind of Mars, had labored in his laboratory for nearly a thousand
years until Vobis Kan, Jeddak of Toonol, turned against him and drove him
from his island home and later repulsed a force of Phundahlian warriors
led by Gor Hajus, the Assassin of Toonol, which had sought to recapture
the island and restore Ras Thavas to the laboratory upon his promise to
devote his skill and learning to the amelioration of human suffering rather
than to prostitute them to the foul purposes of greed and sin.
Carthoris, Tara and Thuvia plead that Carter take someone else with him
and, giving in for once, he chooses Vor Daj to accompany him on a journey
to Duhor, the home of Vad Varo, hoping that he will know the location of
Ras Thavis. Vad Varo could also stand in for a reliable substitute if Ras
Thavas cannot be found, for he had been trained in many of Ras Thavis’
“Following the defeat of his little army, Ras
Thavis had disappeared and been all but forgotten as are the dead, among
which he was numbered by those who had known him; but there were some who
could never forget him....
“John Carter had not forgotten Ras Thavas, and
when an emergency arose in which the skill of this greatest of surgeons
was the sole remaining hope, he determined to seek him out and find him
if he still lived. Dejah Thoris, his princess, had suffered an appalling
injury in a collision between two swift airships; and had lain unconscious
for many weeks, her back broken and twisted, until the greatest surgeons
of all Helium had at last given up all hope. Their skill had only been
sufficient to keep her alive; it could not mend her.” (SMM/1.)
They set off in a flier from the roof of the Warlord’s palace, set the
directional compass for Duhor, but, of course, the reliable mechanism never
seems to work for our hapless heroes, and after taking a slumber, they
discover they are way off course, nearer to Phundahl than Duhor.
Since Phundahl is allegedly a friendly city, they decide to land and
proceed on foot, acting like panthans in case they receive a cold welcome
from the Phundahlians. Carter dons his red skin pigment, assuming the name
of his trusty Green Martian moniker, Dotar Sojat. They don’t get very far:
“We were still in the hills and not yet
in sight of the city when our attention was attracted by sounds above and
behind us. We turned simultaneously to look back, and the sight that met
our eyes was so astonishing that we could scarcely believe the evidence
of our own senses. About twenty birds were winging toward us. That in itself
was sufficiently astonishing, since they were easily identifiable as malagors,
a species long presumed to be extinct; but to add to the incredibility
of the sight that met our eyes, a warrior bestrode each of the giant birds.
It was quite evident that they must have seen us; so it was quite useless
to attempt to hide from them. They were already dropping lower, and presently
they were circling us. I was impressed by a certain grotesquerie in the
appearance of the warriors. There was something a little inhuman about
them, and yet they were quite evidently human beings similar to ourselves.
One of them carried a woman in front of him on the neck of the great bird
that was his mount; but as they were all in constant motion I was unable
to obtain a really good look at her; nor, by the same token, of the others.”
A truly comical confrontation ensues. The twenty malagors land, surrounding
them, and five of the warriors dismount and approach them:
“Now it was that I saw what lent them
their strange and unnatural appearance. They seemed the faulty efforts
of a poor draftsman, come to life – animated caricatures of man. There
was no symmetry of design about them. The left arm of one was scarce a
foot long, while his right arm was so long that the hand dragged along
the ground as he walked. Four-fifths of the face of one was above the eyes,
while another had an equal proportion below the eyes. Eyes, noses, and
mouths were usually misplaced; and were either too large or too small to
harmonize with contiguous features. But there was one exception – a warrior
who now dismounted and followed behind the five who were approaching us.
He was a handsome, well formed man, whose trappings and weapons were of
excellent quality and design – the serviceable equipment of a fighting
man. His harness bore the insignia of a dwar, a rank comparable to that
of a captain in your Earthly military organizations. At a command from
him, the five halted before reaching us....” (SMM/2.)
The dwar advises them that they are his prisoners and to drop their arms,
to which the amused Warlord answers, “Come and take them.” The dwar
orders the five to take the prisoners, but makes no effort to join them:
“We whipped our longswords from their scabbards and met the
five horrific creatures, standing back to back as they circled us. The
blade of the Warlord wove a net of razor edged steel before him, while
I did the best that I could to defend my prince and uphold the honor of
my metal; and I did well, for I am accounted a great swordsman by John
Carter himself, the greatest of all. Our antagonists were no match for
us. They could not pierce our guards, even though they fought with a total
disregard of life, throwing themselves upon our blades and coming in again
for further punishment. And that was the disheartening feature of the horrid
encounter. Time and again I would run a fellow through, only to have him
back away until my blade was out of his body and then come at me again.
They seemed to suffer from neither shock nor pain and to know no fear.
My blade severed the arm of one of them at the shoulder; and while another
engaged me, the fellow stooped and recovered his sword with his other hand
and tossed his severed arm to one side. John Carter decapitated one of
his antagonists; but the body ran around cutting and slashing in apparent
ungovernable fury until the dwar ordered several of his other warriors
to capture and disarm it, and all the while the head lay gibbering and
grimacing in the dust. This was the first of our antagonists to be rendered
permanently hors de combat, and suggested the only way that we might be
What is the most fun in this account is to hear the story, normally told
by John Carter, from another person’s perspective. ERB’s narrative genius
keeps both characters true to their form, which is difficult to accomplish
from another point of view. The person of John Carter is not diminished
as a cardboard figure, which can often happen in the hands of a lesser
“‘Behead them, Vor Daj!’ the Warlord directed, and even as he spoke
he lopped the head from another.
“I tell you, it was a gruesome sight. The thing kept on fighting, and
its head lay on the ground screaming and cursing, John Carter had to disarm
it, and then it lunged forward and struck him with the weight of its headless
torso just below the knees, throwing him off balance. It was fortunate
that I happened to see what was going on, for another of the creatures
would have run the Warlord through had I not. I was just in time, and I
caught the thing with a clean cut that sent its head toppling to the ground.
That left only two of our antagonists, and these the dwar called off.”
The dwar orders his monsters to capture Carter and Vor Daj with nets,
and they are soon ensnared and taken captive. Several artistic depictions
of these scenes can be viewed at ERBzine
#0352. Carter asks the dwar what manner of creatures are under his
command for he has never seen anything like them before:
“‘Nor anyone else,’ he said. ‘They are
called hormads. The less you see of them the better you will like them.
Now that you must admit that you are my prisoners, I have a suggestion
to make. Bound as you are, the trip to Morbus will be most uncomfortable;
and I do not wish to subject two such courageous fighting men to unnecessary
discomfort. Assure me that you will not try to escape before we reach Morbus
and I will remove your bonds.” (SMM/2.)
Carter and Vor Daj agree and are mounted on malagors behind a couple of
hormads to take them to Morbus; Vor Daj sees that the woman is terrified
and very beautiful before they go. Mounted on one side of Vor Daj’s malagor
is a net holding one of the heads that they had lopped off in their very
“Our course lay south of Phundahl, which
the leader was evidently seeking to avoid; and ahead I could see the vast
Toonolian Marshes stretching away in the distance as far as the eye could
see – a labyrinth of winding waterways threading desolate swampland from
which rose occasional islands of solid ground, with here and there a darker
area of forest and the blue of tiny lakes.
Vor Daj shakes the net until the head is turned away from the belly and
engages in a conversation with it:
“As I watched this panorama unfolding before us,
I heard a voice suddenly exclaim, querulously, ‘Turn me over. I can’t see
a thing but the belly of this bird.’ It seemed to come from below me; and
glancing down, I saw that it was the head in the net beneath me that was
speaking. It lay in the net facing upward toward the belly of the malagor,
helpless to turn or move itself. It was a gruesome sight, this dead thing
speaking; and I must confess that it made me shudder.
“‘I can’t turn you over,’ I said, ‘because I can’t
reach you; and what difference does it make anyway? What difference does
it make whether your eyes are pointed in one direction or another? You
are dead, and the dead cannot see.’
“‘Could I talk if I were dead, you brainless idiot?
I am not dead, because I cannot die. The life principle is inherent in
me – in every tissue of me. Unless it is totally destroyed, as by fire,
it lives; and what lives must grow. It is the law of nature. Turn
me over, you stupid clod! Shake the net, or pull it up and turn me.’” (SMM/3.)
“‘What are you called?’ it asked.
Vor Daj muses on the name, for in Martian, it means four-million-eight.
The hormad in front of Vor Daj tells him to pay no attention to Tor-dur-bar
because he is an upstart, and tells him that he would make a much better
friend. His name is Teeaytan-ov, which means, elevenhundred-seven.
“‘I shall remember. In Morbus you may need a friend.
I shall remember you.’
“‘Thanks,’ I said. I wondered what good a friend
without a body could do me. I also wondered if shaking the net for the
thing would outweigh the fact that I had lopped its head off. Just to be
polite, I asked what its name might be.
“‘I am Tor-dur-bar,’ it replied. ‘I am Tor-dur-bar
himself. You are very fortunate to have me for a friend. I am really outstanding.
You will appreciate this when you come to Morbus and learn to know many
of us hormads.’” (SMM/3.)
The two hormads get into an argument and the dwar, Sytor, has to break
it up after Teeaytan-ov threatens to dump Tor-dur-bar into the swamps below.
Carter’s malagor rides in front of Vor Daj and the woman’s malagor rides
a little to his left as they fly at a speed of sixty miles per hour.
“After circling Phundahl, we had flown
due east; and late in the afternoon approached a large island rising from
the surrounding morass. One of the innumerable winding waterways skirted
its northern boundary, widening here to form a small lake on the shore
of which lay a small walled city which we circled once before descending
to a landing before its main gate, which faced the lake. During our descent,
I had noticed clusters of small huts scattered about the island outside
the walls of the city wherever I could see, suggesting a considerable population;
and as I could see only a small portion of the island, which was of considerable
extent, I received the impression that it was inhabited by an enormous
number of people. I was later to learn that even my wildest guess could
not have equalled the truth.” (SMM/3.)
They dismount and are taken through the main gate, the arms and heads are
assigned to Laboratory No. 3, and Carter and Vor Daj are taken into the
city, but not before Tor-dur-bar reminds Vor Daj that he is his friend
and the other hormad is but an experiment.
“Morbus differed from any Martian city
I had ever visited. The buildings were substantial and without ornamentation,
but there was a certain dignity in the simplicity of their lines that lent
them a beauty all their own. It gave the impression of being a new city
laid out in accordance with some well conceived plan, every line of which
spelled efficiency. I could not but wonder what purpose such a city could
serve here in the depths of the Great Toonolian Marshes. Who would, by
choice, live in such a remote and depressing environment? How could such
a city exist without markets or commerce?” (SMM/3.)
While they are being cleared by another guard station, Vor Daj learns that
the girl is called Janai and that she is form Amhor, and, of course, Vor
Daj falls madly in love with her. After being cleared, they are escorted
into a large patio where there are several other prisoners. Two of them
are Phundahlians, one is from Toonol, one from Ptarth, and one from Duhor.
Carter wastes no time in addressing them:
“‘For what purpose do they keep prisoners?’
asked John Carter.
Carter expresses his doubt that Barsoom could possibly feed such an enormous
army in the field, especially on the island of Morbus itself:
“‘They use some as officers to train and command
their warriors,’ explained Pandar, one of the Phundahlians. ‘The bodies
of others are used to house the brains of those of the hormads intelligent
enough to serve in high places. The bodies of others go to the culture
laboratories, where their tissue is used in the damnable work of Ras Thavas.’
“‘Ras Thavas!’ cried the Warlord. ‘He is here
“‘He is that – a prisoner in his own city, the
servant of the hideous creatures he has created,’ replied Gan Had of Toonol.
“‘I don’t follow you,’ said John Carter.
“‘After Ras Thavas was driven from his laboratories
by Vobis Kan, Jeddak of Toonol,’ explained Gan Had, ‘he came to this island
to perfect a discovery he had been working on for years. It was the creation
of human beings from human tissue. He had perfected a culture in which
tissue grew continuously. The growth from a tiny particle of living tissue
filled an entire room in his laboratory, but it was formless. His problem
was to direct this growth. He experimented with various reptiles which
reproduce certain parts of their bodies, such as toes, nails, and limbs,
when they are cut off; and eventually he discovered the principle. This
he has applied to the control of the growth of human tissue in a highly
specialized culture. The result of these discoveries and experiments are
the hormads. Seventy-five per cent of the buildings in Morbus are devoted
to the culture and growth of these horrid creatures which Ras Thavas turns
out in enormous numbers.
“‘Practically all of them are extremely low in
intelligence; but a few developed normal brains, and some of these banded
together to take over the island and establish a kingdom of their own.
On threat of death, they have compelled Ras Thavas to continue to produce
these creatures in great numbers; for they have a conceived a stupendous
plan which is nothing less than to build up an army of millions of hormads
and with them conquer the world. They will take Phundahl and Toonol first,
and then gradually spread out over the entire surface of the globe.’” (SMM/4.)
“‘There you are mistaken,’ replied Gan
Had. ‘The food for the hormads is produced by means almost identical with
those which produce them – a slightly different culture. Animal tissue
grows with such great rapidity in this culture, which can be carried along
with an army in tanks, constantly providing sufficient food; and, because
of its considerable water content, sufficient water.’
Carter raises the question of transportation as a fatal flaw in the plan,
but Gan Had explains that they have an answer:
“‘But can these half-humans hope to be victorious
over well trained, intelligent troops fitted for modern warfare?’ I asked.
“‘I think so,’ said Pandar. ‘They will do it
by their overwhelming numbers, their utter fearlessness, and the fact that
it is necessary to decapitate them before they can be rendered hors de
“‘How large an army have they?’ inquired John
“‘There are several millions hormads on the island.
Their huts are scattered over the entire area of Morbus. It is estimated
the island can accomodate a hundred million of them; and Ras Thavas claims
that he can march them into battle at the rate of two million a year, lose
every one of them, and still have his original strength undepleted by as
much a single man. This plant turns them out enormous quantities. A certain
percentage are so grossly malformed as to be utterly useless. These are
sliced into hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces that are dumped back into
the culture vats, where they grow with such unbelievable rapidity that
within nine days each has developed into a full-size hormad, an amazing
number of which have developed into something that can march and wield
a weapon.’” (SMM/3.)
“‘That has been their problem, but they
believe that Ras Thavas has now solved it. He has been experimenting for
a long time with malagor tissue a special culture medium. If he can produce
these birds in sufficient quantities, the problem of transport will have
been solved. For the fighting ships for which they will need, they are
relying on those they expect to capture when they take Phundahl and Toonol
as the nucleus of a great fleet which will grow as their conquests take
in more and larger cities.’” (SMM/3.)
They are interrupted by chow time, brought to them by a couple of hormads
carrying a vessel containing animal tissue for their evening meal. It is
an “ask not, don’t tell” kind of situation where hunger overrules conscience.
They discover that the hormads are ruled by a council of seven jeds, intelligent
hormads who have had Ras Thavas transfer their brains into those of comely
and strong red men. The council will decide the fate of the prisoners,
with Janai likely going to one of the jeds. Vor Daj befriends the girl
and tells her he would like to help her, but they are taken to the council
before they can get to know each other better.
Three of the jeds lay claim to Janai and it is decided that the prisoners
will combat a group of hormads to see if any of them are good enough to
be officers and trainers. Seven of the best hormad warriors then fight
the prisoners. The hormads are more intelligent and more skilled swordsmen
than the five Carter and Vor Daj previously faced, but in the end, they
and there are many headless hormads scattered around the room. One
Phundahlian, and the men from Duhor and Ptarth are killed, but Pandar and
Gan Had survive. The Council of the Seven Jeds decide that Carter and Vor
Daj will serve with the laboratory guard to see that Ras Thavas does not
escape and that no harm befalls him because they are such excellent sworsdsmen
because Helium is so distant they couldn’t possibly feel any partiality
to either Phundahl or Toonol. Janai smiles pathetically at Vor Daj as they
are taken away.
They are taken to the Laboratory Building where they meet Ras Thavas.
Vor Daj expects the old man that Vad Varo had first encountered and is
surprised that Ras Thavas is a young man, not knowing that Vad Varo had
transplanted his brain years earlier. Ras Thavas notes that Carter’s pigment
has begun to wear off in some places and deduces that since he is white
has black hair, and he is not Vad Varo, that he must be the famous
John Carter. He asks Carter his opinion about Vad Varo, taking his word
that he is faithful and loyal.
Carter tells Ras Thavas about his princess, but Ras Thavas assures him
that there is no way to escape the Council of Seven Jeds, then they are
interrupted by a situation in one of the culture vats.
“Ras Thavas led us to an enormous room
where we beheld such a spectacle as probably never had been enacted elsewhere
in the entire universe. In the center of the room was a huge tank about
four feet high from which were emerging hideous monstrosities almost beyond
the powers of human imagination to conceive; and surrounding the tank were
a great number of hormad warriors with their officers, rushing upon the
terrible creatures, overpowering and binding them, or destroying them if
they were too malformed to function successfully as fighting men. At least
fifty per centum of them had to be thus destroyed – fearful caricatures
of life that were neither beast nor man. One was only a great mass of living
flesh with an eye somewhere and a single hand. Another had developed with
its arms and legs transposed, so that when it walked it was upside down
with its head between its legs. The features of many were grotesquely misplaced.
Noses, ears, eyes, mouths might be scattered indiscriminately anywhere
over the surfaces of torso or limbs. These were all destroyed; only those
were preserved which had two arms and legs and the facial features of which
were somewhere upon the head. The nose might be under an ear and the mouth
above the eyes, but if they could function appearance was of no importance.
They proceed on to another room where reconstruction work is being carried
out; heads are growing new bodies. They see a head sprouting a leg and
the head is very angry about it, becoming abusive toward Ras Thavas, who
threatens to redirect him to the culture vat, and the head screams for
him not to do it.
“Ras Thavas viewed them with evident pride. ‘What
do you think of them?’ he asked The Warlord.
“‘Quite horrible,’ replied John Carter.
“Ras Thavas appeared hurt. ‘I have not attempt
as yet to attain beauty,’ he said; ‘and I shall have to admit that so far
even symmetry has eluded me, but both will come. I have created human beings.
Some day I shall create the perfect man, and a new race of supermen will
inhabit Barsoom – beautiful, intelligent, deathless.’
“‘And in the meantime these creatures will have
spread all over the world and conquered it. They will destroy your supermen.
You have created a Frankensteinian host that will not only destroy you
but the civilization of a world. Hasn’t that possibility ever occurred
“‘Yes, it has; but I never intended to create
these creatures in any such numbers. That is the idea of the seven jeds.
I purposed developing only enough to form a small army with which to conquer
Toonol, that I might regain my island and my old laboratory.’” (SMM/7.)
“‘Why should a thing like that wish to
live?’ I asked, after we had passed along.
Tor-dur-bar recognizes them immediately calling out Vor Daj by name and
Ras Thavas realizes that he is a hormad of unusual intelligence, and decides
that he will transplant his brain into a more beautiful body which will
take nine days. The Warlord is amused:
“‘It is a characteristic of life, however low
its form,’ replied Ras Thavas.
‘Even these poor sexless monstrosities, whose
only pleasure in life is eating raw animal tissue, wish to live. They do
not even dream of the existence of love or friendship, they have no spiritual
or mental resources upon which to draw for satisfaction or enjoyment; yet
they wish to live.’
“‘They speak of friendship,’ I said. ‘Tor-dur-bar’s
head told me not to forget that it was my friend.’
“‘They know the word,’ replied Ras Thavas, ‘but
I am sure they cannot sense its finer connotations. One of the first things
they are taught is to obey. Perhaps he meant that he would obey you, serve
you. He may not ever remember you now. Some of them have practically no
memories. All their reactions are purely mechanical. They respond to oft
repeated stimuli – the commands to march, to fight, to come to, to halt.
They also do what they see the majority of their fellows doing. Come! We
shall find Tor-dur-bar’s head and see if it recalls you. It will be an
interesting experiment.’” (SMM/7.)
“‘If there is an Almighty God he may
resent this usurpation of his prerogatives,’ remarked The Warlord with
Ras Thavas then gives his theory of the origin of life on Barsoom, which
is almost an exact account as given to Carter by Xodar of the First Born.
(See ERBzine #3309)
Vor Daj can’t get his mind off Janai and at last hatches a plan which he
hopes can gain
“‘The origin of life is an obscure mystery,’ said
Ras Thavas, ‘and there is quite as much evidence to indicate that it was
the result of accident as there is to suggest that it was planned by a
supreme being. I understand that the scientists of your Earth believe that
all life on that planet was evolved from a very low form of animal life
called amoeba, a microscopic nucleated mass of protoplasm without even
a rudimentary form of consciousness or mental life. An omnipotent creator
could just as well have produced the highest conceivable form of life in
the first place – a perfect creature – whereas no existing life on either
planet is perfect or even approximates perfection.’” (SMM/7.)
him intelligence as to her fate. An obnoxious assassin is captured
by the hormads, one Gantun Gur, and the Council of Seven Jeds decides to
remove his brain and resign it to the culture vats, replacing it with an
intelligent hormad brain and promote it to be a bodyguard for one of the
Seven Jeds. Vor Daj arranges for Tor-dur-bar to be the hormad, for has
grown a new body of
prodigious strength, though one of his arms is much longer than the
Vor Daj succeeds in his plan and witnesses the brain transfer, which
gives him a new daring idea: he will have his own brain transplanted into
Tor-dur-bar’s old body, and with Tordur-bar a bodyguard for one of the
jeds, he too – with his profound strength and Tor-dur-bar’s help – can
gain employment as a bodyguard and thus hopefully protect Janai.
Thus the scene is set for one of the greatest works of the imagination
in pulp fiction. As the plot progresses, Carter and Ras Thavas hide Vor
Daj’s body in cell 17 in the pits, discovering an ancient tunnel that leads
them to a secret island outside of the area of the hormads. Vor Daj, now
in Tor-dur-bar’s old body, stumbles upon the tunnel and meets up with his
He asks them how they found the tunnel and Carter tells him to let
Ras Thavas explain:
“‘Morbus is an ancient city,’ said the
great surgeon. ‘It was built in prehistoric times by a people who are now
extinct. In my flight after our defeat at Toonol I discovered it. I have
remodeled and rebuilt it, but largely upon the foundations of the old city,
which was splendidly built. There is much about it of which I know nothing.
There were plans of many of the buildings, including those of the laboratory
building. I noticed that circle in cell 17, just as you did. I thought
it meant something, but never had the time or inclination to investigate.
When we decided to hide your body where it could not be found and destroyed
if anything went wrong, I selected cell 17, with the result that we discovered
the tunnel to this island which lies fully two miles from Morbus.’” (SMM/15.)
This story is too good to give any more away. The reader should have the
pleasure of discovering the rest for him or herself. This is all that is
necessary in the way of data about the Island of Morbus that we need to
know for this article.
With Ras Thavas’ recreation of the extinct malagors, I couldn’t help
thinking about the late Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and it’s famous
line, “nature will find a way.” This especially comes into play
in Vat Number 4, where a monster Blob of animal tissue threatens to overcome
the whole planet of Barsoom. Crichton was a modern master of the cliff-hanger
and often returned to this theme that he had started in The Andromeda Strain.
I have no idea if he ever read ERB, but I like to think he did and was
influenced by the master.
There is an excellent summary of the plot of The Synthetic Men of
Mars, by Steve Servello at ERBzine
#0352, below the illustrations, of which I have two minor crticisms.
Mr. Servello states:
“Another discrepancy is that when Ras
Thavas and Vor Daj are finally reunited...he is told of the disaster in
#4 Vat Room. The Master-Mind expressed concern but seems to forget that
he already knew of the problem before fleeing Morbus with John Carter.
In addition, Vor Daj roars in indignation, “I, a noble of Helium!”...I
thought he was an officer (Dwar) not a noble.”
From my reading I am not positive that Ras Thavas knew of the problem before
he fled with Carter, but as to the second, Vor Daj was a Padwar in Carter’s
bodyguard and a Dwar in the bodyguard of one of the hormad jeds. The point
is, being an officer in the military doesn’t rule out the possibility that
one can still be a noble. This is brought to light specifically in A
Fighting Man of Mars, where the protagonist, Tan Hadron of Hastor,
is both “a Padwar in the 91st Umak, being assigned to the 5th Utan of the
11th Dar,” and also from a noble family:
“My father is Had Urtur, Odwar of the
1st Umak of the Troops of Hastor”; and “being of noble lineage by my father
and inheriting royal blood from my mother, the palaces of the Twin Cities
were always open to me and I entered into the gay life of the capital.”
I remember when I was attending Artillery OCS in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma from
October 1969 to February 1970, that many a fortunate son of the America
aristocracy were among my classmates. A General’s son even committed suicide
while I was there. Anyway, this does not diminish Mr. Servello’s article
and it is worth the reading just the same.
I am subject to the same kind of errors. For example, in my article
that dealt with, inter alia, the Great Clock of Invak (see ERBzine
#3304), I made such an error as brought to my attention in an email
by avid ERB scholar Fredrik Ekman:
“I just read your article on the subject
of the cities of Invak, and found it on the whole to be a good analysis
of the subject matter. However, I have to disagree with you when you claim
that the ‘scientific information ERB gives about Mars in this series is
extremely accurate.’ In fact, the Martian day is neither 37 or 41 minutes
longer than 24 hours. Both of Burroughs cited figures are mistakes...
Interestingly, I had read his article shortly after finishing mine and
had already realized my error as to the real Mars. It is an excellent article
and worth reading. Even though I was mainly thinking about ERB’s imaginary
Barsoom and the science and math involved in figuring out the time of the
Barsoomian clock, I took note to be more careful in my wording in the future
and I appreciated the correction. By the way, Mr. Ekman arrived at the
same calculation as I did for 11 xats past the 8th zode.
“If you have an interest in this fascinating subject,
I would like to recommend to you mine and Tom Gangale’s article Martian
Measurements of Time at http://www.erbzine.com/mag16/1630.html.
It contains a thorough analysis of all aspects of time measurements as
presented in the Barsoomian series.”
If anyone has any further criticism about any of my articles posted
on ERBzine, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All comments and criticisms are welcome. After all, we are all human, and
not – thank the Maker – hormads.
And there you have it,
ERB’s Third Runner-up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom: The Island