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Volume 1784
Den Valdron's Fantastic Words of ERB Series

Den Valdron

"'The Mysteries of Mars' are all set on a colonial Mars about two hundred years from now.   No characters continue from book to book and no overplot controls them.  Actually, the only link of continuity between these four books is that they are laid on the same version of Mars - which was obviously shaped and influenced to a considerable degree by Leigh Brackett’s marvelous series of Martian adventure stories which were published in such science fiction magazines as Startling Stories and Planet in may early to middle teens.  When I came to create my own version of Mars I was inescapabley reminded of hers, and strove to write my novels in something resembling her lean sinewy prose, which have always admired and though excellent."   Excerpted from Down To A Sunless Sea, Afterward, by Lin Carter, New York, New York, 1983.
Between 1968 and 1983, Lin Carter wrote five novels and a short story set on a Mars which he freely admitted was based on Leigh Brackett’s work.   Two of these novels, like Brackett’s Sword of Rhiannon, was set wholly or partially in Mars distant past.  Four of them dealt with a Colonial era of Mars and Earth’s future in which space travelers from Earth came to establish their sway over a hapless and resentful Martian population.  They are, in internal sequence (different from the publishing sequence):

 Flame of Iridar - Ancient Mars - Published in 1968
 The Martian El Dorado of Parker Whitney - Published in 1976
 The Valley Where Time Stood Still - Colonial Mars - Published in 1974.
 The City Outside the World - Colonial and Ancient Mars - Published in 1977
 Down to a Sunless Sea - Colonial Mars - Published in 1983
 The Man Who Loved Mars - Colonial Mars - Published in 1973

Carter only included the later four novels in his ‘Mysteries of Mars’ but borrowings or reuses of words and ideas from Flame of Iridar appear transparently in both The Valley Where Time Stood Still and The City Outside the World.   It may be that Carter considered Iridar a draft or inferior work whose ideas he simply recycled.   Nevertheless, its clearly related, and we’ve included it.

The Man Who Loved Mars was the first of his four books, but Carter considered it, for obvious reasons, the final of the stories.   Internal dating and references suggests it takes place in the early 22nd Century.   There’s a reference to political events on Earth which must be from the 21st century, a reference to a Mars exploration expedition of 2052, and a reference to 75 years of colonial domination (which, indications are, did not include the age of Exploration).   The likely time period is between 2100 and 2150, probably around 2125 and 2135.  Thus, I’ve put it at the end.

The Martian El Dorado is only a ten-page short story, but it is set at the beginning of the Colonial period.   Of the remainder, there’s a passing reference to a city from The Valley Where Time Stood Still in The Man Who Loved Mars, suggesting that it precedes that story by a few years.  An internal reference suggests that The Valley takes place about 15 or 20 years before.   The other two books lack any referents for internal dating, so I’ve simply placed them in order of publication date, after Iridar and Whitney, and before The Man Who Loved Mars.   In the afterword to the Sunless Sea, he puts the series in the 21st century.

Originally, I was going to do an essay which discussed both Brackett and Carter to be called Colonial Barsoom.  Unfortunately, the sheer volume of material from each, and the differences in their approach and handling made it necessary to do it as two separate essays.   Nevertheless, many of the ideas about Space Man’s Burden, the extension of colonialism to Barsoom, and the extension of Barsoom’s history into the next few hundred years, were developed and discussed in my Brackett essay.   To really appreciate this discussion, I’d recommend you check out the Brackett essay first.  In return, I promise to try not to bore you by repeating myself here.

When I wrote about Carter's Callisto series, or Kline's Mars and Venus adventures, I included synopsis of the novels to help the reader along.   With Brackett, I chose not to do it, since there's so much of her work that is so readily available that I didn't think anyone who was interested would have difficulty picking it up.   In the case of Carter’s Martian novels, I’ve found that, unlike Callisto, they’re relatively easy to come across.   So with the reader’s forbearance, I’ll not be providing synopsis. 

Instead, I’ll simply commend them to the reader.   Each of the books has its own merits that make it worth the reading.   The best of the series is probably The Man Who Loved Mars, with its fascinating protagonist, Ivo Tengren, a thoughtful but true successor to John Carter.  Down to a Sunless Sea is worthwhile, not for its plot... there’s hardly one, but for the vivid and remarkable setting.   The other novels stand between these two, but each has their particular strengths.

There’s something a little extra in his Martian novels that puts them at the upper registers of Carter’s work.  Perhaps it was the combined influence of Burroughs and Brackett, he could draw on a world built collectively of literally dozens of novels and stories over a vast scope.   Perhaps it was his genuine love for the material.  But I do think it ranks highly.

Both Brackett and Carter wrote about a Mars that I like to call Colonial Barsoom.   Burroughs wrote his Mars stories between 1912 and 1944.   Brackett wrote her Martian adventures between 1940 and 1964.   Carter wrote his between 1968 and 1983.   There’s a fair bit of overlap.

Just as Carter makes no secret at that his stories are inspired by the Mars of Brackett, Brackett herself acknowledges Barsoom as her own great inspiration.   In a sense, though Carter doesn’t say it directly, his Martian adventures are just as much products of Barsoom as his Thanator series.   Indeed, in some ways, his settings and situations seem to draw as much or more from Barsoom as they do from Brackett.

Like both Brackett and Barsoom, he draws us a world of human Martians, living in a near feudal society, presiding in tribes and city states over a dying world, riding reptilian animals.  It’s an exotic world of alien Princes and Princesses, endless deserts, of loyalty and heroism, a place where the past weighs heavily and the future of the world is bleak.   These are tropes of Burroughs that Brackett and Carter use.   In a sense, both of their versions of Mars are children of Barsoom.

Brackett’s contribution is to make Barsoom a colonial world.   In her stories, Earthmen have come and extended their sway.  The Martians are second class citizens on their own planet, their lives filled with cold hatred of the Earthmen who grind them down.   It’s a powerful, and even prescient, criticism of colonialism, particularly in a period, the 1940's and 1950's when Empires were still seen as good things.   Brackett’s stories were uninterested in the adventures of Princes and Princesses.  She took her characters elsewhere, to the margins of Martian society, to the remote steppes where life was cruel and men were harsh.   Her protagonists were not the cleancut heroes of Carter’s days, but often tired and cynical men.  Her adventures as often as not resulted not in triumph, but merely survival.   Her Mars endured through fourteen short stories, novellas and novels, a volume that compared with Barsoom itself.

Carter drinks deeply of Brackett’s colonial era.  Setting his stories in the same time period, the boot of earth sits heavily.  The brutality of colonialism is most apparent in The Man Who Loved Mars, one of the best of his Martian books.   Throughout the series, his Martians are an oppressed people, resentful and hostile.   His heroes are broken Earthmen who are exiles from both Earth and Earth’s colonial administration, existing on the fringes of the Martian landscape, trying to find a home with this bleak landscape and bleaker people.   As with Brackett, survival is sometimes all that they get.

But Lin Carter’s Mars also draws directly from John Carter’s Mars.   Brackett’s Mars seems without religion and without animals.  Carter’s heroes, constantly confront a world spanning faith, multi-legged monsters, lost cities and strange peoples.  In his novels we are inevitably reminded of the underground sea of Omean, the lost Valley Dor, the hidden Gods and lost marvels of Barsoom.  Unlike Brackett’s protagonists, Carter’s heroes, broken men though they are, manage to find both friendship and love beneath the twin moons.

In the end, Carter’s Mars makes a fitting companion piece to Brackett’s Mars.   They are the two flagships of a cycle of stories about Colonial Mars.   Other writers played in the field as well, but these two are the definitive ones, producing both coherent visions and large bodies of work.

Those of you who have been reading these essays know that my focus is on Barsoom.   My explorations of other Mars works, including contemporaries like H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis, Edwin Arnold, Otis Adelbert Klein, and Aleksei Tolstoy have been mostly about exploring the similarities between their Mars and Barsoom, usually fitting it into the landscapes of both the real Martian geography and the Barsoom universe.   Call it my Greater Barsoom project.

Without further ado, let’s see about relating Lin Carter’s Mars to that of John Carter....


Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a pulp Mars that had its genesis in the observations and writers of Astronomers like Schiaparelli, Flammarion and Lowell.   These were men who looked out across space and saw a world rather like our own, a world with visible ice caps that swelled and receded proving that it was a world with seasons, a world whose features were occasionally obscured, proving clouds and atmosphere.  It was a world with light and dark areas, suggesting seas and lands, or perhaps former seas.   And it was a world criss crossed by canals, suggesting life and perhaps civilization.  To this were added the writings and ideas of the social philosophers of the time.  Slowly, a kind of picture of Mars, a narrative of an ancient dying world, clinging to life, took shape.  This showed up in the fiction of the age, among them Burroughs, who refined and extended this vision.

The result was a remarkably stable and remarkably consistent fictional Mars, a shared landscape which was not unlike the mysterious Orient, the Wild West and Darkest Africa...  All real places which existed as quite distinct (and not terribly accurate) landscapes in the popular mind.

The fictional Mars proved quite consistent.   The period during which science supported it, or something like it, was from the 1880's to perhaps the 1920s.  But as observations continued, as spectroscope readings and calculations suggested that the atmosphere was impossibly thin, that water and oxygen were absent, that Mars began to fade from science.   The fictional Mars held strong, but by the '30s and 40's and '50s it was increasingly discredited.   The final blow came in 1965 when Pioneer flew by and showed a dead cratered Moonscape.   No canals, none at all.  No lost seas, no ruined cities, no Dejah Thoris.

Most of the Greater Barsoom stories I write about date from this pulp era, 1880 to 1940.  Brackett sits just outside this era, stubbornly writing her Mars, a Mars that was mostly improbable and unreal, until 1965, when Pioneer drove the stake in.

Carter is pretty much my lone exception, writing in the era of the Viking Landers.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  His Mars is obviously complete fantasy.   At the time of his writing, everyone knew that there wasn’t a shred of a possibility that it could exist, that anything like it could exist.  Mars was a world as dead and empty as could be.

Still, like his predecessors, he used the real Mars as a template for his fictional Mars.   For one thing, his Mars has craters, lots of them.   The lost valley of Ophar in The Valley Where Time Stood Still is really just a particularly large, particularly deep crater.  Indeed, he names it for us.  You can look it up on a sufficiently detailed Map of Mars.  It's called Airy, and it sits on the Equator and has been used as the Martian Greenwhich, the Prime Meridian, for cartographers back here on Earth.  In The Man Who Loved Mars, craters are frequently and vividly described.   It’s a nice touch, and it brings home to us both the real Mars and a distinctly alien landscape.

On the other hand, I don’t know what the hell he’s doing with canals.   By his time, Canals simply did not exist, the entire surface of the planet had been photographed, no canals anywhere.  A few features that might have been river beds, a pretty big rift valley, but that’s it.

Carter gives us canals anyway, but he screws around.   Mars, in Carter’s world, has some 34,000 canals.  But they’re simple geological fractures.  Y’see, as Mars cooled or dessicated it’s crust shrank.   That crust, made up of a combination of magnesium and silicates, fractured producing long regular fault lines.   As the oceans dried away, these fault lines became the last refuges of moisture, and vegetation filled them, with roots extending miles beneath the surface.  It was the vegetation blooms that the astronomers were seeing.   Only a few of the canals were old river beds.   And even fewer showed signs of artificial construction or manipulation. 

Points for trying to be original, but frankly, I think it kind of sucks.  I’ll take the old canals, if you please, and if pushed, I’ll just say he got it wrong.  Or, another way to look at it might be to suppose he got it right, and John Carter and others just never realized that the canals they were riding past were mostly natural.

But in fact, he did get quite a bit wrong.   You have to hand it to him.   Carter was working off of actual maps and photographs of Mars.   The trouble was that these Maps didn’t give a complete picture of Martian geography and geology.   We’d have to wait for the Global Surveyors of the 1990's, which allowed for topographic and other sorts of details.

So the result is that Carter peppers us with Martian locations straight off the map.  Sinus Meridiani, Syrtis Planum, Sputum Nocaculum.  You name it.  He’s got very definite ideas of where his characters are, where they’re headed, and what sort of landscape they’re travelling.

On the other hand, he mistakes Nix Olympica (Olympus Mons) for a big meteor impact crater...  Hmmm nope.  It’s only the biggest tallest volcano in the entire solar system.   He assumes, based on colouration, that Mars had an equatorial sea...  Topograpy tells us that any sea would have been around the north pole.   He’s made the best effort possible under the circumstances, but It’s sort of a headache in the geography he’s trying for probably won’t work.  Ah well....


Carter’s Martians never tell us what their world is called, nor do we ever get a name for their race, beyond the translation into English as ‘The People.’  But they hew pretty closely to Barsoom. Of them, Carter writes, 

"Few Earthmen who have not seen the People realize how thoroughly human they are.  On the whole taller and more leanly built than human, lighter of bone, broader in the chest, their heads, backs of hand and chest and throat are covered, not with hair but fine silken fur,  generally russet covered, males have short hair, females long manes, eyes are larger with wider pupils, their skin is amber/copper.   They move with a graceful gliding motion suggestive of cats."
More particularly, their skin is generally reddish copper.   In short, they’re pretty close to Burroughs Red Men.   Carter notes that among the high clans, the skin becomes more amber, and both the lost children of the Sunless Sea and the Valley of Ophar have golden skins.   Their eyes are amber, golden, brown and even green.  Burroughs never speaks to eye colour.  On the other hand, the reference to golden eyes is doubtless a tribute to both Bradburry and Brackett.   Like the Barsoomians, Carter mentions that the Martians are known for longevity beyond humans, implying a life span of perhaps centuries. 

Some speculation suggests in Carter’s novels that they are evolved from extinct Martian felines.  Indeed, Carter’s characters suggest this several times.   The Martians are referred to as Cats and Catmen.  Cat-lover is an epitaph.  Catlike creatures are encountered who it is speculated are ancestors.   And the Timeless ones, when they wake, seem to confirm the theory.

No offence, but I think that’s crap.   According to Carter, they have relatively little variation among themselves.   Their appearance is well within human norms, the racial variations between Earth humans are greater than those between Earthlings and Martians.   The Martians down to blood chemistry, genes and chromosomes are human, at one point described as ‘human to a dozen decimal places.’  Moreover, the Martians are fully sexually compatible with humans, and indications are that they are interfertile as well.

Carter wasn’t completely comfortable with the Cat thing, so he allowed his characters to speculate that they are a lost colony of Earth humans, or that Earth humans are displaced Martians.   The ‘timeless ones’ claim to have created both Martians and Terrans from separate local animals, must be taken with a grain of salt...  Aliens are known to tell self serving lies. 

Like Barsoom, almost all Martians speak a single common language, though this is divided into high and low dialects.  The low dialect may be a pidgin for communicating with Earthmen.  I’ll deal with the Martian/Barsoomian language in a later chapter.

The exceptions are the people of Zhiam, who speak a noticeably different, archaic version of the common tongue, and the people of Zhaa who appear to speak a different language than common on the planet.   Almost all  Martians appear to share a universal culture and religion, the only exceptions are the Zhiam, who worship Zhagguiza, and the Zhaa whose religious affiliation is unknown.

The Martians, even the ones who are nomadic, still cling to their hereditary titles and nobility.  There’s no shortage of wandering desert Princes, whose kingdoms consist of a single mount.   Their society is divided into nine nations, each nation divided into clans.  The clans themselves are ranked high and low, based in part on hereditary nobility and roles.  The rankings of clans seem to be acknowledged or respected as between nations.   It’s not clear how the nations rank or relate to the political organizations of the city states and tribes.

The clans and nations collectively owe fealty to a leader called Jamad Tengru.   Possibly a corruption of John Carter?  Probably not, but fun to speculate on.  The more likely possibility is that John Carter’s t

Carter describes a Martian civilization that extends back to the period of seas and oceans.  Indeed, both the Flame of Iridar and the City Outside the World touch on this period.   The Martian civilization was originally united as ten nations or tribes.   Their history records a religious civil war of nine against the tenth, the survivors of which vanished from the records of history.  It’s not quite clear whether this was during the period of Oceans or not.  My impression is that it took place in the period when the seas were receding.

The Martians of Carter’s ancient world lived alongside giant, intelligent purple lizards called Ushangti, now mostly extinct.  Their accomplishments are recorded in vast cities, now mostly abandoned, and in exotic machines including thought records.

As their seas dried and their world deteriorated, the Martians have been forced backwards, from a planetary government, to city states, to a tribal existence.   In The Man Who Loved Mars, Carter writes that Cities are a rarity on Mars, most of the Martians are nomadic tribesmen.  Thus, finding a living city in Farad, of the Moon Dragon people, near the south polar region is phenomenal.   Carter’s character mentions that the reclusive and mysterious Golden Lion nation, in the north polar area may still have cities.

Interestingly, Carter backs away from this.   The opening sections of The City Outside of Time take place in Yeolarn, a live city in the northern hemisphere which is occupied by large segregated populations of Martians and Earthmen.   The Earthmen live in the new city, the Martians populate the old town, but the implication is that Yeolarn has been long settled and was occupied before the Earthlings came along.

In the same novel, we hear of another city, Bakrah, which seems to be Martian only.  Bakrah remains nominally independent of the Colonial government, or at least self-ruling.  Bakrah is large enough that Prince Zarouk can go off extended military adventures. 

In addition to Bakrah, Diome, Shiaze and Yukara are also referred to as living cities or towns in the northern hemisphere.   In Sunless Sea, Ahour is referred to as a living city of the Martians in the Southern Hemisphere.   The villains plan to sell women into slavery there, so we know that this city is probably independent of the Colonial authority, and that the city state economies are partially based on slavery.

Bakrah also has trading caravans which suggest that the Martians are maintaining an economy more advanced and complex than desert subsistence in nomadic clans.   Trading Caravans are also mentioned in the southern hemisphere in Down to a Sunless Sea.   Again, the implication is that there is still a sophisticated planetwide trading economy, or at least substantial regional economies.

In addition to slavery as an economic foundation, there seems to be a lively trade in handicrafts and manufactured goods.  The dart tubes that the Martians use suggest at least some local technology and sophisticated manufacture is going on.   There are also some suggestions of local manufacture of pistols.   This indicates that the Martians haven’t quite completely lost their social or technical sophistication, no matter how bleak it can seem.  Actually, it seems quite consistent with Barsoom as Burroughs describes it.

In short, Carter’s own portrait of Mars overreaches himself.  It’s not the only time he does it.  In The Man Who Loved Mars, his characters find the corpse of a man crucified on a wooden beam.  But in several of his books, his characters claim that trees no longer exist on Mars.   So, where did the wooden beam come from?  Did the poverty stricken desert nomads have one imported from earth so they could have a crucifixion?  The better approach is to say that trees are generally believed to be gone from Mars or most areas of Mars, or at least, they don’t exist in the areas of Mars his stories are set around.

Nevertheless, despite the clear resemblances to Barsoom, the clear relationships to Barsoom, it seems obvious that Carters Mars, like Brackett’s is much more hardscrabble and poverty stricken than Burroughs Barsoom.   The tribes are much more desperate, much closer to the edge.  Even the relatively well off areas seem worse off.  I’ve already written in the Brackett essay of the likely devastating effect of Colonialism on a society like Barsoom.   We can apply much of that here.  We’re seeing a Barsoom labouring under decades of colonial oppression.

And there’s more:   Carter’s portraits are consistently of nomads on the bare margins of subsistence.   His heroes are usually Earth exiles, prospectors or scoundrels, in the most desolate areas.   Although its clear that cities and trade must exist, his protagonists are hundreds or thousands of miles away from these centers.

In short, even more than Brackett, Carter’s telling his stories in the most empty, the most godforsaken, the harshes and poorest areas of the planet.  His characters wander through places called Dustlands where even Thoats and Banths cannot make a living, where getting caught in a dust storm is fatal, and where the utter lack of moisture can sear an unadapted Earth human’s lungs.

In short, Carter’s setting his stories on Barsoom.  But on the harshest and emptiest parts of Barsoom, in the middle of a colonial era that grinds the whole planet into poverty.


Religion on Brackett’s Mars is mentioned only once, in Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon.  But sadly, we never get to learn much about this cult.   Brackett records legends of alien races, including the Polar ancients and the Quiru (possibly the same culture?) who have godlike science but are definitely not gods.    In contrast, Carter’s Mars is shown to be a very religious world. 

The Martians have what appears to be a Holy Book,  mentioned or referred to in just about every story.   Carter’s religion seems to be universal, the Book is read and venerated through the novels, the only indication of another religion are the worshippers of Zhaggua who have been so persecuted that they were forced to flee through time.   The Book, however, doesn’t seem to be a terribly organized document, but rather a kind of compendium, like the hebrew bible.   It contains proverbs, legends of ancient cities, creation myths, a tale of an edenic garden,  chronicles and histories including records of a particularly sadistic king, as well as the record of the jihad against the fire worshippers, guidelines for the journey to the underworld which are both metaphorical and literal, and an end times myth.   In short, it doesn’t seem to be an organized text written by a single prophet or representing a single philosophy, but something accumulated by steps.

The ‘Timeless Ones’ figure into a key portion of the book and are frequently referred to.  The Timeless ones, in the book, are recorded as having created the Martian humans from the ‘stuff of animals’.   Now they sleep, and the world awaits the ‘Day of Doom’ when they will awake and judge the world.   Hence they seem to be both origin and end times deities, but remarkably, they’re completely absent from day to day life.   They’re the ultimately remote gods, since they are sleeping through history.

As it turns out, the Timeless Ones, and the Journey to the Underworld is real.   It begins at the ‘River of Death’ which leads to the road to Iliornis, the holy city, originally known as Ylon-Ath.   The temple of Ylon-Ath leads to the underworld Yhoom, a giant underground cavern of immense size, miles below Iliornis, lit by seven spheres arranged in a ring.   It is reached through an immense stairway leading down from the principal temple of Iliornis.   From the staircase, there is a path lit by saffron, leading to a forest of gigantic mushrooms, known as the Abyss of Yhuu, which leads to the bridge of Fire, actually composed of luminous jewels or crystals, which leads to the Timeless Ones, who float in suspended animation.

The Timeless ones are three beings, inhumanly tall and gaunt, with attenuated limbs, apparently sexless and without navels or nipples, featuring nine fingered hands, narrow long and elfin faces, noses long and thin as knives, sharply pointed jaws, high ridged cheekbones, lipless triangular mouths, arched and prominent brow ridges, with twin swelling, hairless globes or lobes for a cranial dome, and green eyes.   They hover in a frozen amber mist, their bodies apparently finely scaled (although this may simply be condensations of the mist).   They bear some little resemblance to Lewis’ Sorns.   They claim to be aliens from the fifth planet, three who came to Mars and two who travelled to Earth who helped to create both Martians and Humans. 

Oddly though, the Timeless Ones seem rather cagey, they don’t so much reveal truths as leap to agree with whatever the humans are saying, so we can’t really be sure if they’re telling the truth or not.   In any event, in The Man Who Loved Mars, they are woken in an event which comes to be called ‘The Night of Gods’: They intervene in a fight in their chambers, knock a couple of orbital shuttles out of the sky, and cast a worldwide hypnotic spell compelling Earth humans to leave the planet.  They claimed to have established a barrier around the planet to keep Colonial forces away, but note that it will be taken down when the Jamad decides, or when they wake up, or when its no longer necessary.   Then they go back to sleep for an undefined period...    I dunno, the whole thing seems suspicious.

Can we reconcile religions of Burroughs Barsoom with Carter’s Mars?   Quite easily.   The key is Burroughs Tur Cult, which appears to have been an organically grown evolving faith.   Tur worshippers believe the world is flat, this tells us that the faith dates back to the time before people learned the world was round.   Tur lives in a specific place, the Sun, implying that he was not originally a universal god, but just one among many gods living in different places.  Over time, Tur as the sun god becomes a monotheistic deity, but his age and accumulated lore produces a vast number of bizarre rituals and avatars.

The keystone of the Tur Cult is their Turgan or Book of Tur, a holy book.  Given the likely history of the Tur Cult, we can assume that the Turgan is also an evolved document, a holy compilation book.   So its essentially likely to be the same sort of holy manuscript as Carter’s Book.   Arguably, they’re the same.

But isn’t there a conflict between the monotheistic Tur faith, and the cult of the Timeless ones.  God’s don’t get along well.   Or then again, perhaps they do.   Tur is a monotheistic God in John Carter’s world.   The Timeless Ones are referred to as ‘gods’. 

On the other hand the history of the Christian religion is full of Gods who are incorporated into Christian lore as saints and angels and occasionally devils, indeed, Christianity is famous for building its churches on pagan temples, and incorporating pagan rituals like ‘christmas trees’ and Halloween into its ceremonies.   A while back, the Catholic Church tried to straighten the whole thing out and ditch a bunch of saints who may never have actually existed.  But the principle is there.

The interesting thing about the Timeless Ones is how limited their role is in the theology of the Holy Book.   They’re associated with a creation and culture myth, and then they go to sleep and show up again for the day of Judgement.   That hardly sounds like regular gods as we understand them.   Rather, they sound more like servants or theological mechanisms carrying out purposes.   There’s a gaping hole in the theology.

It’s likely that the Timeless Ones actually did have their own cult.   However, if the Tur faith was anything like Christianity, it would have incorporated the Timeless Ones, assigning them a critical role under Tur, as agents or archangels.   The Timeless Ones would have went from being full fledged Gods, to agents of Tur, carrying out some part of his divine plan.

So why are the Timeless Ones so prominent in Carter’s Mars?   Simple.  The Martians are in an apocalyptic phase.   They’re under the colonial domination of Earth, getting sold into slavery, their cities overwhelmed, robbed, raped, blinded, their wealth carted off, narcotic drugs introduced, addiction promoted.   Their societies are in big trouble, and they’re longing for the judgement day promised when the Timeless Ones awake.   We’ve seen similar outbursts of apocalyptic longing for the day of judgement in troubled times on Earth, think Millenial fever, the rise of apocalyptic preachers during the fall of Rome, the black death, the great depression, etc.

It’s not that Tur is absent, or is being overlooked.   The Martians just really really want the day of judgement to come fast, so that all the miserable bastards from Earth can get theirs!

It’s true that the Timeless Ones carry a different creation myth than either the Tur or Iss faith.   This goes towards arguing that they were once a distinct religion.   But the fact that their creation myth continues to appear in the Holy Book doesn’t mean that they’re not now part of the Tur faith.   The Bible contains two separate creation myths, and people in our culture don’t even notice.   The existence of a secondary, contradictory creation myth is just par for the course.

One thing that should clue us in that Carter’s Mars religion is really the Tur Cult is the whole Zhaggua Jihad.   Think about this:   What the heck does Zhagguaziu, the Child of the Stars (or Child of the Sun), have to do with the Timeless Ones?    Where in the apparent theology of the Timeless Ones is there room for a devil?  Yet there was a ferocious Jihad, a genocidal campaign against the nine nations against the Zhaggua worshipping tenth.

The notion of a devil, an apostate ‘anti-god’, tends to suggest, indeed, tends to require the existence of a supreme God.   If you’ve got a polytheistic set up, then the devil is just another god, maybe more malign than the others.   If you’ve got a philosophical set up like the Timeless Ones, whose job is to wake, judge and decide... then there’s no role to play.

The only time there’s a real role for the Devil, is when there’s a Monotheistic Creator God.  Then the Devil becomes necessary.   Its very simple:   The Monotheistic God creates everything, which means that he must create evil.   Why should God create or allow evil?  And shouldn’t we hate God for allowing or creating evil?  Is God the bad guy here?   The way around it, is to create an anti-God, a Devil who is responsible for evil.   Thus, the Devil is there to get God off the hook for the ills of the world.   And you want to make the God supreme, so the Devil takes the place in theology of the offspring or bad seed, the angel gone wrong.   The Devil derives from God, demonstrating his inferiority and the inferiority of evil.  Simple, no?

So what’s Tur?   Tur is the Sun God, creating the Universe and Mars by basically flinging it out into the empty cosmos.

And what’s Zhagguaziu?  Zhagguaziu’s title is ‘child of the stars’, or perhaps more precisely, child of *a* star?  Child of the sun?   In Zhagguaziu’s own theology, it is born from the eruption of star stuff.   Essentially, its origin process parallel’s Tur’s own process for creating the Universe.   The implication is that Zhagguaziu is the offspring, the renegade son or daughter, or perhaps the Renegade angel of Tur.

Of course, Zhagguaziu appears to be a real god, or real godlike being, doesn’t he?   True enough.  But then again, in Barsoom’s universe, the telepathically sensitive Martians seem able to occasionally will their gods to life.   In this sense, Zhagguaziu may not be what he believes himself to be, but simply another manifestation like Komal in Burroughs Thuvia: Maid of Mars, or Oyarsa in Lewis Out of the Silent Planet.    For more on this approach, I’d refer back to Religions of Mars, II.

Nevertheless, Zhagguaziu doesn’t seem like any sort of Devil.  But then, he doesn’t have to be.  The faith of Zhagguaziu probably emerged in the early period of the Tur Cult’s domination as a religious schism.  Once there were two competing faiths, it was inevitable that one would turn on the other. 

In our history, its as if the Jews became the dominant religion and made Jesus the Son into the Satanic figure.   As it is, our own Christian history shows a great deal of effort to demonize the Jews, including implying satannic characteristics... thus there are folklore tales of Jews using the blood of gentile children or Jews having horns.

All the Tur Cult needed was a great religious schism, and the holy war was on, as the apostates or rivals became the emissaries of the devil.

Of course, there’s an interesting wrinkle here:   Zhagguaziu appears to be the same sort of being as the Flame of Iridar, also found in Mars remote past.   The Flame appears to be a more kick ass pseudo-god, willing to judge and willing to destroy civilizations.   But the truth is, they’re so similar that they may well be the same being at slightly different times.   The Flame appears to be much closer to a classical monotheistic-leaning sun god, so perhaps the Flame is actually the inspiration or origin for Tur or the Tur faith.

But what about the Iss Cult, which had long dominated the Tur Faith and was the dominant religion on Barsoom before John Carter came along.   Is there any sign of it, and what the hell happened to it?

There is a subtle hint.  In the Barsoom books, I found a number of Tur references in historical place names.   In the Brackett books, there were a number of possible Iss references in historical place names.   Interestingly, although Carter provides us with a lot more Martian words, including place names, we don’t find a lot of potential Tur or Iss references.   Possibly this is due to Carter’s penchant for describing his Martian geography by Earthborn designations.   But there is one very interesting exception.

The holy city near the south pole which is gateway to the underworld was originally called Ylon-Ath or ‘Gateway to the Gods.’   At some point, it was renamed Iliornis...  I-liorn-Iss.   Iss?  Isn’t that interesting.  It’s almost as if some new religion came along, like the Iss faith, dominated the entire planet, and decided to exert its domination by absorbing a potentially rival holy city, renaming it after itself.   The sort of thing that Christianity did on a regular basis.

But still, what happened to the Iss Cult?   Well, there’s a couple of possibilities. 

First, we have to remember that most of Carter’s stories are set in the remotest regions of Mars, among the poorest and most destitute.   The tribesmen that his characters deal with are basically dirt poor and miserable compared to most Barsoomians.   Essentially, they’re the backwoods of Barsoom.   Backwoods tend to be highly traditional, so it may well be that the Iss Cult never caught on, and the Tur cult remained dominant among the tribes.   The Tur cult is holding on in Phundahl after all, so there’s no reason it can’t remain in other backwoods.  And its worth mentioning that the nomadic barbarians of Kline’s Outlaws of Mars are clearly worshipping a variant of the Tur faith under the name Sarkiss.

The other possibility is that the Tur faith has made a major comeback in the last few centuries.   Remember that the Iss Cult was devastated and discredited in the late 19th century.   It wasn’t quite dead, half a century later, there were still Therns trying to sell a reformed Iss faith.   But certainly, it had taken a major kicking two or three centuries before the events Lin Carter describes.   There was room for the Tur faith, or for other faiths to make their move.   Meanwhile, the domination of Colonial Earth amounted to a major trauma, so there may have been a movement back towards the apocalyptic resolution promised by Tur’s ‘Timeless Ones’ and their day of Doom.

What it all amounts to is that we can neatly, without too much trouble, fit Carter’s information on religion into the religious history and context of Barsoom.  Takes a bit of work, but it reconciles quite well, without having to mangle any bits.

"There is a land where no man ventures; for no man cometh back therefrom once he hath entered in.  But even in the valley of Life, he that is pure of heart need not fear;   even in the Valley where Life was Born the pure have naught to fear.  But woe unto him who is not pure of heart; for therein shall be given to each according to his deserving. -  The Book/Martinez-Schuster translation/Syrtis, 2031." 
~  The Valley Where Time Stood Still, Lin Carter.
If the worshippers of Iss in Princess of Mars or Gods of Mars had had occasion to write about the Valley Dor at the end of the river Iss, this is very close to what they would have come up with.

In the religion of Iss, the Valley Dor was the abode of the Tree of Life.  It was the place where life began, where men were first born, and where they were innocent.  It was the place that all faithful travelled to by pilgrimage at the end of their lives.  It was the place where the pure and virtuous would find paradise..

“We trace our lineage, unbroken, direct to the Tree of Life which flourished in the centre of the Valley Dor twenty-three million years ago.   For countless ages the fruit of this tree underwent the gradual changes of evolution, passing by degrees from true plant life to a combination of plant and animal..... From the sixteen-legged worm, the first ape and renegade black man has sprung every other form of animal life upon Barsoom.   The Tree of Life is dead, but before it died the plant men learned to detach themselves from it and roam the face of Barsoom with the other children of the First Parent.”

"This is the valley of love and peace and rest to which every Barsoomian since time immemorial has longed to pilgrimage at the end of a life of hate and strife and bloodshed," he replied. "This, John Carter, is Heaven."

  Gods of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Dor is both the valley of the afterlife and the garden of Eden of Barsoom.   In Carter’s story, the valley of Ophar serves much the same purpose.

The two Valleys have interesting parallels and discords.   Both claim to be the valleys of the beginnings of life.   Both are filled with unique plant and animal species unknown or extinct upon the rest of Mars.  Both contain sacred bodies of water, Korus abode of souls, and the River of Life, Iss for Dor; for Ophar, it is the Pool of Eternity Where Shivers the Water of Life.

The Dor contains the cynical and corrupt Therns, who for all their holiness, know far too much, and savage Great White Apes.   Ophar contains innocent ageless children free of all knowledge, and the civilized and gracious giant Ushangti.   Dor contains its animalistic plant men, and Ophar contains its tree guardians, a different plant-animal.  In short, the two play as mirror images, sometimes reflecting, sometimes reversing.  So much so that it’s hard to imagine Carter writing about Ophar in the absence of Dor.  This is very much his attempt to do a Valley Dor.  As such, perhaps we should consider them as one.

By the same token, bits of the ‘afterlife’ aspect of the Iss religion show up in The Man Who Loved Mars.  If Ophar represents the beginning of life, then Iliornis and Yhoom represent its end.   Indeed, in the journey to the underworld, the first step is the ‘River of Death,’ a very deliberate allusion to the sacred River of Life.

But its one thing to say that the author is making a literary allusion.  Can we merge them as well in the context of a shared universe.   The key to that is looking at how theology evolves.

Remember that when I wrote about the Iss Cult, I described as a mystery cult, intrinsically hierarchical, dividing the world, dividing people, dividing knowledge into levels.  The ground level cult member got a basic set of religious principles.  Those who rose higher, by birth or work, were elevated into secret mysteries, deeper levels of knowledge.  It went all the way up to the Therns, who were the racial elite, and who presumably knew the secrets of their faith and who lived in the valley of paradise:   Dor.

But familiarity breeds contempt.  Mystery cults based on hierarchy always have to have secret knowledge all the way up.  There always has to be another level of wisdom, another level of holiness, another piece of ground that’s even more sacred.

So, think about it.  You’re the Therns and the Thern hierarchy, you’re all living in the Valley Dor, the holiest most sacred place on Earth.   Where can you possibly go from there?   Like those Russian dolls, the Therns theology demanded that there had to be a place, a valley, even more sacred and remote.   There was Barsoom, there was Dor, and beyond Dor, there had to be...  Ophar.   The ultimate holy place, the ultimate birthplace, the ultimate secret known only to the holiest and highest of Therns.

The logic of the Therns religion demanded it.   This was where the First Born came in, in Gods of Mars, of course.  They considered themselves the next step of Holiness, they and their Queen were the upper levels of the sacred.  The problem was that the Therns had no idea of the First Born and their contribution to the religion of Iss. 

So, they had to elevate it somehow and in some other way.  In the early history of the Iss faith, this was probably behind the renaming of Iliornis, and the metaphorical river of death and bridge of fire.  The Thern’s Iss Cult was casting about for a transcendent afterlife, an afterlife that went beyond the plebian afterlife that other Barsoomians got, and which they knew was false.  Under the circumstances, the remaining of Iliornis was probably the scene of a struggle between the Tur and Iss faiths over who would have religious dominion, whose sacred site, whose religion would it be.  We see something similar in Jerusalem, with the struggle over the site of both the sacred Mosque and Jewish temple.

Of course, in the case of Iliornis, though the Iss cult triumphed, its interest in and use of the holy site faded away, as the economic and environmental sustaining factors crumbled away.  The Therns could not save Iliornis from becoming a dead city, and the true secrets of the Timeless Ones seemed irrelevant to them.

On the other hand, the Valley of Ophar, itself a remarkable phenomenon, was probably adopted by the Thern Iss Cult as the ultimate site of the tree of life.   It may well have been a sacred myth site for a prior cult which was subsumed by Iss.  Or it may have been a discovery after the establishment of the Iss faith.

It’s likely that the Therns did not have a colony in the Valley Ophar, the Valley would not have allowed that.  But the highest and most holy Therns would have probably made pilgrimages to the Valley and exposed themselves to the rejuvenating effects of the pool.

It is worth noting that geographically, the Valley Ophar sits on the Martian equator, relatively near Ophar.  At the end of the The Valley Where Time Stood Still, the Martian, Thaklor, announces that he will travel to Argyre.  The Argyre region, of course, is the site of the Valley Dor and lost sea of Korus.   So the two structures are adjacent.  Perhaps almost as significant, Iliornis is near the south pole, so it is literally on the other side of Argyre.   In the Thern’s metaphysics, the three sacred lands form a line:    Ophar - beginning of the journey of life, Dor - journeying place where life begins and ends, and Iliornis/Yhoom - end of the journey of life.

If indeed, the Holy Book of Carter’s Martians is Burroughs Book of Tur, then its likely that the passage refers equally to both Valleys, perhaps without making a distinction between the two.   Indeed, no one but the highest Therns would have realized that there was a distinction.  Most worshippers of Iss would have simply taken it as a reference to Dor.  Worshippers of Tur would have seen it as simply a reference to the creation myths.

Finally, let me make a quick diversion into the parallel between Burroughs lost underground sea of Omean, with its lost race of black pirates and fierce society of slavery and hierarchy, another race of the knowing and the corrupt; with the lost underground sea of Zhaa, with its lost race of golden children and their social and sexual utopia, a race of the innocent and virtuous.

I’m not sure that Omean truly inspired Zhaa.  I think more likely that Omean, the notion of an Underground Martian Sea, might have been a starting point.  But Carter clearly went in his own directions and had other influences.   For instance, his mushroom forest is borrowed from Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  And I think that Peter Pan and his lost boys offers up more than a little inspiration for the carefree dragonfly riders of Zhaa.

That being said, Omean as a physical and geological structure would certainly mean that another lost sea like Zhaa is entirely possible.  Zhaa could easily fit into Barsoom.


Unlike Brackett, Carter doesn’t introduce halfling races.   The only intelligent species he acknowledges on his Mars are the humans.   According to Carter, nothing resembling apes exist or have ever existed.

The Timeless Ones, who may be Sorns, claim to be aliens.   In any event, there’s only three of them seen.

On the other hand, the Ushongti are well established, though absent, figures in Carter’s Mars.   In folkore, they are the Martian Ogres and Genii’s.   Statues and representations of them are found almost everywhere.   They’re depicted in statues as giants with three horned heads, four fingered hands, immense downward tusks, elongated earlobes, and large eyes.   They’re particularly associated with Ophar and Illiornis.

Ushongti still exist in the valley of Ophar, where they are discovered to be short tailed, pot bellied purple lizards, bipeds, with three crests or wattles instead of horns.   The Ushongti are telepathic, enjoy wines, and were once widespread on Mars.

Okay, here’s the interesting question:   Are the Ushongti four-limbed or six-limbed.   Carter doesn’t say.     Normally of course, this wouldn’t be an issue, and we’d just assume by default that they’re four limbed creatures. 

On the other hand, as we see in the next section on Carter’s Mars, with the exception of the Slidar and Humans, every other major animal is six limbed.   Specifically, except for the Slidar which may be descended from a six limb, every large reptilian is a six-limbed creature.

Which suggest perhaps that we should be assuming that the Ushongti are six limbed?  Possible.

The thing is, if they are, then we’d pretty much have to assume that six limbed, biped, tusked giants are closely related to the Green Men and White Apes of Barsoom, wouldn’t we?

So, arguably, we might consider the Ushongti to be a Thark-related race, which would tend to mean that Carter’s Mars is Barsoom.   But if it is, where are the actual Green Men and White Apes?  Or for that matter, where are the Kaldanes?   Or where are Brackett’s halfing races, such as the winged people of Caer Hebra?

The short answer is not in the godforsaken hinterlands of Carter’s Mars.   Remember, these are the remote dustlands, countryside too barren and empty for Thoats.   The Green Men are elswhere, they’re minding their own business, and they want nothing to do with the Colonials.   White Apes stay well away from anything, tend to inhabit the dead cities, and are likely not in the regions Carter writes of.   Indeed, they’re rare and reclusive, so they may well be considered legendary by many Earth humans.

As for the rest of the Halfling races, and in these we’ll include the Kaldanes, the Sarmaks, the winged Folk of Caer Hebra, and even the Sorns, Hrossa and Pfiltriffi, everything we know about Barsoom suggests that all the nonhuman races (apart from Green Men and White Apes) are literally Island species, occupying tiny enclaves and are not widely distributed.


Leigh Brackett mentions practically no Martian animals.   Martian humans, halfling races which are bird winged, reptilian and otter-like, or otherwise nonhuman are shown.    But of the stories and novels I’ve read, the only two Martian animals referred to are a six legged sand-cat the size of a leopard in one short story, and riding animal seen several times in different stories, but not only is this creature never described in anything but the most generic terms, she doesn’t even give it a name.   Not so with Lin Carter, who shows us a number of beasts: 

Plants Generally:    On Carter’s Mars, plants are blue.   According to him, there are two major lines of plant species:   Mosses, and low shrubs with broad flat leaves that are ‘cooked’ for water.  These seem to be the dominant plant species for much of the planet. 

Trees:  According to Carter’s characters, there are no trees on Mars, although petrified wood fragments have been found.   But this doesn’t hold up, in The Man Who Loved Mars, his characters encounter a man nailed to a wooden beam.   Well, wood has to come from trees, and it doesn’t seem like the poverty stricken Chun tribesmen imported it from Earth.   So obviously there are still trees and forests on Mars, but not in the dustlands or polar areas.   The better statement would be that trees are absent from the regions that Carter focuses on.

Fungus:   Forests and ecologies of fungus and mushrooms are found in the underworld, Yhoom, and the Sunless Sea.   Whatever ecologies exist down there are clearly not based on photosynthesis.  Its not certain what they’re based on, but the flora is clearly characterized as fungus.

Plants of Ophar and Zhiam:   Ophar is a ‘garden of eden’ which is filled with plant species that are extinct elsewhere on Mars.  These include trees, shrugs, grasses and an assortment of flowering plants.   Zhiam is set long in Mars past, and likely has a similar complement of flora.   One life form which may be particular to Ophar (or at least not seen in Zhiam) are motile trees, whose branches wave and who are able to seize and hold animals.   These are similar to known but rare carnivorous plants on Burroughs Barsoom and Thuria, including those in that other ‘garden of Eden’ the Valley Dor.

Sandcat - Described as resembling a crimson tiger, the creatures appear in three books, and seems to be the dominant predator of the dustlands.   They are large beasts, one is nine feet long, another is described as larger than a bengal tiger, another bigger than a kodiak bar.    They have blunt wedge shaped heads, savage fangs, six legs,  monstrous birdlike claws with venomed talons, and a catlike, whiplike tail.  The creatures are ferocious ambush predators, faster than a cheetah, who conceal themselves in sand dunes and ambushes approaching prey.    They may be related to the smaller Sandcat (possibly an immature specimen?) referred to in Leigh Brackett’s story, The Halfing, which is also six legged.

Slioth - aka Cliff Dragon, cousin to the Sandcat of the dustlands, reptilian cliff scavenger, six legged, with bird hooked claws, armoured in leathery hide and tough overlapping chitinous scales, like a lobster’s shell.  Extremely hard to kill.  Unlike the Sandcat, the cliff dragon appears to be an active hunter.  It’s capable of disembowelling a human with a swipe of its claws, and can and will kill Slidars.

Rock Dragons - Fifteen feet from fanged gaping maw to wriggling barbed tail, the middle parts thick as a mans thigh.  Thick overlapping scales.   Not a true serpent, it has three sets of short bowed legs armed with birdlike claws.  Retractable fangs with paralytic venom that freezes the prey and preserves it for later devouring.   An ambush predator, which loops like a python.

Unnamed Draft beast - six legged animal, beaked,lean and sinewy, five times as large as a leopard, covered with green and gold enameled scales.   It had a long graceful arched neck, like a horse but longer, delicate clawed feet, slim and graceful proportions.   It is speculated that it might be an ancestor of the Slidar, despite the Slidar’s four legs framework.   Seen in Zhiam, set in Mars past, the animal is likely extinct in modern times.

Slidar, a draft animal and riding beast:  Reptilian, ungainly, splay footed, red, of remarkable endurance.   A little larger than a hourse, Four legged, long arched neck, scaled, fanged, snake tailed, broad shouldered, gaunt, bony, ungainly, awkward.    The Martian version of a camel..  The flesh is inedible.  It has a shambling, loping stride.  It’s name loosely translates to ‘loper’ in Martian.  Apart from humans, it is the only animal identified as being specifically four legged.   The other large animals seen are six legged, including a potential ancestor to the slidar.

Felines:   Catlike animals, roughly the size and appearance of a small leopard or dog are seen twice.  They exist on contemporary Mars in Ophar, the Martian garden of eden, and millions of years in the past, around the city of Zhiam.   In both instances, they seem to be harmless vegetarians rather than carnivores.  The speculation each time is that they are the evolutionary ancestral species to Martian humans.

Orthave:   Giant albino rodents that occupy caverns around the southern polar region.   Orthava:   A martian fur or fleece bearing animal, presumably native to the polar regions.  Possibly a relative of the Orthave, or perhaps the same species.  It might be a singular name, or perhaps the female of the species.

Ongga:   Scarlet lizard hunted for food or by predators.  Orange lizards are also seen and hunted in another story.  Possibly a different species, but none of them are described.  It appears that the these creatures and their relatives are the principal food source for the Sandcats, Cliff Dragons and Rock Dragons. 

Fur Bearers:   Most of the animals encountered seem to be reptilian in nature.   However, furs are frequently referred to, as well as fleece.  There’s a throwaway reference to Martian furs being smuggled to earth as a trade good.

Winged Serpents: Small winged snakes exist in folklore and in the past around the city of Zhiam.  They are extremely fast agile flyers, capable of plucking dart needles out of the air.

Insects: There are only two kinds of insects found outside the Sunless Sea

Giant Dragonfly, Sunless Sea:  The size of a six man canoe, this creature inhabits the Sunless sea where it is domesticated by the people of Zhaa.   It is used as a riding beast by the adolescent hunters of Zha, and is also used to tow their seagoing ships.

Lesser Dragonfly, Sunless Sea:   Still huge by terrestrial standards, it is the size of a small animal, a cat or a dog.  It’s flesh is edible.

Sunless Beach Insects, Sunless Sea:   Giant Beatles the size of small animals, Flies the size of birds, are found on the beach facing the Sunless Sea.

Giant Sea Slug, Sunless Sea:   Three hundred feet long, faceless with only a sphincter maw, jellylike flesh lucent to the point of transparency.  One is encountered in the Sunless Sea and driven off.

Sea Slugs, Sunless Sea:   About the size of dogs or small persons, with jellylike transparent flesh.  They are the main food source of Zhaa.

Even setting aside the unique flora of the Sunless Sea, Carter’s Mars has a decent range of substantial animals.   Indeed, Carter’s Mars in this respect resembles Barsoom quite a bit.   The most significant feature is that the three major predators and a riding beast are six legged creatures.  Barsoom, of course, is distinctive for its six, eight and ten legged creatures, which are practically a trademark.   Six-legged Sandcats and Rock Dragons fit right in on Barsoom.

Carter’s stories show a Mars far more desolate than Barsoom.   Many of the stories are set in the dustlands, or in polar areas without a trace of vegetation.    By contrast, even the desert areas of Barsoom tend to have enough moss and occasional stands of bush, to support Thoats and Banths.   But its always a mistake to assume that the entire world looks exactly like the corner of it that you are exploring, there are a diversity of environments on any continent.  What we may be looking at is that Carter is simply describing the most desolate and marginal areas of Barsoom.  We could easily assume that his Sandcats, Rock Dragons and Slioth are inhabiting the dustlands and drylands too severe even for the hardy banths and calots. 

By the same token, if the Thoat is the Martian horse, then clearly the Slidar is intended to be the Martian camel.   Again, the idea is that the Slidar is the dominant riding beast of the truly empty desert territories too barren for Thoats.

Carter describes many of his animals as reptilian in nature, while Burroughs indicates that true reptiles are relatively rare on Barsoom...  But then there are only two mammals.   So it seems that Barsoomian life is neither mammal nor reptile, but perhaps some multi-legged combination with aspects of both.   Again, this seems to reconcile with Carter.   As in Barsoom, it seems that most of the fur bearers tend to be found around the poles.  But in neither case do we get much of a description.


At this point, doing linguistic deconstructions to connect different writers versions of Mars or Pellucidar is starting to become a kind of card trick.  What the hell, its fun.

Often, its hit and miss.   Different writers have different approaches.  Burroughs, for instance, turned in entire glossaries, lists of words for Mangani, Barsoomian, Caspak, Pal-Ul-Don and Pellucidarean.  On the other hand, apart from names and place names, Leigh Brackett gives us a mere four words of her Martian.

Carter, unlike Brackett, does not stint on Martian terms.   Indeed, we’ve put together a glossary of literally dozens of terms.   The point of this section is to examine Lin Carter’s Martian terms and see if we can find correspondences with Barsoomian as invented by Burroughs. 

The idea is that if we can find connections, this allows us to argue that the languages or related, or perhaps even one and the same language.   A  true language like English contains tens of thousands of words, the glossaries of Carter or Burroughs contain at most, a few hundred.  Or in the case of Brackett, a couple of dozen.   If we assume that Martian is a true language, then its got a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, and what we get from Burroughs is simply the tip of the iceberg.    Same with Carter.   The implication is that if we can find relationships between the tips, then underneath, its really the same iceberg.

It would probably help if you checked out the Linguistic section of the Brackett Essay, as well as Linguistic Archeology and Orovars.  I’d note that there are a number of other Essays up on the site, which touch on the matter as well.  Rather than going over a lot of old ground, I’m just going to jump right in...

The big problem with Carter’s language is not that there’s a shortage of it, but that in many cases, he goes for strange spellings.  In some cases, I have no idea how to pronounce it.   F’yagh anyone?  How about Hndolanthi?  Ygnarh?  Ah well.

To start off, its worth noting that there is some hint that Carter is using Barsoomian grammatical rules.   He refers to a giant fur bearing rodent living in caves in the southern polar area as both Orthave and Orthava.   In Barsoomian, adding an ‘a’ or ‘ia’ to the end of a noun makes it feminine, usually signifying a daughter.   We don’t know for sure that the Orthava is the female of Orthave, but it does work.   Similarly, the word F’yagh, referring to hated outlanders, is also given as F’yagha which may represent a female outlander, or it may be a collective noun feminized as an insult.   Kaffara also appears to be a feminized version of Kaffarh.

Perhaps the most significant and interesting of Lin Carter’s Martian words is Yhoom, their term for Underworld or Afterlife.  Yhoom is obviously the root for Barsoom, as well as Sasoom, Jasoom, Cosoom, Rasoom, the other worlds of the solar system.  Thus, every planet is Yhoom with a prefix. 

And it gets better.  Burroughs has an ancient city, now populated by green men:  Warhoon.  Carter’s Thanator stories give us two alien races, Yathoon and Zarkoon.  This implies that ‘Hoon’ may be a term for non-human or for otherworldly.  It’s a meaning consistent with that of Yhoom.

Linguistic Archeology and Orovars suggests that the Barsoomian language was strongly shaped by the religious impulses of the old Orovars.   So with Yhoom, Carter has given us a key root word, and key piece of Barsoom’s linguistic puzzle.   It doesn’t just fit, but it contributes.

In other linguistic explorations, we’ve gone looking for key signifiers.   Critical root words, the most important of which for Barsoomian is Tur, and its derivations, Tor, Tar, Thor, Ther, Thur.  Tur is the Barsoomian sun god, and he shows up in a lot of Burroughs and Brackett’s place and personal names.  Oddly, not a lot of sign of Tur.

There are a couple of interesting words:   Dok-I-Tar - A corrupted pronounciation of Doctor, which has generically come to mean a wise man or healer.   Possibly its nothing, but often, these corrupted pronounciations try to have a word make sense in their own language.  So the Tar usage in Doctor may well be a Tur reference.

Meanwhile, Pteraton, the Martian sphinx, breaks down as Tur-A-Ton.  Perhaps another Tur reference?

As noted, there’s also an Iss reference in Iliornis. 

A second Iss reference may be found in Chun.  Chun is the plateau and name of the people of the Moon Dragon nation who surround Iliornis.   Chun also seems to be the same or similar tribe to Leigh Brackett’s Shun, whose name is derived from Iss:   Iss=N

In Barsoomian, Tur seems to give rise to a series of derivative holy words - Far, Var, Kar, Hor, Sar etc.   Kar seems to mean children, or descendents.   Sar appears to mean both sky and home.  Far and Var appear frequently, for instance in Orovar, but the meaning isn’t clear.   Nevertheless, it comes up often enough that we know its an important root word

In Carter’s Mars, ‘Far’ or ‘Var’ seems to show up frequently, as we see:

Ophar = O-Far (translation: ‘The Holy’).   This is a small breakthrough, since this allows us to judge that O = ‘the’ and Far = ‘holy.’ 

Back to Barsoomian, this allows us to translate the name of the yellow men of Mars, Okar, as ‘The Children.’   Sort of like ‘The Children of Israel’ or ‘Children of God’, or simply ‘The People.’ 

And this returns to Carter’s word for psychic:   Quaraph or Kar-Af..

Kar or Kor also shows up in Carter’s Martian name Kurak (Kor-Ak), as well as in the Martian cities of  Shiangkor (Shong-Kor), Yukara (U-Kar-A).

There are a number of other Lin Carter usages which seem to incorporate ‘Far’.  Notably: 

Iophar = E-O-Far, another holy city. 

Niophar = Neo-Far, a dead city.

Farad = Far-Ad, the city closest to Iliornis and Yhoom, and thus holy in its own right. 

Farad-I-Janhg is the term for River of Death, and incorporates ‘Farad’ either as a reference to holiness, or a reference to the city of Farad. 

Kaffarh = Ka-Far.  A eunuch or celibate, the term may have indicated some sort of lay priest, monk or person of saintlike devotion.  Celibates and Eunuchs are seen in human cultures as persons who have stepped partly out of the social world and are thus closer to the holy.

Ahour = A-Hor, seems to follow a long tradition of Barsoomian city names.  Am-Hor, Du-Hor, Hor-Z, etc.   Hor may mean City or Town, or Community.  It’s obviously a truncation of Tur or Tor.  T’Hor.  So perhaps the closest meaning is congregation or followers.

Dja-ih az Mhu-a Zjiam-aZar  - Translation:   “Door to Outside the World”   Note that it contains the root word Zar or Sar, which is closely connected to the concept of place or home, or sky, the most literal translation seems to be ‘house in the sky’ or ‘house of the sun.’   In this context, then perhaps a better translation of the whole phrase might be ‘Door to the Homeland Outside the World’ Or perhaps ‘Sacred Door to the Homeland Outside the World.’

Sar or Zar also shows up in The Flame of Iridar’s  Sarkond the evil Enchanter.   Sark is the name of an Empire of Ocean Era Mars in Leigh Brackett’s ‘Sword of Rhiannon.’  Sarkiss is also the Sun God of ‘Outlaws of Mars’ by Otis Adelbert Kline.   Sar or Zar shows up several times as a root word in the names of a city and mountain range in Tolstoy’s Aelilta.

Carter has several words which incoporate the root ‘Ja’, or ‘Jha’ or ‘Je’.

- Kammu Jha - proprietor of a wine house of the same name.

- Jamad Tengru

- Farad-I-Janhg - River of Death. 

- Jhay yam-I-jaah - Pool of Eternity where Shivers the Water of Life.

- Jarad-I-Zha   - translation:   stuff of beasts, from the creation myth.

As we noted in Brackett, ‘Jah’ or ‘Je’ shows up frequently in Burroughs Barsoomian.  Jahar, Tjanath, as well as Jeddak, Jed, Jetan.  It shows up in Brackett in Jekkara.  All of which tends to lead to a meaning of ‘high’, ‘king’ or ‘noble.’  It at least denotes elevated or high status.  Perhaps meanings include highest or exalted.

This meaning seems particularly significant in the use of Jamad.   In Barsoomian, ‘Mad’ is Man.  Thus, Ja-Mad is High-Man or King-Man. 

Lin Carter also uses Mad as a root, in addition to Jamad, he refers to an ancient city called Omad.  (Perhaps literally ‘The Place of Man’ or ‘The Land of Men’).  Burroughs also uses the term ‘Omad’, among Green men it indicates a man who has only one name, ie, Man Singular, or ‘The Man.’   Interesting.

But gettign back to topic, This suggests that Ja or Jha may have a similar meaning for the other uses, and it would not be too inconsistent in these meanings.   It doesn’t accord to the direct translations we are given.  But at the same time, it could fit into the broader meaning of the terms.

Thus Farad-I-Jhang or ‘River of Death’, amounts for Far (Holy) - Ad - I - Jha (Exalted) - N. 
Jhay (Exalted)- Am - I - jaah (Exalted).   Ja (Exalted) - Rad - I - Zha.   We can just vaguely grasp the shape of deeper meanings.

Looking around, we have Dhu used as a personal name.   Du or Dhu is significant for Brackett, who has two cities named Caer Dhu, one of humans, and one of serpent people, as well as using this as the name for her serpent people.  Burroughs names two cities Duhor and Dusar.  Kline names a third city Dukor.

Carter’s use of Martian is consistent enough that we can excavate a few key roots of his own.  For instance, the words for Priest (Hualatha), Holy tablet (Huakan), Sacred Land (Hualokkah), and Sacred Valley (Huatan), all contain the same basic prefix - Hua, which we can take as another word meaning roughly sacred or ‘of god’, or perhaps ‘of the holy’.  Interesting.

But that also adds a bit more meaning to his purple lizard race:   Ushongti.  Hua pronounces as U or Yu.  So perhaps Ushongti is really or originally Hua-Shongti.   Were the Hua-Shongti connected in any way with Carter’s old Martian city of Shiangkor, or perhaps Shong-Kor?

This may also mean that phonetically, Yhoom actually pronounces as Hua-Hoom, or U-Hoom which would mean ‘Sacred-World’, it fits perfectly. 

This would give us a suggestive interpretation for Carter’s dead cities of Ykhar and Ythiom, as Hua-Kar (Sacred-Children), and Ythiom as Hua-Tur-M (Sacred God’s M).  Iliornis previous name, Ylon-Ath would be Hua-lon-Ath.  As well as for the modern cities of Yukara = Hua-Kar-A (Sacred Daughter Children), Yeolarn = Hua-L-ar-n, Ygnarh = Hua–ar.

As far as Barsoomian counterparts go, we have the Barsoomian land of U-Gor (Hua-Gor), a fruit tree Usa (Hua-Sa, how do you like them apples),  and individual names U-Dan, U-Dor, U-Kal and U-Lah, U-Thor and U-Van.

And if we wanted to really have fun, we might go back to Jamad Tengru.  Perhaps Tengru is actually a combined word.   Ten-Gru or Teng-Ru, or Teng-R-U, or Teng-R-Hua?  In some languages, the pronounciations of H’ and R’ overlap, so it could be Teng-Hua.   There is no direct equivalent to Ten or Teng in Barsoomian.  But there is a word which is phonetically close, and might fit:   Than, or Warrior.

Which would give Jamad Tengru a translation of Ja-Mad Than-Hua.   This in turn translates out as follows:   Ja (Highest) - Mad (Man) Than (Warrior) - Hua (Sacred).   Or literally:   Sacred Warrior King...  Or Sacred Lord of Warriors, or Holy Warlord....    So, gee whiz, Jamad Tengru would relate to English as ‘Warlord of Mars.’   Who knew?   Perhaps Ivo is only the second Jamad Tengru from Earth after all.   It might explain why Thioma was so willing to hand the crown over to a hated Earthman.

It does kind of explain that whole ‘Warlord’ thing in Burroughs.  Think about it.   Does it make any sense that a civilization as old and tradition bound as Barsoom was, a society with such elaborate codes of etiquette and morality that Dejah Thoris would be brought to the edge of taking her own life to avoid a social faux pas, a society dripping with fine distinctions of rank and aristocracy...  A civilization like that would just ‘invent’ a title for John Carter?   Do the Barsoomians really seem like the sort of civilization that would just whip it out of their ass?

Or is it more likely that the title of Warlord, a title with very different freight and obligations and powers than Jed or Jeddak, was actually a long established and well recognized title within Barsoomian society.  An international title that brought authority beyond national or tribal boundaries?

What do you think?

Of course, if Thioma and Ivo Tengren became Jamad Tengru or Warlord, does that mean John Carter is dead?   Definitely not.   The crown of Warlord must be passed while the Warlord is alive.  If he dies with it, the crown and line is ended.   Thioma, the Warlord who passed the crown to Ivo Tengren was on his deathbed, but probably this is not the usual way.  It was desperation on Thioma’s part.   John Carter was alive and well when he chose to pass the crown of the Warlord on, for his own reasons.

Meanwhile, Zihuat, or firestone, seems to incorporate the sacred ‘hua’ in its center.  Does this imply that Fire was Sacred, or at least linguistically connected to the Sacred?   This brings us back to Tur, the Sun God, or god of Fire.   Z-hua or Z-U seems to be the concept of word root for ‘sacred fire’. 

Z-hua for ‘Sacred Fire’ leads us to the word complex:   Zhagguaziu (Z-Hua-G-Z-hua, or literally the ‘sacred fire of sacred fire, literally, child of the sun), Zhaggua (Z-Hua-G-A, or loosely ‘the daughters of the sacred fire’), Zhiam (Z-Hua-M, or perhaps ‘land of the Sacred fire’), Ziriol (Z-Hua-R-L, or possibly ‘gem of sacred fire’, and perhaps even Zhaa (Z-Hua-A).

Another interesting Carter root seems to be Sli, used for both Slidar the riding animal, and Slioth, the predatory cliff dragon.  Possibly, this might relate to ‘Silian’ the Barsoomian word for the water serpents in the Sea of Korus, or Syl, the underground river beneath Ghasta.

In short, the obvious markers of the Barsoomian tongue, Tur and Iss, are not strongly present in Carter’s Martian language, but there are a couple of indications of both.   But in other areas, particularly the usages of Kar, Far, Hoom, Du, Jah 

The usage of Hua or U, seems to connect strongly to both the Barsoomian language and historical culture, and the extension, Z-Hua seems to relate conceptually back to Barsoomian history and world view.   In short, these roots are not only consistent within Lin Carter’s usage of them in his martian stories, but they’re consistent with and complementary to Barsoom.

Bottom line, we can make a pretty good case that Carter’s Martian language is in fact Barsoomian.

Which inevitably means that Carter’s Mars is in fact a Barsoom of the future.

Anyway, to wrap it all up, I think that what we have here really is Barsoom.   It’s the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but not the world that Burroughs wrote about.   That world chronicled Barsoom between 1860 and 1940, it chonicled the adventures of heroes and soldiers in the center of Barsoomian civilization.

These stories, like Brackett’s, are set centuries later, when Barsoom’s civilizations are under siege from, or disintegrating under the weight of colonial oppression from Earth.  They’re set in isolated hard bitten hinterlands, on the fringes of a society under siege.  Indeed, its stories are set even further out on the fringed than Brackett’s.   But beyond that, it is still recognizeably the same Mars as Brackett’s.   We could imagine Ryker or Brant walking down the streets of Jekkara and Valkis.   Indeed, both Mars are still recognizeably Barsoom, and perhaps we can contemplate Ivo Tengren living in the same world as Helium.

And that’s it, dear reader.  Hope you enjoyed this....

Anyway, you can stop reading now, attached are just a couple of Appendices for those who like to check the references.    A glossary of Carter’s Martian terms, and a Listing of the Names of Characters in the books.  I didn’t really want to, but someone had to get it done....

Oh, and by the way, allow me to render thanks to Steve Servello and J.G. Huckenpohlar for supplying additional information...  

~ Den Valdron 
18,300 Words
Continued in ERBzine 1784
Appendix 1: Glossary of Lin Carter's Marian Terms
Appendix 2: Characters and Names

Lin Carter Articles by Den Valdron

Carter's Callisto
Shape of Thanator
Alien Races of Callisto
Civilization of Callisto
Barsoom-Thanator Connection
Callisto Pellucidar
Callisto Future
Literary Zanthodon
Literal Zanthodon
Linguistic Zanthodon, 
Pellucidar, Mangani, Pal-ul-don
Colonial Barsoom
Colonial Appendix

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