THE MARTIAN OCEANS AND THEIR CITIES
The Eighth Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom
Part One: Korad, Thark, and Warhoon
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
I’m reminded of the Donovan song, “Atlantis,” where at
the end he emotes a haunting wail, “Hail, Atlantis!” ERB evokes this same
kind of mystical past history in his creation of the ancient oceans of
Barsoom, especially Throxeus, mightiest of the five oceans that once rolled
upon the surface of the red planet millions of years ago. What follows
will entail the history of he ancient oceans and their main cities, one
occupied by Red Martians, two by the fair-haired, white-skinned ancient
race most Martians believe are extinct, the others dead cities inhabited
by the Green Hordes and the Great White Apes.
The ancient race – which observant readers of the Tarzan
saga will immediately recognize as associated with the Atlantean gold colony
of Opar – that sailed the mighty five oceans, comprised the Golden Age
of Martian history, as were the days of Atlantis on Earth.
We will begin with the ancient cities surrounding several
dead sea bottoms in the vicinity of Zodanga: Korad, Thark, and Warhoon.
(See, ERBzine #2807.)
John Carter has his first advent on Barsoon near this
ancient city when he awakens naked upon an ancient dead sea bed, as recorded
in A Princess of Mars:
“I opened my eyes upon
a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did
I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I was not asleeep, no need
for pinching here; my inner consciousness told me as plainly that I was
upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you that you are upon Earth. You
do not question the fact; neither did I.
Carter adjusts to the lower gravity of Mars, discovering
that he can leap thirty feet into the air. He meets a roving band of Green
Warriors and agrees to be their captive. (The Green Martians will be dealt
separately in a future runner-up.) They take him to the ancient city of
“I found myself lying prone upon
a bed of yellowish, moss-like vegetation which stretched around me in all
directions for interminable miles. I seemed to be lying in a deep, circular
basin, along the outer verge of which I could distinguish the irregularities
of low hills.
“It was midday, the sun was shining
full upon me and the heat of it was rather intense upon my naked body,
yet no greater than would have been true under similar conditions on an
Arizona desert. Here and there were slight outcroppings of quartz-bearing
rock which glistened in the sunlight; and a little to my left, perhaps
a hundred yards, appeared a low, walled enclosure about four feet in height.
No water, and no other vegetation than the moss was in evidence, and as
I was somewhat thirsty I determined to do a little exploring.” (PM/3.)
From James Spratt's illustrated version of A Princess
of Mars ~ ERBzine 1301
“We had gone perhaps ten
miles when the ground began to rise very rapidly. We were, as I was later
to learn, nearing the edge of one of Mars’ long-dead seas, in the bottom
of which my encounter with the Martians had taken place.
Slowly, Carter learns more about the city in which he is
strangely imprisoned. A young Martian female, Sola, is ordered to watch
over him and he resides in her room.
“In a short time we gained the foot
of the moutains, and after traversing a narrow gorge came to an open valley,
at the far extremity of which was a low table land upon which I beheld
an enormous city. Toward this we galloped, entering it by what appeared
to be a ruined roadway leading out from the city, but only to the edge
of the table land, where it ended abruptly in a flight of broad steps.
“Upon closer observation I saw as
we passed them that the buildings were deserted, and while not greatly
decayed had the appearance of not having been tenanted for years, possibly
for ages. Toward the center of the city was a large plaza, and upon this
and in the buildings immediately surrounding it were camped some nine or
ten hundred creatures of the same breed as my captors, for such I now considered
them despite the suave manner in which I had been trapped....
“As we neared the plaza and my presence
was discovered we were immediately surrounded by hundreds of the creatures
who seemed anxious to pluck me from my seat behind my guard. A word from
the leader of the party stilled their clamor, and we proceeded at a trot
across the plaza to the entrance of as magnificent an edifice as mortal
eye has rested upon.
“The building was low, but covered
an enormous area. It was constructed of gleaming white marble inlaid with
gold and brilliant stones which sparkled and scintillated in the sunlight.
The main entrance was some hundred feet in width and projected from the
building proper to form a huge canopy above the entrance hall. There was
no stairway, but a gentle incline to the first floor of the building opened
into an enormous chamber encircled by galleries.
“On the floor of this chamber, which
was dotted with highly carved wooden desks and chairs, were assembled about
forty or fifty male Martians around the steps of a rostrum. On the platform
proper squatted an enormous warrior heavily loaded with metal ornaments,
gay-colored feathers and beautifully wrought leather trappings ingeniously
set with precious stones. From his shoulders depended a short cape of white
fur line with brilliant scarlet silk.
“What struck me as most remarkable
about this assemblage and the hall in which they were congregated was the
fact that the creatures were entirely out of proportion to the desks, chairs,
and other furnishings; these being of a size adapted to human beings such
as I, whereas the great bulks of the Martians could scarcely have squeezed
into the chairs, nor was there room beneath the desks for their long legs.
Evidently, then, there were other denizens on Mars than the wild and grotesque
creatures into whose hands I had fallen, but the evidences of extreme antiquity
which showed all around me indicated that these buildings might have belonged
to some long-extinct and forgotten race in the dim antiquity of Mars.”
“My fair companion was
about eight feet tall, having just arrived at maturity, but not yet to
her full height. She was of a light olive-green color, with a smooth, glossy
hide. Her name, as I afterward learned, was Sola, and she belonged to the
retinue of Tars Tarkas. She conducted me to a spacious chamber in one of
the buildings fronting on the plaza, and which, from the litter of silks
and furs upon the floor, I took to be the sleeping quarters of several
of the natives.
Dejah Thoris is soon captured and after Carter rescues her
from the assault of a Green Martian, they explore some more mosaics together.
“The room was well lighted by a
number of large windows and was beautifullly decorated with mural paintings
and mosaics, but upon all there seemed to rest that indefinable touch of
the finger of antiquity which convinced me that the architects and builders
of these wondrous creations had nothing in common with the crude half-brutes
which now occupied them....
“While Sola was away I took occasion
to examine more minutely the room in which I found myself captive. The
mural painting depicted scenes of rare and wonderful beauty: mountains,
rivers, lake, ocean, meadow, trees and flowers; winding roadways, sun-kissed
gardens – scenes which might have protrayed earthly views but for the different
colorings of the vegetation. The work had evidently been wrought by a master
hand, so subtle the atmosphere, so perfect the technique; yet nowhere was
there a representation of a living animal, either human or brute, by which
I could guess at the likeness of these other and perhaps extinct denizens
of Mars.” (PM/4-5.)
“I accompanied Sola and
Dejah Thoris in a search for new quarters, which we found in a building
nearer the audience chamber and of far more pretentious architecture than
our former habitation. We also found in this building real sleeping apartments
with ancient beds of highly wrought metal swinging from enormous gold chains
depending from the marble ceilings. The decoration of the walls was most
unlike the frescoes in the other buildings I had examined,
portrayed many human figures in the compositions. These were of people
like myself and of much lighter color that Dejah Thoris. They were clad
in graceful, flowing robes, highly ornamented with metal and jewels, and
their luxuriant hair was of a beautiful golden and reddish bronze. The
men were beardless and only a few wore arms. The scenes depicted for the
most part, a fair-skinned, fair-haired people at play....
ERB has a way of capturing a tragedy of planetary magnitude
in a haunting and poetic prose that may have been motivated by being paid
for by the word, but still manages to carry an almost hypnotic quality.
He not only creates a whole world out of the fabric of his imagination,
but he also gives his world an Atlantean myth. We will deal with this myth
at the end of this series. Meantime, Carter does some more exploring in
search of new quarters:
“Dejah Thoris and I then fell to
examining the architecture and decorations of the beautiful chambers of
the building we were occupying. She told me that these people had presumably
flourished over a hundred thousand years before. They were the early progenitiors
of her race, but had mixed with the other great race of early Martians,
who were very dark, almost black, and also with the reddish yellow race
which had flourished at the same time.
“These three great divisions of
the higher Martians had been forced into a mighty alliance as the drying
up of the Martian seas had compelled them to seek the comparatively few
and always diminishing fertile areas, and to defend themselves, under new
conditions of life, against the wild hordes of green men.
“Ages of close relationship and
intermarrying had resulted in the race of red men, of which Dejah Thoris
was a fair and beautiful daughter. During the ages of hardships and incessant
warring between their own various races, as well as with the green men,
and before they had fitted themselves to the changed conditions, much of
the high civilization and many of the arts of the fair-haired Martians
had become lost; but the red race of today has reached a point where it
feels that it has made up in new discoveries and in a more practical civilization
for all that lies irretrievably buried with the ancient Barsoomians, beneath
the countless intervening ages.
“These ancient Martians had been
a highly cultivated and literary race, but during the vicissitutes of those
trying centuries of readjustment to new conditions, not only did their
advancement and production cease entirely, but practically all their archives,
records, and literature were lost.
“Dejah Thoris related many interesting
facts and legends concerning this lost race of noble and kingly people.
She said that the city in which we were camping was supposed to be have
been a center of commerce and culture known as Korad. It had been built
upon a beautiful, natural harbor, landlocked by magnificent hills. The
little valley on the west front of the city, she explained, was all that
remained of harbor, while the pass through the hills to the old sea bottom
had been the channel through which the shipping passed up the city’s gates.
“The shores of the ancient seas
were dotted with just such cities, and lesser ones, in diminishing numbers,
were to be found converging toward the center of the oceans, as the people
had found it necessary to follow the receding waters until necessity had
forced upon them their ultimate salvation, the so-called Martian canals.”
“Left alone, I ascended
the winding corridor to the upper floors in search of suitable quarters.
The beauties of the other buildings were repeated in this, and, as usual,
I was soon lost in a tour of investigation and discovery. I finally chose
a a front room on the third floor, because this brought me nearer to Dejah
Thoris, whose apartment was on the second floor of the adjoining building,
and it flashed upon me that I could rig up some means of communication
whereby she might signal me in case she needed either my services or my
The Green Horde abandons Korad for the long trek to their
capital city, Thark:
“Adjoining my sleeping apartment
were baths, dressing rooms, and other sleeping and living apartments, in
all some ten rooms on this floor. The windows of the back rooms overlooked
an enormous court, which formed the center of the square made by the buildings
which face the four contiguous streets, and which was now given over to
the quartering of the various animals belonging to the warriors
occupying the adjoining buildings.
“While the court was entirely overgrown
with the yellow, moss-like vegetation which blankets practically the entire
surface of Mars, yet numerous fountains, statuary, benches, and pergola-like
contraptions bore witness to the beauty which the court must have presented
in bygone times, when graced by the fair-haired, laughing people whom stern
and unalterable cosmic laws had driven not only from their homes, but from
all except the vague legends of their descendants.
“One could easily imagine the gorgeous
foilage in the luxuriant Martian vegetation which once filled this scene
with life and color; the graceful figures of the beautiful women, the straight
and handsome men; the happy frolicking children – all sunlight, happiness
and peace. It was difficult to realize that they had gone; down through
ages of darkness, cruelty, and ignorance, until their hereditary instincts
of culture and humanitarianism had risen ascendant once more in the final
composite race which now is dominant upon Mars.” (PM/12.)
“The remainder of our journey
to Thark was uneventful. We were twenty days upon the road, crossing two
sea bottoms and passing through or around a number of ruined cities, mostly
smaller than Korad. Twice we crossed the famous Martian waterways, or canals,
so-called by our earthly astronomers. When we approached these points a
warrior would be sent far ahead with a powerful field glass, and if no
great body of red Martian troops was in sight we would advance as close
as possible without chance of being seen and then camp until dark, when
we slowly approach the cultivated tract, and, locating one of the numerous,
broad highways which cross these areas at regular intervals, creep silently
and stealthily across the arid lands upon the other side. It required five
hours to make one of these crossings without a single halt, and the other
consumed the entire night, so that we were just leaving the confines of
the high-walled fields when the sun broke out upon us.” (PM/16.)
The information we are given about Thark is sketchy in
comparison to Korad, and, as we shall see, almost nonexistent for Warhoon:
“Just thirty days after
my advent upon Barsoom we entered the ancient city of Thark, from whose
long-forgotten people this horde of green men have stolen even their name....
Carter, Dejah Thoris, and Sola plan to escape and to get
his bearings, the princess draws a map on the floor:
“We made our entry into the great
central plaza early in the afternoon. There were no enthusiastic friendly
greetings for the returned expedition....
“We were soon assigned to new quarters,
and the balance of the day was devoted to settling ourselves to the changed
conditions. My home now was upon an avenue leading into the plaza from
the south, the main artery down which we had marched from the gates of
the city. I was at the far end of the square and had an entire building
to myself. The same grandeur of architecture which was so noticeable a
characteristic of Korad was in evidence here, only, if that were possible,
on a larger and richer scale. My quarters would have been suitable for
housing the greatest of earthly emperors, but to these queer creatures
nothing about a building appealed to them but its size and the enormity
of the chambers; the larger the building, the more desirable; and so Tal
Hajus occupied what must have been an enormous public building, the largest
in the city, but entirely unfitted for residence purposes; the next largest
was reserved for Lorquas Ptomel, the next for a jed of a lesser rank, and
so on to the bottom of the list of five jeds. The warriors occupied the
buildings with the chieftans to whose retinues they belonged; or, if they
preferred, sought shelter among any of the thousands of untenanted buildings
in their own quarter of town; each community being assigned a certain section
of the city. The selection of building had to be made in accordance with
these divisions, they all occupying edifices which fronted upon the plaza.”
“‘The great waterway which
leads to Helium is but fifty miles to the south,’ murmured Sola, half to
herself; ‘a swift thoat might make it in three hours; and then to Helium
it is five hundred miles, most of the way through thinly settled districts.
They would know and they would follow us. We might hide among the great
trees for a time, but the chances are small indeed for escape. They would
follow us to the very gates of Helium, and they would take toll of life
at every step; you do not know them.’
Carter comes to realize that their chances of escape are
running out and the time to act is now:
“‘Is there no other way we might
reach Helium?’ I asked. ‘Can you not draw me a rough map of the country
we must traverse, Dejah Thoris?’
“‘Yes,’ she replied, and taking
a great diamond from her hair she drew upon the marble floor the first
map of Barsoomian territory I had ever seen. It was crisscrossed in every
direction with long straight lines, sometimes running parallel and sometimes
converging toward some great circle. The lines, she said, were waterways;
the circles, cities; and one far to the northwest of us she pointed out
as Helium. There were other cities closer, but she said she feared to enter
many of them, as they were not all friendly toward Helium.” (PM/16.)
“My plan of action was
formed upon the instant, and crossing the square and the bordering avenue
upon the opposite side I soon stood within the courtyard of Tal Hajus.
This is, of course, Tal Hajus, who attempts to molest both
Dejah Thoris and Sola until they are saved in the nick of time by Carter.
Then they make their escape:
“The brilliantly lighted apartments
of the first floor told me where first to seek, and advancing to the windows
I peered within. I soon discovered that my approach was not to be the easy
thing I had hoped, for the rear rooms bordering the court were filled with
warriors and women. I then glanced up at the stories above, discovering
that the third was apparently unlighted, and so decided to make my entrance
to the building from that point. It was the work of but a moment for me
to reach the windows above, and soon I had drawn myself within the sheletering
shadows of the unlighted third floor.
“Fortunately the room I had selected
was untenanted, and creeping noiselessly to the corridor beyond I discovered
a light in the apartments ahead of me. Reaching what appeared to be a doorway
I discovered that it was but an opening upon an immense inner chamber which
towered from the first floor, two stories below me, to the dome-like roof
of the building, high above my head. The floor of the great circular hall
was thronged with chieftans, warriors and women, and at one end was a great
raised platform upon which squatted the most hideous beast I had ever put
my eyes upon.” (PM/17.)
“We finally came upon my
thoats in the courtyard where I had left them, and, placing the trappings
upon them we hastened through the building to the avenue beyond. Mounting,
Sola upon one beast, and Dejah Thoris behind me upon the other, we rode
from the city of Thark through the hills to the south.
They are ambused by a Warhoon patrol and Carter stands them
off to give Dejah Thoris and Sola a chance to escape. The Warhoons are
a rival horde of the Tharks and have, like the Tharks, taken their name
from the name of the ancient city.
“Instead of circling back around
the city to the northwest and toward the nearest waterway which lay so
short a distance from us, we turned to the northeast and struck out upon
the mossy waste across which, for two hundred dangerous and weary miles,
lay another main artery leading to Helium.” (PM/17.)
Carter makes a gallant stand but is eventually overwhelmed
and taken captive to Warhoon.
“We reached the city of
Warhoon after some three days march and I was immediately cast into a dungeon
and heavily chained to the floor and walls. (PM/18.)
There he meets Kantos Kan, a fellow prisoner, who is a padwar
in the navy of Helium and had been searching Warhoon for signs of Dejah
Thoris when he too was taken captive:
“Kantos Kan had been detailed
to one of the small one-man fliers and had had the misfortune to be discovered
by the Warhoons while exploring their city. The bravery and daring of the
man won my greatest respect and admiration. Alone he had landed at the
city’s boundary and on foot had penetrated to the buildings surrounding
the plaza. For two days and nights he had explored their quarters and dungeons
in search of his beloved princess only to fall into the hands of a party
of Warhoons as he was about to leave, after assuring himself that Dejah
Thoris was not a captive there.
There is some very exciting fighting in the arena before
Kantos Kan and Carter agree to fake Carter’s death, leaving Kantos Kan
as the last man standing and the victor allowed to have his freedom. Night
falls, the arena empties, and Carter climbs out of the arena and escapes
“During the period of our incarceration
Kantos Kan and I became well acquainted, and formed a warm personal friendship.
A few days only elapsed, however, before we were dragged forth from our
dungeon for the great games. We were conducted early one morning to an
enormous amphitheater, which instead of having been built upon the surface
of the ground was excavated below the surface. It had partially filled
with debris so that how large it had originally been was difficult to say.
In its present condition it held the entire twenty thousand Warhoons of
the assembled hordes.
“The arena was immense but extremely
uneven and unkempt. Around it the Warhoons had piled building stone from
some of the ruined edifices of the ancient city to prevent the animals
and the captives from escaping into the audience, and at each end had been
constructed cages to hold them until their turns came to meet some horrible
death upon the arena.” (PM/19.)
“When the amphitheater
had cleared I crept stealthily to the top and as the great excavation lay
far from the plaza and in untenanted portion of the great dead city I had
little trouble in reaching the hills beyond.” (PM/19.)
After a sojourn at the atmosphere factory and as an air scout
for the Zodangan navy, Carter flies to Helium to see what he can do to
save Dejah Thoris from marrying the son of the Jeddak of Zodanga, who has
declared war upon Helium, but is willing to settle for peace if the Dejah
Thoris consents to marry his son, which she does, believing Carter is dead.
“Helium lies a thousand
miles southwest of Zodanga, and with my compass intact I should have made
the trip, barring accidents, in between four and five hours. As it turned
out, however, morning found me speeding over a vast exapanse of dead sea
bottom after nearly six hours of continuous flight at high speed. Presently
a great city showed below me, but it was not Helium, as that alone of all
Barsoomian metropolises consists in two immense circular walled cities
about seventy-five miles apart and would have been easily distinguishable
from the altitude at which I was flying.” (PM/24.)
Carter comes across a great battle between the Tharks and
Warhoons and, shoulder-toshoulder with Tars Tarkas, they beat off the Warhoons.
Carter unites the green hordes and leads them to sack Zodanga and then
on to Helium where the combined forces of Helium and the green men defeat
Zodanga and crush the once rival of Helium to the status of a third world
nation on Barsoom.
The location of Zodanga proved to be problematic for cartographers
after ERB came out with Swords of Mars, for in that novel
he describes the location of Zodagana thus:
“Over nineteen hundred
miles east of the Twin Cities of Helium, at about Lat. 30 degrees S., Long.
172 degrees E., lies Zodanga.” (SM/1.)
This differs from his description in Princess where Zodanga
is a thousand miles to the southwest of Helium. This has led some cartographers
to put a “New Zodanga” on their maps, which I believe they have done in
error. (See, ERBzine #2807.)
It is like the magic Christians use to explain away the myriad contradictions
in the Bible in the hopes of keeping their delusion in tack that it is
the inerrant word of God without contradiction. ERB may be the true creator
god of Barsoom, but he was far from inerrant. The fact is that he made
The maps mostly accurately depict the location of Korad,
Thark, Warhoon, the atmosphere factory, and Zodanga, in the same proximity.
Since Carter started out in one dead sea bottom and crossed two more with
the green horde, we can deduce that three of the five ancient oceans of
Barsoom were in this area, none of them even approximating the size of
the mighty Throxeus, which we will begin to survey in Part Two.
And there you have it,
ERB’s Korad, Thark, and Warhoon: Part One of the Eighth
Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom!