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NKIMA'S CHAT #24
Skeleton Men of Jupiter
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
By David Adams (Nkima)
Skeleton Men of Jupiter was first published in Amazing Stories, February 1943. It was left incomplete, and has been often "finished" by many pastiche writers. It was later reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Volume 3, no. 4, fall 1943 and in Amazing Stories, January 1964. The first book appearance was by Canaveral Press, Inc. July 24, 1964. ERB's story is told in nine chapters.
John Carter ~ Dejah Thoris ~ Multis Par ~ U-Dan ~ Vaja ~ Haglion ~ Zan Dar ~ Bandolian ~ Vorion ~ Gorgum ~ Horur ~ Pho Lar ~ Han Du ~ O Ala
ERB states that he dislikes forewords, yet he has written many himself. He claims that he is merely John Carter's amanuesus in this story.
Chapter One: Betrayed
"I am no scientist. I am a fighting man." "Theories come and theories go -- scientific theories." Today Space is curved. Once Flammarion said that Mars was inhabited. I live on Mars today.
John Carter is called away from Dejah Thoris to Tardos Mors in the Hall of Jeddaks by an unknown guard. Perhaps he is from Zor, a recently conquered city. Multis Par, a prince of Zor has been missing for five years. It is turning dark on Mars.
Carter is captured by strange men speaking a strange language. They look like human skeletons! He is carried off in a long, lean, sinister space ship. Morgors are described in detail. He is being transported to Sasoom (Jupiter) three hundred and forty-two million miles from Barsoom.
Chapter Two: U-Dan
The red man who led Carter into this trap is U-Dan, formerly a padwar in the guard of Zu Tith, the Jed of Zor. He is in love with Vaja, a cousin of Multis Par, who has also disappeared. Multis Par is holding her captive on Sasoom, and U-Dan is bribed into helping him capture Carter in order to get her back.
The Morgors of Sasoom are planning to conquer Barsoom. They are a warlike race. "Their every thought was of war." The city of Helium will be their first target, and they need information from Carter.
The Morgors plan to attack in thousands of invisible ships. This invisibility is achieved by coating their ships with submicroscopic, magnetic sand composed of prismatic crystals.
A Morgor tells Carter that he must learn their language in the 18 days it will take them to reach Sasoom.
Chapter Three: The Morgors of Sasoom . . .
While Carter is learning the language, he is slapped and deprived of sleep. Carter punches a Morgor, a terrible act from "a creature of a lower order." This effrontery will be dealt with by Bandolian when they reach the planet of Eurobus (Sasoom). Carter learns their language in only 15 days.
The Morgors use the Eighth Barsoomian Ray to travel through space at a great speed. This ray is combined with Ray L (cosmic rays) and gravitational forces. Carter understands this theory, which "would certainly surprise some of my scientific friends on earth." The scientists on earth would have to "eat humble pie" again when Carter lands on an inhabited Jupiter.
Sasoom is heated by gigantic volcanoes that wrap 30,000 miles around the equator of the planet. There is no vegetation in the cities of Sasoom, which are gloomy, brown buildings built of volcanic rock. There is a rosy glow over everything caused by light from the volcanoes, and outside the cities is a riotous growth of tropical verdure with unearthly hues.
The slaves of the Morgors are purple-skinned humanoids called Savators.
The commander of the ship that brought Carter to Sasoom is Haglion, the name of his ship as well. Mars is called Garobus. The Morgors ride enormous centipede-like creatures, as many as a dozen at a time. Morgors seldom speak; they never laugh; they look like skeletons risen from sad graves in a cemetery city of the dead.
Haglion take Carter and U-Dan to a basement cell in a tall, ugly building.
Chapter Four: . . . And the Savators
Carter is less effected by gravity than even on Mars due to the rapid rotation of the planet. Carter and U-Dan have a blue-skinned Savator cell-mate. He was imprisoned for bumping into a Morgor. They will all be destroyed at the graduation exercises of the next graduating Morgor military class. The Savator's name is Zan Dar.
Carter and U-Dan are taken to the palace of the Morgor ruler. There they see Vaja with Multis Par. All four appear before Bandolian, Emperor of the Morgors.
Bandolian asks Carter for military information about Barsoom, and he laughs at the suggestion. They are taken back to their cells.
Chapter Five: I Would Be A Traitor
There is no night upon Jupiter because of the rosy light of the volcanoes. Many other details of the planet and its history are described. Zan Dar tells them that he is from Zanor, a mountainous island unconquered by the Morgors.
Multis Par is brought to their cell to persuade Carter to help Bandolian. He refuses and knocks him to the ground when he discovers that Dejah Thoris will also be brought to Sasoom.
A Morgor is thrown into the cell with Carter, U-Dan, and Zan Dar. He is called Vorion and happens to be the one who slapped Carter during the voyage. They start to make plans to escape together when Carter is taken to Bandolian.
Dejah Thoris is brought into the room. She says to John, "Courage! Better death than dishonor." She too has learned the language of Sasoom. Bandolian threatens to torture Dejah, but she tells John she has a thin blade hidden to take her own life should that occur. (The Morgors do not know how to speak the Barsoomian language -- it is below them.) Deja tells him she is imprisoned with Vaja in the top floor of a tower at the rear of the building. Bandolian allows Carter a little more time to consider his decision.
Chapter Six: Escape
Vorian outlines a plan of escape for them, but Carter and U-Dan will not leave the women behind. "You are strange creatures," Vorian remarks. Vorian picks the lock, and they escape into the streets, Vorian treating Carter and the other two as his slaves to avoid attention. One of Bandolian's guards questions Vorian, and Carter strikes him dead. They steal a little ship and take to to the airfield for one of the larger, invisible ones. Vorian flies this one back to Bandolian's palace for the woman, as Carter carefully notes how to run the ship. The invisible ship hovers by the window where the women are held, and Carter leaps in. He finds Multis Par trying to kiss Dejah. The women escape into the ship, but Carter is captured by the Morgors and locked into a cell -- chained to the wall.
Chapter Seven: Pho Lar
Carter is brought before the lord high inquisitor. Carter baits him with words of contempt, and Gorgum almost kills him with his sword. Horur then questions Carter with similar humorous replies. Horur tells Carter that if he cooperates he will be given a high office in Bandolian's new kingdom. Carter replies, "Never!" Carter is placed in another cell with 20 Savators. Pho Lar, a Savator bully, is slapped by Carter, then beaten unconscious. The other Savators are pleased. He makes friends with them and with Han Du.
Chapter Eight: In The Arena
Pho Lar finally awakens, and he too becomes friends with Carter. Since they will have to fight in the arena soon, Carter gives them all fencing lessons with smuggled in sticks. Han Du was a magnificent swordsman, as was Pho Lar. It took Carter an hour to disarm him. He was one of the greatest swordsmen he had ever faced. On Morgor graduation day they face 40 cadets in a pitched battle. They give their opponents a surprise. They approach in a line chanting, "Death to the Morgors!" They kill ten Morgors in the first quick flurry. At the end of the fight, all the Morgors are dead and 10 Savators survive. They break out of the gates of the arena and through the city gates as well, escaping into the tropical forest. Here Carter is almost eaten by a man-eating tree, which is really a carnivorous animal. They even have one for breakfast -- it tastes like veal. Carter, Han Du, and Pho Lar head for Zanor. The others go another way.
Chapter Nine: To Zanor!
Pho Lar leaves them to head for his own country, and Carter and Han Du continue together, making spears and bows and arrows for protection from wild beasts. They come to Han Du's city, which is invisible -- covered with sands of invisibility found in great quantities along the beach of a great ocean. Carter meets O Ala, Han Du's wife. The Morgors are completely unaware of their invisible city. The inhabitants find their doorways by strategically placed umpalla plants. Carter learns that Zanor and thus Dejah lies across a great ocean. He plans to build a boat to cross the sea when suddenly they are attacked in the open by Morgors. Carter manages to drive off the few guards around their ship and steals it. He flies across a raging ocean to Zanor, lands, demagnetizes the hull, and steps forth saying, "I am a friend of Zan Dar." He expects to be soon reunited with Dejah Thoris.
Skeleton Men of Jupiter:
An Allegory of Death and Dying?
By David Adams
Burroughs wrote this story in Hawaii in October and November of 1941 just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, which he witnessed. He had just separated from his second wife, Florence Gilberts, in March. Suffering from depression, he was drinking heavily despite a series of heart attacks and a bladder infection. His fiction output during this year was dark: I Am A Barbarian, and the satirical, The Wizard of Venus.
World War II gave Burroughs a new lease on life, but Skeleton Men of Jupiter was written with his own sense of mortality in mind. It may be read as an allegory of death and dying in general.
One of ERB's themes in his Barsoomian series is a staving off of death. Mars is a dying planet, and the Jeddak (Emperor) of Helium is Tardos Mors, the grandfather of John Carter's wife, Dejah Thoris. Tardos Mors with a little transposing of letters may be thought of as, Ardor Mortos - - the Lover of Death - - or perhaps more accurately, the Ardent Despite Death. Barsoomians are survivors.
Barsoom was the place Burroughs went to imagine a life of adventure through his beloved character, John Carter. A Princess of Mars was his first success as a writer, so he undoubtedly felt a closeness to this imaginary land. In the stories, John Carter visits him on Earth throughout his life and gives him further tales to write. In many ways, John Carter is his undying muse.
Burroughs did not have a feminine muse in the manner of classical poets. Rather, his muse was a fighting man, a man of war and masculine action. Barsoom is his dream-land of swashbuckling deeds, yet a careful reading of this series seems to provide some very personal answers to eternal questions about the immortality of the human soul. When Burroughs thought about death, he mentioned sailing off to adventures among the planets and stars. Perhaps, he thought of Skeleton Men as a final adventure with Death itself.
In his Foreword to the story, Burroughs displays his abiding sense of humor, referring to "my deathless classics."
He begins this little story with a humorous lambasting of science. In the voice of John Carter, he points out that there is indeed life on Mars despite what the scientists may say. Carter knows this of course because he is living there.
John Carter is mysteriously summoned away and finds himself being enclosed by darkness. He is captured by the skeleton men, one might say, the angels of death, and he is borne away in a coffin ship.
The skeleton men are Morgors from Sasoom (Jupiter). They live in a place of fire and gloom like one of Dante's circles in Hell. They are ruthless warriors who plan to conquer Mars the way they conquered Jupiter. Morgors love war and power and have cloaking devices on their ships, which renders them virtually invisible. The final conquest of Barsoom if it should occur might be seen as the conquest of the author's life and imagination by death itself.
A real race of Morgors with their invisible ships would have long-ago swallowed up Mars and Earth as well. Perhaps they are already doing this.
The Skeleton Men of Jupiter, despite its title, is a Barsoomian (Martian) novelette with John Carter as its main character. Richard A Lupoff, whom many consider to be the preeminent critical writer on this series notes:
"It was the last Martian story Burroughs ever wrote - - the remainder of the projected volume was never completed - - and as far as is known, Skeleton Men was the last story Burroughs ever completed." (Lupoff: Barsoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Martian Vision, p. 137)
The story is somewhat complete, and yet like most tales by Burroughs many tantalizing threads were left dangling. A complete account of the two fine attempts by fans to complete this story is given in an article by John Martin in ERBapa #45 called, "John Carter, By Jupiter!" He provides a synopsis of the original story by Burroughs and detailed summaries of two notable pastiche/sequels:
|1. William Gilmour - Lost on Jupiter (1961) published
by Vernell Coriell and given free to members of the Burroughs Bibliophiles.
2. Henry Franke - Snowmen of Jupiter (1993- ) in ERBapa
As Martin points out, Burroughs' late style of writing the Mars Series involved the writing of four short stories around a single theme rather than a long novel. He writes:
"It seemed to many that Skeleton Men of Jupiter was merely the first part of what would be four short stories which would eventually be combined into one hardcover book."
Since this obviously can never happen in this world, the sequels are likely to continue as long as there are fans of the writings of ERB.
There is also an illustrated Skeleton Men version still in progress in ERBapa, which will soon come to its rousing conclusion called, "The Quest for Deja Thoris." And, of special note, a new pastiche series begun at Tangor's site called "The Morgor Wars" that is just beginning. Interested writers may contact Bruce Bozarth at his web site.