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Master of Imaginative Fantasy Adventure
Creator of Tarzan and "Grandfather of American Science Fiction"
The Many Worlds of
Adventure of the Martian Hegira:
fragments from the
Barsoomian Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes
as edited by
Stu Shiffman, FWA,
member: Sound of the Baskervilles, Hounds of the Internet
“Someday I will die the real death from which there
is no resurrection.”
- John Carter of Mars
“I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love
of all that is bizarre and
outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life.”
- “The Red-Headed League”
Recent archaeological research in the middens of southern California, particularly in the region of Tarzana, have revealed a thoroughly oxidized steel lockbox bearing the initials “ERB”. Inside were a variety of surviving artifacts and fragments of documents including a Confederate(1) army belt buckle inscribed to “John Carter of Virginia,” various invoices for uncommon radio-wave equipment attributed to a Jason Gridley, an ebony statue of a curious robust hominid(2) carved in the style of the Waziri(3) people of Africa, some India ink sketches of odd beasts with too many legs, and accompanying partial texts. In amongst these, and other items of specialist interest, were the accompanying fragments of narrative. Internal evidence points to the writing of the noted London consulting detective(4) of the 1880's-1890's, as redacted by his biographer, since the text does show signs of that sensational style adopted by the good doctor.
II. The Fragments:
Fragment A. (This is the longest section of unbroken text, and seems to be the first in sequence, going by internal evidence.)
Those who had read the account that my friend Dr. Watson has entitled “The Final Problem”(5) were undoubtedly as surprised as my friend by my return to London three years after my supposed death in battle with my foe Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime. In Watson's words as recorded in “The Adventure of the Empty House”, I looked “even thinner and keener than of old, but there was a dead-white tinge in his aquiline face which told me that his life recently had not been a healthy one”6. Alas, even upon my return I kept certain singular facts from my dear friend – facts for which he and the world we know are not yet ready. Who but a bedlamite would have contemplated that otherworldly intelligences(7) would be observing our poor terrestrial globe in this last decade of the 19th century?
It came about in this way. Moriarty and I had tottered at the brink of Reichenbach Falls, locked in an embrace that could only end in death. I had used my knowledge of what Watson misrecorded as baritsu, the Japanese system of wrestling (more properly “bartitsu,” an European adaptation by E. W. Barton-Williams of the ancient disciplines of Nippon), to slip from his grasp while he plunged over the edge into the fearsome abyss below us.
I told Watson that I had been unharmed in this struggle. Alas, I wish that it had been so. My injuries from the battle were greater than I had thought. The shock of it all had delayed my properly perceiving it. I had grasped hold of the late Professor's stick (yet another of Von Herder's sinister air-guns fashioned in a true “shooting-stick”) and tried to make off up the mountain face. Alas! the sum of my injuries and the attempts by the unseen lieutenant of the professor's to administer the coup de grace caused my fall down onto an until then concealed ledge above and out of sight of the spot where Moriarty and I had fought. Something is broken inside, I thought: broken ribs at least, and perhaps other internal damage. I imagined again that I could still hear Moriarty's scream as he plunged into the awful cataract, until his body smashed on the rocks below. This time I imagined that I heard his laughter.
I laid there a long time until the coming of dusk. I seemed to see myself from outside my body. The rising of the crimson star of Mars caught my eye. Planet of the god of war! It seemed the very embodiment of the battle I had waged here, and suddenly I wished myself there. A sad fantasy and my own. I lost myself to the void.
I awoke on a russet-colored hill beneath a rippling night sky. I examined myself and to my astonishment seemed to be in perfect health, indeed the best that I had felt since I first turned at University to the experimental use of the seven-percent solution of cocaine as a pallitive for my nervous condition. My garments seemed rather the worse for wear, but I clung to them as protection against the bitter chill of an alien dawn. For so I discovered, for I glimpsed the twin shapes of the hurtling moons of the world I was to know as Barsoom(8)!
Fragment B. (A short fragment, with no explanation how the narrator knows the name of his new world.)
The green behemoth charged me, and my first leap to avoid his attack sent me a man's height into the thin Martian air. This six-limbed chimera was armed with a double-handed battle-axe and a long heavy sword. Using my knowledge of single-stick and fencing and my somewhat rusty experience as a cricket-player, I wound up and pitched a stone against the wicket of his unprotected head and then prepared my walking stick in a defensive posture.
Imprimis, I was no longer on the planet of my birth. Secundus, through a seemingly fantastic mechanism I had been translated to the planet Mars or a reasonable facsimile. Tertius, It seemed that I was "reborn" with a clean slate of health and vitality in the brave new world of Barsoom.
Fragment C. (Contact with the citizens of the Red Martian city-states. “Carter” is presumably the putative “uncle” of Edgar Rice Burroughs whose adventures on the fantastical world of Barsoom are detailed in A Princess of Mars, etc. as recounted by “Carter” to ERB.(9))
They call me “Shar Holo” here.
On the habitual undress of the Red Martians: "How unlike the home-life of our own dear Queen!" The Barsoomian Reds seem to have no such tapu about nakedness as suffered by Europeans. Certainly there is no sense of sin or shame attached to their social interaction with undraped bodies. Ah, the benefits of pagan ignorance! There is no self-consciousness in the demeanor of a certain gracious lady of Helium, the princess Dejah Thoris. My fellow terrestrial “displacee,” Captain Carter, seems to have adapted admirably and is totally assimilated to the fashion mode of Barsoom.
Fragment D. (An explanation of the narrator’s transposition to the new world?)
...The matter-transmittance device(10) developed by the Red Martian dottore Maro Tyas in the service of Tsurah, the Dowager Jeddara of Phundahl. Only Ras Thavas, that master-mind unfettered by conscience, is deemed a scientist of greater note in the Red city-states. The question still lingers, why was this device focussed on the alpine range of Europe rather that the loftier Himalayan? Was I the intended object, or yet another? Could Professor Moriarty have been in communication with the Red savant by some interplanetary telegraphy?
Fragment E. (Something from the Martian casebook. Adventure of the Heliumite Heiress)
The criminal Master-Mind of Mars, Ras Thavas, had kidnapped Tara, daughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris of Helium. Never put your trust in a man who plays Jetan(11); they show a certain devious turn of mind and are quite unreliable.
“The game is afoot!” I cried to Carter. The sound echoed in the palace of the jeddack.. How I wished for the comfortable and reliable presence of my Boswell with his service pistol in his pocket! Watson had proved his value as a partner in many an adventure, even in such small things as his ability to be a sounding-board of my ideas without the distortions to which others are prey. Carter was more a man of action than of reflection.
I buckled on my harness and sword and we prepared to go. “Quickly, to the flyer field!”
Fragment F. (Something else from the Martian casebook.)
...what Watson might have entitled “The Adventure of the Giant Ulsio of Zodanga.”(12)
It had been a wearing day in the palace of the Jeddack of Jeddacks. A diplomatic reception for an envoy for another of the Red statelets had dragged on for hours and not even the gracious presence of Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, and Lady Thuvia could make the function pleasurable. I yearned for some case to test my faculties; for I stagnate without a challenge.
The Green warrior Tars Tarkas and I had walked back to the private apartments. The Greens in general do not have great skill as conversationalists, dependent as they are on their powers of mind-speech between themselves. Yet Tars Tarkas is that great wonder for a Green, one who matches his great courage and warrior prowess with a personal philosophical turn of mind. We were discussing the ethical and civil responsibilities incumbent on any member of a community, when we were approached by a Red male of the scholarly class.
“Sir,” said he, “are you the the Jasoomian Shar Holo known to be a consulting philosopher of social and criminal puzzles?”
“That is correct. I see that you are a physician and natural scientist: Is there some difficulty about which you wish to consult with me?”
“How did you ... ah, so what they say is true! You are in fact a wizard among men. I am Mor Tamols of Zodanga, a healer and natural philosopher. Can we adjourn to your private chamber to discuss this special matter?” He gave a look at Tars Tarkas that spoke volumes.
“Indeed,” I said, “ but you may be free to speak in front of the warrior Tars Tarkas. He has the confidence of John Carter himself!”
We adjourned to my private chamber, and made ourselves comfortable after I had lit the brazier.
“Shar Holo, I am healer-in-chief to the princely family of Zodanga. Do you know of Zodanga, sir?”
“I have a visitor’s knowledge,” I replied, “and some experience in dealing with the Dowager Jeddara and Xaxa, the current jeddara.”
“There is a cadet line of the ruling family, barred from the ascension to the throne for an ancestor’s misdeeds millenia ago. The most recent leader of this line, Lord Jals, was yet still a man of wealth and influence in the state of Zodanga; only second to the princely house itself. There had been some rumors of a coup d’etat(13) favorable to some commercial interests planned, to place Lord Jals on the throne. But Lord Jals was found outside the city, dead in the saddle of his favorite thoat(14) and without a mark upon him. What is strangest is what was found beside them, tracks the size of a zitidar’s(15) —”
“Shar Holo, they were the footprints of a gigantic ulsio...”
1 The Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (Harper & Row,1986) There is an entry for a “Captain John Carter” of the Confederate Army born in Georgia, but it is questionable whether this the same person as the protaganist in the tales recorded by ERB. Could “John Carter of Virginia” be yet another mask, such as Dr. Watson used to disguise the true identities of the notables in his records?
2 The Encyclopedia of Evolution, edited by Richard Milner (Facts on File, 1990) See entries on: Ape Language Controversy; Australopithecus Robusti; Cryptozoology; Deduction; Divine Beneficence, Idea of; Gigantopithecus; Tarzan of the Apes; Feral Children; and (The) Lost World.
3 “The Arms of Tarzan” by Philip Jose Farmer, Burroughs Bulletin #22 (Summer 1971) In the course of establishing the hereditary arms of the Lord of the Jungle, Farmer links the protaganists of common histories related by ERB to those of other cycles including the Canon. See also Farmer’s Tarzan Alive for connections to figures from the Canon like John Clayton and the Holdernesse/Greyminister/Greystoke connection.
4 The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Doubleday) see also Oxford Sherlock Holmes(Oxford University Press).
7 War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells. See also The Space Machine, by Christopher Priest; and Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds, by Manly Wade Wellman & Wade Wellman.
8 Barsoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs and The Martian Vision, Richard A. Lupoff (Mirage Press, 1976). See also page 62:
“There was plenty of room for adventure on Mars, Captain Carter was having a rollicking good time for himself. Everything he might wish for was available: love, danger, glory, action. There was the comfort of the familiar every time another adventure began (faint echoes are heard of a flat at 221B Baker Street, London) paired with the excitement of a new and exotic setting every time John Carter or one of Burroughs’ alternate Martian heroes set out on a new exploit.
“‘Come Burroughs, the game’s afoot!’ one hears a ghostly suggestion of a voice, so faint as to make one wonder whether it’s there at all.
9 A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (McClurg, 1917)
10 “Martian Manhunter,” various hands (DC-National Comics, 1950's-present) for a parallel case in reverse, bringing a giant green shape-shifting “Martian” lawman to Earth. See also “Adam Strange,” (same publisher) for something similiar on the John Carter/Buck Rogers scale.
11 Jetan is the Barsoomian form of chess. Burroughs recounts Carter’s tale of a game played with humans, in the manner of the French kings.
12 The ulsio is a large rat-like creature of unusual size and fierceness with all the charm of a wolverine on a bad hair day. It is one of the two true mammal species of Barsoom (the egg-bearing humans of all colors are the other). See Burroughs, above.
13 One presumes this term is used in substitute for some similar one in the Barsoomian tongue.
14 A riding animal.
15 A mammoth-sized beast of burden, used in caravan transport of goods.
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