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Volume 5829
J. Allen St. John: Chessmen of Mars - 8 sepia interiors - Jetan board on back coverChessmen of Mars by WhelanFrazetta Art: As Gahan entered his square, Uo-Dor leaped toward him with drawn sword.
By Rick Johnson
History can be Actual or Mythic depending upon what you wish to present.  The Mythic History of George Washington involves chopping down a cherry tree to demonstrate honesty or throwing a silver dollar across a river to demonstrate governmental fiscal irresponsibility or the superhuman strength of the Father of the US and so on, neither of which actually happened.

The Mythic history of Christopher Columbus describes how Columbus was the only person who knew that the world as round whereas the actual history shows that everyone knew that, but Asia was simply too far to reach by sea before the ships fell apart.

The Mythic history of Israel describes a multitude of plagues against Egypt yet, not one person, anywhere in or out of Egypt ever mentions that ‘hundreds of thousands of children died overnight and the Nile turned into blood and …”

Now, I have no problem with a mythic history so long as we recognize that Myth is an allegory for the Human Condition and not real.  As an Irishman, I can talk about the battle over Ireland between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha de Dannan and in the same breath describe the Celtic Invasions.  Which leads me to Troy!

The Mythic history of Troy is, as every reader of Homer knows (unless you watched the films), was a 10 year long war to recover Helen from Paris, the guy not the city.  The Iliad, however, concerns itself with only a few months near the end of the war and you must read other sources to get all the rest of the stuff that we ‘think’ was described in Homer's epic poem.

The Iliad talks about heroes!  Specifically, Achilles and his relations with Agememnon and Hector for in those days, war was different.  The Real history of Troy is simple and quite depressing.  Troy, a vassal state of the Hittite Empire, controlled the Dardenelles, that narrow strait that allowed travel between the Black Sea (with the gold fields of Cholcis a la Jason and the Golden Fleece) and the Aegean Sea which was controlled by the Greeks who were the Mediterranean version of Vikings. And the Trojan War was merely a series of raids by the Greeks over decades or even centuries to rob and control that oh so valuable waterway.  But no one wants to hear that their ancestors were simple pirates so Homer dressed it up to sound like a noble enterprise which sells more tickets than does the truth.

And the Greeks, Like the Japanese Samurai and the Danish Vikings and even my own Irish ancestors, were concerned with honor and glory.  And how do you get this glory?  You line your followers up on the field before Troy and wait.  Eventually Troy sends out their greatest hero with his followers and everyone sits in a row watching as your hero, Achilles, struts around and brags about how great he is.  Then Hector walks forward and calls Achilles a momma’s-boy who wets his pants and brags about how great he, Hector, is.  Eventually one of them gets tired of holding up that heavy shield and lowers it to take a break and the other guy tosses a spear at him which he tries to avoid and the battle starts with both sides watching and commenting on style. In the meantime Achilles is running around screaming for Patroclus to get off his fat ass and bring him another spear and when that is done, the two heroes face off again.  Repeat until one hero is dead.  If the fight lasts too long, both sides call it a draw, go home and start again the next day.  If Hector kills Achilles, then the next greatest Greek hero comes forward to challenge Hector who is, hopefully, too tired to fight and… repeat.  Eventually, all the Heroes are dead or tired or drinking to each other's health and the sides advance and break into individual fights to win glory and fame and become Heroes themselves.

Helen, was simply an excuse.  Agememnon used Helen to guilt his friends into doing yet another raid on Troy and this time they talked Achilles and his personal army of would-be hopeful heroes along as ringers.

So how does this relate to Jetan?  I'm Irish, I cannot take I-10 from Tucson to Phoenix, I need to go up Oracle Road and check out the boat store in Catalina, then pull off to see the Monument to Tom Mix and then stop at a couple yard sales and look over the Casa Grande monument and maybe the ostrich ranch and…  So to get to Jetan, I need to make a few side trips to justify the journey.

I like chess and I collect chess games.  I especially find a wooden set to be aesthetically pleasing to the touch.  It's like reading a First Edition of Princess of Mars over a Kindle download (and where the [bleep] is my hard bound 2nd edition of Chessmen of Mars?).  Both present the same story but there is just something about a well-thumbed hardback that enhances the soul.  Plastic chess pieces are ok but nothing encourages the mind and soul like a god wood Chess set!  And if I can find enough of these smaller wooden travel sets, I can cannibalize a few to more easily make a wooden Jetan set.  And here is where I am nearing Phoenix.  I was sitting in my workshop converting bishops into Dwars and Padwars and rooks into Fliers and so on when it struck me!  Chess is about lines of attack but Jetan is about areas of Defense!  War on Barsoom isn't about fighting over a few square haads of desert that can't support even a starving thoat, war on Barsoom is about defending your Waterways against Green Men and other Red Nations that want your resources.  Jetan is about war and how to win that war!  Duh!  Any fan of Chess will tell you the same, but the mindset of Jetan must change.  But there are questions?

In Chess, in all of its variations from the forms played in Japan or China or India to the SF versions to the modern game we all should love, is simple.  Take the King!  By hook or by crook, by Queen or by Bishop or by pawn, take the king and you win!  But Jetan is different?  Why?  Why is it that the ONLY way to win is by capturing the Princess or having a Chief capture a Chief?  If a Dwar or Panthan takes a Chief, the game is a draw!  Why?  If Chess is an allegory for war just as every religious book is an allegory for the human condition, can Jetan not be the same?  What if Jetan is a Mythical History of a real war between the Black and Yellow Races fought so long ago that the Actual history became lost and only the Mythic remains?

Consider this, how many times did Helium go to war to rescue Dejah Thoris?  The War with Jahar was advertised to rescue Sonoma Tora.  Why are so many wars begun over the abduction of a Princess?  And why would you face off with someone holding a few feet of steel cutlery when you can plug a thermo-nuclear round into their chest at ten miles?  It's all about honor and glory and getting your name spoken in an epic poem centuries after you are dead!

If Jetan is a mythic history of a war between the Yellow Race of the North and the Black Race of the South, what does that tell us?   Well, the key to politics and history is Geography!  The entire Trojan War(s) was fought because of a freak of geography!  The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan was because of Geography!  The USSR needed a warm water port that could not be blockaded and Kabul was that port.  Afghanistan was simply a stepping stone to Pakistan!  So let us look at the Geography of Mars.

Geography tells us that the Northern Ice caps are stable and large but the Southern Ice caps are small and variable.  It tells us that as Barsoom was dying, the Black Race could not depend upon their southern ice cap to provide enough water (this was long before the discovery of Omean) but the Yellow Race had more than enough water in their northern ice caps.  And as the Orovars began to build the Waterways to save Barsoom, they built them from the North, crossing an entire world to provide valuable water to the south.

The Black Race NEEDED water!  And here is what I think happened.

The Black Race kidnapped a Yellow Princess to force them to provide water and, of course, the Yellow Race fielded an army to recover her!  The Yellow Race army met the Black Race army on some dead seabed, faced off, the Black Race bringing their own Princess to cheer her Heroes on, and as the two armies faced off, the greatest heroes came forward and fought it out.  When one died, the second-best hero came forward to challenge and so on until all the great heroes were dead or exhausted and the ranking Dwar yelled, “Attack” and both armies charged together which individual combats being fought with each warrior screaming, “watch me!”

Remember in the Knights of King Arthur stories where only a Knight could fight a Knight?  Barsoom, Troy, Ireland and so on were the same.  Only a hero could challenge a hero!  If some low-ranking peasant were to kill Arthur, imagine the embarrassment…

 From le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory, final chapter…
“…And Arthur had vanquished all of his foes.  Kings from the north and south and east and west were defeated and upon the plains before Camelot, greatest of all cities, were these fallen kings brought forth to submit and swear fealty to King Arthur.  And as the Great King rose to his full height to impose sentence, a farmer of unknown name rose from the peat behind the High King and shoved a dirty wooden pitchfork up the arse of Arthur who died three days later of an infected rectum.”

The great shame of Achilles was not his argument with Agememnon over Chryseis or what he did to the body of the Amazon Penthesilea (can you spell necrophilia?), nor was it when Patroclus steals his armor, pretends to be Achilles and got killed by Hector by mistake.  No, the shame of Achilles is getting shot by an arrow from behind by Paris without the honor of facing the man who killed him and dying in a tent, NOT in honest battle.

So while the fight is waging, the Chiefs are hacking their way through the panthans seeking each other when some unknown panthan rises up and kills the Chief!  How humiliating.  “nyah nyah, your Chief got killed by a peasant! Ha hah ha!  You guys are such losers!”


Both sides retreat and regroup while the one side does a hasty search-and-coronation of a new Chief and the next day, a new battle begins. A new game upon the board.

BUT, what if a group of lesser ranking warriors manage to kidnap the opposing side's Princess?  They cannot kill her because she is a woman and so harming her would be sacrilege, dishonorable, cowardly.  The princess is ‘captured’ not ‘killed’.  They get her around the field and drag her to the royal pavilion where the priests scream, “LOOK!”  Everyone pauses, sees what has happened and the Chief rushes to his pavilion where he hastily removes one manacle from the captive Princess and before he is overrun by the enemies, that priest calls out, “Inowpronounceyoumanandwife!” and the Chief handcuffs himself to the captured Princess and laughs, “I married your Princess which makes me your Jed!  War is over, we won!  Go home!”

It explains so much if we look at Jetan as a Mythic history of a real event.
It explains why only a Chief can defeat a Chief or the game is a draw.
It explains why any piece can capture the Princess and win.
And it explains why, to this day, a Barsoomian Wedding is when the bride and groom are manacled together.

Myths are a history rewritten to make you look good and to use said myth to explain the human allegory and why we do this, instead of that.  They are as real as Jetan is to war, but equally valuable if we take the time to feel their meaning.

See all the Articles and Fiction by
Rick Johnson
In Arabia
Roy Krenkel Chessmen Art
Roy Krenkel: Interior Art

Mike Hoffman: Jetan Battle

The Chessmen of Mars
The Novel in e-Text
The Original Pulp Magazine Version
Rules for ERB's Jetan - Martian Chess

VI. The Field of Jetan at Manator by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI


Unreleased Dell Chessmen of Mars Art by Russ Manning
Paul Privitera Barsoom Jetan Art


Master Sculptor and ERB Artist I
Master Sculptor and ERB Artist II
Jetan-Sarang: Photos ~ Sketches ~ Moves


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