A READERS' COMPANION
TO THE BARSOOMIAN MYTHOS
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
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
“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
“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 Little Colorado.
“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
“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
“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
“‘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
“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 smiles.
“We grasped hands. ‘You haven’t
changed much,’ he said.
“‘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
“‘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
“‘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 about them.
“‘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.” (SM/Prologue.)
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 deceive many.
There is one more installment of the Mythos before the
Synthetic 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 of space.
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.” (SMM/1.)
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 the Foreword:
“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 lake.
“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
“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
“‘The headwaters of the Little
Colorado in Arizona, I think,’ I said. ‘That was a long time ago. I never
expected to see you again.’
“‘No, I never expected to return.’
“‘Why have you? It must be something
“‘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.” (LG/Foreword.)
“‘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
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.’”
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.