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
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.
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
"'This way,' cried Xodar, leading
us toward the entrance to a tunnel which opened in the courtyard beside
"'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
"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."
"'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
"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
"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.)
"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.
After they journey by submarine, they are taken to the caged
"For quite half an hour we descended
and then the shaft terminated abruptly in the dome of a mighty subterranean
"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 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
"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.)
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
THE SEVEN WONDERS
OF BARSOOM SERIES
LIFE-SAVING PUMPING STATIONS OF MARS
TWIN CITIES OF HELIUM
HOTHOUSE CITIES OF OKAR
IN THE VALLEY OF THE FIRST BORN
HIDDEN CITIES IN THE FOREST OF LOST MEN
FIELD OF JETAN AT MANATOR
TEMPLE OF THE SUN
RELIGION OF ISSUS I
RELIGION OF ISSUS II
ISLAND OF MORBUS
SCIENTISTS OF MARS
GATHOLIAN GAMBIT IN JETAN
THE LESSER MOON
MARTIAN OCEANS AND THEIR CITIES
One: Korad, Thark, and Warhoon
Two: Aaanthor, Torquas, and Lothar I
Two: Aaanthor, Torquas, and Lothar II
Three: Gathol, Horz...and Opar I
Three: Gathol, Horz...and Opar II
ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS OF AMHOR
OF MARS I
OF MARS II
OF MARS III
OF MARS IV
GREEN HORDES OF MARS I
GREEN HORDES OF MARS II
GREEN HORDES OF MARS III
GREEN HORDES OF MARS IV
GREEN HORDES OF MARS V
GREEN HORDES OF MARS VI
GREEN HORDES OF MARS VII
CREATURES OF MARS I: PLANT MEN
CREATURES OF MARS II: GOOLIES
GLORY THAT WAS ONCE ZODANGA I