A READERS' COMPANION TO THE BARSOOMIAN
THE EPIPHANIES OF JOHN CARTER
THE FAKE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF
The Seventeenth Runner-Up in the Seven
Wonders of Barsoom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
THE SECOND EPIPHANY
We turn now to the hardback edition of The Gods of Mars,
published on September 28, 1919, by A.C. McClurg – first published in the
January-May 1913 editions of All-Story (see ERBzine
#0423) – for the newly added Foreword, to which the readers of the
pulp magazine didn’t have access. The Foreword either contains inadvertent
mistakes, or clues to mysteries ERB wanted the reader to solve, which was
one of his favorite pastimes. The first one can be found at the beginning
of the third paragraph. See if you can guess why. Remember, the last time
John Carter allegedly died from the fake ERB's point of view, was on March
“Twelve years had passed since I had
laid the body of my great-uncle, Captain John Carter, of Virginia, away
from the sight of men in that strange mausoleum in the old cemetary at
We learn that ERB had a good reason for calling Carter “Uncle Jack,” for
we now learn that Carter was ERB’s “great-uncle.” And did you catch the
admission of guilt? If you recall, the instructions called for the manuscript
being left sealed and “unread,” just as he found it, for eleven years,
to wit, until March 4, 1897. Yet, here we are told, sometime in 1898 –
twelve years after March 4, 1886 – that he had read the manuscript almost
immediately after receiving it.
“Often had I pondered on the odd instructions
he had left me governing the construction of his mighty tomb, and especially
those parts which directed that he be laid in an open casket and that the
ponderous mechanism which controlled the bolts of the vault’s huge door
be accessible only from the inside.
“Twelve years had passed since I had read the
remarkable manuscript of this remarkable man; this man who remembered no
childhood and who could not even offer a vague guess as to his age; who
was always young and yet who had dandled my grandfather’s great-grandfather
upon his knee; this man who had spent ten years upon the planet Mars; who
had fought for the green men of Barsoom and fought against them; who had
fought for and against the red men and who had won the ever beautiful Dejah
Thoris, Princess of Helium, for his wife, and for nearly ten years had
been a prince of the house of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium.” (GM/Foreword.)
Perhaps the fake ERB figured out a way of justifying this in his fake
mind so he could still state that he had performed his duty with absolute
fidelity; perhaps something like, “there may be something in there that
may require immediate emergency attention.” That’s always a good one in
the clinch. Ask any law enforcement officer.
“Twelve years had passed since his body
had been found upon the bluff before his cottage overlooking the Hudson,
and oft-times during these long years I had wondered if John Carter were
really dead, or if he again roamed the dead sea bottoms of that dying planet;
if he had returned to Barsoom to find that he had opened the frowning portals
of the mighty atmosphere plant in time to save the countless millions who
were dying of asphyxiation on that far-gone day that had seen him hurtled
ruthlessly through forty-eight million miles of space back to Earth once
more. I had wondered if he had found his black-haired Princess and the
slender son he had dreamed was with her in the royal gardens of Tardos
Mors, awaiting his return.
Just to keep ourselves oriented in imaginary time, the fake ERB received
this telegram sometime in August, 1898. This is actually a year after he
was supposed to read the manuscript.
“Or, had he found that he had been too late,
and thus gone back to a living death upon a dead world? Or was he really
dead after all, never to return either to his mother Earth or his beloved
“Thus was I lost in useless speculation one sultry
August evening when old Ben, my body servant, handed me a telegram. Tearing
it open I read:
“‘Meet me tomorrow hotel Raleigh Richmond.
Note the presence of “old Ben.” One can easily surmise that old Ben
had once been one of ERB’s slaves in the good old days of State’s Rights.
Now he had to be satisfied as being known as ERB’s body servant.
Was ERB worried that Carter might rebuke him for reading the manuscript
too early? After all, no one else was to know of the manuscript for twenty-one
years after March 4, 1886, to wit, until March 4, 1907, which would be
a little under nine more years in the future. Well, he is about to find
“Early the next morning I took the first
train for Richmond and within two hours was being ushered into the room
occupied by John Carter.
Okay, let’s do a fact check on that last one. In the imaginary time of
the Foreword, it is August 1898. We know from the first Foreword that ERB
had first remembered Carter in December 1860 or January 1861, a few months
before the outbreak of the civil war. Thus 1898 minus “nearly” 35 years
ago – which would be just short of 35 – would place the time in 1864, three
years longer than stated in the first Foreword. To be exact, however, it
was over 37 years earlier since Carter disappeared from the young ERB’s
life shortly after the war started in April 1861. Personally, I think this
was a common error ERB made, with nothing of significance to it.
“As I entered he rose to greet me, his old-time
cordial smile of welcome lighting his handsome face. Apparently he had
not aged a minute, but was still the straight, clean-limbed fighting-man
of thirty. His keen gray eyes were undimmed, and the only lines upon his
face were the lines of iron character and determination that always had
been there since first I remembered him, nearly thirty-five years before.”
If he was like me, ERB just made stupid mistakes when it came to math.
“‘Well, nephew,’ he greeted me, ‘do you feel as though you
are seeing a ghost, or suffering from the effects of too many of Uncle
Ben’s mint juleps.’
Now, there is no epiphany or Foreword in the next two installments of the
Barsoomian Mythos, but there is information in this epiphany that lends
belief to the idea that the notes Carter gives to ERB contain much more
information than appears in The Gods of Mars or The Warlord of
Mars. There is no epiphany either in Thuvia, Maid of Mars, the
fourth book in the Mythos.
“‘Juleps, I reckon,’ I replied, ‘for I certainly feel mighty good;
but maybe it’s just the sight of you again that affects me. You have been
back to Mars? Tell me. And Dejah Thoris? You found her well and awaiting
“‘Yes, I have been to Barsoom again, and – but it’s a long story, too
long to tell in the limited time I have before I must return. I have learned
the secret, nephew, and I may traverse the trackless void at my will, coming
and going between the countless planets as I list; but my heart is always
in Barsoom, and while it is there in the keeping of my Martian Princess,
I doubt that I shall ever again leave the dying world that is my life.’”
We don’t get another epiphany – the Third One – until the Prelude in
the fifth book of the series, The Chessmen of Mars. So, all of the
information before then must have been in the information conveyed in this,
the second, epiphany. Anyway, this assumption makes things a lot easier
“‘I have come now because my affection
for you prompted me to see you once more before you pass over for ever
into that other life that I shall never know, and which though I have died
thrice and shall die again tonight, as you know death, I am as unable to
fathom as are you.
Thus, he died for the third time on Mars in order to come back to Earth.
He must die again in order to return to Barsoom. He died on Mars and returned
to Earth three months prior to meeting the fake ERB at the hotel Raleigh
in Richmond. We assume that Carter had some sort of means, likely stored
in his tomb, that would have allowed him a means of income during this
three month period, since otherwise ERB had control of his old assets,
and he wasn’t aware that Carter had returned to Earth since he received
the telegram in August 1898.
“‘Even the wise and mysterious therns of Barsoom,
that ancient cult which for countless ages has been credited with holding
the secret of life and death in their impregnable fortresses upon the hither
slopes of the Mountains of Otz, are as ignorant as we, I have proved it,
though I near lost my life in the doing of it; but you shall read it all
in the notes I have been making during the last three months that I have
been back upon Earth.’” (GM/Foreword.)
Anyway, ERB is about discover an enormous amount of evidence indicating
that John Carter is a divine being, being unconsciously controlled by the
higher powers of fate. Carter has specifically returned to reveal this
evidence to ERB.
“He patted a swelling portfolio that
lay on the table at his elbow.
Here we see the development of a pseudo-religious belief system, where
those that believe in the Barsoomian Mythos are true believers and Chosen
Ones. We will see this belief system at its highest in The Master Mind
of Mars, where Ulysses Paxton is resurrected from a WWI battlefield
in France to the garden of the mad scientist Ras Thavas on Mars. And all
because of Paxton’s belief in John Carter and Barsoom, and, of course,
in the God of War.
“‘I know that you are interested and that you
believe, and I know that the world, too, is interested, though they will
not believe for many years; yes, for many ages, since they cannot understand.
Earth men have not yet progressed to a point where they can comprehend
the things that I have written in those notes.
“‘Give them what you wish of it, what you think
will not harm them, but do not feel aggrieved if they laugh at you.’” (GM/Forword.)
“That night I walked down to the cemetery
with him. At the door of his vault he turned and pressed my hand.
The “much” that ERB has left out in Gods and Warlord gives
him the artistic leeway to write about Thuvia and Carthoris, John Carter’s
son, later in the fourth book of the series, Thuvia, Maid of Mars.
At least that is how I see it. I think this idea pans out for the reason
that ERB wrote a glossary
for the end of Thuvia before he conceived the epiphanies and fake biographies.
Thuvia first appeared in pulp in All-Story in 1914 (see ERBzine
“‘Goodbye, nephew,’ he said. ‘I may never see
you again, for I doubt that I can ever bring myself to leave my wife and
boy while they live, and the span of life upon Barsoom is often more than
a thousand years.’
“He entered the vault. The great door swung slowly
to. The ponderous bolts grated into place. The lock clicked. I have never
seen Captain John Carter, of Virginia, since.
“But here is the story of his return to Mars
on that other occasion, as I have gleaned it from the great mass of notes
which he left for me upon the table of his room in the hotel at Richmond.
“There is much which I have left out; much which
I have not dared to tell; but you will find the story of his second search
for Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, even more remarkable than was his
first manuscript which I gave to an unbelieving world a short time since
and through which we followed the fighting Virginian across dead sea bottoms
under the moons of Mars.
The First Epiphany appeared in the 1917 Foreword to the hardcover of
This shows a conscious early development of the Mythos, which was later
embellished, adding depth by means of the epiphanies and fake biographies.
Also, as we learn in the Third Epiphany, ERB had learned the secret
of astral traveling with clothing and accoutrements from Kar Komak, the
Lotharian bow man, and since he had somehow learned to travel by will alone
before this, as he explained to ERB in his Second Epiphany, he might have
learned this also from Kar Komak. It is reasonable speculation. Let us
now go on to our next epiphany.
THE THIRD EPIPHANY
From 1914 to 1921, except for new material in the hardback Forewords,
ERB turned his back on Barsoom. That’s seven years. Why did he feel he
had to return to the peep show during this period? Well, this was the year
he wrote his Lust Trilogy. Something was turning him on, and I have already
given my reason in the Introduction to “Ghek’s Manatorian Mind-Games,”
(ERBzine # 3903).
ERB titles this epiphany as “John Carter Comes to Earth.” Could it be
that this epiphany of John Carter was linked to ERB’s love life? That it
was some kind of secret code to his discerning readers, like the amount
of stars on the Playboy logo indicated, according to urban legend, the
amount of times Hugh Hefner shagged the Playmate of the Month? Anyway,
we the readers are grateful for the creation of Tara of Helium, regardless
of who was the inspiration behind the sexy Princess.
The Prelude is also ERB’s way of setting the reader up for his new creation:
the board game of Jetan, to wit, Martian chess. I have no idea if the Prelude
was part of the Argosy All-Story Weekly pulp magazine from February to
March 1922, but it makes little difference since there was just a few months
before the pulp and the hardback edition, published by A.C. McClurg on
November 29, 1922. (See ERBzine
But both the Prelude and the story were written after 1917, when ERB
invented the First Epiphany and Fake Autobiography, so nothing is being
added that the reader is not already prepared for. A man named Shea appears
in this Prelude, and it is my understanding that he was an actual person
who worked at Rancho Tarzana, the mansion of which is subtly described
as background in this epiphany. I will highlight these descriptions to
make it easy.
“ Shea had just beaten me at chess, as
usual, and, also as usual, I had gleaned what questionable satisfaction
I might by twitting him with this indication of failing mentality by calling
his attention to the nth time to that theory, propounded by certain scientists,
which is based upon the assertion that the phenomenal chess players are
always found to be from the ranks of children under twelve, adults over
seventy-two or the mentally defective – a theory that is lightly ignored
upon those rare occasions that I win. Shea had gone to bed and I should
have followed suit, for we are always in the saddle here before sunrise;
but instead I sat there before the chess table in the library, idly blowing
smoke at the dishonored head of my defeated king.
Since by now, 1921, ERB was world famous and everyone knew he was living
at Rancho Tarzana, ERB made sure that the fake ERB was likely situated,
even though the ranch is never specifically mentioned. For a visual guide
of the sparse descriptions, check out tarzana.ca.
This is the first time ERB sees John Carter as he appears to the other
Martians on Barsoom. Except for his utilitarian harness, John Carter is
“While thus profitably employed I heard the east
door of the livingroom open and someone enter. I thought it was Shea returning
to speak with me on some matter of tomorrow’s work; but when I raised my
eyes to the doorway that connects the two rooms I saw there framed the
figure of a bronzed giant, his otherwise naked body trapped with jewel-encrusted
harness from which there hung at one side an ornate short-sword and at
the other a pistol of strange pattern. The black hair, the steely-gray
eyes, brave and smiling, the noble features – I recognized them at once,
and leaping to my feet I advanced with outstretched hand.” (CM/Prelude.)
Like the real ERB, who was not embarrassed by the male nude form, the
fake ERB takes little note of this fact, spending most of his time on the
short-sword and pistol. Note that in the narrative to come there is no
mention of the tomb back in the old cemetary back in Richmond. In fact,
the reader never hears of the body in the tomb again. Was the tomb empty?
Is this Easter Sunday for the fake ERB? Though there may be mischief here,
it has not been made obvious by any mention of the date.
“‘John Carter!’ I cried. ‘You?’
Of course, when you get older, it is natural to want to feel young again,
full of vigor. After all, that is why Viagra is so popular. So, its been
ten years in the real ERB’s career since he first took pen in hand to write
“Under the Moons of Mars,” meaning ERB is on the short of side of 50 years
old. Was he going through some sort of midlife crisis? He was in the perfect
area to have one, not far from Hollywood, but still far enough out in the
country to give him the illusion of being a rich landowner. He had a tendency
to forget that most of the money that kept him at the ranch was from Hollywood,
unless he had fallen love with a girl from Hollywood, as the novel he wrote
after Chessmen was titled.
“‘None other, my son,’ he replied, taking my
hand in one of his and placing the other upon my shoulder.
“‘And what are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘It
has been long years since you revisited Earth, and never before in the
trappings of Mars. Lord! but it is good to see you – a not a day older
in appearance than when you trotted me on your knee in my babyhood. How
do you explain it, John Carter, Warlord of Mars, or do you try to explain
“‘Why attempt to explain the inexplicable?’ he
replied. ‘As I have told you before, I am a very old man. I do not know
how old I am. I recall no childhood; but recollect only having been always
as you see me now and as you saw me first when you were five years old.
You, yourself, have aged, though not as much as most men in a corresponding
number of years, which may be accounted for by the fact that the same blood
runs in our veins; but I have not aged at all. I have discussed the question
with a noted Martian scientist, a friend of mine; but his theories are
still only theories. However, I am content with the fact – I never age,
and I love life and the vigor of youth.’” (CM/Prelude.)
As it turns out, both ERB and now John Carter both have daughters. We
learned of his son in Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Thuvia had been a Martian
Princess from Ptarth, but had been kidnapped by the Therns and made their
plaything for fifteen years before Carthoris married her.
But Tara, while she has much of the haughtiness of Thuvia – who didn’t
let the fact that she had been soiled for fifteen years get in the way
of resuming her role as a haughty Princess after being freed – is the daughter
of both John Carter and the incomparable Dejah Thoris, notorious for being
the most beautiful woman on the planet. Both of these daughters are precious
to their fathers, which becomes apparent as the narrative progresses:
“‘And now as to your natural question
as to what brings me to Earth again in this, to earthly eyes, strange habiliment.
We may thank Kar Komak, the bowman of Lothar. It was he who gave me the
idea upon which I have been experimenting until at last I have achieved
success. As you know I have long possessed the power to cross the void
in spirit, but never before have I been able to impart to inanimate things
a similar power. Now, however, you see me for the first time precisely
as my Martian fellows see me – you see the very short-sword that has tasted
the blood of many a savage foeman; the harness with the devices of Helium
and the insignia of my rank; the pistol that was presented to me by Tars
Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.
And so ends the Prelude. But fortunately, ERB brings us back to the ranch
at the very end of the story in what amounts to a postscript, where again
I shall highlight the references to the mansion at Rancho Tarzana:
“‘Aside from seeing you, which is my principle
reason for being here, and satisfying myself that I can transport inanimate
things from Mars to Earth, and therefore animate things if I so desire,
I have no purpose. Earth is not for me. My every interest is upon Barsoom
– my wife, my children, my work; all are there. I will spend a quiet evening
with you and then back to the world I love even better than I love life.’
“As he spoke he dropped into the chair upon the
opposite side of the chess table.
“‘You spoke of children,’ I said. ‘Have you more
“‘A daughter,’ he replied, ‘only a little younger
than Carthoris, and, barring one, the fairest thing that ever breathed
the thin air of dying Mars. Only Dejah Thoris, her mother, could be more
beautiful than Tara of Helium.
“For a moment he fingered the chessmen idly.
‘We have a game on Mars similar to chess,’ he said, ‘very similar. And
there is a race there that plays it grimly with men and naked swords. We
call the game jetan. It is played on a board like yours, except that there
a hundred squares and we use twenty pieces on each side. I never see it
played without thinking of Tara of Helium and what befell her among the
chessmen of Barsoom. Would you like to hear her story?
“I said that I would and so he told it to me,
and now I shall to try to re-tell it for you as nearly in the words of
Warlord of Mars as I can recall them, but in the third person. If there
be inconsistencies and errors, let the blame fall not upon John Carter,
but rather upon my faulty memory, where it belongs. It is a strange tale
and utterly Barsoomian.” (CM/Prelude.)
“His story finished, John Carter rose
from the chair opposite me, stretching his giant frame like some great
The fake ERB inquires about Gahan and Ghek, and the Warlord answers until
“‘You must go?’ I cried, for I hated to see him
leave and it seemed that he had been with me but a moment.
“‘The sky is already red beyond those beautiful
hills of yours,’ he replied, ‘and it will soon be day.’
“‘Just one question before you go,’ I begged.”
“‘But come! No more questions now.
Thus ends the Third Epiphany. How much money are you willing to bet that
at the real Rancho Tarzana, until it was raised, there existed a scratched
cross on one the arches in the arcade? Check out the photos of the real
Rancho Tarzana at ERBzine
#1041. We will proceed with the next two epiphanies in Part Three.
“I accompanied him to the east arcade where the
red dawn was glowing beyond the arches.
“‘Goodbye!’ he said.
“‘I can scarce believe that it is really you,’
I exclaimed. ‘Tomorrow I will be sure that I have dreamed all this.’
“‘He laughed and drawing his sword scratched
a rude cross upon the concrete of one of the arches.
“‘If you are in doubt tomorrow,’ he said, ‘come
and see if you dreamed this.’
“A moment later he was gone.” (CM/22.)