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Volume 3303
    VI. The Field of Jetan at Manator
    Chessmen of Mars by Whelan
    Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.


    Even though there is no doubt in my mind that this book should have been called Tara of Helium, the book’s actual title, The Chessmen of Mars, brings us to the Sixth Wonder of Barsoom, the Jetan Playing Field of Manator

    Playing Jetan, or Martian Chess, is one of Barsoom’s favorite pasttimes, for it exemplifies the whole politico-socio aspect of Martian culture: the abduction of another kingdom's princess and the wars that inevitably follow.

    Not only does ERB introduce us to the game of Martian Chess in this book – giving us the rules in the appendix – he also gives us a real-life practical demonstration in the combination of moves that became famously known as the Gatholian Gambit: forget the subtle play of strategy, it's time to clear the field for the main match: Chief vs. Chief!

    The city of Manator is built around a gigantic amphitheater formed around an actual Jetan Board of one hundred orange and black squares laid out on the huge playing field, known as the Field of Jetan. Normally, chess is played by taking opposing pieces, that is, when one piece lands on the same square of an opposing piece, the opposing piece is taken automatically. However, on the Fields of Jetan, when a piece occupies the square of an opposing piece, the square is contested in combat. A combination of chess and gladiator sport: who could ask for a better game?

    We will now examine the Field of Jetan in detail and then analyze the facts so as to get an idea of how this amphitheater would have appeared on Barsoom, thus justifying its listing as the Sixth Wonder of Barsoom. My favorite artistic depiction is that of Michael Whelan. (See Erbzine #1351.) 


    A. The Rules.

    Here are the rules ERB gave for the play of Jetan, as they appear in the appendix to The Chessmen of Mars:
    “THE BOARD: Square board consisting of one hundred alternate black and orange squares.
    “THE PIECES: In order, as they stand upon the board in the first row, from left to right of each player.
    “Warrior: 2 feathers; 2 spaces straight in any direction or combination.
    “Padwar: 2 feathers; 2 spaces diagonal in any direction or combination.
    “Dwar: 3 feathers; 3 spaces straight in any direction or combination.
    “Flier: 3 bladed propellor; 3 spaces diagonal in any direction or combination; and may jump intervening pieces.
    “Chief: Diadem with ten jewels; 3 spaces in any direction; straight or diagonal or combination.
    “Princess: Diadem with one jewel; same as Chief, except may jump intervening pieces.
    “Flier: See above.
    “Dwar: See above.
    “Padwar: See above.
    “Warrior: See above.
    “And in the second row from left to right:
    “Thoat: Mounted warrior 2 feathers; 2 spaces, one straight and one diagonal in any direction.
    “Panthans (8 of them): 1 feather; 1 space, forward, side, or diagonal, but not backward.
    “Thoat: See above.

    As Gahan entered his square, Uo-Dor leaped toward him with drawn sword.“The game is played with twenty black pieces by one player and twenty orange by his opponent, and is presumed to have originally represented a battle between the Black race of the south and the Yellow race of the north. On Mars the board is usually arranged so that the Black pieces are played from the south and the Orange from the north.

    “The game is won when any piece is placed on same square with opponent’s Princess, or a Chief takes a Chief.

    “The game is drawn when either Chief is taken by a piece other than the opposing Chief, or when both sides are reduced to three pieces, or less, of equal value and the game is not won in the ensuing ten moves, five apiece.

    “The Princess may not move onto a threatened square, nor may she take an opposing piece. She is entitled to one ten-space move at any time during the game. This move is called the escape.

    “Two pieces may not occupy the same square except in the final move of a game where the Princess is taken.

    “When a player, moving properly and in order, places one of his pieces upon a square occupied by an opponent piece, the opponent piece is considered to have been killed and is removed from the game.

    “The moves explained. Straight moves mean due north, south, east, or west; diagonal moves mean northwest, southeast, southwest, or northwest. A Dwar might move straight north three spaces, or north one space and east two spaces, or any similar combination of straight moves, so long as he did not cross the same square twice in a single move. This example explains combination moves.

    “The first move may be decided in any way that is agreeable to both players; after the first game the winner of the preceeding game moves first if he chooses, or may instruct his opponent to make the first move. 

    “Gambling: The Martians gamble at Jetan in several ways. Of course the outcome of the game indicates to whom the main stake belongs; but they also put a price upon the head of each piece, according to its value, and for each piece that player loses he pays its value to his opponent.”

    Of course, as ERB demonstrates in this story, these rules would be called "The Helium Rules," for in Manator, as we shall see, the game is played with different pieces and rules.

    B. The Location, Construction, and Play of The Field of Jetan:

    We learn from bits and pieces, that the stadium is towards the center of the city, and how it is constructed:
    “Outside the palace, Ghek and Tara of Helium were separated. The girl was led through long avenues toward the center of the city and finally into a low building, topped by lofty towers of massive construction.” (CMM/11.)
    We learn that the lofty towers of massive construction are called the Towers of Jetan, one of them being named the Thurian Tower, which Tara learns from Lan-O, the slave girl:
    "Tara of Helium sat erect and looked about her. This rough stone was not the marble of her father’s halls. ‘Where am I?’ she asked.

    "'In the Thurian Tower,’ replied the girl, and then seeing that the other one still did not understand she guessed the truth. 
    “You are a prisoner in The Towers of Jetan in the city of Manator,’ she explained.” (CMM/11.)

    Later, Tara once again seeks knowledge from Lan-O:
    “‘What are the games? I do not understand,’ said Tara. ‘I have heard them speak of playing at jetan, but surely no one can be killed at jetan. We play it often at home.’

    “‘But not as they play it in the arena of Manator,’ replied Lan-O. ‘Come to the window,’ and together the two approached an aperture facing toward the east.

    “Below her Tara of Helium saw a great field entirely surrounded by the low building, and the lofty towers of which that in which she was imprisoned was but a unit. About the arena were tiers of seats; but the thing that caught her attention was a gigantic jetan board laid out upon the floor of the arena in great squares of alternate orange and black.

    “‘Here they play at jetan with living pieces. They play for great stakes and usually for a woman – some slave of exceptional beauty. O-Tar himself might have played for you had you not angered him, but now you will be played for in an open game by slaves and criminals, and you will belong to the side that wins – not to a single warrior, but to all that survive the game.’

    “The eyes of Tara of Helium flashed, but she made no comment.

    “‘Those who direct the play do not necessarily take part in it,’ continued the slave girl, ‘but sit in those two great thrones at either end of the board and direct their pieces from square to square.

    “‘But where lies the danger?’ asked Tara of Helium. ‘If a piece be taken it is merely removed from the board – this is a rule of jetan as old almost as the civilization of Barsoom.’

    “‘But here in Manator, when they play in the great arena with living men, that rule is altered,’ explained Lan-O. 'When a warrior is moved to a square occupied by an opposing piece, the two battle to the death for possession of the square and the one who is successful advantages by the move. Each is comparisoned to simulate the piece he represents and in addition he wears that which indicates whether he be slave, a warrior serving a sentence, or a volunteer. If serving a sentence the number of games he must play is also indicated, and thus the one directing the moves knows which pieces to risk and which to conserve, and further than this, a man’s chances are affected by the position that is assigned him for the game. Those whom they wish to die are always Panthans in the game, for the Panthan has the least chance of surviving.'

    “‘Do those who direct the play ever actually take part in it?’ asked Tara.

    “‘Oh, yes,’ said Lan-O. ‘Often when two warriors, even of the highest class, hold a grievance against one another O-Tar compels them to settle it upon the arena. Then it is that they take active part and with drawn swords direct their own players from the position of Chief. They pick their own players, usually the best of their own warriors and slaves, if they be powerful men who possess such, or their friends may volunteer, or they may obtain prisoners from the pits. These are games indeed – the very best that are seen. Often the great chiefs themselves are slain.’” (CMM/13.)

    They are interrupted by a group of guards looking for the keeper of the tower whom Tara has stabbed to death with her dagger and hidden the body with the aid of Lan-O. After they leave, they are disturbed by a tumult outside a window:
    “And after they had gone Tara stood for long looking out upon the city of Manator, and wondering what more of cruel wrongs Fate held in store for her. She was standing in silent meditation when there rose to her the strains of martial music from the city below – the deep, mellow tones of the long war trumpets of mounted troops, the clear, ringing notes of foot-soldiers’ music. The girl raised her head and looked about, and Lan-O, standing at an opposite window, looking toward the west, motioned Tara to join her. Now they could see across the roofs and avenues to The Gate of Enemies, through which troops were marching into the city.” (CMM/13.)
    When Tara was first captured and brought into the city, U-Dor, her captor, took her into the city through the Gate of Enemies, down a long broad avenue that opened into a square before the Palace. This gives us an approximate idea of the location of the arena vis-a-vis the Gate and Palace. Gahan of Gathol, aka Turan the Panthan, signs up for the games under yet another name, this time U-Kal of Manataj. He signs up as a volunteer to play for Tara of Helium. The clerk protests:
    “‘But man, she is to be the stake of a game for slaves and criminals,’ cried the keeper. ‘You would not volunteer for such a game!’

    “‘But I would,’ replied Turan. ‘I saw her here when she was brought into the city and even then I vowed to possess her.’

    “‘But you will have to share her with the survivors even if your color wins,’ objected the other.” (CMM/16.)

    Turan convinces the keeper that the others can be reasoned with if he makes him the Chief of the Blacks and gets to chose his players from among those prisoners from Gathol. His request is granted, and one of the first players he selects is Val Dor of Helium. It is here that Turan learns one of the main variations of Manatorian jetan:
    “‘How could I know aught of Helium?’ asked Turan; ‘but if you be such a fighter as you say no position could suit you better than that of Flier. What say you? 

    “The man’s eyes denoted sudden surprise. He looked keenly at Turan, his eyes running quickly over the other’s harness. Then he stepped quite close so that his words might not be overheard.

    “‘Methinks you may know more of Helium than of Manator,’ he whispered.

    “‘What mean you, fellow?’ demanded Turan, seeking to cudgel his brains for the source of this man’s knowledge, guess, or inspiration.

    “‘I mean,’ replied Val Dor, ‘that you are not of Manator and that if you wish to hide the fact it is well that you speak not to a Manatorian as you just did speak to me of – Fliers! There be no Fliers in Manator and no piece in their game of Jetan bearing that name. Instead they call him who stands next to the Chief or Princess, Odwar. The piece has the same moves and power that the Flier has in the game as played outside Manator. Remember this then and remember, too, that if you have a secret it be safe in the keeping of Val Dor of Helium.’” (CMM/16.)

    C. The Game Played: the Gatholian Gambit:

    Turan takes the field as the Black Chief against U-Dor, who has foolishly volunteered so that he too may possess Tara of Helium and Lan-O. Turan meditates on the strategy of the game: 
    “The vital difference between the game played with living men and that in which the inanimate pieces are used, lies in the fact that while in the latter the mere placing of a piece upon a square occupied by an opponent piece terminates the move, in the former the two pieces thus brought together engage in a duel for possession of the square. Therefore there enters into the former game not only the strategy of jetan but the personal prowess and bravery of each individual piece, so that a knowledge not only of one’s own men but of each player upon the opposing side is of vast value to a chief.
    “In this respect was Gahan handicapped, though the loyalty of his players did much to offset his ignorance of them, since they aided him in arranging the board to the best advantage and told him honestly the faults and virtues of each. One fought best in a losing game; another was too slow; another too impetuous; this one had fire and a heart of steel, but lacked endurance. Of the opponents, though, they knew little or nothing, and now, as the two sides took their places upon the black orange squares of the great jetan board Gahan obtained, for the first time, a close view of those who opposed him.” (CMM/17.)
    The keeper of the Towers announces the second game for the day and the stakes:
      “‘Of this, the second game of the first day of the Jeddak’s Games in the four hundred and thirty-third year of O-Tar, Jeddak of Manator, the Princesses of each side shall be the sole stakes and to the survivors of the winning side shall belong both the Princesses, to do with as they shall see fit. The Orange Princess is the slave woman, Lan-O of Gathol; the Black Princess is the slave woman, Tara, a princess of Helium. The Black Chief is U-Kal of Manataj, a volunteer player; the Orange Chief is the dwar U-Dor of the 8th Utan of the jeddak of Manator, also a volunteer player. The squares shall be contested to the death. Just are the laws of Manator! I have spoken.’” (CMM/17.)
    U-Dor wins the initial move: he gets to go first. He moves his Princess’ Odwar three squares diagonally to the right, ending up on the Black Chief’s Odwar seventh square. This move is noted as one of blood rather than science. Gahan responds with the Gatholian Gambit:
    • he moves his Odwar’s Panthan one square straight forward, thus opening a lane for himself, telling U-Dor and the crowd that he intends to fight.
    • U-Dor moves Lan-O’s Odwar diagonally three squares to the left this time, placing it on Tara’s Odwar’s fourth square, within striking distance of Tara. 
    • Gahan makes the only wise move, and moves his Odwar diagonally to the right three spaces, jumping over Gahan’s Panthan, landing on the contested square, remembering that the piece moves just like the Flier. If the Black Odar loses, the game is lost. The square is fiercely contested and 
    • at last the Black Odwar wins, running his blade through the Orange Odwar’s heart to the hilt.
    • Two moves later, Gahan is on U-Dor’s fourth square, with an Orange Panthan on an adjoining square diagonally to his right. This means that 
    • Gahan’s third move was to move himself one square diagonally to the left, and two diagonally to the right, placing him on Tara’s fourth square, and then 
    • straight forward three squares for his fourth move, placing him on UDor's fourth square. 
    • One of U-Dor’s moves must have been in moving Lan-O’s Odwar’s Panthan one square forward, for that is where Gahan encounters him. 
    • While U-Dor contemplates his fifth move, we learn that he has moved Lan-O to the fourth square east of Gahan, that is, to Lan-O’s Warrior’s fourth square, in an attempt to lure Gahan away from himself. 
    • U-Dor can personallly engage Gahan, engage him with his other Odwar, or attack with the Panthan; he chooses the Panthan.
    • Gahan makes short work of him and boldly enters U-Dor’s square on his next move.
    They proceed to fight a long and extended duel, Gahan deliberately dragging it out to time his victory with the advent of the Martian night. Tara stares at wonder at his swordsmanship:
    “Once she saw Gahan glance quickly up toward the sinking sun. In thirty minutes it would be dark. And then she saw and all those others saw a straight transition steal over the swordplay of the Black Chief. It was as though he had been playing with the great dwar, U-Dor, all these hours, and now he still played with him but there was a difference. He played with him terribly as a carnivore plays with its victim in the instant before the kill. The Orange Chief was helpless now in the hands of a swordsman so superior that there could be no comparison, and the people sat in open-mouthed wonder and awe as Gahan of Gathol cut his foe to ribbons and then struck him down with a blow that cleft him to the chin.” (CMM/17.)


    J. Allen St. John: Chessmen of Mars - 8 sepia interiors - Jetan board on back coverThe Field of Jetan is located near the center of the city, and off to the side of the main avenue leading into the city from the Gate of the Enemies on the west side of the city, straight to the huge square before the Palace. This would place the Gate of the Enemies somewhat to the west of the arena, and the palace somewhat to the east of the arena, depending on whether the arena is north or south of the avenue.

    The arena is composed of a low building surrounded by lofty towers of massive construction, and it appears safe to imagine at least four towers, one for each side of the playing field. In the center of the low building-tower complex is the playing field, surrounded by several tiers for spectators. Tara first sees it looking out an east window in the Thurian Tower, thus we can imagine the four towers midway on each side of the field. We are told that the opposite window looks out at the Gate of the Enemies, so we are fairly certain that the Thurian Tower lies midway on the western side of the playing field if it is laid out with the Black player on the south side of the field and the Orange player on the north side.

    If the game is set up like traditional chess, where a white square is always in each player’s right hand corner, then a black or orange square should be at each player’s right hand corner. 

    The respective positions of the pieces would thus only apply to the initial positions of the Black player, for if the board is set up like traditional chess, the positions of the first row for the Orange player are going to have the Chief and Princess reversed. We are told that Gahan of Gathol has the Black pieces, and that when they take their places on the field:

    “At Tara’s left was the Black Chief, Gahan of Gathol; directly in front of her the Princess’ Panthan, Floran of Gathol; and at her right the Princess’ Odwar, Val Dor of Helium.” (CMM/17.)
    Thus, we learn that in ERB’s rules for the game the placement of the pieces is from the Black side's perspective, for from left to right you have the Chief and then the Princess. For the Orange side, the sequence is reversed – Princess then Chief. In other words, for the Black side, the Princess is always to the Chief’s right hand side, whereas for the Orange side, the Princes is always to the Chief’s left hand side.

    This is necessary to grasp, for otherwise ERB’s descriptions of U-Dor’s moves for the Orange pieces appear to be backwards. Thus, U-Dor’s first move, moving his Princess' Odwar three squares diagonally to the right, means U-Dor’s right. It would be to the left from Gahan's perspective. U-Dor’s second move, moving this same Odwar three squares diagonally to the left this time, means again his left. Since this Odwar has the same moves as the Flier, it can jump over either the Princess’ Panthan, or her Odwar's Panthan, and seize the Princess in its next move if uncontested.

    U-Dor's next two moves only makes sense if he used his one time only ten square move called "the escape" for the Princess. This is because in only two moves, he has moved Lan-O's Odwar's Panthan one square forward, and Lan-O four squares to the left and three forward, or three squares forward and four to the left from his perspective.

    This means that a creative straight and diagonal combination would have had to been made – jumping over pieces and avoiding landing in any square more than one time in a single move – to make up for ten squares. The Princess may move normally in one move no more than three squares, while the one she was on was seven squares away, too many for one move. This can be easily seen if the reader sketches out a jetan board and follows the play by play.

    To properly grasp the size of the playing field, it seems reasonable to imagine each square being thirty feet by thirty feet, for you would at least need that much room if you were fighting on Thoats. This would make the Field 300 feet by 300 feet, or a squared football field. Thus, unlike modern football stadiums that are more oval than round since the field is rectangular, the Field of Jetan arena would be more likely be round or a in the shape of a square.

    And there you have it: 
    ERB's Field of Jetan at Manator: the Sixth Wonder of Barsoom!

    7 WONDERS: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

    RUNNERS UP: I.a | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII.2.2b.3a.3b | IX | X.2.3.4
    |.XI. |.XII.2.| XIII.|.XIV.|.XV.| XVI

A Princess of Mars
Gods of Mars
Warlord of Mars
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Chessmen of Mars
Mastermind of Mars
A Fighting Man of Mars
Swords of Mars
Synthetic Men of Mars
Llana of Gathol
Skeleton Men of Jupiter
John Carter and the Giant of Mars

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