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Volume 2987
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.

The Temple of the Sun is one of ERB’s most marvelous and sadistic inventions. It is very important to imagine this temple properly to fully enjoy the adventure of John Carter has he fights from pole to pole for Dejah Thoris, his incomparable Martian princess. From the myriad descriptions it can be quite confusing at times to see precisely how it works. Every detail given must be studied carefully and compared with all other details before a final picture can be developed. Though in most cases of ERB’s creations, considerable room for doubt is left open in the reader's imagination.

Near the end of The Gods of Mars, Yersted, the First Born captain of the Omean submarine, is the first to describe the Temple of the Sun:
"'Hast thou ever heard of the Temple of the Sun? It is there they will put her. It lies far within the inner court of Issus, a temple that raises a thin spire far above the spires and minarets of the great temple that surrounds it. Beneath it, in the ground, there lies the main body of the temple consisting in six hundred and eighty-seven circular chambers, one below another. To each chamber a single corridor leads through solid rock from the pits of Issus.

"'As the entire Temple of the Sun revolves once with each revolution of Barsoom about the sun, but once each year does the entrance to each separate chamber come opposite the mouth of the corridor which forms its only link to the world without.'" (GM/20.)

Later, Xodar, Dator of the First Born, takes Carter to the Temple of the Sun in an attempt to rescue Dejah Thoris, Thuvia, and Phaidor from the cell Issus has put them into:
"The black led us rapidly through the inner chambers of the temple, until we stood within the central court – a great circular space paved with a transparent marble of exquisite whiteness. Before us rose a golden temple wrought in the most wondrous and fanciful designs, inlaid with diamond, ruby, sapphire, turquoise, emerald, and the thousand nameless gems of Mars, which far transcend in loveliness and purity of ray the most priceless stones of Earth.

"'This way,' cried Xodar, leading us toward the entrance to a tunnel which opened in the courtyard beside the temple....

"'Follow me, John Carter,’ replied Xodar, and without waiting for my reply he dashed down into the tunnel at our feet. At his heels I ran down through a half-dozen tiers of galleries, until at last he led me along a level floor at the end of which I discerned a lighted chamber.

"Massive bars blocked our further progress, but beyond I saw her – my incomparable princess, and with her were Thuvia and Phaidor. When she saw me she rushed toward the bars that separated us. Already the chamber had turned upon its slow way so far that but a portion of the opening in the temple was opposite the barred end of the corridor. Slowly the interval was closing. In a short time then would be a tiny crack, and then even that would be closed, and for a long Barsoomian year the chamber would revolve until once more for a brief day the aperture in its wall would pass the corridor’s end." (GM/22.)

At the beginning of Warlord of Mars, John Carter states:
"For sixth long months I haunted the vicinity of the hateful Temple of the Sun, within whose slow-revolving shaft, far beneath the surface of Mars, my princess lay entombed – but whether dead or alive I knew not....

"Six hundred and eighty-seven Martian days must come and go before the cell's door would again come opposite the tunnel’s end where I had last seen my ever-beautiful Dejah Thoris." (WM/1.)

Following Thurid and Matai Shang, Carter overhears them in conversation:
"'I have heard of the Temple of the Sun, Dator,' replied Mattai Shang, 'but never have I heard that its prisoners could be released before the allotted year of their incarceration had elapsed. How, then, may you accomplish the impossible?'

"'Access may be had to any cell of the temple at any time,' replied Thurid. 'Only Issus knew this; nor was it ever Issus’ way to divulge more of her secrets than were necessary. By chance, after her death, I came upon an ancient plan of the temple, and there I found, plainly writ, the most minute directions for reaching the cells at any time.'" (WM/1.)

Hot on the heels of Thurid and Matai Shang, Carter and Woola come inside the base of the Temple of the Sun:
"Not ten minutes later we came into a vast circular apartment of white marble, the walls of which were inlaid with gold in the strange hieroglyphics of the First Born.

"From the high dome of this mighty apartment a huge circular column extended to the floor, and as I watched I saw that it slowly revolved.

"I had reached the base of the Temple of the Sun!

"Somewhere above me lay Dejah Thoris, and with her were Phaidor, and Thuvia of Ptarth. But how to reach them, now that I had found the only vulnerable spot in their mighty prison, was still a baffling riddle.

"Slowly, I circled the great shaft, looking for a means of ingress....

"Then I continued my search for the entrance which I knew must me somewhere about; nor had I long to search, for almost immediately thereafter I came upon a small door so cunningly inlaid in the shaft’s base that it might have passed unnoticed to the less keen or careful observer.

"There was the door that would lead me within the prison, but where was means to open it?" (WM/3.)

He opens the door by using the radium flash torch, shining it in the almost invisible keyhole for timed periods of intensities of light:
"Slowly, the solid stone sank noiselessly back into the wall – there was no hallucination here.

"Back and back it slid for ten feet until it had disclosed at its right a narrow doorway leading into a dark and narrow corridor that paralleled the outer wall. Scarcely was the entrance uncovered than Woola and I had leaped through – then the door slipped quietly into place.

"Down the corridor at some distance I saw the faint reflection of a light, and toward this we made our way. At the point where the light shone was a sharp turn, and a little distance beyond this was a brilliantly lighted chamber.

"Here we discovered a spiral stairway leading up from the center of the circular room.

"Immediately I knew that we had reached the center of the base of the Temple of the Sun – the spiral stairway led upward past the inner walls of the prison cells. Somewhere above me was Dejah Thoris, unless Thurid and Matai Shang had already succeeded in stealing her." (WM/3.)

Carter begins to ascend the spiral stairway, but Woola drags him down, and then across the floor to the opposite side of the chamber where there is another doorway:
"Here was another doorway leading into a corridor which ran directly down a steep incline. Without a moment’s hesitation Woola jerked me along the rocky passage....

"But a short distance from the circular chamber we came suddenly into a brilliantly lighted labyrinth of crystal glass partitioned passages.

"At first I thought it was one vast, unbroken chamber, so clear and transparent were the walls of the winding corridors, but after I had nearly brained myself a couple of times by attempting to pass through solid vitreous walls I went more carefully.

"We had proceeded but a few yards along the corridor that had given us entrance to this strange maze when Woola gave mouth to a most frightful roar, at the same time dashing against the clear partition at our left.

"The resounding echoes of that fearsome cry were still reverberating through the subterranean chambers when I saw the thing that had startled it from the faithful beast.

"Far in the distance, dimly through the many thicknesses of intervening crystal, as in a haze that made them seem unreal and ghostly, I discerned the figures of eight people – three females and five men....

"A moment later they had disappeared into a stone corridor beyond the labyrinth of the glass." (WM/3.)

At the top of the Temple of the Sun is a huge circular central court, a golden temple paved with a transparent marble of sheer whiteness. At its base is another huge circular domed room made of white marble. From the top of the dome of the base chamber to the floor the bottom of the revolving central shaft descends, which contains 687 circular cells stacked one upon another. In other words, between the central court above and the large chamber at the base below, the revolving shaft must be approximately 5,496 feet from top to bottom if the cells are eight feet high, or 6,870 feet high if the cells are ten feet high. In comparison, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the tallest building in the U.S.A., is 1,454 feet high.

We assume, for the shaft to work, that the connecting solid stone corridors to each level must begin above the large chamber at the base below, for there appears to be no intervening space between the massive metal bars that block the end of the corridors and the cell door in the revolving shaft.

The corridors cut through solid stone leading to the outside walls of each of the 687 cells are accessed by means of a tunnel corridor in a courtyard outside of the temple’s central court, a literal descent into the Pits of Issus. We are not told which way the temple revolves, clockwise or counterclockwise, only that the corridor is lined up with the cell for only one full day, then not again for another 687 days.

The inside of the shaft is accessed through a door at the base, only opening to a key-lock combination that is tripped by light beams for a certain amounts of time at certain intensities of light. An inside shaft corridor runs along parallel to the outer wall, then cuts inward to a well lighted chamber at the center of the shaft. A spiral stairway leading up into the center of the shaft and its inner walls begins in the center of the room.

It is not clear, however, if these inner walls are also accessed by means of a labryinth of crystal corridors inside another chamber accessed by means of a declining corridor on the other side of the central chamber. This last chamber with the labyrinth is the hardest thing to imagine, if one can imagine it at all.

When one fully realizes how long it would take to ascend or descend all 687 levels of the temple, it boggles the imagination. It would be like taking the stairs up 5 Sears Towers, stacked one on top of another. Surely, the spiral staircase or the crystal corridors must have led to elevators, for the time it would have taken Matai Shang and Thurid to have gotten Dejah Thoris, Thuvia, and Phaidor, from their cell near the top of the shaft – remember Carter had only to descend about six galleries before coming to the corridor leading to Dejah Thoris’s cell – to the bottom where Carter discovered them leaving a crystal corridor into a stone corridor, appears unrealistic if they had to walk the whole way, even if downhill. Not to mention the time it would have taken Matai Shang and Thurid to ascend to the cell to begin with.

An elevator seems logical since a caged one was deployed to rise from the depths of Omean to the Gardens of Issus above. We get an idea that Omean, like the Temple of Sun's revolving shaft, is also thousands of feet below the surface:

"For a moment the vessel hovered motionless directly above the center of the gaping void, then slowly she began to settle into the black chasm. Lower and lower she sank until as darkness enveloped us her lights were thrown on and in the dim halo of her own radiance the monster battleship dropped on and on down into what seemed to me must be the very bowels of Barsoom.

"For quite half an hour we descended and then the shaft terminated abruptly in the dome of a mighty subterranean world." (GM/8.)

After they journey by submarine, they are taken to the caged elevator:
"Around the edge of the pool was a level platform, and then the walls of the cave rose perpendicularly for a few feet to arch toward the center of the low roof. The walls about the ledge were pierced with a number of entrances to dimly lighted passageways.

"Toward one of these our captors led us, and after a short walk halted before a steel cage which lay at the bottom of a shaft rising above us as far as the eye could see.

"The cage proved to be one of the common types of elevator cars that I had seen in other parts of Barsoom. They are operated by means of enormous magnets which are suspended at the top of the shaft. By an electrical device the volume of magnetism is generated and regulated and the speed of the car varied.

"In long stretches they move at a sickening speed, especially on the upward trip, since the small force of gravity inherent to Mars results in very little opposition to the powerful force above.

"Scarcely had the door of the car closed behind us than we were slowing up to stop at the landing above, so rapid was our ascent of the long shaft." (GM/9.)

Of course, this is just speculation. We must always remember that ERB created impossible situations and then made them believable through brilliant narration. It seems almost self evident to me, however, that at the top of the spiral staircase was an elevator cage used for accessing the inner walls of the cells. But it just may be that ERB never had to think this all the way through for the parties Carter was seeking were no longer in the shaft but leaving it.

I must admit that the chamber with the maze of crystal corridors in it, other than having an analogy with the carnival fun house of mirrors, is beyond my imagination to fully grasp as corridors of access to the inner walls of 687 cells stacked one on top of the other.

And there you have it: ERB's Temple of the Sun, the Seventh Wonder of Barsoom!

A Princess of Mars
The Gods of Mars
The Warlord of Mars

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