Carter has just escaped from the captivity of Zat Arras,
Jed of Zodanga, and acting Jeddak of Helium. He is pleased to know that
Zat Arras did not learn of the conspiracy he made with his trusted companions
to rescue Dejah Thoris, and finds that the detailed plans to carry that
rescue out are well on their way to accomplishing this goal when he is
delivered from the pits by Carthoris, his son.
But first, let’s correct my really lame and chronologically
incorrect deduction that the jewelled short-sword that Carter took from
a northern jeddak could have possibly come from Salensus Oll, Jeddak of
Kadabra, since that person and nation are not mentioned until the next
installment of the Barsoomian Mythos, at the end of The
Warlord of Mars. My bad. Thus, a potential story during the lost John
Carter ten-year-period he lived as a Prince of Helium before the disaster
– never adequately explained – occurred at the atmosphere factory,
would hypothetically deal with a conflict with a northern
jeddak where somehow the rivalary of Carter and Zat Arras first came into
play. That would constitute a legitimate story in the Barsoomian Mythos,
if such things can ever be determined.
But enough of that. Carter’s companions are waiting for
him at his palace. He wastes no time in recounting his imprisonment as
he gets up to speed.
“‘It has taken much longer
than we had expected,’ replied Kantos Kan.
Note how ERB already imagined in 1912 ships as platforms
for an extension of air power, the Barsoomian battleship being the aircraft
carrier in this situation. Automobiles, airplanes, and electrical lighting
were all relatively new inventions at the time. This was real
‘The fact that we were compelled
to maintain utter secrecy has handicapped us terribly. Zat Arras’ spies
are everywhere. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, no word of our real plans
has reached the villain’s ear.
“‘Tonight there lies about the great
docks of Hastor a fleet of a thousand of the mightiest battleships that
ever sailed above Barsoom, and each equipped to navigate the air of Omean
and the waters of Omean itself. Upon each battleship there are five ten-men
cruisers, and ten five-man scouts, and a hundred one-man scouts; in all,
one hundred and sixteen thousand craft fitted with both air and water propellers.”
cutting-edge technology for the imagination at the time.
No wonder ERB's readers ate it up with relish.
“‘At Thark lie the transports
for the green warriors of Tars Tarkas, nine hundred large troop ships,
and with them their convoys. Seven days ago all was in readiness, but we
waited in the hope that by so doing your rescue might be encompassed in
time for you to command the expedition. It is well we waited, my Prince.’
Carter orders a secret search and discovers that half of
the guards at the gate were Therns disguised as Red men. The expedition
departs to Hastor in haste, hoping to prevent the Therns from cutting them
off at the southern ice cap. The second large-scale air battle in the Mythos
“‘How is it, Tars Tarkas,’ I asked,
‘that the men of Thark take not the accustomed action against one who returns
from the bosom of Iss?’
“‘They sent a council of fifty chieftans
to talk with me here,’ replied the Thark. ‘We are a just people, and when
I had told them the entire story they were as one man in agreeing that
their action toward me would be guided by the action of Helium toward John
Carter. In the meantime, at their request, I was to resume my throne as
Jeddak of Thark, that I might negotiate with neighboring hordes for warriors
to compose the land forces of the expedition. I have done that which I
agreed. Two hundred and fifty thousand fighting-men, gathered from the
ice cap at the north to the ice cap at the south, and representing a thousand
different communities, from a hundred wild and warlike hordes, fill the
great city of Thark tonight. They are ready to sail for the Land of the
First Born when I give the word and fight there until I bid them stop.
All they ask is the loot they take and transportation to their own territories
when the fighting and the looting are over. I
“‘And thou, Hor Vastus,’ I asked,
‘what has been thy success?’
“‘A million veteran fighting-men
from Helium’s thin waterways man the battleships, the transports, and the
convoys,’ he replied. ‘Each is sworn to loyalty and secrecy, nor were enough
recruited from a single district to cause suspicion.’
“‘Good!’ I cried. ‘Each has done
his duty, and now, Kantos Kan, may we not repair at once to Hastor and
get under way before tomorrow’s sun?’
“‘We should lose no time, Prince,’
replied Kantos Kan. ‘Already the people of Hastor are questioning the purpose
of so great a fleet fully manned with fighting-men. I wonder much that
word of it has not reached Zat Arras. A cruiser waits at your own dock;
let us leave at –’ A fussilade of shots from the palace gardens just without
cut short his further words.
“Together we rushed to the balcony
in time to see a dozen members of my palace guard disappear in the shadows
of some distant shrubbery as in pursuit of one who fled. Directly beneath
us upon the scarlet sward a handful of guardsmen were stooping above a
still and prostrate form.
“While we watched they lifted the
figure in their arms and at my command bore it to the audience chamber
where we had been in council. When they stretched the body at our feet
we saw that it was that of a red man in the prime of life – his metal was
plain, such as common soldiers wear, or those who wish to conceal their
“‘Another of Zat Arras’ spies,’
said Hor Vastus.
“‘So it would seem,’ I replied,
and then to the guard: ‘You may remove the body.’
“Wait!’ said Xodar. ‘If you will,
Prince, ask that a cloth and a little thoat oil be brought.’
“I nodded to one of the soldiers,
who left the chamber, returning presently with the things that Xodar had
requested. The black kneeled beside the body, dipping a corner of the cloth
in the thoat oil, rubbed for a moment on the dead face before him. Then
he turned to me with a smile, pointing to his work. I looked and saw where
Xodar had applied the thoat oil the face was white, as white as mine, and
then Xodar seized the black hair of the corpse and with a sudden wrench
tore it all away, revealing a hairless pate beneath.
“Guardsmen and nobles pressed close
about the silent witness upon the marble floor. Many were the exclamations
of astonishment and questioning wonder as Xodar’s acts confirmed the suspicion
which he had held.
“‘A thern!’ whispered Tars Tarkas.
“‘Worse than that, I fear,’ replied
Xodar. ‘But let us see.’
“With that he drew his dagger and
cut open a locked pouch which had dangled from the thern’s harness, and
from it he brought forth a circlet of gold set with a large gem – it was
the mate to that which I had taken from Sator Throg.
“‘He was a Holy Thern,’ said Xodar.
‘Fortunate indeed it is for us that he did not escape.’
“The officer of the guard entered
the chamber at this juncture.
“‘My Prince,’ he said, ‘I have to
report that this fellow’s companion escaped us. I think that it was with
the connivance of one or more of the men at the gate. I have ordered them
all under arrest.’” (GM/19.)
about to take place for the destiny of the planet.
“Two hours after leaving
my palace in Helium, or about midnight, Kantos Kan, Xodar, and I arrived
at Hastor. Carthoris, Tars Tarkas, and Hor Vastus had gone directly to
Thark upon another cruiser.
Of course, all of this melodramatic thinking is nothing but
mental masturbation since in the past ten years Carter has reacclimatized
to the Earthly calendar. But this is really just another one of ERB’s trademark
cliffhanger techniques to build suspense. He usually does this by having
Carter or another character be the last to know something that the reader
has long known, like the identity of Carthoris, that took Carter forever
to discover in one of the most clueless episodes of the entire Mythos.
But back to the story.
“The transports were to get under
way immediately and move slowly south. The fleet of battleships would overtake
them on the morning of the second day.
“At Hastor we found all in readiness,
and so perfectly had Kantos Kan planned every detail of the campaign that
within ten minutes of our arrival the first of the fleet had soared aloft
from its dock, and thereafter, at the rate of one a second, the great ships
floated gracefully out into the night to form a long, thin line which stretched
for miles toward the south.
“It was not until after we had entered
the cabin of Kantos Kan that I thought to ask the date, for up to now I
was not positive how long I had lain in the pits of Zat Arras. When Kantos
Kan told me, I realized with a pang of dismay that I had misreckoned the
time while I lay in the utter darkness of my cell. Three hundred and sixty-five
days had passed – it was too late to save Dejah Thoris.
“The expedition was no longer one
of rescue but of revenge. I did not remind Kantos Kan of the terrible fact
that ere we could hope to enter the Temple of Issus, the Princess of Helium
would be no more. In so far as I knew she might be already dead, for I
did not know the exact date on which she first viewed Issus.
“What now the value of burdenging
my friends with my added personal sorrows – they had shared quite enough
of them with me in the past. Hereafter I would keep my grief to myself,
and so I said nothing to any other of the fact that we were too late. The
expedition could not yet do much if it could but teach the people of Barsoom
the facts of the cruel deception that had been worked upon them for countless
ages, and thus save thousands each year from the horrid fate that awaited
them at the conclusion of the voluntary pilgrimage.
“If it could open to the red men
the fair Valley Dor it would have accomplished much, and in the Land of
Lost Souls between the Mountains of Otz and the ice barrier were many broad
acres that needed no irrigation to bear rich harvests.
“Here at the bottom of a dying world
was the only naturally productive area upon its surface. Here alone were
dews and rains, here alone was an open sea, here was water in plenty; and
all this was but the stamping ground of fierce brutes and from its beauteous
and fertile expanse the wicked remnants of two once mighty races barred
all the other millions of Barsoom. Could I but succeed in once breaking
down the barrier of religious superstition which had kept the red races
from this El Dorado it would be a fitting memorial to the immortal virtues
of my Princess – I should have again served Barsoom and Dejah Thoris’ martyrdom
would not have been in vain.” (GM/20.)
“On the morning of the
second day we raised the great fleet of transports and their consorts at
the first flood of dawn, and were soon near enough to exchange signals.
I may mention here that radio-aerograms are seldom if ever used in wartime,
or for the transmission of secret dispatches at any time, for as often
as one nation discovers a new cipher, or invents a new instrument for wireless
purposes its neighbors bend every effort until they are able to intercept
and translate the messages. For so long a time has this gone on that practically
every possibility of wireless communication has been exhausted and no nation
dares transmit dispatches of importance in this way.” (GM/20.)
The Nazis and Japanese were slow to learn this lesson, and
they paid dearly for it.
“Tars Tarkas reported all
well with the transports. The battleships passed through to take an advanced
position, and the combined fleets moved slowly over the ice cap, hugging
the surface closely to prevent detection by the therns whose land we were
For all of you thinkers out there, the question of how could
the Therns have such a great air fleet and not discover the Temple of Issus
or the First Born in Valley Dor? – must have come to mind by now. We know
from Thuvia that their palaces and temples and gardens overlook the
“Far in advance of all a thin line
of one-man air scouts protected us from surprise, and on either side they
flanked us, while a smaller number brought up the rear some twenty miles
behind the transports. In this formation we had progressed toward the entrance
to Omean for several hours when one of our air scouts returned from the
front to report that the cone-like summit of the entrance was in sight.
At almost the same instant another scout from the left flank came racing
toward the flagship.
“His very speed bespoke the importance
of his information. Kantos Kan and I awaited him upon the little forward
deck which corresponds with the bridge of earthly battleships. Scarcely
had his tiny flier come to rest upon the broad landing-deck of the flagship
ere he was bounding up the stairway to the deck where we stood.
“‘A great fleet of battleships south-south-east,
my Prince,’ he cried.
‘There must be several thousands
and they are bearing down directly upon us.’
“The thern spies were not in the
palace of John Carter for nothing,’ said Kantos Kan to me. ‘Your orders,
outer slopes of the Otz Mountains:
“‘The Holy Therns abide
upon the outer slopes of these grim hills, facing the broad world from
which they harvest their victims and their spoils.’” (GM/4.)
Thus, some kind of taboo must be in operation regarding the
Valley inside the inner slopes. We know that the caretaker overlooking
the mouth of the River Iss in the balcony in the Golden Cliffs calls the
Plant Men to their grisly feast when a new batch of pilgrims are
perceived. After the Plant Men have drained their victims
of their blood, some kind of Thern patrol would have to be organized to
bring the drained bodies in for meal preparation. But that appears to the
be the limit of Thern access to Valley Dor. Otherwise, they would have
to be total idiots not to have ever discovered the Temple of Issus by the
time of our story. Anyway, Carter is quick to give orders for the air battle.
“‘Dispatch ten battleships
to guard the entrance to Omean, with orders to let no hostile vessel enter
or leave the shaft. That will bottle up the great fleet of the First Born.
I know what you are thinking: after all of this planning,
what is going to go wrong? I believe ERB was counting on this, and thus
he chose not to let anything go wrong.
“‘Form the balance of the battleships
into a great V with the apex pointing directly south-south-east. Order
the transports, surrounded by their convoys, to follow closely in the wake
of the battleships until the point of the V has entered the enemies’ line,
then the V must open outward at the apex, the battleships of each leg engage
the enemy fiercely and drive him back to form a lane through his line into
which the transports with their convoys must race at top speed that they
may gain a position above the temples and gardens of the therns.
“‘Here let them land and teach the
Holy Therns such a lesson in ferocious warfare as they will not forget
for countless ages. It had not been my intention to be distracted from
the main issue of the campaign, but we must settle this attack with the
therns once and for all, or there will be no peace for us while our fleet
remains near Dor, and our chances of ever returning to the outer world
will greatly minimized.’
“Kantos Kan saluted and turned to
deliver my instructions to his waiting aides. In an incredibly short space
of time the formation of the battleships changed in accordance with my
commands, the ten that were to guard the way to Omean were speeding toward
their destination, and the troopships and convoys were closing up in preparation
for the spurt through the lane.” (GM/20.)
“The order for full speed
ahead was given, the first fleet sprang through the air like coursing greyhounds,
and in another moment the ships of the enemy were in full view. They formed
a ragged line as far as the eye could reach in either direction and about
three ships deep. So sudden was our onslaught that they had no time to
prepare for it. It was as unexpected as lightning from a clear sky.
Well, almost every phase of Carter’s plan worked perfectly.
He forgot one thing: Zat Arras and the Revenge of Zodanga!
“Every phase of my plan worked splendidly.
Our huge ships mowed their way entirely through the line of thern battlecraft;
then the V opened up and a broad lane appeared through which the transports
leaped toward the temples of the therns which could now be plainly seen
glistening in the sunlight. By the time the therns had rallied from the
attack a hundred thousand green warriors were already pouring through their
courts and gardens, while a hundred and fifty thousand others leaned from
low swinging transports to direct their almost uncanny marksmanship upon
the thern soldiery that manned the ramparts, or attempted to defend the
“Now the two great fleets closed
in a titanic struggle far above the fiendish din of battle in the gorgeous
gardens of the therns. Slowly the two lines of Helium’s battleships joined
their ends, and then commenced the circling within the line of the enemy
which is so marked a characteristic of Barsoomian naval warfare.
“Around and around in each other’s
tracks moved the ships under Kantos Kan, until at length they formed nearly
a perfect circle. By this time they were moving at high speed so that they
presented a difficult target for the enemy. Broadside after broadside they
delivered as each vessel came in the line with the ships of the therns.
The latter attempted to rush in and break up the formation, but it was
like stopping a buzz saw with the bare hand.
“From my position on the deck beside
Kantos Kan I saw ship after ship of the enemy take the awful, sickening
dive which proclaims its total destruction. Slowly we maneuvered our circle
of death until we hung above the gardens where our green warriors were
engaged. The order was passed down for them to embark. Then they rose slowly
to a position within the center of the circle.
“In the meantime the therns’ fire
had practically ceased. They had had enough of us and were only too glad
to let us go on our way in peace. But our escape was not to be encompassed
with such ease, for scarcely had we gotten under way once more in the direction
of the entrance to Omean than we saw far to the north a great black line
topping the horizon. It could be nothing other than a fleet of war.” (GM/20.)
“Whose or whither bound,
we could not even conjecture. When they had come close enough to make us
out at all, Kantos Kan’s operator received a radioaerogram, which he immediately
handed to my companion. He read the thing and handed it to me.
What ERB is doing is giving us a preview of World War One,
a truly planetary conflict on Barsoom for the fate of the world. And this
is how Zodanga’s power comes to an end: with a bang, not a whimper.
“‘Kantos Kan:’ it read. ‘Surrender,
in the name of the Jeddak of Helium, for you cannot escape,’ and it was
signed, ‘Zat Arras.’
“The therns must have caught and
translated the message almost as soon as we did, for they immediately renewed
hostilities when they realized that we were soon to be set upon by other
“Before Zat Arras had approached
near enough to fire a shot we were again hotly engaged with the thern fleet,
and as soon as he drew near he too commenced to pour a terrific fussilade
of heavy shot into us. Ship after ship reeled and staggered into uselessness
beneath the pitiless fire that we were undergoing.
“The thing could not last much longer.
I ordered the transports to descend again into the gardens of the therns.
“‘Wreak your vengeance to the utmost,’
was my message to the green allies, ‘for by night there will be none left
to avenge your wrongs.’
“Presently I saw the ten battleships
that had been ordered to hold the shaft of Omean. They were returning at
full speed, firing their stern batteries almost continuously. There could
be but one explanation. They were being pursued by another hostile fleet.”
“Well, the situation could
be no worse. The expedition already was doomed. No man that had embarked
upon it would return across that dreary ice cap. How I wished that I might
face Zat Arras with my long-sword for just an instant before I died! It
was he who had caused our failure.
It is amazing how many times Carter spirals into a mental
state of gloom and doom only to be revived by his old dauntless hopefulness.
It is almost bipolar. Again, I believe ERB was writing from hard experience
in his own life when sharing these feelings. They give Carter some
“As I watched the oncoming ten I
saw their pursuers race swiftly into sight. It was another great fleet;
for a moment I could not believe my eyes, but finally I was forced to admit
that the most fatal calamity had overtaken the expedition, for the fleet
I saw was none other than the fleet of the First Born, that should have
been safely bottled up in Omean. What a series of misfortunes and disasters!
What awful fate hovered over me, that I should have been so terribly thwarted
at every angle for my search for my lost love! Could it be possible that
the curse of Issus was upon me! That there was, indeed, some malign divinity
in that hideous carcass! I would not believe it, and, throwing back my
shoulders, I ran to the deck below to join my men in repelling boarders
from one of the thern craft that had grappled us broadside. In the wild
lust of hand-to-hand combat my old dauntless hopefulness returned. And
as thern after thern went down beneath my blade, I could almost feel that
we should win success in the end, even from apparent failure.” (GM/20.)
moral and mental depth that otherwise superheroes seem
“My presence among the
men so greatly inspirited them that they fell upon the luckless whites
with such terrible ferocity that within a few moments we had turned the
tables upon them and a second later as we swarmed their own decks I had
the satisfaction of seeing their commander take the long leap from the
bows of his vessel in token of surrender and defeat.
Of course, that is not the end of the battle to rescue Dejah
Thoris, who, of course, is still alive because the Martian year is longer
than the Earthly year. After all of the hard work and danger of the rescue
expedition, Issus seals the Princess in the sadistic Temple of the Sun
with Thuvia and Phaidor and the adventure continues in The Warlord
of Mars. But as for Zodanga, she will never be as great as she
was in her demise under Zat Arras. From now on, individual citizens of
Zodanga will be in the spotlight as we conclude our treatment of the glory
that was once Zodanga in our next installment.
“Then I joined Kantos Kan. He had
been watching what had been taking place on the deck below, and it seemed
to have given him a new thought. Immediately he passed an order to one
of his officers, and presently the colors of the Prince of Helium broke
from every point of the flagship. A great cheer arose from the men of our
own ship, a cheer that was taken up by every other vessel of our expedition
as they in turn broke my colors from their upper works.
“Then Kantos Kan sprang his coup.
A signal legilble to every sailor of all the fleets engaged in that fierce
sruggle was strung aloft the flagship.
“‘Men of Helium for the Prince of
Helium against all his enemies,’ it read. Presently my colors broke from
one of Zat Arras’ ships. Then from another and another. On some we could
see fierce battles waging between the Zodangan soldiery and the Heliumetic
crews, but eventually the colors of the Prince of Helium floated above
every ship that had followed Zat Arras upon our trail – only his flagship
flew them not.
“Zat Arras had brought five thousand
ships. The sky was black with the three enormous fleets. It was Helium
against the field now, and the fight had settled to countless individual
duels. There could be little or no maneuvering of fleets in that crowded,
“Zat Arras’ flagship was close to
my own. I could see the thin features of the man from where I stood. His
Zodangan crew was pouring broadside after broadside into us and we were
returning their fire with equal ferocity. Closer and closer came the two
vessels until but a few yards intervened. Grapplers and boarders lined
the contiguous rails of each. We were preparing for the death struggle
with our hated enemy.
“There was but a yard between the
two mighty ships as the first grappling irons were hurled. I rushed to
the deck to be with my men as they boarded. Just as the vessels came together
with a slight shock, I forced myself through the lines and was the first
to spring to the deck of Zat Arras’ ship. After me poured a yelling, cheering,
cursing throng of Helium’s best fighting men. Nothing could withstand them
in the fever of battle lust which enthralled them.
“Down went the Zodangans before
that surging tide of war, and as my men cleared the lower decks I sprang
to the forward deck where stood Zat Arras.
“‘You are my prisoner, Zat Arras,’
I cried. ‘Yield and you shall have quarter.’
“For a moment I could not tell whether
he contemplated acceding to my demand or facing me with drawn sword. For
an instant he stood hesitating, and then throwing down his arms he turned
and rushed to the opposite side of of the deck. Before I could overtake
him he had sprung to the rail and hurled himself headforemost into the
awful depths below.
“And thus came Zat Arras, Jed of
Zodanga, to his end.” (GM/20.)