THE RIVER ISS
The Thirteenth Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders
Iss art by
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Cartography by Huck Huckenpohler
The Valley Dor
Cartography by Laurence G. Dunn
The River Iss is known as the River of Mystery on Barsoom for more than
The first obvious reason is because of its association with the Religion
of Issus and the mysteries of death and the afterlife. It performs in essence
the same function as the River
Styx in Greek Mythology, with the only differences being that on Barsoom
you have to be your own ferryman and you don’t have to be dead first to
take the trip.
The other reason why it is a River of Mystery is because no one is sure
of its location.
The first thing a voluntary pilgrim must do to take the journey is the
find the River. ERB only gives vague descriptions about the River Iss in
the corpus, making any reader have to guess where it originates and through
which territories it winds its way to the Lost Sea of Korus. Many artists
have attempted to locate the river on maps (see, e.g., ERBzine
#2807 and ERBzine
3041) but no two seem to agree.
If the reader observes the first map display at #2807
– the global map that ERB drew – he or she will discover that ERB omitted
both the River Iss and the city of Kaol and its famous forest, while later,
by interlineation, he added Invak in cursive. Both Invak and Kaol are on
the Martian equator. This means that ERB drew the map before he wrote Llana
of Gathol, for that is the first time Invak is mentioned in
the Mythos. Why did he later add Invak while omitting Kaol?
I tend to think he did this deliberately because, as we shall see, the
location of the Kaolian forest is a main clue as through which territory
the River likely runs or receives one of its sources of water. Thus, the
location of the River Iss ends up being another one of ERB's enigmatic
mind-games for his readers, like the hidden chess problem in The
Chessmen of Mars. (ERBzine
I will now list every relevant reference to the River Iss in the genuine
Barsoomian Mythos. In this manner, we will be able to determine what is
textually factual and what is speculation based on educated guess.
We find the River Iss mentioned inconsequentially in the first book of
the Mythos, A Princess
of Mars, where it is as yet not fully developed artistically.
The first mention comes from Sola as she laments the sad life of the Green
Hordes as compared with the lives of the Red Men:
“‘[The Red Men] live at peace with all
their fellows, except when duty calls upon them to make war, while we are
peace with none; forever warring among our own kind as well as upon the
red men, and even in our communitites the individuals fight amongst ourselves.
Oh, it is the continual, awful period of bloodshed from the time we break
the shell until we gladly embrace the bosom of the river of mystery, the
dark and ancient Iss which carries us to an unknown, but at least no more
frightful and terrible existence!’” (PM/9.)
If you have been following this series, then you know how unintentionally
ironical this last statement is. The next time we hear the River Iss mentioned
is from Dejah Thoris while she is exploring the murals in the dead city
of Korad with John Carter:
“‘All Barsoomians speak the same tongue
from the ice-clad south to the ice-clad north, though their written languages
differ. Only in the valley Dor, where the river Iss empties into the lost
sea of Korus, is there supposed to be another language spoken, and, except
in the legends of our ancestors, there is no record of a Barsoomian returning
up the river Iss, from the shores of Korus in the valley Dor. Do not tell
me you have thus returned! They would kill you horribly anywhere upon the
surface of Barsoom if that were true; tell me it is not!’” (PM/11.)
The reader should also know by now why no one ever returns. That’s it for
relevant references of the River Iss in Princess, and there it might
have died but for the prompting of ERB’s editor. It was only when ERB’s
editor, Thomas Metcalf of All-Story, suggested that ERB write a story about
Martian ritual religion that ERB fully developed the reality of the Barsoomian
afterlife in the next two novels in the Mythos,
of Mars, and Warlord
of Mars. These first three novels in the Mythos became later
known as the John Carter of Mars Trilogy.
We first see Carter witnessing the mighty Iss when he wakes up after
his second advent on Mars in the Valley Dor. As he strolls out of the forest
of wonderful multi-colored trees, he is confronted at last by a broad meadow,
an open sea, and the River Iss:
“To my left the sea extended as far as
the eye could reach, before me only a vague, dim line indicated its further
shore, while at my right a mighty river, broad, placid, and majestic, flowed
between scarlet banks to empty into the quiet sea before me.
Thus we find that ERB is not shy when giving a full description of the
mouth of the River Iss, where it emerges from its final one thousand mile
underground journey beneath the five thousand foot high Golden Cliffs to
empty into the Lost Sea of Korus. Carter discovers the hideous Plant Men
and follows them when they are summoned by the Holy Thern on the balcony
overhead on the Golden Cliffs:
“At a little distance up the river rose mighty
perpendicular cliffs, from the very base at which the great river seemed
to rise.” (GM/1.)
“Their way led directly towards the apparent
source of the river at the base of the cliffs, and as I neared this point
I found the meadow dotted with huge boulders that the ravages of time had
evidently dislodged from the towering crags above.” (GM/1.)
The Barsoomians, at least the Red, Yellow, and Green Martians, being believers
in the Religion of Issus, believe that at any time before a person dies,
he or she can make a voluntary pilgrimage down the River Iss and meet with
the same destiny as those who have died by natural or unnatural means:
the Paradise of the Valley Dor. Since the voyage down the River Iss is
for the living, it provides the bridge between life and death.
It is from Tars Tarkas that John Carter first hears of the one survivor
that managed to escape the horror of the Valley Dor and return to Red Martian
“‘There is an ancient legend that once
a red man returned from the banks of the Lost Sea of Korus, returned from
the Valley Dor, back through the mysterious River Iss, and the legend has
it that he narrated a fearful blasphemy of horrid brutes that inhabited
a valley of wondrous loveliness, brutes that pounced upon each Barsoomian
as he terminated his pilgrimage and devoured him upon the banks of the
Lost Sea where he had looked to find love and peace and happiness; but
the ancients killed the blasphemer, as tradition has ordained that any
shall be killed who returns from the bosom of the River of Mystery.’” (GM/3.)
John Carter’s next lesson comes from Thuvia, the plaything of the Holy
Therns, who, for some unfathomable reason, took the pilgrimage but was
saved from the Plant Men by the Holy Thern on guard duty on the balcony
overlooking Valley Dor:
“‘Now and again some hapless pilgrim,
drifting out upon the silent sea from the cold Iss, escapes the plant men
and the great white apes that guard the Temple of Issus, and falls into
the remorseless clutches of the therns; or, as was my misfortune, is coveted
by the Holy Thern who chances to be upon watch in the balcony above the
river where it issues from the bowels of the mountains through the cliffs
of gold to empty into the Lost Sea of Korus.’” (GM/4.)
With Thuvia to guide them, Carter and Tars Tarkas make their way through
corridor after corridor as they climb higher through the cliffs. They finally
reach an opening where they can look down on the balcony overlooking the
“As we watched, our eyes wandered to
the rolling Iss, which issued from the base of the cliffs beneath us. Presently
there emerged from the mountain a canoe laden with lost souls from the
outer world. There were a dozen of them. All were of the highly civilized
and cultured race of red men who are dominant on Mars.” (GM/5.)
The Red Men meet their horrible end and we hear no more about the River
Iss in this book until Carter has been captured with Phaidor on Xodar’s
battleship. Xodar, the black Dator, provides a travelogue as they fly over
the Otz Valley:
“Once we passed far above what seemed
to be a deep canyon-like rift stretching from the ice wall on the north
across the valley as far as the eye could reach. ‘That is the bed of the
River Iss,’ said Xodar. ‘It runs far beneath the ice field, and below the
level of the Valley Otz, but its canyon is open here.
Later, as they descend a great open shaft in a volcano-like mountain, Carter
first witnesses the underground Sea of Omean and learns that the water
system of Mars recycles:
“Presently I descried what I took to be a village,
and pointing it out to Xodar asked him what it might be.
“‘It is a village of lost souls,’ he answered,
laughing. ‘This strip between the ice barrier and the mountains is considered
neutral ground. Some turn off from their voluntary pilgrimage down the
Iss, and, scaling the awful walls of its canyon below, stop in the valley.
Also a slave now and then escapes from the therns and makes his way hither.’”
“‘This sea,’ he continued, ‘is larger
than Korus. It receives the waters of the lesser sea above it. To keep
it from filling above a certain level we have four great pumping stations
that force the oversupply back into the reservoirs far north from which
the red men draw the water which irrigates their farm lands.
Thus, the water from the Iss waters the Lost Sea of Korus, which remains
at a constant level because its overflow is captured by the greater underground
Sea of Omean below it. When those waters overflow the natural level of
Omean, they are pumped out into the great Barsoomian underground conduits,
the waterways, where every drop is used to irrigate crops by means of a
drip method. If no water is recovered from this system, then what provides
the source for the River Iss?
“A new light burst on me with this explanation.
The red men had always considered it a miracle that caused great columns
of water to spurt from the solid rock of their reservoir sides to increase
the supply of the precious liquid which is so scarce in the outer world
“Never had their learned men been able to fathom
the secret of the source of this enormous volume of water. As ages passed
they had simply come to accept it as a matter of course and ceased to question
its origin.” (GM/8.)
It neither snows nor rains on Barsoom. The waters are said to be drawn
from the ice caps at both poles, which feed the waterways. Perhaps some
water is leached out and finds its way into vast underground caverns, springing
forth from the ground in certain places. It couldn’t be from a dead sea
bottom since those waters appear stationary and are doomed to be slowly
evaporated by the sun. For example, if the Great Toonolian Marshes were
the source, with no living river to replenish them, they would have been
drained thousands of years before Carter’s first advent.
No, the source of the Iss must be a dynamic yearly source of water,
allowing the waters from Korus to find their way naturally back home via
the River Iss. Thus, the source of the River Iss could be many underground
rivers that meet and empty out above through natural artesian springs.
As we shall see, a natural place for such a spring on the surface of Barsoom
is in the region of Kaol, at the equator. The same can be said about the
Forest of Lost Souls that hides Invak, also on the equator. Neither the
Kaolian nor Invak forests are said to have any rivers, however. On the
other hand, far north of the equator, in a sunken rift that used to be
under the rolling waves of the Throxeus ocean, the Valley of the First
Born thrives with more than one river and at least one lake.
This is strong evidence of underground rivers, and the omission of Kaol
from ERB’s map strongly suggestst that the Iss first comes to the surface
somewhere south of Kaol. If it snakes around the southern hemisphere of
the planet, then heading south in any direction would almost guarantee
that you would find at least one fork of it. Any doubt as to what river
it was would soon be dissipated by the fact that there are precious few
rivers on the planet. Besides, as we shall see below, the Therns provide
the number one clue by providing boats for the pilgrims along the route.
Xodar later explains to Carter and Carthoris how the Therns deceive
the people of the outer world:
“‘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 number of their slaves.’” (GM/13.)
The route Dejah Thoris chose to take during her voluntary pilgrimage after
her grim interview with Zat Arras, the Jed of Zodanga, tends to support
our speculations. Carter learns of this through Sola, who escaped the clutches
of the Black Pirates and lived to tell about it.
“‘Seven days ago, after her audience
with Zat Arras, Dejah Thoris attempted to slip from the palace in the dead
of night. Although I had not heard the outcome of her interview with Zat
Arras I knew that something had occurred to cause her the keenest mental
agony, and when I discovered her creeping from the palace I did not need
to be told her destination.
We can assume that either or both Dejah Thoris and Sola were aware of where
the Iss could be found through Tars Tarkas, who had taken the voyage and
survived. Thus, since Helium is south of the equator and the party is heading
south, it can be deduced that some part of the exposed river is found winding
in this direction before it begins its final one thousand mile underground
journey to the Lost Sea of Korus.
“‘Hastily arousing a dozen of her most faithful
guards, I explained my fears to them, and as one they enlisted with me
to follow our beloved Princess in her wanderings, even to the Sacred Iss
and the Valley Dor. We came upon her but a short distance from the palace.
With her was faithful Woola the hound, but none other. When we overtook
her she feigned anger, and ordered us back to the palace, but for once
we disobeyed her, and when she found that we would not let her go upon
the last long pilgrimage alone, she wept and embraced us, and together
we went out into the night toward the south.’” (GM/18.)
Although the question of the origin of the river is never sufficiently
answered by ERB, we do gain some more concrete information about the mouth
of the river in the next story in the Mythos, Warlord of Mars.
At the beginning of the novel, Carter follows the black Dator, Thurid,
at night through the Valley Dor. Thurid comes to the shore of Korus and
pilots a gondola-like boat towards the mouth of the river under the Golden
Cliffs. Carter follows suit:
“As I came 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
Thurid meets up with Matai Shang, leader of the Holy Therns, and they paddle
up a tributary where Carter is hiding. Carter then follows them:
“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. Thurid was hugging the shore, and as he passed out
of sight round a near-by promontory I shoved one of the boats into the
water and, calling Woola into it, pushed out from shore.
“The pursuit of Thurid carried me along the edge
of the sea toward the mouth of the Iss. The farther moon lay close to the
horizon, casting a dense shadow beneath the cliffs that fringed the water.
Thuria, the nearer moon, had set, nor would it rise again for near four
hours, so that I was ensured concealing darkness for that length of time
“On and on went the black warrior. Now he was
opposite the mouth of the Iss. Without an instant’s hesitation he turned
up the grim river, paddling hard against the strong current.
“After him came Woola and I, closer now, for the
man was too intent upon forcing his craft up the river to have any eyes
for what might be transpiring behind him. He hugged the shore where the
current was less strong.
“Presently he came to the dark cavernous portal
in the face of the Golden Cliffs, through which the river poured. On into
the Stygian darkness beyond he urged his craft.
“It seemed hopeless to attempt to follow him where
I could not see my hand before my face, and I was almost on the point of
giving up the pursuit and drifting back to the mouth of the river, there
to await his return, when a sudden bend showed a faint luminosity ahead.
“My quarry was plainly visible again, and in the
increasing light from the phosphorescent rock that lay embedded in great
patches in the roughly arched roof of the cavern I had no difficulty in
“It was my first trip upon the bosom of Iss, and
the things I saw there will live forever in my memory.
“Terrible as they were, they could not have commenced
to approximate the horrible conditions which must have obtained before
Tars Tarkas, the great green warrior, Xodar, the black dator, and I brought
the light of truth to the outer world and stopped the mad rush of millions
upon the voluntary pilgrimage to what they believed would end in a beautiful
valley of peace and happiness and love.
“Even now the low islands which dotted the broad
stream were choked with the skeletons and half devoured carcasses of those
who, through fear or a sudden awakening to the truth, had halted almost
at the completion of their journey.
“In the awful stench of these frightful charnel
isles haggard maniacs screamed and gibbered and fought among the torn remnants
of their grisly feasts; while on those which contained but clean-picked
bones they battled with one another, the weaker furnishing sustenance for
the stronger; or with clawlike hands clutched at the bloated bodies that
drifted down with the current.” (WM/1.)
“As we advanced up the river which winds
beneath the Golden Cliffs out of the bowels of the Moutains of Otz to mingle
its dark waters with the grim and mysterious Iss, the faint glow which
had appeared before us grew gradually into an all-enveloping radiance.”
After Carter and Woola are stymied by Matai Shang and Thurid at the Temple
of the Sun, they attempt to catch up again, their underground voyage taking
them in strange places:
“I have no stomach to narrate the monotonous
events of the tedious days that Woola and I spent ferreting our way across
the labyrinth of glass, through the dark and devious ways beyond that led
beneath the Valley Dor and Golden Cliffs to emerge at last upon the flank
of the Otz Mountains just above the Valley of Lost Souls – that pitiful
purgatory peopled by the poor unfortunates who dare not continue their
abandoned pilgrimage to Dor, or return to the various lands of the outer
world from whence they came.” (WM/4.)
This information tends to confirm our hunch that the sources of the River
Iss are underground rivers from melted ice caps or from excess irrigation
water. The priests of the Holy Therns are everywhere, and facilitate the
pilgrims’ voyage by providing the ancient skiffs at key points along the
above ground portion of the river. One of the places where the underground
water apparently pools is the great depression at the equator known as
the Kaolian Forest. Carter inadvertently discovers the forest when his
flier is incapacitated by a good shot from Thurid's flier:
“Slowly the stricken flier sank to the
ground, and when I had freed myself and Woola from the entangling wreckage
I found that we were upon the verge of a natural forest – so rare a thing
upon the bosom of dying Mars that, outside of the forest in the Valley
Dor beside the Lost Sea of Korus, I never before had seen its like upon
There must be an underground source of water for the swampy land to be
able to selfwater the crops. Could the River Iss pop up above ground somewhere
not far from here to the south? Our only clue, and it may be a false one,
is ERB’s omission of this area from his map.
“From books and travelers I had learned something
of the little-known land of Kaol, which lies along the equator almost halfway
round the planet to the east of Helium.
“It comprises a sunken area of extreme tropical
heat, and is inhabited by a nation of red men varying but little in manners,
customs, and appearance from the balance of the red men of Barsoom.
“I knew that they were among those of the outer
world who still clung tenaciously to the discredited religion of the Holy
Therns, and that Matai Shang would find a ready welcome and safe refuge
among them; while John Carter could look for nothing better than an ignoble
death at their hands.
“The isolation of the Kaolians is rendered almost
complete by the fact that no waterway connects their land with that of
any other nation, nor have they any need of a waterway since the low, swampy
land which comprises the entire area of their domain self-waters their
abundant tropical crops.” (WM/5.)
By the time he wrote Llana of Gathol twenty-seven years later, he seems
to have forgotten all about the forest of Kaol when he describes the lush
land of the Valley of the First Born in the Great Rift Valley:
“From our dizzy view on that precarious
trail we had an excellent view of the valley below. It was level and well
watered and the monotony of the scarlet grass which grows on Mars where
there is water, was broken by forests, the whole making an amazing sight
for one familiar with this dying planet.
We thus have evidence of underground water as far as the Valley of the
First Born in the northern hemisphere and at two places at the equator,
Kaol and Invak. But two locations in the southern hemisphere give the most
promising evidence of all: Tjanath and Ghasta.
“There are crops and trees and other vegetation
along the canals; there are lawns and gardens in the cities where irrigation
is available; but never have I seen a sight like this except in the Valley
Dor at the South Pole, where lies the Lost Sea of Korus. For here there
was not only a vast expanse of fertile valley but there were rivers and
least one lake which I could see in the distance; and then Llana called
our attention to a city, gleaming white, with lofty towers.” (LG/II-3.)
The reader will recall that after Hadron of Hastor rescues the masculine
woman, Tavia, from the Torquasian horde in A Fighting Man of Mars, he takes
her to Tjanath, where he is treated with suspicion and sentenced to die
The Death with Nur An. They are lowered in a metal cage through a hole
in the floor and dumped into an underground river:
“How far we were lowered thus I may not
even guess, but to Nur An it seemed at least a thousand feet, and then
we commenced to detect a slight luminosity about us. The moaning and the
groaning had become a constant roar. As we approached, it seemed less like
moans and groans and more like the sound of wind and rushing waters.
More clues follow as they come across the rotting harness and sword of
a dead warrior and then another harness and sword. They arm themselves
and later discover a huge pile of bones marking the lair of the great lizard.
They trod on and finally spot the light of day:
“Suddenly, without the slightest warning, the
bottom of the cage, which evidently must have been hinged upon one side,
swung downward. It happened so quickly that we hardly had time for conjecture
before we were plunged into rushing water.
“As I rose to the surface I discovered that I
could see. Wherever we were, it was not shrouded in impenetrable darkness,
but was lighted dimly.
“Almost immediately Nur An’s head bobbed up at
arm’s length from me. A strong current was bearing us onward and I realized
at once that we were in the grip of a great underground river, one of those
to which the remaining waters of dying Barsoom have receded. In the distance
I descried a shore-line dimly visible in the subdued light, and, shouting
to Nur An to follow me, I struck out towards it. The water was cold, but
not sufficiently so to alarm me and I had no doubt that we would reach
“By the time we had attained our goal and crawled
out upon the rocky shore, our eyes had become accustomed to the dim light
of the interior, and now, with astonishment, we gazed about us. What a
vast cavern! Far, far above us its ceiling was discernible in the light
of the minute radium particles with which the rock that formed its walls
and ceiling was impregnated, but the opposite bank of the rushing torrent
was beyond the range of our vision.
“‘So this is the The Death!’ exclaimed Nur An.
“‘I doubt if they know what it is themselves,’
I replied. ‘From the roaring of the river and the moaning of the wind,
they have conjured something horrible in their own imaginations.’
“‘Perhaps the greatest suffering that the victim
must endure lies in his anticipation of what awaits him in these unseemly
horrid depths,’ suggested Nur An, ‘whereas the worst that realization might
bring would be death by drowning.’
“‘Or by starvation,’ I suggested.
“Nur An nodded. ‘Nevertheless,’ he said, ‘I wish
I might return just long enough to mock them and witness their disappoinment
when they find that The Death is not so horrible after all.’
“‘What a mighty river!’ he added, after a moment’s
silence. ‘Could it be a tributary of Iss?’
“‘Perhaps it is Iss herself,’ I said.
“‘Then we are bound upon the last long pilgrimage
down to the lost sea of Korus in the valley Dor,” said Nur An gloomily.
‘It may be a lovely place, but I do not wish to go there yet.’” (FMM/7.)
“‘It is daylight,’ I exclaimed. ‘It is
The valley ends up being the inside of an ancient volcanic core. After
battling many giant spiders, they stumble upon the Spider Kingdom of Ghasta,
where they soon become prisoners. While there, Hadron learns more about
the mysterious river from one of the girls when he inquires about the source
of the gossamer-like silver fabric that he sees everywhere:
“‘It can be nothing else,’ he said.
“There, far ahead of us, lay a great archway of
light. That was all that we could see from the point at which we discovered
it, but now we hastened on almost at a run, so anxious were we for a solution,
so hopeful that it was indeed the sunlight and that in some inexplicable
and mysterious way the river had found its way to the surface of Barsoom.
I knew that this could not be true and Nur An knew it, and yet each knew
how great his disappointment would be when the true explanation of the
phenomenon was revealed.
“When we approached the great patch of light it
became more and more evident that the river had broken from its dark cavern
out into the light of day, and when we reached the edge of that mighty
portal we looked out upon a scene that filled our hearts with warmth and
gladness, for there, stretching before us, lay a valley – a small valley
it is true – a valley hemmed in, as far as we could see, by mighty cliffs,
but yet a valley of life and fertility and beauty bathed in the hot light
of the sun.
“‘It is not quite the surface of Barsoom,’ said
Nur An, ‘but it is the next best thing.’
“‘And there must be a way out,’ I said. ‘There
must be. If there is not, we will make one.’
“Right you are, Hadron of Hastor,’ he cried. ‘We
will make a way. Come!’
“Before us the banks of the roaring river were
lined with lush vegetation; great trees raised their leafy branches far
above the waters; the brilliant, scarlet sward was lapped by the little
wavelets and everywhere bloomed gorgeous flowers and shrubs of many hues
and shapes. Here was a vegetation such as I had never seen before upon
the surface of Barsoom. Here were forms similar to those which I was familiar
and others totally unknown to me, yet all were lovely, though some were
“Emerging, as we had, from the dark and gloomy
bowels of the earth, the scene before us presented a view of wondrous beauty,
and, while doubtless enhanced by contrast, it was nevertheless such an
aspect as is seldom given to the eyes of a Barsoomian of today to view.
To me it seemed a little garden spot upon a dying world preserved from
an ancient era when Barsoom was young and meteorological conditions were
such as to favor the growth of vegetation that has long since become extinct
over practically the entire area of the planet. In this deep valley, surrounded
by lofty cliffs, the atmosphere doubtless was considerably denser than
upon the surface of the planet above. The sun’s rays were reflected by
the lofty escarpment, which must also hold the heat during the colder periods
of night, and, in addition to this, there was ample water for irrigation
which nature might easily have achieved through percolation of the waters
of the river through and beneath the top soil of the valley.” (FMM/7.)
“‘When you entered the valley Hohr,’
she said, ‘you saw a beautiful forest, running down to the banks of the
river Syl. Doubtless you saw fruit in the forest, and, being hungry, you
sought to gather it, but you were set upon by huge spiders that sped along
silver threads, finer than a woman’s hair.’
And that about wraps up the relevant information we can glean from the
Barsoomian Mythos regarding the location of the River Iss.
“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that is just what happened.’
“‘It is from this web, spun by those hideous spiders,
that we weave our fabric. It is as strong as leather and as enduring as
the rocks of which Ghasta is built.’
“‘Do women of Ghasta spin this wonderful fabric?’
“‘The slaves,’ she said, ‘both men and women.’
“‘And from whence come your slaves,’ I asked,
‘if you have no intercourse with the upper world?’
“‘Many of them come down the river from Tjanath,
where they have died The Death, and there are others who come from further
up the river, but why they come from whence we never know. They are silent
people, who will not tell us, and sometimes they come from down the river;
but these are few and usually are so crazed by the horrors of their journey
that we can glean no knowledge from them.’
“‘And do any ever go on down the river from Ghasta?’
I asked; for it was in that direction that Nur An and I hoped that we might
make our way in search of liberty, as deep within me was the hope that
we might reach the valley Dor and the lost sea of Korus, from which I was
convinced I could escape, as did John Carter and Tars Tarkas.
“‘A few, perhaps,’ she said, ‘but we never know
what becomes of these, for none returns.’” (FMM/8.)
Even though the Ghastans call the river “Syl,” this makes no difference
to Hadron because the Ghastans appear to be totally ignorant of the Religion
of Issus. Hadron still believes it is the River Iss. The girl’s description
of the hapless pilgrims who are silent about their voyage, and the traumatized
victims who return, all but give it away. The River Iss makes an above
ground appearance in Ghasta like it did in the canyon in the Otz Valley.
Thus it appears that we can reasonably surmise that all sections of the
river that are above ground appear in locations that are sunk deep beneath
the normal surface of the planet.
This proves to be true for the Valley of the First Born and the Kaoloian
forest, which are both depressions in the surface of the planet. We are
not told if the Forest of Lost Men surrounding Invak was sunken, so this
might be the exception to the rule. Thus, the reason why the Iss is so
hard to find is because it mainly flows underground, percolating to the
surface in deep rifts and valleys.
Depending on where you locate Kaol on the equator, it appears to be
to the south of the Great Rift of the First Born, and north of Tjanath
and Ghasta. Thus, we may trace its largely underground route through these
territories before the river emerges long enough above ground after traveling
through Ghasta to enable the Therns to provide the boats for pilgrimage.
As you can see by the artists’ depictions, the Iss can practically be anywhere
you want it to be within certain parameters.
And there you have it, ERB’s
River of Iss:
the Thirteenth Runner-Up in the Seven
Wonders of Barsoom!
BARSOOMIAN GREEN MEN and TARS TARKAS ART
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