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
“‘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 is
“‘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
“‘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
“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 identity.
“‘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
“‘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.’”
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
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
“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 approaching.
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, Prince.’” (GM/20.)
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
“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
“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 enemies.
“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
“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.” (GM/20.)
“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 to lack.
“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
“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, fire-split
“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
“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
“And thus came Zat Arras, Jed of Zodanga, to his