A READERS' COMPANION TO THE BARSOOMIAN
The Seventeenth Runner-Up in the Seven
Wonders of Barsoom
THE EPIPHANIES OF JOHN CARTER
THE FAKE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF
Parts 4/5 and Conclusion
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
THE FOURTH EPIPHANY
It is 1933 and ERB’s marriage to Emma is on the rocks. This is the novel
that ERB brazenly dedicates to the wife, Florence Dearholt, of one of his
closest friends, Ashton Dearholt. The first letters of each chapter, beginning
with the Foreword to Chapter 17, read: "To Florence,
with all my love. Ed.”
ERB is in lust again; it’s back to the peep show. John Carter will not
only have Dejah Thoris to win in this adventure, but he also crosses paths
with some of the sexiest women in the Mythos, from Zanda, a slave girl
in Zodanga, to Ozara, the Jeddara of the Tarids on the Barsoomian moon,
For some reason ERB chose a cabin in Arizona for the next epiphany.
Perhaps that’s where he was located with he began the story. At some time
during this period, he moved out of the house and away from Emma, moving
into the Garden of Allah garden apartments, a notorious pleasure pit in
Hollywood. As becomes evident, family problems haunt both ERB and John
Carter during the epiphany. Let us now turn to the Prologue of Swords
“The moon had risen above the rim of
the canyon near the headwaters of the Little Colorado. It bathed in soft
light the willows that line the bank of the little mountain torrent and
the cottonwood trees beneath which stood the tiny cabin where I had been
camping for a few weeks in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Anyone who has ever been slowed down by traffic while a car’s occupants
rubber-neck over an accident scene, will understand the morbid fascination
with horror. So, why again did John Carter appear to ERB this time? That’
s right, it is never answered. He just wanted to share his adventure. But
ERB believed only an epiphany could set the stage for another installment
of the Barsoomian Mythos, four years after the last one. But is John Carter’s
earthly body still interred in the specially made tomb in the little cemetary
in Richmond? We will never know.
“I stood upon the little porch of the cabin enjoying
the soft beauties of this Arizona night; and as I contemplated that peace
and serenity of the scene, it did not seem possible that but a few years
before the fierce and terrible Geronimo had stood in this same spot before
this self-same cabin, or that generations before that this seemingly deserted
canyon had been peopled by a race now extinct.
“I had been seeking in their ruined cities for
the secret of their genesis and even stranger secret of their extinction.
How I wished that those crumbling lava cliffs might speak and tell me of
all that they had witnessed since they poured out in a molten stream from
the cold and silent cones that dot the mesa land beyond the canyon.
“My thoughts returned again to Geronimo and his
fierce Apache warriors; and these vagrant musings engendered memories of
Captain John Carter of Virginia, whose dead body had lain for ten long
years in some forgotten cave in the mountains not far south of this very
spot – the cave in which he had sought shelter from pursuing Apaches.
“My eyes, following the pathway of my thoughts,
searched the heavens until they rested upon the red eye of Mars shining
there in the blue-black void; and so it was that Mars was uppermost in
my mind and as I turned into my cabin and prepared for a good night’s rest
beneath the rustling leaves of the cottonwoods, with whose soft and soothing
lullaby was mingled the rippling and the gurgling of the waters of the
“I was not sleepy; and so, after I had undressed,
I arranged a kerosene lamp near the head of my bunk and settled myself
for the enjoyment of a gangster story of assassination and kidnaping.
“My cabin consists of two rooms. The smaller
back room is my bedroom. The larger room in front of it serves all other
purposes, being dining room, kitchen, and living room combined. From my
bunk, I cannot see directly into the front room. A flimsy partition separates
the bedroom from the living room. It consists of rough-hewn boards that
in the process of shrinking have left wide cracks in the wall, and in addition
to this the door between the two rooms is seldom closed; so that while
I could not see into the adjoining room, I could hear
anything that might go on within it. “I do not
know that I am more susceptible to suggestion than the average man; but
the fact remains that murder, mystery, and gangster stories always seem
more vivid when I read them alone in the stilly watches of the night.
“I had just reached the point in the story where
an assassin was creeping upon the victim of kidnapers when I heard the
front door of my cabin open and, distinctly, the clank of metal upon metal.
“Now, insofar as I knew, there was no one other
than myself camped upon the headwaters of the Little Colorado; and certainly
no one had the right to enter my cabin without knocking.
“I sat up in my bunk and reached under my pillow
for the .45 Colt automatic that I kept there.
“The oil lamp faintly illuminated my bedroom,
but its main strength was concentrated upon me. The outer room was in darkness,
as I could see by leaning from my bunk and peering through the doorway.
“‘Who’s there?’ I demanded, releasing the safety
catch on my automatic and sliding my feet out of bed to the floor. Then,
without waiting for a reply, I blew out the lamp.
“A low laugh came from the adjoining room. ‘It
is a good thing your wall is full of cracks,’ said a deep voice, ‘or otherwise
I might have stumbled into trouble. That is a mean-looking gun I saw before
you blew out your lamp.’
“The voice was familiar, but I could not definitely
place it. ‘Who are you?’ I demanded.
“‘Light your lamp and I’ll come in,’ replied
my nocturnal visitor. ‘If you’re nervous, you can keep your gun on the
doorway, but please don’t squeeze the trigger until you have had a chance
to recognize me.’
“‘Damn!’ I exclaimed under my breath, as I started
to relight the lamp.
“‘Chimney still hot?’ inquired the deep voice
from the outer room.
“‘Plenty hot,’ I replied, as I succeeded at last
in igniting the wick and replacing the hot chimney. ‘Come in.’
“I remained seated on the edge of the bunk, but
I kept the doorway covererd with my gun. I heard again the clanking of
metal upon metal, and then a man stepped into the light of my feeble lamp
and halted in the doorway. He was a tall man apparently between twenty-five
and thirty, with gray eyes and black hair. He was naked but for leather
trappings that supported weapons of unearthly design – a short sword, a
long sword, a dagger, and a pistol; but my eyes did not need to inventory
all these details before I recognized him. The instant that I saw him,
I tossed my gun aside and sprang to my feet.
“‘John Carter!’ I exclaimed.
“None other,’ he replied, with one of his rare
“We grasped hands. ‘You haven’t changed much,’
“‘Nor you at all,’ I replied.
“He sighed and then smiled again. ‘God alone
knows how old I am. I can recall no childhood, nor have I ever looked other
than I look tonight; but come,’ he added, ‘you mustn’t stand here in your
bare feet. Hop back into bed again. These Arizona nights are none too warm.’
“He drew up a chair and sat down. ‘What were
you reading?’ he asked, as he picked up the magazine that had fallen to
the floor and glanced at the illustration. ‘It looks like a lurid tale.’
“‘A pretty little bedtime story of assassination
and kidnaping,’ I explained.
“‘Haven’t you enough of that on earth without
reading about it for entertainment?’ he inquired. ‘We have on Mars.’
“‘It is an expression of the normal morbid interest
in the horrifying,’ I said. ‘There is really no justification, but the
fact remains that I enjoy such tales. However, I have lost my interest
now. I want to hear about you and Dejah Thoris and Carthoris, and what
brought you here. It has been years since you have been back. I had given
up all hope of ever seeing you again.’
“He shook his head, a little sadly I thought.
‘It is a long story, a story of love and loyalty, of hate and crime, a
story of dripping swords, of strange places and strange people upon a stranger
world. The living of it might have driven a weaker man to madness. To have
one you love taken from you and not to know her fate!’
“I did not have to ask whom he meant. It could
be none other than the incomparable Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, and
consort of John Carter, Warlord of Mars – the woman for whose deathless
beauty a million swords had been kept red with blood on the dying planet
for many a long year.
“For a long time John Carter sat in silence staring
at the floor. I knew that his thoughts were forty-three million miles away,
and I was loath to interrupt them.
“At last he spoke. ‘Human nature is alike everywhere,’
he said. He flicked the edge of the magazine lying on my bunk. ‘We think
that we want to forget the tragedies of life, but we do not. If they momentarily
pass us by and leave us in peace, we must conjure them again, either in
our thoughts or through some such medium as you have adopted. As you find
a grim pleasure in reading about them, so I find a grim pleasure in thinking
“‘But my memories of that great tragedy are not
all sad. There was high adventure, there was noble fighting; and in the
end there was – but perhaps you would like to hear about it.’
“I told him that I would, so he told me the story
that I have set down here in his own words, as nearly as I can recall them.”
When I think about the torture the readers of G.R.R. Martin’s “Song
of Ice and Fire” have had to undergo during the 16 years he has been writing
it, waiting for all of the plot lines to resolve, I can now imagine the
anticipation the lovers of Barsoom must have had, having to wait from 1912
to 1940, from A Princess of Mars to Llana of Gathol, for
ERB to conclude the series, and only then, by his death. As I will explain
in the next Runner-Up, it is my belief that the Eleventh installment of
the Barsoomian Mythos is apocryphal, written by others; one notably by
ERB’s son, Jack; the other by likely an adequate forger who was able to
There is one more installment of the Mythos before the last epiphany,
Men of Mars, written in 1938, five years after the last one. Things
have begun to deteriorate in the life of ERB. He is no longer as popular
as he used to be. Hugo Gernsback, editor of Amazing Stories (for whom the
Hugo is named), has begun to set the stage for most of ERB’s main competitors
in the growing science fiction genre.
However, amongst all this pressure, ERB is still able to craft a brilliant
tale of science gone awry in Synthetic Men. Once again we learn
of this tale of Vor Daj’s journey with John Carter to find Ras Thavas in
order to cure Dejah Thoris, who has damaged her spinal chord, by means
of the Gridley Wave. ERB tells the story from Vor Daj’s point of view after
he sets the story up in the first chapter:
“To him [Vor Daj] we are indebted for
this remarkable tale of strange adventure upon the planet Mars; to him
and Jason Gridley whose discovery of the Gridley Wave has made it possible
for me to receive this story over the special Gridley radio receiving set
which Jason Gridley built out here in Tarzana, and to Ulysses Paxton who
translated it into English and sent it across some forty million miles
Why this tale was not as special as the one before it or the one after
it to not warrant an epiphany is anyone’s guess. I like mine best that
the John Carter epiphanies only come either in times of extreme joy or
extreme stress, and as a result, the epiphanies work in the same manner
as classical epiphanies in the Bible or classical literature worked on
those receiving them.
“I shall give you the story as nearly as possible
in the words of Vor Daj as is compatible with clarity. Certain Martian
words and idioms which are untranslatable, measures of time and of distance
will be usually in my own words; and there are occasional interpolations
of my own that I have not bothered to assume responsibility for, since
their origin will be obvious to the reader. In addition to these, there
must have undoubtedly have been some editing on the part of Vad Varo [the
Martian name of Paxton].
“So now to the strange tale as told by Vor Daj.”
THE FIFTH EPIPHANY
And now we come to our final epiphany. The year is 1940. ERB and his wife
of six years, Florence, have moved to Hawaii. ERB has fallen on bad times
financially and is getting too old to keep up with his much younger wife.
It has been two years since the last installment of the Mythos. ERB has
come up with a new method for writing John Carter adventures. He will write
four separate stories and link them together with a common theme. In Llana
of Gathol, the common theme is the continual rescue of Llana from the
fiends of several countries. With a flowing narrative at the beginning
and end of each adventure, and a Foreword to show that continuity, ERB
successfully pulled this kind of plot off with flying colors. And now to
“Lanikai is a district, a beach, a Post
Office, and a grocery store. It lies on the windward shore of the Island
of Oahu. It is a long way from Mars. Its waters are blue and beautiful
and calm inside its coral reef, and the trade wind sighing through the
fronds of its coconut palms at night might be the murmuring voices of the
ghosts of the kings and chieftans who fished in its still waters long before
the sea captains brought strange diseases or the missionaries brought mother-hubbards
[a woman’s loose, unbelted dress].
I believe we have adequately answered the question of whether John Carter
is a divine being in the affirmative. This time his coming to Earth is
marked by a supernatural vision, rather than by the playing of mischievous
tricks in the dark. That cape of Kamehameha’s toppling the church after
mention of the missionaries made me wonder if ERB was making a criticism
of how the West was ruining the native culture of Hawaii, and the revenge
of the ghost of the king in retaliation, but perhaps I was reading too
much into the text.
“Thoughts of the past, mere vague imaginings,
were passing idly through my mind one night that I could not sleep and
was sitting on the lanai watching the white maned chargers of the sea racing
shoreward beneath the floodlight of the Moon. I saw the giant kings of
old Hawaii and their mighty chiefs clothed in feather cape and helmet.
Kamehameha came, the great conquerer, towering above them all. Down from
the Nuuanu Pali he came in great strides, stepping over cane fields and
houses. The hem of his feather cape caught on the spire of a church, toppling
it to the ground. He stepped on low, soft ground; and when he lifted his
foot, the water of a slough rushed into his footprint, and there was a
“I was much interested in the coming of Kamehameha
the King, for I had always admired him; though I had never expected to
see him, he having been dead a matter of a hundred years or so and his
bones buried in a holy, secret place that no man knows. However, I was
not at all surprised to see him. What surprised me was that I was not surprised.
I distinctly recall this reaction. I also recall that I hoped he would
see me and not step on me.
“While I was thinking these thoughts, Kamehameha
stopped in front of me and looked down at me. “Well, well!’ he said; ‘asleep
on a beautiful night like this! I am surprised.’
“I blinked my eyes and looked again. There before
me stood indeed a warrior strangely garbed, but it was not King Kamehameha.
Under the moonlight one’s eyes sometimes play strange tricks on one. I
blinked mine again, but the warrior did not vanish. Then I knew!
“Leaping to my feet, I extended my hand. ‘John
Carter!’ I exclaimed.” (LG/Foreword.)
From what we know about ERB’s lifestyle at this time, I think we are
not doing too much damage to his reputation by imagining ERB as three sheets
to the wind during this epiphany.
Once again ERB is facing marital discord. Flo is not a big fan of Lanikai.
By the summer of the next year, she will have left him for the mainland.
But that is a year away.
“‘Let’s see,’ he said; ‘where was it
we last met – the headwaters of the Little Colorado or Tarzana?”
Did you catch the veiled reference to the Holy Ghost? I just wanted to
be sure you are no longer in doubt about Carter being a divine being. Okay,
the fake ERB is now very old, warranting such a visit by Carter. Remember,
the fake ERB would be about 85 years old; the real one being about 65 –
still getting up there (I’m a little over two months from that one myself),
but not as if he were 85 with the worries that must come with that age.
“‘The headwaters of the Little Colorado in Arizona,
I think,’ I said. ‘That was a long time ago. I never expected to see you
“‘No, I never expected to return.’
“‘Why have you? It must be something important.’
“‘Nothing of Cosmic importance,’ he said, smiling;
‘but important to me, nevertheless. You see, I wanted to see you.’
“‘I appreciate that,’ I said.
“‘You see, you are the last of my Earthly kin
whom I know personally. Every once in a while I feel an urge to see you
and visit with you, and at long intervals I am able to satisfy that urge
– as now. After you are dead, and it will not be long now, I shall have
no Earthly ties – no reason to return to the scenes of my former life.’
“‘There are my children,’ I reminded him. ‘They
are your blood kin.’
“‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know; but they might be afraid
of me. After all, I might be considered something of a ghost by Earth men.’
“‘Not by my children,’ I assured him. ‘They know
you quite as well as I. After I am gone, see them occasionally.’
“He nodded. ‘Perhaps I shall,’ he half promised.”
“‘And now,’ I said, ‘tell me something
of yourself, of Mars, of Dejah Thoris, of Carthoris and Thuvia and of Tara
of Helium. Let me see! It was Gahan of Gathol that Tara of Helium wed.’
Thus end the Epiphanies of John Carter and the fake autobiographies of
ERB. May they both rest in peace.
“‘Yes,’ replied the war lord, ‘it was Gahan,
jed of the free city of Gathol. They have a daughter, one whose character
and whose beauty are worthy of her mother’s mother – a beauty which, like
that of those other two, hurled nations at each other’s throats in war.
Perhaps you would like to hear the story of Llana of Gathol.’
“I said that I would, and this is the story that
he told me that night beneath the coconut palms of Oahu.’” (LG/Foreword.)
Thank God ERB was not a con man. He could have easily competed with Paul
Twitchell or L. Ron Hubbard in Americanizing the ancient art of astral
traveling, especially since his hero astral travels back and forth from
Mars. The one big selling point to join Eckankar is that they allegedly
can teach the ability to astral travel to other planets. Twitchell, unlike
L. Ron Hubbard – who learned from the Jews and Christians that without
guilt you have no true religion – lived long enough to establish the basis
for his new religion. But in the end, he and Eckankar were exposed as frauds.
I imagine the same fate waits for Scientology, regardless of its celebrity
members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. At least ERB spared his readers
such embarrassment by never taking what he wrote seriously. When you think
about it, that is the correct way to view all religion.