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Volume 3305
The Fourth Wonder of Barsoom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Frank E. Schoonover: Gods of Mars - sepia FP dup of DJAmazing: June 1941 - Black Pirates of Barsoom (Llana of Gathol) - J. Allen St. JohnJohn Coleman Burroughs: Llana of Gathol - 5 interiors


We come to the Fourth Wonder of Barsoom, the splendid gleaming white city of Kamtol in the great rift Valley of the First Born, aka The Black Pirates of Barsoom. The Firstborn are, of course, the dominant race of Barsoom, the opposite case of that which existed on Earth at the time ERB first wrote about them. When he first introduced the First Born in The Gods of Mars to the reading public in 1913, it must have caused a sense of outrage to the uninhibited white racists of the day, those that otherwise would have enjoyed that John Carter was from Virginia and a nonabolitionist on Mars. ERB enjoyed poking fun at race, religion, mores, and culture in all of his stories, always challenging the delusion of absolute belief in anything. This is why he had such a wide appeal.

ERB also tackled a really intriguing concept in the Master Machine of Kamtol, a machine that allowed its tyrant, Doxus, to rule out of absolute terror. Let us see how ERB developed this concept in “The Black Pirates of Barsoom,” the second installment of Llana of Gathol.


Carter has escaped from the ancient city of Horz with Llana of Gathol and Pan Dan Chee, one of the last remaining Orovars, the ancient blond, blue-eyed dominant race that existed millions of years ago when the planet was covered with five oceans. During their escape they are spotted by a roving band of Green Men who give them chase. They make a run for it and come across skeletons and partially decomposed corpses that lead like a trail to a great rift valley:

“I was in the lead, when I came upon a human skeleton. It was crumbling to dust, an indication that it must have lain there for many years, for so low is the humidity on Mars that disintegration of bony structures is extremely low. Within fifty yards I came across another skeleton and after that we saw many of them. It was a gruesome sight and what it portended I could not guess. At first I thought that perhaps a battle had once been fought here, but when I saw that some of the skeletons were fresh, and well preserved and that others had already started to disintegrate I realized that these men had died many years apart.

“At last I felt that we had crossed the line of march of the caravan and that as soon as we had found a hiding place we would be comparatively safe, and just then I came to the edge of a yawning chasm.

“Except for the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, I had never seen anything like it. It was a great rift valley that appeared to be about ten miles wide and perhaps two miles deep, extending for miles in either direction.

“There were outcroppings of rock at the rim of the rift, and behind these we hid. Scattered about us were more human skeletons than we had seen before.” (LG/II-1.)

Carter sends the other two ahead after Llana espies a trail leading down into the valley while he fights a rearguard action with the Green Men. He then catches up with Llana and Pan Dan Chee and they descend the trail:
“The trail was steep and oftentimes dangerous for it zig-zagged down the face of an almost perpendicular cliff. Occasionally on a ledge we would have to step over the skelelton of a man, and we passed three newly dead bodies in various stages of decomposition.

“‘What do you make of these skeletons and bodies?’ asked Pan Dan Chee.

“‘I am puzzled,’ I replied; ‘there must be a great many more who died on this trail than those whose remains we have seen here. You will note that these all lie on ledges where the bodies could have lodged when they fell. Many more must have pitched to the foot of the cliff.’

“‘But how do you suppose they met their death?’ asked Llana.

“‘There might have been an epidemic of disease in the valley,’ suggested Pan Dan Chee, ‘and these poor devils died while trying to escape.’

“‘I am sure I haven’t the slightest idea of what the explanation can be,’ I replied. ‘You see the remains of harness on most of them, but no weapons. I am inclined to think that Pan Dan Chee is right in assuming that they were trying to escape, but whether from an epidemic or sickness or something else we may never know.’” (LG/II-3.)

The explanation, of course, will be forthcoming, but first they take in the magnificent view of the valley:
“From our dizzy footing on that precarious trail we had an excellent view of the valley below. It was level and well watered and the monotony of the scarlet grass which grows on Mars where there is water, was broken by forests, the whole making an amazing sight for one familiar with this dying planet.

“There are crops and trees and other vegetation along the canals; there are lawns and gardens in the cities where irrigation is available; but never have I seen a sight like this except in the Valley Dor at the South Pole, where lies the Lost Sea of Korus. For here there was not only a vast expanse of fertile valley but there were rivers and at least one lake which I could see in the distance; and then Llana called our attention to a city, gleaming white, with lofty towers.

“‘What a beautiful city,’ she said. ‘I wonder what sort of people live there?’

“‘Probably somebody who would love nothing better than to slit our throats,’ I said.” (LG/II-3.)

Carter and Pan Dan Chee have a discussion on why Martians have become so bloodthirsty over the ages, since the Orovars were a peaceful people; then Llana voices her desire to see the inside of the city:
“We stood for some time on a ledge looking down upon that beautiful valley, probably one of the most beautiful sights on all of Mars. We saw several herds of the small thoats used by the red Martians as riding animals and for food. There is little difference in the saddle and butchering species, but at this distance we could not tell which these were. We saw game animals down there, too, and we who had been so long without good meat were tempted.

“‘Let’s go down there,’ said Llana; ‘we haven’t seen any human beings and we don’t need to go near the city; it is a long way off. I should like so much to see the beauties of that valley closer.’” (LG/II-3.)

They agree with her and descend the trail to the floor of the valley in case the Green Martians are still waiting for them at the top of the escarpment. There they meet a grisly sight:
“Around the foot of the cliff, where the trail ended, there was a jumble of human bones and a couple of badly mangled bodies – poor devils who had either died on the trail above or fallen to their death here at the bottom. I wondered how and why.” (LG/II-3.)
They do some exploring and hunt game and forage for fruits and nuts, which they find in plenty. They spend the night in peaceful bliss. However, the next morning they are captured by a patrol of mounted Black Pirates and escorted to the beautiful city which they learn is called Kamtol:
“Kamtol did not belie its promise. It was as beautiful on closer inspection as it had been at a distance. Its pure white outer wall is elaborately carved, as are the facades on many of its buildings. Graceful towers rise above its broad avenues which, when we entered the city, were filled with people. Among the blacks, we saw a number of red men performing menial tasks. It was evident that they were slaves, and their presence suggested the fate which might await us....

“One thing that I noticed particularly in Kamtol was that the residences could not be raised on cylindrical columns, as is the case in most modern Martian cities, where assassination has been developed to a fine art and where assassins’ guilds flourish openly, and their members swagger through the streets like gangsters once did in Chicago.” (LG/II-4.)

The three of them are then taken inside a large building where they are examined by means of a strange device:
“I was taken to an apartment and seated in a chair with my back toward a strange looking machine, the face of which was covered with innumerable dials. A number of heavy insulated cables ran from various parts of the apparatus; metal bands at the ends of these cables were clamped about my wrists, my ankles, and my neck, the latter clamp pressing against the base of my skull; then something like a strait-jacket was buckled tightly around me, and I had a sensation as of countless needles touching my spine for almost its full length. I thought that I was to be electrocuted, but it seemed to me that they took a great deal of unnecessary pains to destroy me. A simple sword thrust would have done it much more quickly.

“An officer, who was evidently in charge of the proceedings, came and stood in front of me. ‘You are about to be examined,’ he said, ‘you will answer all questions truthfully;’ then he signalled to an attendant who threw a switch on the apparatus.” (LG/II-4.)

Carter is then asked a series of questions by six men, both soothingly and angrily, then is put through several tests where his nerves are brought to a breaking point, ending with a banth charging at him, stopped at the last second by a chain around its leg. Carter is then led down to the pits and chained to a cell wall, where he is shortly joined by Pan Dan Chee and Llana. Another prisoner, a red Martian named Jad-han, explains the examination they have just been through after Llana mocks it as silly and crazy:
“‘If you understood the purpose of that examination, you would understand that it was never devised by any unsound mind. Did you see the dead men as you entered the valley?’

“‘Yes, but what do they have to do with the examination?’

“‘They took that same examination; that is why they lie dead out there.’

“‘I do not understand,’ I said. ‘Please explain.’

“‘The machines to which you were connected recorded hundreds of your reflexes; and automatically recorded your own individual nerve index, which is unlike that of any other creature in the world.

“‘The master machine, which you did not see and never will, generates short wave vibrations which can be keyed exactly to your individual nerve index. When that is done you have such a severe paralytic stroke that you die almost instantly.’

“‘But why all that just to destroy a few slaves?’ demanded Pan Dan Chee.

“‘It is not for that alone,’ explained Jad-han. ‘Perhaps that was one of the initial puposes to prevent prisoners from escaping and spreading word of this beautiful valley on a dying planet. You can imagine that almost any country would wish to possess it. But it has another purpose; it keeps Doxus supreme. Every adult in the valley had had his nerve index recorded, and is at the mercy of his jeddak. You don’t have to leave the valley to be exterminated. An enemy of the jeddak might be sitting in his own home some day, when the thing would find him out and destroy him. Doxus is the only adult in Kamtol whose index has not been recorded; and he and one other man, Myr-lo, are the only ones who know exactly where the master machine is located, or how to operate it. It is said to be very delicate and that it can be irreparably damaged in an instant – and can never be replaced.’

“‘Why couldn’t it be replaced?’ asked Llana.

“‘The inventor of it is dead,’ repled Jad-han. ‘It is said that he hated Doxus because of the purpose to which the jeddak had put his invention and that Doxus had him assassinated through fear of him. Myr-lo, who succeeded him, has not the genius to design another such machine.’” (LG/II-5.)

Carter’s master swordsmanship soon gains admirers and he is eventually bought as a slave by Xaxak, a noble, who wants to fight him for money. Ptang, one of Xaxak’s warriors, explains to Carter some of Kamtol’s customs, including the Lesser Games that occur at the stadium:
“Xaxak treated me much as a wealthy horse owner on Earth would treat a prospective Derby winner. I was quartered in the barracks of his personal guard, where I was treated as an equal....

“Since I have already compared myself to a prospective Derby winner, I might as well carry out the analogy by describing their Lesser Games as minor race meets. They are held about once a week in a stadium inside the city, and here the rich nobles pit their warriors or their slaves against those of other nobles in feats of strength, in boxing, in wrestling, and in dueling. Large sums of money are wagered, and the excitement runs high. The duels are not always to the death, the nobles deciding beforehand precisely upon what they will place their bets. Usually it is for first blood, or disarming; but there is always at least one duel to the death, which might be compared to the feature race of a race meet, or the main event of a boxing tournament.

“Kamtol has a population of about two hundred thousand, of which possibly five thousand are slaves. As I was allowed considerable freedom, I got around the city quite a bit; though Ptang always accompanied me, and I was so impressed with the scarcity of children that I asked Ptang what accounted for it. “‘The Valley of the First Born will only comfortably support about two hundred thousand population,’ he replied; ‘so only sufficient children are permitted to replace the death losses. As you may have guessed, by looking at our people, the old and otherwise unfit are destroyed; so that we have about sixty-five thousand fighting men and about twice as many healthy women and children. There are two factions here, one of which maintains that the number of women should be greatly decreased; so that the number of fighting men may be increased, while the other faction insists that, as we are not menaced by any powerful enemies, sixty-five thousand fighting men is sufficient.’” (LG/II-7.)

Carter learns that most of the women desire the latter, since each of the women believes she is too desirable to be destroyed and that that fate will fall to others. A duel to the death is arranged between Xaxak and another dator named Nastor; Nastor is tricked into believing that Carter is not as good as he really is. The sum of the wager is so great that Nastor takes no chances, pitting another dator named Nolat – considered to be the finest swordsmam of Kamtol – against Carter. Carter easily wins the match, sparing Nolat’s life. The jeddak, Doxus, is so impressed, he wants Carter for his own slave, and Xaxak, who has made a fortune off him, gladly gives him to the jeddak. Doxus wishes Carter to give him lessons in a secret chamber so that no one will know what he is up to, and it is here that Carter learns the location of the master machine:
“I had been practicing him in disarming an opponent, when a door opposite that which we had entered the room opened; and a man came in. During the brief time the door remained open, I saw beyond it a brilliantly lighted room; and caught a glimpse of what appeared to be an amazing complicated machine. Its face was covered with dials, buttons, and other gadgets – all reminiscent of the machine to which I had been attached during the weird examination I had received upon my entry to the city.

“At sight of me, the newcomer looked surprised. Here was I, a total stranger and evidently a slave, facing the Jeddak of the First Born with a naked blade in my hand. Instantly, the fellow whipped out a radium pistol; but Doxus forestalled a tragedy. 

“‘It is all all right, Myr-lo,’ he said. ‘I am just taking some instruction in the finer points of swordsmanship from this slave. His name is Dotar Sojat; you will see him down here with me daily. What are you doing down here now? Any thing wrong?’

“‘A slave escaped last night,’ said Myr-lo.

“‘You got him, of course?’

“‘Just now. He was about half way up the escarpment, I think.’

“‘Good,’ said Doxus. ‘Resume, Dotar Sojat.’” (LG/II-10.)

Carter has chosen to go by the name he earned among the Green Martians out of fear that some of the First Born will recognize the name of John Carter, the one who ended their reign of supremacy over the planet. This fear will prove to be well grounded. Doxus issues Carter a pass to the city and when he returns to his quarters, he shows the pass to an under-officer named Man-lot, who is impressed:
“‘Doxus must have taken a liking to you,’ he said. ‘I never knew before of a slave being given that much freedom, but don’t try to escape.’

“‘I know better than than to try that. I saw the skeletons from the top to the bottom of the escarpment.’

“‘We call them Myr-lo’s babies,’ said Man-lot; ‘he’s so proud of them.’

“‘Who is Myr-lo?’ I asked.

“‘Somebody you’ll probably never see,’ replied Man-lot. ‘He sticks to his pots and pans and his kettles, his lathes and drills and his drawing instruments.’

“‘Does he live in the palace?’ I asked.

“‘Nobody knows where he lives, unless it be the jeddak. They say he has a secret apartment in the palace, but I don’t know about that. What I do know is that he’s the most powerful man in Kamtol, next to Doxus; and that he has the power of life and death over every man and woman in the Valley of the First Born. Why, he could strike either one of us dead right while we are sitting here talking; and we’d never see what killed us.’” (LG/II-10.)

Carter uses his freedom of the city to his advantage, being treated with great respect by the people as a great swordsmen is held all over Mars, comparing this respect to that of a Juan Belmonte in Spain or a Jack Dempsey in America. While on an outing one day he espies a number of fliers over the city, which takes him by surprise. He knows that the First Born in the Valley Dor had been flying men, but up until now he had seen no evidence of fliers in Kamtol.

He investigates and discovers an enormous building three stories high, on the roof of which he finds a hangar for the fliers; he hatches a plan for escape:

“As I walked away from the hangar building, I turned and looked back, studying every detail of the architecture; then I walked around the entire building, which covered a whole square, with avenues on all four sides. Like nearly all Martian buildings, this one was highly ornamented with deep carvings. It stood in a rather poor section of the city, although not far from the palace; and was surrounded by small and modest homes. They were probably the homes of the artisans employed around the hangar. A little farther from the hangar a section of small shops began; and as I passed along, looking at the wares displayed, I saw something which brought me to a sudden stop, for it suggested a new accessory to my rapidly formulating plans for escape from the Valley of the First Born – from which none ever escaped. It is sometimes well not to be too greatly restrained by precedent.” (LG/II-11.)
Carter purchases some black cream that the women of Kamtol use to conceal blemishes and on his way back to his quarters, he spots Pan Dan Chee among the slaves carrying a heavy burden on his back. Pan Dan Chee tells Carter that Llana is in a certain tower, having been purchased by the wife of Dator Nastor, her fate in limbo since Nastor wants her for another wife, but his principal wife, Van-tija, will have none of it. Carter knows there is little time left to carry out his plans and tells Pan Dan Chee to meet him at midnight in the great square before the palace. Carter has a close call in the banquet hall of Doxus later that evening where Doxus is entertaining the fliers from Valley Dor. One of them, Dator Zit-had, remembers him from the Valley Dor, but before he can disclose his identity, Carter runs him through the heart with his sword, then makes his escape, heading for the secret chamber of Myr-lo:
“As I opened the door into the larger room, Myr-lo arose from the couch and faced me. 

“‘What are you doing here, slave?’ he demanded.

“Here was a pretty pass! Everything seemed to be going wrong; first, the summons to the banquet hall; then Zit-had, and now Myr-lo. I hated to do it, but there was no other way.

“‘Draw!’ I said. I am no murderer; so I couldn’t kill him unless he had a sword in his hand; but Mry-lo was not so ethical – he reached for the radium pistol at his hip. Fatal error! I crossed the intervening space in a single bound; and ran Myr-lo, the inventor of Kamtol, through the heart.

“Without even waiting to wipe the blood from my blade, I ran into the smaller room. There was the master mechanism that held two hundred thousand souls in thrall, the hideous invention that had strewn the rim of the great rift with mouldering skeletons. 

“I looked about and found a heavy piece of metal; then I went for that insensate monster with all the strength and enthusiasm that I possess. In a few minutes it was an indescribable jumble of bent and broken parts – a total wreck.” (LG/II-12, 13.)

Carter covers his body with the black cream, removes and puts on Myr-lo’s harness, and then disguised as Myr-lo, makes his way back to the hangar. He steals a fine flier, rescues Llana just in time from the clutches of Nastor the Dator, swoops down into the square, picks up Pan Dan Chee and Jad-han, and flies over the escarpment and out of the Valley of the First Born.


A. Location of the Valley of the First Born.

At first it might be hard to believe that the Great Rift Valley of the First Born would have been unknown to the Red Martians since it lies about halfway between Horz to the north and both Manator and Gathol to the south. (See the wonderful maps posted at ERBzine #2807 | ERBzine 3041 .) On closer examination, however, it appears that most of the Red Martians live south of the equator, since that is where the last great ocean, Throxeus, eventually dried up. We know the Orovars built their cities on the edges of this great ocean, and from the location of Horz and Lothar, as well as the Great Toonolian Marshes – all that remains of this once mighty ocean – we can get some idea of the boundaries of this great sea.

Before the advent of the canals, the Red Martians would have followed the water, and thus most of the population ended up in the Southern Hemisphere of the planet, where the River Iss led inevitably to the South Pole and the horrible death in Martian Heaven at the hands of the Plant Men and Great White Apes in the Valley Dor.

Thus, it is little surprise that both the Orovars in Horz and the Great Rift Valley of the First Born would not have been discovered until Carter stumbled upon them. Besides, both the Orovars of Horz and the First Born of the Rift Valley kill or take slaves anyone who is found within their boundaries, thus leaving no one to report their existence.

B. The Orovars.

Fans of Barsoom may have noticed that in Llana of Gathol, the ancient race are no longer auburn-haired but blue-eyed blondes. We find them first described in A Princess of Mars as Carter and Dejah Thoris examine the decorations on the walls inside an ancient building in Korad:
“The decorations of the walls was most elaborate, and, unlike the frescoes in the other buildings I had examined, portrayed many human figures in the compositions. These were of people like myself, and of a much lighter color than Dejah Thoris. They were clad in graceful, flowing robes, highly ornamented with metal and jewels, and their luxuriant hair was of a beautiful golden and reddish bronze. The men were beardless and only a few wore arms. The scenes depicted for the most part, a fair-skinned, fair-haired people at play.” (PM/11.)
Before learning about Pan Dan Chee and the few remaining Orovars at Horz, the reader will have had only one prior occasion to learn about this ancient race, and that is in the weird city of Lothar, where Thuvia and Carthoris had their adventure escaping from the Green Men led by Horton Gar:
“And then the great gate in the city wall opposite the platform of Horton Gar swung suddenly wide. From it issued as strange a sight as Carthoris ever had witnessed, though at the moment he had time to cast but a single fleeting glance at the tall bowmen emerging through the portal behind their long, oval shields; to note their flowing auburn hair; and to realize that the growling things at their sides were fierce Barsoomian lions.” (TMM/5.)

“As he stood speculating upon the identity of this forgotten city, a voice spoke to them from above. Both looked up. There, leaning over the edge of the high wall, was a man.

“His hair was auburn, his skin fair – fairer even than that of John Carter, the Virginian. His forehead was high, his eyes large and intelligent.” (TMM/6.)

ERB was always careful that his descriptions never varied from book to book, as made clear in long repetitious passages that are nearly word for word in each story. So why did he change the hair color of the ancient white race from auburn to blond? My theory, and it is only that, is because his wife at this time, Florence, and his adopted daughter, Carol Lee, both were blue-eyed blondes. As he had incorporated his family into the stories in the past, he continued to do so in his new marital situation. If someone else has a better theory, I would like to hear it.

C. The Master Machine.

1941 was a golden year for classic science fiction. Robert Heinlein achieved fame for his short story, “Logic of Empire,” published in the March 1941 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. Issac Asimov wrote one of his signature stories, “Nightfall,” as well as “Source of Power,” the fourth story in his positronic brain robot stories – also appearing in Astounding. Thus, I am not able to say with any expertise that ERB was the originator of the nerve index concept. I do know, however, that countless variations of it have appeared in science fiction literature and films since then.

I also know that the idea of state-sponsored mental terrorism is as old as Hebrew science fiction as we find it in the story of alien beings, to wit, angels, giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, especially the last two “Thou shalt not covet” commandments that make natural mental thoughts a sin. Not to forget the modern classics like Orwell’s 1984, where Thought Crime can get you arrested by the Thought Police and sentenced to the infamous Room 101. But the Master Machine and the Individual Nerve Index is frightening in a whole new way, for at any time at the tyrant’s whim, your own mind and body can be the source of your own demise, and one can unwittingly become one of the “Myr-lo’s babies.” I believe this is one of ERB’s major contributions to the body of classic science fiction and he should be given due credit for it.

And there you have it: the Fourth Wonder of Barsoom: 
Kamtol and the Valley of the First Born!

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.

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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