When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars and its sequels, he wrote what was the literary equivalent of a peep show, which we know he was fond of from his 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition midway adventures. (See, ERBzine #1275, chpt. 6.) This is where Little Egypt became an international celebrity. Because no acts of sex are explicitly described in this series, this fact passes mainly unnoticed to the modern reader, but a discerning eye sees naked people on almost every page. . .
This would have been shocking literature in its day. It was still shocking when C.S. Lewis followed suit in 1944 by having the inhabitants of Perelandra appear as naked as Adam and Eve, without fig leaves. I can only imagine the kind of moral outrage it must have induced in the minds of Puritanical prudes and Victorian moralists, so influential in politics and the arts at the time. I don’t have to imagine too hard. My mother, a typical Victorian prude who hated Hugh Hefner till the day she died, knew all about ERB. When I was in the fifth grade, around ten years old in 1957, I visited with a friend after school one day. My friend’s mother had been an artist for Disney in the days of Fantasia and was the opposite of my mother. He had every one of the Tarzan books in hardcover on his bookshelf. I told him that I loved the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies and asked him if I could borrow Tarzan of the Apes.
After telling me that the real Tarzan was totally different from the movie version but he refused to let me borrow any of his books. “Why,” I asked. “Because they are sacred to me,” he answered. I didn’t understand what he meant. When I came home I asked my mother if she would buy me a Tarzan book, and she said, “No way! Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote graphic adult fiction and you are not old enough to be reading that kind of stuff.” And that was that. By the time I was 14, I was reading Playboy magazine and Ian Fleming paperbacks and getting my science fiction fix from Robert Heinlein.
Thus, I totally missed out on the young male ERB reading experience. I hardly regret this. Nearly every young man who read ERB at an early age hardly knew anything at all about sex and couldn’t help missing out on the legal pornography. But it was apparent to me when I finally got around to reading the Martian series in my college years during the 70's. The series was full of sexual innuendo meant to escape the censor’s pen. The male readers of the day were not fools and ERB knew how to cater to them. The Martian series is hardly juvenalia. If I could understand these stories as soft pornography at 25 when they were over fifty years old, I can only imagine the effect they must have had on the average male adult reader at the time.
This was the same time my mother’s brother, like Ernest Hemingway, was forced to wear dresses and look like a little girl when he was a young boy growing up in Alameda. My grandmother was an avid believer in a Victorian experiment to feminize young boys in order to stamp out male aggression. Whenever I saw pictures of my uncle taken when he was a little girl, they would really creep me out. My father, an officer in the Army, made sure that my mother didn’t do to me what her mother had done to my uncle. He suspected my mother was grooming me for a girl’s dress when she refused to cut my hair, which had grown long and blond. When I was two my dad intervened and took me to the barber for a military style haircut. I still recall the marathon fight they had over that one.
No wonder ERB rebelled against this monstrous assault upon the male ego, creating violent, aggressive male heroes. It amazes me when ERB is regarded as a writer of juvenile fiction by parents and it even further amazes me when modern readers, with an obvious prudish bias, make spurious arguments about Martian nudity, arguing that the issue is “slightly controversial.” These people are in Barsoomian denial, not willing to face the naked truth: everyone on Mars is naked. ERB compells his readers to imagine Martians with exposed breasts, nipples, vulvas, buttocks, penises, and testicles. This is how it was meant to be read, as legal soft porn. If you imagine it otherwise, you are doing an injustice to ERB’s genius.
The arguments proposing that Martians were not really naked as far as their gentalia are concerned downplay the shock value A Princess of Mars had when it first came out. I am particularly happy to see an artist like James Killian Spratt get it right. (See, ERBzine #1301.) If his artwork shocks you, then imagine the shock value in 1912 when adult men read the stories for the first time. This is not taken into account by later critics – such as Brian W. Aldiss in Billion Year Spree – who say ERB’s works are sexless. The fact is that these critics have accepted the fallacy that ERB wrote juvenalia. They ignore the state of censorship at the time and are clueless to the code words ERB used as euphemisms for sex.
A Princess of Mars is the main text on this subject. Any variation suggested later in any of the novels must be dealt with in the light of the original context. Thus, every mention of the subject, either directly or indirectly will be set forth in tedious detail. . . . The first time ERB uses the word “naked” in the book he leaves the reader with no doubt of the meaning: “naked as at the minute of my birth.” Carter snaps away from his physical body in an eerie description of an out of body experience and leaves no doubt that his astral body is unclothed. As we all know, he then focuses his mind on Mars and projects himself across the cold gulfs of space to the Red Planet . . .
These are the first references to nudity in the story. It seems self evident to me that ERB means full frontal male nudity . . . Carter wakes up without any clothes on, naked as the moment he was born. This is ground zero in the argument about what it means to be naked on Mars. Based on this evidence, we can deduce that Tars Tarkas is no different, for the text definitely says that when he approached Carter, he was “entirely unarmed and naked as I.” ERB’s use of “entirely naked” is steady throughout the book when he wants to make this subject clear. When someone’s genitalia are covered, ERB notes it so that the reader is tipped off to regard the covered genitalia as out of the norm. It is not open to the individual imagination. Everyone is naked on Mars, and if we think of nudity as meaing “without clothing,” we will stay true to the original context. Moreover, as I will demonstrate below, clothing and the harness are two different distinct things on Mars, though sometimes confused. . . .
The above text comprises the introduction to Woodrow Edgar Nichols' massive, 90-page article in which he discusses -- with an abundance of quotes -- the emphasis on nudity in ERB's Mars novels.
His analysis regularly spins off into what he interprets as major sexual undertones which he describes quite graphically.
Due to the length of this work and because of the explicit sexual interpretations which may not be shared -- or appreciated -- by many ERB fans, we have not presented the full article on this page. However, to give readers some idea of the topics discussed we have listed some introductory text and the sub-section titles discussed in Mr. Nichols' article.
We have also provided a link to the PDF file of the entire uncensored article for those who decide to read this very lengthy and controversial work.
NAKEDNESS ON MARS
by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
I: A Princess of Mars
When ERB wanted his readers to imagine Martian women, he wanted them to imagine them the same way “in every detail” as Earth women. If this means imagining them with breasts, it means imagining them with belly buttons too. Even this should not be “slightly controversial.” Furthermore, ERB explicitly points out that she wore no clothing, describing her in the exact same words as he described Tars Tarkas: “entirely naked.” . . .
1) John Carter arrives naked on Mars:
2) All Martians are naked:
3) The Incomparable Dejah Thoris is naked:
4) Green Martians wear breast ornaments:
5) Green Martians have only two breasts:
6) A collar can either be clothing or adornment:
7) The pocket pouch is attached at the hip:
II. The Gods of Mars
We find our first variations in the sequel. Describing the vestments of Tars Tarkas, ERB ventures to discuss clothing on Mars. . . clothing is never worn to conceal, but only to protect from the cold Martian nights. This is the first mention of the Martian harness by ERB. We are confirmed in our belief that it constitutes the leather trappings of the first novel. We know that there is a distinction between it and all other clothing, because its purpose is not to cover or conceal, but to provide utilititarian support for its wearer. ERB calls it an article of clothing in this passage, but only in the context of things Martians place on their bodies, which, of course, cover some parts of the body. The fact that the mirror is in the position that a criss-crossing harness would occupy on the back side, is supporting evidence for this point of view. . .
8) Clothing only worn to protect from the cold:
9) Some Martian slaves are bare-ass naked:
10) The Martian harness is multifunctional:
11) The pocket pouch dangles from the harness:
III. Warlord of Mars
To continue the last point, we find John Carter using his pocket pouch in the dark passages around the Temple of the Sun. They either dangle or hang from the side at the hip. There is not a contrary passage in the whole series. Moreover, ERB next explains the function of the pocket pouch in full . . .
12) Yellow Martians are naked:
13) ERB uses nudity to heighten drama:
IV. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
There’s a little more titilation going on this book than in the ones before. While in the guise of a story about his son, Jack, disguised as Cathoris, and another woman to whom ERB was attracted disguised as Thuvia, ERB has a jolly good time in his doppelganger. ERB thought he could get away with this since he was not the lead character in the story. To further disguise his intent, he wrote it in the third person. Note how Carthoris woos Thuvia . . .
14) Ornaments are worn in the hair:
15) Harness straps cross in front:
16) Thuvia is full-breasted:
V. The Chessmen of Mars
Once again ERB adopts the third person to conduct his mischief. Chessmen was written during the golden age of Rancho Tarzana where ERB and his family would act out scenes from his books. He obviously invented the character of Tara for his daughter Joan. Of course, this allowed him much more leeway to be more risque, which is seen by the keen eye throughout the novel. We have seen a progression so far from “bosom” to “breast,” but in Chessmen ERB goes right to the point and describes Tara’s breasts in detail. There is something very voyeuristic about this novel that anyone can see. . . .
17) Tara’s breasts are fully exposed throughout:
18) Tara may have lesbian tendencies:
19) ERB does not shy from nonsexual physical contact:
20) Tara is felt up by the kaldanes:
21) Tara is nearly raped by a ryker-kaldane combo:
22) Gahan likely copulates with Tara:
VI. The Mastermind of Mars
ERB’s libido took a dive in the next book. Breasts are not mentioned once, at least in the context of real women. Ulysses Paxton arrives naked on Mars and witnesses a naked Red Martian attacking a shriveled old Red Martian, who wears only a harness . . .
23) Xaxa’s male escort wear their pocket pouches on their sides:
VII. A Fighting Man of Mars
This is a rip-roaring, ribald, adventure story, told by Hadron of Hastor – a true Martian telling a story about Martians – told in the first person to Ulysses Paxton who relays it to ERB by means of the Gridley wave. ERB is so comfortable with Martian psychology, he believes he can tell this tale from a Martian point of view. This is truly a remarkable work of imagination. He will not top it until Synthetic Men of Mars . . .
24) Tavia is flat-chested:
25) ERB pushes the boundaries of censorship:26) The Martian harness crosses in the back:
27) ERB was kinky:
VIII. Swords of Mars
As every fan knows, the first letter of each chapter beginning with the prologue ends up spelling out “To Florence, with all my love, Ed.” By this time, the cat was fully out of the bag. Soon, Emma would be divorced and Florence could finally move in with ERB. She had refused to move in with him until they were married, even though she was still living with Ashton and his mistress, Ula, a competitive swimmer Ashton had brought back from Guatemala. . .
28) ERB had no problem with male nudity:
29) ERB points out when genitalia could be covered:
IX. Synthetic Men of Mars
There is not much sexual innuendo in this story, but it is not necessary, for this is one of the greatest works of the imagination ever written. Not only is this story told in the first person by a Red Martian, Vor Daj, but his brain is taken out of his skull and placed inside that of a hideous monster. Vor Daj’s tortured mental thoughts while he is in this body are truly a triumph of getting into a character’s skin. If you ever felt like a monster, this book is for you. In fact, it contains one of the creepiest ideas in all of horror literature: an uncontrollable blob of living tissue covering and eating everything it comes into contact with as it grows and grows with nothing to stop it. It’s a pity that is this novel is largely forgotten, for the problem in Vat Number 4 is surely an idea that inspired horror fiction and film from then on: the Blob, the Borg, the virus from The Andromeda Strain, and the British Petroleum oil leak – meet your granddaddy! And the idea of what a man will do to sacrifice for a woman is fully developed in this novel, an extraordinary work of imagination. . .
30) The hormads don’t wear nets for clothing:
X. Llana of Gathol
Llana is, of course, Tara of Helium’s and Gahan of Gathol’s daughter, to wit, John Carter’s granddaughter. She could have been patterned after ERB’s real granddaughter, or more likely, since he wrote this book while in Hawaii, his stepdaughter, Carol Lee Dearholt. ERB even adopted her has his own daughter. When he first describes Llana during a game of Jetan – Martian chess – it is clear that she is a real heart stopper . . .
31) ERB was into lipstick lesbians:
XI. John Carter of Mars
We bring this work to a close with the last book in the series. I have mentioned before that I don’t believe ERB wrote the first story, “John Carter and the Giant of Mars.” He certainly wrote the second story, “Skeleton Men of Jupiter.” There is little if none sexual innuendo in this story and I note it only because Ekman mentions it as evidence that some people covered their genitalia, as the people from Jupiter . . .
. . . ERB was the King of Pulp Fiction.
NAKEDNESS ON MARS
by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.Nakedness on Mars © 2010 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr. All rights reserved. ERB quotes © ERB, Inc
are not necessarily those held by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
or the Editors of ERBzine.
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