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Volume 1418

Are the Barsoom inhabitants human?
Den Valdron
Part of the Exploring Barsoom Series


All right.  Dumb question.   Or maybe not.   There are actually two ways to look at it.

The first, is to observe that Burroughs Martians, except for some minor differences in coloration, which are mostly in the human range, generally appear to be fully human.   That is, that a human being on Mars (two of them in fact...  Ulysses Paxton and John Carter) are able to pass for Martians with very little notice.   This suggests that Martians, at least as far as their exterior anatomy goes, are identical to humans, or well within human ranges.  That’s a hell of a coincidence. 

And it seems to be a recurring coincidence.   On Barsoom’s moon, Thuria, there are the Tarids, yet another human identical race.   Human identical races also appear on Carson’s Venus, as well as on Earth’s Moon, and even on Jupiter.   Hell, there’s even a human-identical race beyond the farthest star, in a system called Poloda.

Not only are all these races human-identical, but we also find that humans are sexually compatible.  There are interplanetary romances on Mars, the Moon and Venus.   In at least some of these romances, offspring occur.   This in itself is bizarre, one would imagine that a human from Earth would have more in common genetically, with a Christmas tree than an extraterrestial.  The fact that hybrids can exist suggests a common genetic stock.

So then, we must ask ourselves if indeed there is a common root race, and that all the interplanetary races are actually the same species?   If so, how did they get out all over the place?

In Burroughs Universe there are plenty of lost civilizations, but no evidence that any of them got very far.   The technologies of lost peoples, as discovered by John Carter, Carson Napier, Tarzan and others, tend to be at the level of stone and lever, draft animal and watercourses.   Weapons aren’t much more complicated, in most cases, than spears.   Tarzan encounters the remnants of many lost races, but, luckily for him, none got as far as a machine gun. 

The Barsoomians of Carter’s time are at their technological apex, or not far from it, as are, apparently the Venusians.   Interplanetary flight is dabbled with in Warlord of Mars.  In the Carson of Venus books there are attempts by Earth to reach Mars and Venus, there’s a lost Barsoomian expedition to Earth.  Only the Jovians have managed the trip to Barsoom, and there’s no evidence that they’ve done it for any length of time.

So, from Burroughs canon, we can pretty much rule out any likelihood of an actual lost supercivilization, either extraterrestrial, or from Earth or the solar system.  It’s not there to find.   So much for my standard default theory on these things.

It's pretty clear that if all of these interplanetary races are derived from terrestrial humans, then Earth is necessarily the origin planet. Why?  Because we fit on this planet.   There is an extensive fossil record for proto-humans here.  On top of that, there’s an extensive taxonomy of related species, including apes, monkeys, protosimians and even mammals.   It can be shown fairly easily that our biology, and peculiarities of our skeleton and anatomy are shared, and we simply fit in context here.   In Burroughs Universe, there are even walking biological relics in the form of the Great Apes (possibly Australopithecines) and various caveman or apelike species in Africa and Pellucidar on Earth.   We’re clearly related to a variety of actual apes and monkeys.  We’re clearly situated in the taxonomy of mammals, so that even such common creatures as dogs and cats have unmistakable skeletal correspondences with us.   Nope, humans are definitely from Earth.

White Ape: I saw the mighty anthropoid hurl him to destruction far below.Thark Green Warrior of Barsoom

In fact, each of these worlds sports intelligent humanoid species who seem more naturally in context with the ecology.   There are other sentient races in the Solar System.  On the moon, there are the quadruped, tribal, Va-Gas.   On Thuria, there are the Cat-Psyclops Masena.  On Barsoom, there are the Green Men, White Apes, and the Kaldanes.   Venus features human amoeba, the Voo-Ad as well as Flying Men who mix bird, bat and human features.   The non-human races do not seem to be distributed.  There are no green men on Venus or Thuria, no Va-Gas or Flying Men on Barsoom.   Thus, the non-human races are confined to their worlds, while human races seem common.
And in fact, there seems to be little or no transfer of indigenous plants or animals.   There are equivalents of horses and lions on Mars and Venus.  But there isn’t any significant or substantial animal or plant, apart from humans themselves, which are common to the different worlds.  That’s a mystery in itself.  On Earth, we’ve transported everything from dogs to rats to sparrows and plants from continent to continent.  No matter where you are, you’ll meet dogs and rats on Earth.

Each of these intelligent species poses its own riddle.   How is it that on these worlds, two or more unrelated intelligent species could independently arise, and how does it happen that one of them looks the same on every planet? 

Pellucidar CavemenApt

Obviously, one of them isn’t local, and is conspicuously non-local by its divergences from the local ecologies.   Other intelligent species on each world seems to fit in with what we see of the animal and plant life of that world.  They are at least ecologically and biologically symmetrical.

Consider Barsoom.   The six limbed Green Men, while unique, are at least taxonomically related to the six limbed Great White Apes, and both are probably distantly related to the six limbed Apts.   Their multi limbed nature appears consistent with the eight and ten legged animals, the Thoats, Banths, Calots and Zitidars.  The place seems trapped in a sort of Martian Mezozoic era with gigantic, dinosaur and elephant sized fauna stomping about. 

Calot by Russ Manning
Calot by Russ Manning

Thark and Thoat by St. John

Four limbed humans stick out like a sore thumb on Barsoom where the standard complement of legs seems to otherwise start with six and go up to ten or twelve.  Humans simply don’t seem to fit very well into the evolutionary history of Barsoom.  There’s no evidence of monkeys or primates that would be related to Barsoomian humans.  There’s practically no evidence even for four limbed critters.

And for that matter, foreign to the ecological context of Venus’s humid jungles.   For the moon, there’s almost no ecological context left.  Meanwhile, Thuria is obviously too tiny a world, and there’s little evidence for us to assess ecological context on Jupiter or Poloda.

In short, the humans are the ‘odd men out’ on every world but Earth.   We stick out like a sore thumb.   Humans are obviously foreign species rubbing shoulders with native intelligences and the native plants and animals.   And they apparently managed to get out there without the explicit aid of friendly aliens or their own super civilization.   And for some reason, no parasite species like dogs and rats came along for the ride.

So, the default assumption is that somehow, primitive humans at the dawn of history managed to get to these other worlds, where they diversified along the lines we know now.  How did they do it?

Astral projection.   Don’t laugh.   There are actually several documented instances of Astral Projection in modern times in Burroughs novels: 

  •  John Carter, from Earth to Mars, in Princess of Mars.
  •  John Carter, from Mars to Earth, in Princess of Mars
  •  John Carter, from Earth to Mars again, in Princess of Mars.
  •  John Carter, round trip visit to Earth and back to Mars, in a subsequent title.
  •  Ulysses Paxton, from Earth to Mars, in Mastermind of Mars
  •  Betty Callwell of Brooklyn, from Earth to Venus (implied), in Escape From Venus
  •  Betty Callwell of Brooklyn, from Venus to Earth, in Escape From Venus.
  •  Tangor from Earth to Poloda, in Beyond the Farthest Star.
Four people have made at least nine trips, between Earth and Mars, Earth and Venus, and Earth and Poloda.   Well, on its face, that pretty much settles it.   John Carter may have been a star crossing freak.  There’s a lot that’s peculiar about John Carter, including his failure to age, and his lack of memory of early years.  Ulysses Paxton may have been a fluke, perhaps he was drawn into some sort of channel or pathway cut by Carter.  But Betty Callwell and Tangor stand as proof that there is a pattern.   Neither Paxton nor Callwell nor Tangor seem to be anything but ordinary humans.  Their ability to reach Mars and Venus respectively, suggest that other humans have done this repeatedly in the past, perhaps in greater numbers.

And if humans could project themselves to Mars or Venus, then they could undoubtedly project to the Moon and Thuria.   Possibly even Jupiter and Poloda.   Of course, this means that humans could have originated anywhere and spread.  But for reasons that I’ve given, I suspect that Earth remains the ultimate origin world.

There is room for refinement of the theory.   Thuria is a tiny world, not even visible from Earth.   It’s more likely that the Thurians were colonized by humans astrally projecting from Mars.  The Thurians themselves seem to be a genetically limited population, with only one substantial ethnic group...  A washed out, blue haired version of the Orovars of Barsoom?

And there’s a tiny hint in the origins of Poloda, by noting the remarkable similarity between the name of the system and the Martian word Polodonna, meaning equator.  Coincidence?  Or is this evidence that Poloda was also the recipient of projection from Barsoom as well as Earth.

So perhaps, once humans had astrally colonized Barsoom, they wound up projecting themselves even deeper into space, to Thuria and Poloda?

As for the Blue skinned Savators of Jupiter, or the skeletal Morgors, those are anyone’s guess.

Well...  Maybe.   On Venus there are the Cloud Men, described as “possessing corpse like skin, tiny noses and large eyes.”   Compare them to Jupiters Morgors, described as a “thin framed race with parchment like skin, solid brown eyes, no lips or noses.”   Are they related?   Possibly.   Which may imply astral transit between Venus and Jupiter.  They may each, however, be basic offshoots of humans.  Local departures from the norm who both seemed to evolve in a similar way.

Also on Venus, there are hairy half human cannibals, possibly transplanted Cavemen (Neandertaloids or Homo Erectus)? 

Finally, there are Brokols, human looking, sentient plant men who hang from trees and may be related to the non-sentient plant men of Barsoom, but the identification of the two races of plant men seems dicy indeed.   The Plant-men of Barsoom seem to be a naturally occurring indigenous species, and they aren’t very human themselves.  The puzzling humanity of the Brokols suggests a form of mimesis.  The Brokols are probably a plant which has evolved to copy the dominant species, and humans are the dominant species.

So, the phenomenon seems confined to basically to humans (with some minor allowance for pre-humans or protohumans).   Our theory must be that early on in human history, principally after the human race was well established, there must have been a wave, or perhaps series of waves of astral projection to other worlds. 

How?  Why?  Who knows.  Perhaps, in Lovecraftian terms,  the stars were different and more hospitable.   Perhaps the facility for astral projection has been bred out of humans over the years, until it is only experienced by rare or occasional throwbacks, perhaps four or five per century.

One could easily imagine such a wild talent breeding itself out of the population.   Any time someone gets in trouble, off they go to another planet, possibly not to return, and probably not reproducing.

Or perhaps astral projection was a talent or skill refined and developed by a now long lost civilization or series of lost civilizations whose priests or mystics spread out to the stars and planets.   With their falls, the skill was lost, and the various colonies developed racially and socially in their own directions.   Burroughs has no shortage of lost civilizations on Earth.

Given the absence of any apparent common origin myth, it must have been far back in each cultures history.   Time enough for some of the worlds to develop their own radiations of distinct human races.

But finally, if we accept this Astral Projection stuff, how does it work?   This seems tricky.

In the case of John Carter’s initial journey, he is paralyzed, manages to leave his body, and his spirit flings towards Mars.   This is similar to Ulysses Paxton’s journey, Paxton remembers looking down at his body with its legs blown off.   Obviously, in these cases, its not the body itself which flies from one planet to another, but the spirit...  Somehow, a new body is created or materialized on the new world, when Paxton arrives on Mars, he has his legs back.  When Carter returns to Earth initially, its implied his Earth body has been waiting all this time.  When he leaves again, its implied again that his Earth body is left behind.

Some degree of trauma may be required.   Tangor’s plane crashes and he assumes that he’s died.  Paxton is blown apart on the fields of the Great War.   Carter finds himself paralyzed and terrified in an Indian Cave on Earth.  His departure from Mars is triggered by obvious stress over the impending death of the planet. 

On the other hand, Betty Callwell seems only to go to sleep full of longing.  Carter’s second visit to Mars seems to be driven by intense longing.

The departed body appears to be dead, but may be in suspended animation.   Or at least, on Carter’s second departure, he’s assumed dead and buried in a coffin that, as per his instruction, unlocks from the inside.   When he returns from his first journey to Mars, he finds his body has remained preserved in a cave for decades, but is as good as new.   Betty Callwell’s body, when it's found on Earth, is perfectly preserved after twenty-five years.

It’s not clear whether the body has to be intact for the projector to survive on another world.   Carter, of course, was lucky with his remains the first time, and careful the second time.  On the other hand there probably isn’t much of Tongor’s or Paxton’s body left on the battlefields, and if they ever return, it will be to wake in a tomb. 

The big mystery is where was Betty Callwell’s Earthly body?   Did she take it with her, or was it somehow hidden or concealed on Earth?   Did finding or disturbing Betty Callwell’s body on Earth destroy her existence on Venus?  We don’t know.   Callwell was in the process of recalling her old life when she vanished, so it seems like an unlikely coincidence.  But then, this is Burroughs, we are talking about.

Is it possible that the Earthly body slips out of synch with our world, even as it remains tethered here.   Carter’s body lay undisturbed in that cave for years initially.   Tangor and Paxton, we have no inidication that their bodies were ever found on Earth...  Frankly, anyone looking for them would have been armed with tweezers, so the disappearance of those bodies would not have seemed remarkable.   Only Carter’s second journey seemed to leave a body which people tangibly touched and treated as a corpse.

To add to the confusion, on some of his subsequent trips, John Carter appears on Earth in Martian Costume and gear.   Either he had this prepared on Earth for donning by his terrestrial body, or he’s somehow managed to ship objects, and perhaps physical bodies back and forth with him.   Perhaps he has, he’s done it more often, and with more control, than anyone else.  Maybe he just got better and better at it.

Does this mean there’s no body in Tangor’s wrecked airplane, and Betty Callwell’s earthly body remained undiscovered for twenty five years in the middle of New York because each managed to take it with them somehow?   Again, a mystery.

And there are more mysteries.  What about these bodies on the other worlds of Barsoom, Venus and Poloda?   How are these bodies created in the first place.   Each of the reports indicate a fairly gentle materialization on their new world.  There’s no sensation of a disruptive materialization displacing the air occupying the space they move into.  What happens to that air?   How are these bodies made?  Are they brand new matter?  Where does that come from?   How do you get something from nothing?  Is it converted from Energy?  Where does the energy come from?

Or is it created from existing local matter (which might explain the lack of disruption).  But if created from existing local matter, there has to be more than the relatively thin air, or a greater volume than the body, or neighboring substances drawn upon... but there’s no reference to holes in the ground, human shaped or otherwise, or air disturbance.   If it is drawn from the local environment, then is it drawn at a molecular, atomic or subatomic level?

On the one hand, they seem to be adapted to conditions there, in terms of being able to breath the air easily and withstand the climate....  Not difficult given that overall atmospheres and climates seem Earth tolerable, but still notable (of course, that raises the huge issue of how each of these worlds manages to have Earth normal environments). 

Is there some reason to suspect that their bodies are adapted to their new worlds?   John Carter is cross fertile with an egg laying female.  That’s got to be worth lifting an eyebrow. 

On the other hand, they appear to be materializing in Earth bodies...  At least in the case of Paxton and Carter, who appear as white men with Earth amplified muscles. 

They materialize, however, without injuries.  Paxton has his legs, Tangor shows up in one piece and not as dozens of charred pieces, Carter is intact despite his paralysis and poisoning.   It’s as if the psychic Astral Projection contains a detailed map, down to at least cellular level and beyond, of what the body should materialize as, based on some sort of memory or resonance with the physical one.   This detail goes all the way, the travelers materialize with hairstyles, old scars and fingernails intact. 

Think of them as psychic clones, or blueprints, on which matter on other worlds is laid. Perhaps, the Kirlian field forms the matrix that the new body is constructed on.

But there are obstacles to the Astral Projection theory.   The Barsoomian humans, at least, are physiologically different from terrestrial humans.   They are egg layers, a huge and irreconcileable difference.   Their neural tissue regenerates.  They can be frozen solid and then thawed out, like a terrestrial arctic char, or experience a form of suspended animation through hypnosis or suggestion.   They have telepathic and other psychic abilities. 

The Kangaroo men of Mars are marsupials.

On Venus there is a race of apparent humans who are aquatic, with gills, and whose children start off as fish. 

So what’s the deal?   These differences seem profoundly irreconcileable with their being human at all.

Perhaps in the case of the Egg laying humans of Barsoom, and the froglike humans of Venus the modifications were made deliberately, after societies established themselves. 

The Barsoomians may have decided to opt for an egg laying lifestyle in response to their world’s slow death.  The Venerians may have modified themselves for a fundamentally watery world.   The Ameboid and Plant men of Venus may simply be adaptive mimcry.  Others may simply be coincidental flukes.


Unless, we assume that during the process of materializing a new physical body on the kirlian map or astral body,  there is some incorporation of local DNA in the new bodies on other worlds. 

This might result in Barsoomian humans tending to be egg layers, because all the DNA on that world is for egg laying creatures.  On the other hand, John Carter’s DNA upon arrival, is probably tweaked to the human norm, bringing him even more into line with the local population and making him both long lived and cross fertile.   Heck, it may even be that Carter’s earthly DNA was ‘tweaked’ somehow, by Barsoomian stuff in some past, forgotten adventure, leading to his extraordinary terrestrial longevity.

How this works, or why, is a question.   It may be endemic to the materialization process, which makes one think of the unfortunate teleportation victims in the various Fly movies.   Accidentally incorporate a bit of the wrong DNA and be doomed to monstrosity and mutation. 

That would make astral projection to other worlds a risky proposition.   Go intending to be a hero, arrive as a monstrosity.   In fact, it seems on simple random chance, that monstrosity is the most likely outcome.   Perhaps successful assembly depends on a strength of will, not just to propel oneself across space, but to reform one’s body based on a mostly human image.

Monstrosity and mutation?   Hmmm....   This opens the door, however, to implying that other intelligent races may actually merely be materializations which were overwhelmed by local DNA.

Perhaps the Green Men, the Va-Gas, the Bird Men, the Masena and others were all astrally projected humans whose materialized bodies were strongly corrupted by local animal or even plant DNA?

Is there support for this?   A little.   The otherwise inhuman quadruped Va-Gas of the Moon have human faces.  The Rykors of Barsoom resemble headless humans to an uncanny degree.   The plant men and amoeba men of Venus have every appearance of being human, including language and culture, excepting only their radically different biologies.    The Bird men of Venus appear to be polyglots of humans, bats and birds.   Many alien races bear peculiar humanlike characteristics in one respect or another.   Possibly even the most inhuman are simply the result of disproportionate quantities of alien DNA.

This may imply that most of the intelligent races in the Solar system may have emerged at roughly the same time, and they are all contemporaries of each other.   This may explain why single intelligent races have not conclusively dominated each world...  There just hasn’t been time, in the ten or twenty thousand years since they’ve emerged for true victors to take control.

Under this theory, the non-human intelligent races may even have emerged, or stabilized, slightly or somewhat later than the human cultures, and thus may have been forced into marginal or barbaric niches.

Otherwise, it seems odd that humans would have so easily established themselves over and over on worlds already sporting intelligent life, already well established.

Indeed, it may well be possible that some, many or even most of the animal life on other world may be the result of human astral projections which failed utterly, materializing as non-intelligent creatures.

But so far, we’ve been looking at this Astral Projection phenomenon as peculiar to humans.   And for good reason, as we’ve only seen it with humans.   No Thark has ever materialized on Venus. 

Perhaps if they’re human derived, the faculty for projection was overwhelmed by the influx of alien DNA, and the special unique talent was lost.   It’s a singular talent after all, not shared with other Earth animals that we know of, so even a small or moderate change might lose the ability.

Thus, for many prospective Astral Travellers, the visits to other worlds are one way trips.  Their new bodies upon arrival are so contaminated by local DNA that they take on non-human form and lose their ability to travel.

But is this talent absent entirely from the Earth and its life, except for humans?

Here’s a wild thought.   How is it that six other known worlds, including three of them radically different and apparently incapable of it, manage to support Earth normal environments?   How is an Earth normal environment even remotely possible, for that matter, in Pellucidar?

Possibly, there is a more global form of Astral Projection, a Gaean form of Astral Projection, in which ‘psychic clones’ of Earth’s biosphere bubble off and are drawn or swept to other worlds.  It may well be a quasi-natural phenomena, perhaps a consequence of Earth’s magnetic field, which acts as a container vessel for the planetary psychic clone until its discharged by some shift in polarity or solar eruption.

The terrestrial psychic clone merges with another world, or another asteroid, and using the same energies that allow the humans to create new bodies, attempts to resculpt the new world.    The process takes place easily on Earthlike worlds like Poloda, Mars and Venus. 

But strongly non-earthlike worlds are more difficult, Jupiter is too vast, the Moon and Thuria too small.   Instead, on these worlds, most of the inital transformations are swept away time and again, until chance or happenstance allows ‘Islands of stability’ to emerge on these planets...  Thus the Lunar Interior, or the strange habitable equatorial belt of Jupiter. 

Once a viable local psychic clone emerges and takes root, it simply absorbs or repels the additional terrestrial ones which come along later, and begins to develop, more or less, along its own terms.

On Earth, this may help to explain the strange nature of Pellucidar, which appears to be not only an Earth-normal impossibility but also the bizarre biology of Caspak.   These areas may be the result of perturbations in the ‘psychic clone’ field generated periodically by Earth.

In such a case, the human talent of Astral Projection may merely be a simply hyperspecialized, hyperrefined ability found collectively inherent in life on Earth.

But the larger consequence of this, is that in Burroughs Universe, we could reasonably expect to discover other Earth-normal environments in the Solar system, including, perhaps, on Mercury, on Comets and Asteroids, and even as far as Saturn and the Jovian and Saturnian moons. 

It would hardly be unlimited. Admittedly Jupiter, Thuria and the Moon are stunningly impressive and tributes to the ability of the ‘psychic clone field’ to find a way to make even seemingly impossible environments habitable.

But let’s face it, Mars and the Moon are both dying worlds, neither seems to have been large enough to make a long term go at it.  Jupiter’s habitable ‘Earth-normal’ zone is likely far from stable for opposite reasons.   The habitable periods for these worlds may only be a few millions or in some cases, hundreds of thousands of years.  A transient blip on cosmic scales.

But still, there’s likely more out there.   And given the evidence of Poloda, its likely that space around Earth, in its section of the galaxy, has been colonized by terrestrial psychic clones.

And given the record, its likely that many of these strange new worlds are peopled by men and women not unlike us.

Chessmen of Mars by Whelan

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