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
"'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.
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:
"'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.)
"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.
At the beginning of Warlord of Mars, John Carter states:
"'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.)
"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....
Following Thurid and Matai Shang, Carter overhears them in conversation:
"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.)
"'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?'
Hot on the heels of Thurid and Matai Shang, Carter and Woola come inside
the base of the Temple of the Sun:
"'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.)
"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.
He opens the door by using the radium flash torch, shining it in the almost
invisible keyhole for timed periods of intensities of light:
"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.)
"Slowly, the solid stone sank noiselessly back into the wall
– there was no hallucination here.
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:
"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
"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.)
"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
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
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.
After they journey by submarine, they are taken to the caged elevator:
"For quite half an hour we descended and then the shaft terminated abruptly
in the dome of a mighty subterranean world." (GM/8.)
"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.
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.
"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
"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."
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