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Volume 2315d
Edgar Rice Burroughs On Mars
eText Reference
J. Allen St. John: Chessmen of Mars - 8 sepia interiors - Jetan board on back cover

The Chessmen Of Mars: A Review -  V
by R.E. Prindle

The Taxidermist Of Mars ~ Part 2
     To return to the arrival of Gahan, Tara and Ghek at Manator.  The three have been drifting before the wind for days as they have no propeller to move them.  Tara is in dire straits  badly needing water and food.  Landing some disntace from Mantor Gahan decides to enter the city in search of food and water.  He is espied on his approach and a trap set.

     I am assuming that Manator represents LA and Burroughs is decribing his arrival there in 1919.

     Porges was the ERB trailblazer while to my knowledge he is the only researcher allowed in the archives to this date.  Robert Barrett seems to have had a close relationship with Danton Burroughs, ERB’s grandson,  and Danton released snippets to him from time to time but there is no evidence in Barrett’s wrtings in the Burroughs Bulletin that he has spent any time in the archives.

     Not even Bill Hillman who has done so much for Danton and ERB, Inc. has been allowed to work in the archives.  Danton promised Hillman documentation  for some time but never found the time to send it.  I once talked to Danton by phone and he indicated he was withholding access for ‘effect.’  I didn’t ask what effect.   He did release a valuable snippet to me though.  So, to a very large extent one is forced to combine Porges’ seminal but fairly meager information with what was happening in Burroughs’ life as reflected in his novels.

     One of the areas that have troubled me is the relationship of ERB's rival with Emma, Frank Martin, both before and after their marriage.

     Martin was disgusted with Burroughs who he thought, correctly I believe, didn't actually want Emma but didn't want anyone else to have her either.  I think it probable that ERB wanted to keep Emma on the shelf indefinitely as the result of the confrontation with John the Bully.

     Driven to desperate measures Martin drew ERB to New York on his father's private rail car and attempted to have him murdered in Toronto.

     That attempt failed.  ERB in defiance married Emma against her family's wishes a few months after the attack.  Now, what was Frank Martin's reaction to the wedding?  Did he resign himself to the reality or did he interfere in the marriage any way he could?

     We have a couple facts that indicate that at the very least he kept an eye on the couple.  Hard facts.  Martin’s associate or stooge was a man called R.S. Patchin.  He was on the trip to New York and present at the assassination attempt in Toronto.  In 1934 aftr ERB divorced Emma Patchin showed up in LA and sought ERB out for what appears to be the first time since 1899.  Did he just happen to be in town at that moment or was he acting as Frank Martin’s agent?

     Before we answer that let us consider Patchin’s next appearance in ERB's history.When ERB died in 1950 Patchin sent a condolence letter to the family specifically recalling ERB’s bashing in Toronto.  That is why we have a good record of the event.  Sometime between 1934 and 1950 Martin died so Patchin was operating on his own.  In his note he reminded the family of the Toronto incident that might be considered as even gloating perhaps.

     The interest of Martin and Patchin then appears to be malevolent.  If Martin and Patchin appeared at one of these unpleasant occurrences  then it follows that perhaps Martin was working against ERB’s interests from 1900 at the the time of the wedding on.

     Martin may have driven ERB and Emma out of Chicago in 1903.  In 1907 and '08 when ERB impregnated Emma twice in close succession that may have been a defensive move against Martin.  The angry ex-suitor very likely then continued his machinations behind the scenes after ERB’s literary success finally driving ERB from Chicago for good in 1919.

     Now, Chicago was a movie making center before the rise of Hollywood.  Many of the important  movie people in LA originated in the Windy City.  It is not improbable that the son of a railroad magnate who owned his own private rail car knew some of them.  As starlets were starlets then as now it is not inconceivable that Martin spent time in LA part of each year.  Thus, when ERB moved to LA which Martin would have known in advance it is conceivable that he planned his revenge.  The trap was laid so innocuously  that as in his entry into Mantor Gahan/ERB wasn’t aware of the trap until he was completely in its meshes with little chance of escape left.

     That ERB was an impetuous lad given to snap decisions must have been known to anyone who observed him as closely as Martin must have.  ERB left Chicago to seek twenty acres on which to raise his hogs.  Instead he was shown the 540 acre estate of General Otis of the LA Times.  As I understand it ERB did not seek the estate but that notice of it was brought to him.  There was the bait.  The bait was too attractive.  ERB bought the estate  and was hooked.  The trap was sprung.

     ERB went on a spending spree of magnificent proportions without realizing what the costs were and how vulnerable his income was.  Now saddled with care he had to struggle to find time to keep up his writing.  Publishing became more difficult for him while his movie revenues came to a halt in 1922, the year after Chessmen.  Whether you look at it like the impetuous Burroughs, who acted first and thought later, merely mad a very bad decision or whether he was lured into  buying the estate he either was trapped or trapped himself.  Chessmen would indicate that he believed he had been trapped.

     In any event he was moving with the big boys in LA according to the big guys' rules.  That is a very difficult transition to make.  The big boys play rough.

     Let us see how ERB portrays Gahan's entry into Manator.  His entry is noted by a sinister unknown figure from the walls.  We never hear of this figure again.  He just disappears from the story.  Gahan's entry into the city is unopposed.  He merely enters the unguarded gate and begins walking down a street.  There the three figures dogging him split up.  The figure who spotted him follows him from a distance, another runs ahead so that Gahan is caught in the jaws of the vise.  The third figure parallels him keeping him in sight.

     When they wish him to enter a building the man ahead creates the sound of a patrol approaching from the front.  A door stands conveniently open.  Gahan ducks in.  This door may represent his buying the Otis estate.  As the patrol draws closer Gahan retreats around a corner into a hall.  Someone of the patrol enters the door forcing Gahan farther along the corridor.  The figure retreats closing the door behind him.  Gahan now finds the door locked.  He is trapped in the corridor. He must go forward.  Thus ERB having bought Tarzana has no choice but to live with his mistake.

     He proceeds down the hall in this charade of doors that is part and parcel of ERB's psyche.  Gahan is directed on his way  by being compelled to enter the only unlocked door.  Finally he approaches a bank of doors all locked except door number 3 that is standing open.  Yes, this scene was repeated in 1934's Tarzan And The Lion Man but more of that later.  Gahan enters hearing the door click shut leaving him absolutely no exit.  His course has been downward.  He is now in the pits of Manator.

     He is now directed to a room with a table parallel with the wall.  He sits down.  Gas is emitted from holes in the wall sedating Gahan.  He passes out.  How clever, Gahan ruminates when he comes to, I have been good and roundly caught and not a hand was laid on me.    We too marvel at the masterful description of Gahan's capture.  In real life ERB is saddled with an estate too large for his income and spending habits and which is slowly consuming him.  Thus when he awakes from the sedation he finds a giant ulsio, the Martian Rat knawing on his arm.  One assumes that if Gahan hadn't wakened when he did he might have had his limbs consumed.  Had ERB just become aware of his predicament?  Was the game now on?

     Nicely done, great atmosphere and from we readers' perspective a great story.  But now let's backtrack a little before we move on.  This is really quite a story.


      While the Jetan game is the most fascinating aspect of this novel for perhaps most people the game itself may be the game within the game, so to speak, the story within the story.  The whole Manator story may be considered as a game of chess in which each episode is a move in the game.  Remember in the framing story ERB had finished a game of chess with Shea.  The Secretary turned in leaving ERB ruminating about his loss and blowing smoke at the head of his king -- the head.  As he does so John Carter walks in.  He tells ERB, in the latter’s own persona, that Chess is similar to Jetan on Mars.  So, smoking the head of his king very likely gave ERB the hint to construct the story along the lines of Chess.  Thus the opening gambit, the first move is Gahan’s entry into the city countered by the mysterious figure who engineers his capture.

     As ERB comtemplated how he had gotten into his Tarzana dilemma he may very well have compared his situation to a game of chess that must be played well if he were to extricate himself unharmed.

     He has chosen to present his problem in the form of a dream.  Because in dreams as he has a character in Fighting Man Of Mars say, you can't get hurt.

     In Gahan's entry ERB creates a bizarre dream image of balconies full of people observing his progress but who seem oblivious of it.  Soon we learn that I-Gos the taxidermist of Mars spends his life stuffing these dead people who populate this strange city.  In dreams of course all the participants have no real life; like the dead past they have no volition.

     Apparently this novel is activating dreams in me.  The other night I dreamt I was walking down a boardwalk as in old Chicago with the crazy ups and downs.  As I mounted a higher part of the boardwalk I was accosted by six thugs.  As they were discussing what to do with me I was paralyzed with fear not unlike ERB before John the Bully.  Then I said to myself:  This is a dream and I can't get hurt in a dream.  So saying I grabbed the closest thug and threw him through a plate glass window.  Turning quickly I grabbed a second thug and hoisted him over the railing.  The remaining three, there must have been only five, were paralyzed in their turn.  Then I grew bored and woke up.

     So ERB in the same way is examining his dream world but tweaking it from his daytime consciousness.  His real life is being interpreted through his symbolism.

     That in 1921, the time he wrote this story, one knows that he was already in deep trouble is because in 1934 when he was already going through the trauma of battling MGM, the Communists, and divorcing Emma and marrying Florence he replicates his entry into Manator in his entry into London and the City Of God.  The bit with the three doors, the third being open and clicking quietly shut behind him is an exact duplication of Tarzan And The Lion Man.  In that novel he enters a prison where he finds his Anima ideal, Rhonda, already imprisoned.  In this one he is chained beside A-Kor (rock spelled backwards).  In Lion Man the strange creature is God; in this one the Taxidermist Of Mars.  There is no reason not to believe ERB is going through some real stress.

     When the effect of the gas dissipates, first he dispatches an ulsio, The Giant Rat Of Mars (echo of Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat Of Sumatra?) he notices that the table that had been parallel to the wall is now vertical to it.  At the far end he notices the key to his manacles.  Here he employs his classical education by recalling the story of Tantalus.  In that story Tantalus was standing in water with fruit trees above him but could neither eat or drink because water and fruit receded before his grasp.

     Thus the solution to ERB’s problem is frustratingly just beyond his grasp as he stretched out manacle biting into his ankle.  I believe this image probably refers to his childhood fixation of John The Bully that he can’t quite consciously recall or resolve.  Part of the story develops around the fixation in the form of Gahan's contest with O-Tar the Jeddak.  O-Tar represents John the Bully as well as Frank Martin.

     In Gahan's predicament then ERB represents his own psychological dilemma.

     I will give another example from my own dreams.  Several years ago I had this wonderful dream that I thought was so spectacular that I wrote it up as short story.  Anyone interested can read it at  It’s called "The Hole In The Sky."

     At the time I was struggling to resolve my own central childhood fixation.  I thought an image my mind employed so amazing that it was the only literary image I had ever had that I thought was completely original.  We’ll see.

     In this dream my fixation appeared as a giant Gordian Knot three or four feet in diameter.  There's a real fixation for you.  I hadn’t been able to unravel this knot so now Alexander like I was going to cut it.  I had this giant pair of scissors so huge I could lean on the handles like a crutch.  I could see the problem and had the tool in my hands to resolve it but I couldn’t manipulate the huge tool.  Two guys offered to help so instead of of helping me with the scissors they picked up the knot with a rod running through it.

     I didn’t recognize the two but they were obviously the ones who gave me the fixation not unlike ERB and John the Bully.  They stood grinning mockingly at me holding up the fixation.  I struggled with scissors then asked them for help.  In response they laughed and shook the knot at me.  I had to give up.

     Just to show how the dreaming mind works I later discovered that the image that I thought was so original was based on a scene from a 1957 movie I’d seen.  So twenty or twenty-five years later I duplicated a scene from The Incredible Shrinking Man in a dream.  Richard Matheson who wrote the wonderful I, Legend also wrote the equally wonderful, Shrinking Man.

     In the movie the Man had shrunk down to the size where a now giant spider was attacking him.  He was about to fight the spider using a needle but he had to cut the thread with a now giant pair of children’s scissors.  In attempting to manipulate them he knocked the needle over the edge of the table.

     So there you have it.  Just tell your story; don't worry about being original; it can't be done.  So ERB employs Greek mythology to creat his image.  I can't say he was conscious of it anymore than I was in mine but so many of his details fermented in his mind for decades before they spilled out onto the paper.

     Gahan sits back down in exasperation.  then he notices the doors to his prison have been left open.  No matter, he can't leave chained to the wall.  He marvels at the diabolical cleverness of his captors.  They intend to totally frustrate him. So ERB in real life was caught in a trap where while not in a jail he was effectively imprisoned.

     As Ghek at this point becomes mere foolery in the story I’m going to ignore his doings unless tangential.

     To further the story A-Kor is arrested and chained next to Gahan.  He provides Gahan with the information that will allow the latter  to organize his Jetan team and bring the story to its denouement.  In the meantime Gahan is brought from the pits to be interviewed by O-Tar along with Tara and Ghek who have been captured.  There Ghek  uses his hypnotic powers to allow Gahan and Tara to escape to the pits together.  ERB uses a device that seems to have been a favorite.  There is a curtain over an opening behind the throne they escape through.  Opar has the same arrangement through which Tarzan and La emerge in, I believe, Tarzan The Invincible.

     In the pits the couple encounter I-Gos who explains his grisly business and solves the mystery of the immobile viewers lining the streets.  The scene then follows in which Gahan is locked in the storeroom at the very bottom of the pits of Manator or the equivalent of the brain stem.

     Separated from Tara the interlude of the Jetan game occurs in which Tara was the prize for the winners of the game.  I will deal with Tara and the game in Part 6.  Tara and Gahan return to the pits.  It does seem a bit strange that Tara never recognized Gahan in his panthan guise.  But, there you have it, anything goes in a dream story.

     The couple find their way to the quarters of O-Mai an ancient Jeddak who died five thousand years previously.  His quarters are believed to be haunted so that in 5000 years they are the first to enter with the possible exception of I-Gos.   Now, I’m not going to say that ERB ever read Isis Unveiled by Madame H.P. Blavatsky written in 1877 but consider this passage on page 560 of Vol. I:

…Tcharaka, a Hindu physician, who is said to have lived 5,000 years B.C., in his treatise on the origin of things, called Usa…

     ERB also mentions something called usa.  I thought perhaps it meant United States Of America which, indeed, it may double as but the singular connection of Usa and the 5,000 year old Tcharaka is singular.   ERB was friends with L. Frank Baum and as David Adams points out Baum was into the occult which is clear from his writing so that he may very well have been familiar with Madame B and encouraged ERB to read Isis unveiled which is quite a book.  I merely point out the coincidence.

     It is here in this dismal past of truly ancient history that ERB chooses to attempt to resolve his fixation with John the Bully.  In the character of  O-Tar he has conflated John and Frank Martin so that in eliminating John he hopefully eliminates Martin at the same time.  It would seem that these two psychological facts exist in his mind as closely related or in another word, one.  At this crucial turn in his later life the fear caused by John and the imputation of cowardice ERB endured as a child that conrolled the nature of his response to problems has to be met if he is to successfully meet the challenges of Tarzana.  That Frank Martin may be operating against his interests behind the scenes, he who followed behind Gahan as he entered Manator, is evident because ERB associates his marriage to Emma in this context.  The figure who followed Gahan and disappears from the story now reappears in an aspect of O-Tar.  In ERB's mind both John and Frank would be rats.  Thus we have both the cowadice issue in O-Mai's quarters that prove John is a coward and Gahan/ERB isn't and the marriage scene where Gahan in O-Tar's disguise steals Tara/Emma away.

     Gahan and Tara explore O-Mai’s quarters that are spooky enough.  A group of warriors playing cards appear as lifelike just as I-Gos arranged them.  Initially taken back Gahan slowly realizes that they are the work of the Great Taxidermist of Mars.

     They discover the mummy of O-Mai lying on the floor where he died with his foot caught in the bedding.  This is a terrific dream image.  We know it is a dream because Tara and Gahan can see in the dark.  In dreams yours eyes are closed hence you are in the dark but you can see clearly with an inner light whether deaming of sunlight or the pits.

     I-Gos becomes aware that they are there.  He informs O-Tar who sends his troops down to get them.  The incredible legends associated with the place have them terrorized.  Thus when they enter spotting the four warriors weird screams fill the chamber.  Panicking they flee.

     Now comes the crucial test of O-Tar/John.  He ridicules his warriors who then challenge him to go.  There’s no backing out so off he goes.  He is given the treatment by Gahan swooning away for over an hour.  He of course invents a story for his delay and returning empty handed which is proven false by I-Gos.  Thus he is a self-convicted coward.  In the way the mind works ERB would have exonerated himself of the charge if this had been real life.  As it wasn’t we can only guess how effective it was.

     While Gahan was concentrating on O-Tar in O-Mai's quarters I-Gos spirited Tara awaypresenting her to O-Tar/Martin who becomes enamored of her.  She haughtily rejects him so offending him that he makes her the prize of the Jetan game to be shared by the whole winning team.  Gets worse and worse.

     Now comes the piece de resistance of the story; the part everyone concentrates on.  That’s in Part 6.

A Review of The Chessmen Of Mars by R.E. Prindle:
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI

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