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Volume 3309
First Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsooom
Frank E. Schoonover: Gods of Mars - sepia FP dup of DJ
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.


Coming up with any list of wonders is always going to disappoint some fans. The selections are largely random and arbitrary and of such a bias, they likely expose more about the person that chooses them than the actual wonders themselves. Thus, the necessity of runner-ups, just to make sure all of the salient high points of Martian civilization are realized and discussed.

It should be noted that I have dealt with religion upon Mars much in the same way ERB dealt with it in his novels: full of superstition and hyprocisy based on fear and deception. Personally, I feel that our planet would be better off without any of it. That's why only the sadistic Temple of the Sun made my list of Seven Wonders, and, even then, in last place. 

Needless to say, there is a lot written about the religion of Issus and it is both important in the history of Barsoom as well as the frank illustrations they give us about religion on Earth.


A. Structure and Beliefs.

The religion of Issus, like almost all organized religions on Earth, is composed of three layers of deceit and error. The first layer is composed of the laity, the millions of Barsoomians, red, yellow, and green, who adhere to its belief system based on fear and superstition without question. The second layer is composed of the clergy, the Holy Therns, bald-headed white people wearing blond wigs, who know the deception of the first layer, but are themselves the victims of the deception of the third layer. The third layer is composed of the true aristocracy of the religion, the Black Pirates, or First Born, of Barsoom, led by their goddess, the shriveled old hag, Issus herself, Goddess of Death and Daughter of the Lesser Moon. Of course, Issus herself, deceived her own people into believing that she was all-knowing and all-powerful, a myth that John Carter, the savior of Mars, exposed violently.

We first hear about the religion of Issus in A Princess of Mars during a conversation between John Carter and Dejah Thoris while they are both captives of the Tharks, a tribe of Green Martians:

“‘In the name of my first ancestor, then,’ she continued, ‘where may you be from? You are like unto my people, and yet so unlike. You speak my language, and yet I heard you tell Tars Tarkas that you had but learned it recently.

All Barsoomians speak the same tongue from the ice-clad south to the ice-clad north, though their written languages differ. Only in the valley Dor, where the river Iss empties into the lost sea of Korus, is there supposed to be a different language spoken, and except in the legends of our ancestors, there is no record of a Barsoomian returning up the river Iss, from the shores of Korus in the valley of Dor. Do not tell me that you have thus returned! They would kill you horribly anywhere upon the surface of Barsoom if that were true; tell me it is not!’

“Her eyes were filled with a strange, weird light; her voice was pleading, and her little hands, reached up upon my breast, were pressed against me as though to wring a denial from my heart.

“‘I do not know your customs, Dejah Thoris, but in my own Virginia a gentleman does not lie to save himself; I am not of Dor; I have never seen the mysterious Iss; the lost sea of Korus is still lost, so far as I an concerned. Do you believe me?’

“And then it struck me suddenly that I was very anxious that she should believe me. It was not that I feared the results which would follow a general belief that I had returned from the Barsoomian heaven or hell, or whatever it was.” (PM/11.)

We soon learn why Dejah Thoris was so concerned at the beginning of the next volume in the first three novels which make up what is known as “The John Carter of Mars Trilogy,” The Gods of Mars. Ironically, John Carter himself is ERB's poke at Christianity: his initials are the same as Jesus Christ's; he has a supernatural advent upon another world; and at the end of the
first novel, he expires in self-sacrifice at the atmosphere factory just in time to save the whole planet. He then disappears and ten years later – a little longer than the three days it took Jesus to return – Carter resurrects back on Mars: in its Heaven. So, in debunking religion, ERB virtually creates a religious myth of his own, nearly stated as dogma in Carter’s defense in the Temple of Reward. (See below)

Carter finds himself back on Barsoom after suddenly astral-travelling from his cottage overlooking the Hudson River; he has no idea where he is. He wakes up naked in a strange and beautiful forest of gigantic multicolored trees; the ground is covered with a close-cropped sward of scarlet vegetation. It all appears to be parklike in its upkeep. Through the trees he sees a most
un-Martian sight: an open sea. 

As he leaves the forest he comes to a broad expanse of meadow land; to his left, the sea as far as he can see; to his right, a mighty river flowing between scarlet banks as it empties into the sea. A little distance up the river mighty perpendicular gold metal bluffs rise thousands of feet high, at the base of which the river emerges from a subterranean tunnel. 

Then Carter sees the gruesome blue plant men, the caretakers of the park: monsters who suck the blood from their victims. Carter hears a weird cry from the bluffs, the plant men rally and attack a group of Green Martians who have gathered on top of a boulder to defend themselves. The plant men kill all but one with their hammer-like tails and Carter joins in the fight to help the one survivor, who turns out to be Tars Tarkas.

After an incredible battle with the plant men and the great white apes who are called to help their monster allies, Carter and Tars Tarkas escape in a tree trunk and climb up the inside of the tree to a cave in the golden cliffs. Michael Whelan does a great job depicting this battle in his cover art of a Ballantine paperback. (See ERBzine #0423.)

While exploring a corridor inside the cave, Tars Tarkas explains everything to Carter:

“‘You have not told me where we are,’ I reminded him.

“‘We are where I expected to find you, John Carter – and another. Many years ago you heard the story of the woman who taught me the thing that green Martians are reared to hate, the woman who taught me to love. You know the cruel tortures and the awful death her love won for her at the hands of the beast, Tal Hajus.

“‘She, I thought, awaited me by the Lost Sea of Korus.

“‘You know that it was left for a man from another world, for yourself, John Carter, to teach this cruel Thark what friendship is; and you, I thought, also roamed the care-free Valley Dor.

“‘Thus were the two I most longed for at the end of the long pilgrimage I must take some day, and so as the time had elapsed which Dejah Thoris had hoped might bring you once more to her side, for she has always tried to believe that you had but temporarily returned to your own planet, I at last gave way to my great yearning and a month since I started upon the journey, the end of which this day you have witnessed. Do you understand now where you be, John Carter?’

“‘And that was the River Iss, emptying into the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor?’ I asked.

“‘This is the valley of love and peace and rest to which every Barsoomian since time immemorial has longed to pilgrimage at the end of a life of hate and strife and bloodshed,’ he replied. ‘This, John Carter, is Heaven.’

“His tone was cold and ironical; its bitterness but reflecting the terrible disappointment he had suffered. Such a fearful disillusionment, such a blasting of life-long hopes and aspirations, such an uprooting of age-old tradition might have excused a vastly greater demonstration on the part of the Thark.

“I laid my hand upon his shoulder.

“‘I am sorry,’ I said, nor did there seem aught else to say. “‘Think, John Carter, of the countless billions of Barsoomians who have taken the voluntary pilgrimage down the cruel river since the beginning of time, only to fall into the ferocious clutches of the terrible creaturs that to-day assailed us.

“‘There is an ancient legend that once a red man returned from the banks of the Lost Sea of Korus, returned from the Valley Dor, back through the mysterious River Iss, and the legend has it that he narrated a fearful blasphemy of horrible brutes that inhabited a valley of wondrous loveliness, brutes that pounced upon each Barsoomian as he terminated his pilgrimage and devoured him upon the banks of the Lost Sea where he had looked to find love and peace and happiness; but the ancients killed the blasphemer, as tradition has ordained that any shall be killed who return from the bosom of the River of Mystery.

“‘But now we know that it was no blasphemy, that the legend is a true one, and that the man told only of what he saw; but what does it profit us, John Carter, since even should we escape, we also would be treated as blasphemers? We are between the wild thoat of certainty and the mad zitidar of fact – we can escape neither.’” (GM/3.)

As they proceed, a mysterious voice warns them to turn back:
“‘Fools! Fools!’ it shrieked. ‘Thinkest thou to defeat the eternal laws of life and death? Wouldst cheat the mysterious Issus, Goddess of Death, of her just dues? Did not her mighty messenger, the ancient Iss, bear you upon her leaden bosom at your own behest to the Valley Dor?

“‘Thinkest thou, O fools, that Issus will give up her own? Thinkest thou to escape from whence in all the countless ages but a single soul has fled? 

“‘Go back the way thou camest, to the merciful maws of the children of the Tree of Life or the gleaming fangs of the great white apes, for there lies the speedy surcease from suffering; but insist in your rash purpose to thread the mazes of the Golden Cliffs of the Mountains of Otz, past the ramparts of the impregnable fortresses of the Holy Therns, and upon your way Death in its most frightful form will overtake you – a death so horrible that even the Holy Therns themselves, who conceived both Life and Death, avert their eyes from its fiendishness and close their ears against the hideous shrieks of its victims.

“‘Go back, O fools, the way thou camest.’” (GM/3)

They fight off banth after banth that keep mysteriously appearing, and with the aid of a mirror on the back of Tars Tarkas’s harness, Carter discovers a secret revolving door, jumping through it into another chamber on the other side. He fights and kills two lesser therns in the chamber with the help of one of the prisoners chained against a wall, a totally naked girl who
turns out to be Thuvia, Princess of Ptarth. After she calms and sends away the attacking banths, she confronts Carter and Tars Tarkas with their folly, explaining her history:
“‘Tell me,’ I said, ‘and who be you, and why a prisoner yet with power over the ferocious beasts of the place that denotes familiarity and authority far beyond that which might be expected of a prisoner or a slave?’

“‘Slave I am,’ she answered. ‘For fifteen years a slave in this terrible place, and now that they have tired of me and become fearful of the power which my knowledge of their ways has given me I am but recently condemned to die the death.’

“She shuddered.

“‘What death?’ I asked.

“‘The Holy Therns eat human flesh,’ she answered me; ‘but only that which has died beneath the sucking lips of a plant man– flesh from which the defiling blood of life has been drawn. And to this cruel end I have been condemned. It was to be within a few hours, had your advent not caused an interruption of their plans.’

“‘Was it then the Holy Therns who felt the weight of John Carter’s hand?’ I asked.

“‘Oh, no; those whom you laid low are lesser therns; but of the same cruel and hateful race. The Holy Therns abide upon the outer slopes of these grim hills, facing the broad world from which they harvest their victims and their spoils.

“‘Labyrinthine passages connect these caves with the luxurious palaces of the Holy Therns, and through them pass upon their many duties the lesser therns, and hordes of slaves, and prisoners, and fierce beasts; the grim inhabitants of this sunless world....

“‘Now and again some hapless pilgrim, drifting out upon the silent sea from the cold Iss, escapes the plant men and the great white apes that guard the Temple of Issus and falls into the relentless clutches of the therns; or, as was my misfortune, is coveted by the Holy Thern who chances to be upon watch in the balcony above the river where it issues from the bowels of the mountains through the cliffs of gold to empty into the Lost Sea of Korus.

“‘All who reach the Valley Dor are, by custom, the rightful prey of the plant men and the apes, while their arms and ornaments become the portion of the therns; but if one escapes the terrible denizens of the valley for even few hours the therns may claim such a one as their own. And again the Holy Thern on watch, should he see a victim he covets, often tramples upon the rights of the unreasoning brutes of the valley and takes his prize by foul means if he cannot gain it by fair.

“‘It is said that occasionally some deluded victim of Barsoomian superstition will so far escape the clutches of the countless enemies that beset his path from the moment that he emerges from the subterranean passage through which the Iss flows for a thousand miles before it enters the Valley Dor as to reach the very walls of the Temple of Issus; but what fate awaits one there not even the Holy Therns may guess, for who has passed within those gilded walls never has returned to unfold the mysteries they have held since the beginning of time.

“‘The Temple of Issus is to the therns what the Valley Dor is imagined by the peoples of the outer world to be to them; it is the ultimate haven of peace, refuge, and happiness to which they pass after this life and wherein an eternity of eternities is spent amidst the delights of the flesh which appeal most strongly to this race of mental giants and moral pygmies.

“‘The Temple of Issus is, I take it, a heaven within a heaven,’ I said. ‘Let us hope that there it will be meted to the therns as they have meted it here unto others.’

“‘Who knows?’ the girl murmured.

“‘The therns, I judge from what you have said, are no less mortal than we; and yet have I always heard spoken of with the utmost awe and reverence by the people of Barsoom, as one might speak of the gods themselves.’

“‘The therns are mortal,’ she replied. ‘They die from the same causes as you or I might; those who do not live their allotted span of life, one thousand years, when by the authority of custom they may take their way in happiness through the long tunnel that leads to Issus.

“‘Those that die before are supposed to spend the balance of their allotted time in the image of a plant man, and it is for this reason that the plant men are held sacred by the therns, since they believe that each of these hideous creatures was formerly a thern.’

“‘And should a plant man die?” I asked.

“‘Should he die before the expiration of the thousand years from the birth of the thern whose immortality abides within him then the soul passes into a great white ape; but should the ape die short of the exact hour that terminates the thousand years the soul is forever lost and passes for all eternity into the carcass of the slimy and fearsome silian whose wriggling thousands seethe the silent sea beneath the hurtling moons when the sun has gone and strange shapes walk through the Valley Dor.’” (GM/4.)

They discuss their chances for escape, recruit the other prisoners, and Thuvia leads them to a chamber where they can all get weapons. On the way they she tells them:
“‘And even then, O Prince,’ she cried, ‘the arm of the Holy Thern is long. It reaches to every nation of Barsoom. His secret temples are hidden in the heart of every community. Wherever we go should we escape we shall find that word
of our coming has preceded us, and death awaits us before we may pollute the air with our blasphemies.’” (GM/4.)
Before they reach the weapons room, they meet a Holy Thern of the Tenth Cycle, Sator Throg:
“He wore in addition to his leathern trappings and jewelled ornaments a great circlet of gold about his brow in the exact center of which was set an immense stone, the exact counterpart of that which I had seen upon the breast of the little old man at the atmosphere plant nearly twenty years before....

“The stone worn by the thern who confronted us was of about the same size as that which I had seen before; an inch in diameter I should say. It scintillated nine different and distinct rays; the seven primary colors of our earthly prism and the two rays which are unknown upon Earth, but whose wondrous beauty is undescribable.” (GM/4.)

The thern orders them to stop, but Thuvia raises her revolver and fires point blank, killing him instantly, revenging herself. This had been the Holy Thern on watch who had coveted her and made her his plaything for fifteen years. Thuvia notices a remarkable resemblance between the thern and Carter and gets an idea:
“She smiled and for answer approached the body of the man she had just slain, and kneeling beside it removed the circlet of gold from the forehead, and then to my utter amazement lifted the entire scalp bodily from the corpse’s head.

“Rising, she advanced to my side and placing the yellow wig over my black hair, crowned me with the golden circlet set with the magnificent gem.

“‘Now don his harness, Prince,’ she said, ‘and you may pass where you will in the realms of the therns, for Sator Throg was a Holy Thern of the Tenth Cycle, and mighty among his kind.’

“As I stooped to the dead man to do her bidding I noted that not a hair grew upon his head, which was quite as bald as an egg.

“‘They are all thus from birth,’ explained Thuvia noting my surprise. ‘The race from which they sprang were crowned with a luxurious growth of golden hair, but for many ages the present race has been entirely bald. The wig, however, has come to be a part of their apparel, and so important a part do they consider it that it is cause for the deepest disgrace were a thern to appear in public without it.’” (GM/4.)

The escaping party takes the body of Sator Throg along with them and eventually find the weapons storeroom where Carter takes the opportunity to get some sleep. He is awakened by gunfire. The other prisoners are ambushed and killed by a search party: Carter, Thuvia, and Tars Tarkas only survive because they were sleeping on the floor. The leader of the ambush is specifically looking for them, but Carter pretends he is Sator Throg and is offended by the ambush, telling the leader that he has captured the suspects, thus accounting for Tars Tarkas, and that the dead white body on the floor belongs to John Carter. But, of course, the white body is bald and the leader suspiciously and grudgingly accepts Sator Throg’s story:
“‘What will the fellow do first, Thuvia?’ I asked. ‘How long will it be before they may return for us?’

“‘He will go directly to the Father of the Therns, old Matai Shang. He may have to wait for an audience, but since he is very high among the lesser therns, in fact as a thorian among them, it will not be long that Matai Shang will keep him waiting.

“‘Then if the Father of Therns puts credence in his story, another hour will see the galleries and chambers, the courts and gardens, filled with searchers.’

“‘What we do then must be done within an hour. What is the best way, Thuvia, the shortest way out of this celestial Hades?’

“‘Straight to the top of the cliffs, Prince,’ she replied, ‘and then through the gardens to the inner courts. From there our way will lie within the temples of the therns and across them to the outer court. Then the ramparts – O Prince, it is hopeless. Ten thousand warriors could not hew a way to liberty from out this awful place.

“‘Since the beginning of time, little by little, stone by stone, have the therns been ever adding to the defences of their stronghold. A continuous line of impregnable fortifications circles the outer slopes of the Mountains of Otz.

“‘Within the temples that lie beyond the ramparts a million fighting-men are ever ready. The courts and gardens are filled with slaves, with women and with children.

“‘None could go a stone’s throw without detection.’” (GM/5.)

They head for the top of the cliffs and come to an opening overlooking the Valley Dor. This scene is vividly depicted by Thomas Yeates. (See,; it’s the third picture down on the left in the Barsoom Portfolio II):
“At our right the sun was setting, a huge red orb, below the western range of Otz. A little below us stood the Holy Thern on watch upon his balcony. His scarlet robe of office was pulled tightly about him in anticipation of the cold that comes so suddenly with darkness as the sun sets....

“The declining sun lighted brilliantly the eastern banks of Korus, the crimson sward, the gorgeous forest. Beneath the trees we saw feeding many herds of plant men. The adults stood aloft upon their toes and their mighty tails, their talons pruning every available leaf and twig. It was then that I understood the careful trimming of the trees which had led me to form the mistaken idea when first I opened my eyes upon the grove that it was the playground of a civilized people.

“As we watched, our eyes wandered to the rolling Iss, which issued from the base of the cliffs beneath us. Presently there emerged from the mountain a canoe laden with lost souls from the outer world. There were a dozen of them. All were of the highly civilized and cultured race of red men who are dominant on Mars.

“The eyes of the herald upon the balcony beneath fell upon the doomed party as soon as did ours. He raised his head and, leaning far out over the low rail that rimmed his dizzy perch, voiced the shrill, weird wail that called the demons of this hellish place to attack.

“For an instant the brutes stood with stiffly erected ears, then they poured from the grove toward the river’s bank, covering the distance with great, ungainly leaps.

“The party had landed and was standing on the sward as the awful horde came in sight. There was a brief and futile effort at defense. Then silence as the huge, repulsive shapes covered the bodies of their victims and scores of sucking mouths fastened themselves to the flesh of their prey.

“I turned away in disgust.

“‘Their part is soon over,’ said Thuvia. ‘The great white apes get the flesh when the plant men have drained the arteries. Look, they are coming now.’ 

“As I turned my eyes in the direction the girl indicated, I saw a dozen of the great white monsters running across the valley toward the river bank. Then the sun went down and darkness that could almost be felt engulfed us.” (GM/5.)

They finally make their way to the gardens of the therns, assisted by a pack of banths Thuvia has recruited. There they discover that the therns are under attack by many fliers of the Black Pirates of Barsoom, who are stealing as many beautiful women as they can get their hands on.

Carter manages to highjack one of their fliers, but the weight of the three of them is too much, so he sets the controls and jumps off, letting Tars Tarkas and Thuvia get away while he holds off a dozen or so Black Pirates. An anchor clunks him on the head, he makes a leap for it, and escapes as the ship attached to the anchor floats off. Carter climbs aboard after dispatching a Black Pirate trying to prevent him from boarding. There is some great cover art of this scene by Frank Schoonover and Gino D’Achille which can be viewed at ERBzine #0423.

The rest of the crew are sleeping and he spies a thern girl bound to one of the rapid firing guns. He releases her and together they dispatch all but one to the Lost Sea of Korus below. The sole survivor, Xodar, is securely bound in his harness, and then the girl queries about who he is and where he is from for she has seen through his disguise, the whole time openly flirting with him. Carter tells her he is from another world; the girl believes him and introduces herself:
“‘I am Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, Holy Hekkador of the Holy Therns, Father of Therns, Master of Life and Death upon Barsoom, Brother of Issus, Princess of Life Eternal.’” (GM/7.)
Carter takes the ship as high as it will go to answer two questions as Phaidor and Xodar succumb to the lack of oxygen: the first is to prove that Phaidor is just as mortal as he is; the second is to dispell the common Barsoomian rumor that the Black Pirates come from Thuria, the lesser moon. He brings these facts to their attention:
“‘There is immortality only in Issus,’ she replied. ‘And Issus is for the race of the therns alone. Thus am I immortal.’

“I caught a fleeting grin passing across the features of the black as he heard her words. I did not then understand why he smiled. Later I was to learn, and she, too, in a most horrible manner.

“‘The other,’ I replied, ‘is that our dusky friend here does not hail from the nearer moon – he was like to have died at a few thousand feet above Barsoom. Had we continued the five thousand miles that lie between Thuria and the planet he would have been but the frozen memory of a man.’

“Phaidor looked at the black in evident astonishment.

“‘If you are not of Thuria, then where?’ she asked.

“He shrugged his shoulders and turned his eyes elsewhere, but did not reply.

“The girl stamped her little foot in a peremptory manner.

“‘The daughter of Matai Shang is not accustomed to having her queries remain unanswered,’ she said. ‘One of the lesser breed should feel honored that a member of the holy race that was born to inherit life eternal should deign even to notice him.’

“Again the black smiled that wicked, knowing smile.

“‘Xodar, Dator of the First Born of Barsoom, is accustomed to give commands, not to receive them,’ replied the black pirate.” (GM/7.)

Carter tells them he intends on taking both of them to Helium as witnesses to the false religion of Issus. Then Xodar distracts him with a long history lesson of his race and religious beliefs:
“‘The First Born of Barsoom,’ he explained, ‘are the race of black men of which I am a Dator, or, as the lesser Barsoomians would say, Prince. My race is the oldest on the planet. We trace our lineage, unbroken, direct to the Tree of Life which flourished in the center of the Valley Dor twenty-three million years ago.

“‘For countless ages the fruit of this tree underwent the gradual changes of evolution, passing by degrees from true plant life to a combination of plant and animal. In the first stages the fruit of the tree possessed only the power of independent muscular action, while the stem remained attached to the parent plant; later a brain developed in the fruit, so that hanging there by their long stems they thought and moved as individuals.

“‘Then, with the development of perceptions came a comparison of them; judgments were reached and compared, and thus reason and the power to reason were born upon Barsoom.

“‘Ages passed. Many forms of life came and went upon the Tree of Life, but still all were attached to the parent plant by stems of varying length. At length the fruit tree consisted in tiny plant men, such as we now see reproduced in such huge dimensions in the Valley Dor, but still hanging to the limbs and branches of the tree by the stems which grew from the tops of their heads.

“‘The buds from which the plant men blossomed resembled large nuts about a foot in diameter, divided by double partition walls into four sections. In one section grew the plant man, in another a sixteen-legged worm, in the third the progenitor of the white ape and in the fourth the primeval black man of Barsoom.

“‘When the bud burst the plant man remained dangling at the end of his stem, but the three other sections fell to the ground, where the efforts of their imprisoned occupants to escape sent them hopping about in all directions.

“‘Thus as time went on, all Barsoom was covered with these imprisoned creatures. For countless ages they lived their long lives within their hard shells, hopping and skipping about the broad planet; falling into rivers, lakes, and seas, to be still further spread about the surface of the new world.

“‘Countless billions died before the first black man broke through his prison walls into the light of day. Prompted by curiousity, he broke open other shells and the peopling of Barsoom commenced.

“‘The pure strain of the blood of this first black man has remained untainted by admixture with the other creatures in the race of which I am a member; but from the sixteen-legged worm, the first ape and renegade black man has sprung every other form of animal life upon Barsoom.

“‘The therns,’ and he smiled maliciously as he spoke, ‘are but the result of ages of evolution from the pure white ape of antiquity. They are a lower order still. There is but one race of true and immortal humans on Barsoom. It is the race of black men.

“‘The Tree of Life is dead, but before it died the plant men learned to detach themselves from it and roam the face of Barsoom with other children of the First Parent.

“‘Now their bisexuality permits them to reproduce themselves after the manner of true plants, but otherwise they have progressed but little in all the ages of their existence. Their actions and movements are largely matters of instinct and not guided to any great extent by reason, since the brain of a plant man is but a trifle larger than the end of your smallest finger. They live upon vegetation and the blood of animals, and their brain is just large enough to direct their movements in the direction of food, and to translate the food sensations which are carried to it from their eyes and ears. They have no sense of self-preservation and so are entirely without fear in the face of danger. That is why they are such terrible antagonists in combat.’” (GM/7.)

Xodar is able to distract Carter long enough to prevent him from noticing a black battleship bearing down on him until it is too late. He is hence captured and Carter and Phaidor are bound together and placed in a cabin below decks. Phaidor tells him she fears her fate for in the millions of years the Black Pirates have only stolen women:
“‘Do you know where we are going?’ she said.

“‘To solve the mystery of the eternal hereafter, I imagine,’ I replied.

“‘I am going to a worse fate than that,’ she said, with a little shudder.

“‘What do you mean?’

“‘I can only guess,’ she replied, ‘since no thern damsel of all the millions that have been stolen away by black pirates during the ages they have raided our domain has ever returned to narrate her experiences among them. That they never take a man prisoner lends strength to the belief that the fate of the girls they steal is worse than death.’

“‘Is it not a just retribution?’ I could not help but ask.

“‘What do you mean?’

“‘Do not the therns themselves do likewise with the poor creatures who take the voluntary pilgrimage down the River of Mystery? Was not Thuvia for fifteen years a plaything and a slave? Is it less than just that you should suffer as you have caused others to suffer?’

“‘You do not understand,’ she replied. “We therns are a holy race. It is an honor to a lesser creature to be a slave among us. Did we not occasionally save a few of the lower orders that stupidly float down an unknown river to an unknown end all would become the prey of the plant men and the apes.’

“‘But do you not by every means encourage the superstition among those of the outside world?’ I argued. ‘That is the wickedest of your deeds. Can you tell me why you foster the cruel deception?’

“‘All life on Barsoom,’ she said, ‘is created solely for the support of the race of therns. How else could we live did the outer world not furnish our labor and our food? Think you that a thern would demean himself by labor?’

“‘Is it true that you eat human flesh?’ I asked in horror.

“She looked at me in pitying commiseration for my ignorance.

“‘Truly we eat the flesh of the lower orders. Do not you also?’

“‘The flesh of beasts, yes,’ I replied, ‘but not the flesh of man.’

“‘As man may eat of the flesh of beasts, so may gods eat of the flesh of man. The Holy Therns are the gods of Barsoom.’

“I was disgusted and I imagine that I showed it.

“‘You are an unbeliever now,’ she continued gently, ‘but should we be fortunate enough to escape the clutches of the black pirates and come again to the court of Matai Shang I think that we shall find an argument to convince you of the error of your ways. And – ,’ she hesitated, ‘perhaps we shall find a way to keep you as – as – one of us.’” (GM/8.)

It is obvious that Phaidor has fallen in love with Carter and desires to make love to him. If it is not obvious to you now, then see what happens next:
“Again her eyes dropped to the floor, and a faint color suffused her cheek. I could not understand her meaning; nor did I for a long time. Dejah Thoris was wont to say that in some things I was a veritable simpleton, and I guess that she was right.

“‘I fear that I would ill requite your father’s hospitality,’ I answered, ‘since the first thing that I should do were I a thern would be to set an armed guard in the mouth of the River Iss to escort the poor deluded voyagers back to the outer world. Also should I devote my life to the extermination of the hideous plant men and their horrible companions, the great white apes.’

“She looked at me really horror struck.

“‘No, no,’ she cried, ‘you must not say such terribly sacrilegious things – you must not even think them. Should they ever guess that you entertained such frightful thoughts, should we chance to regain the temples of the therns, they would mete out a frightful death to you. Not even my – my –’ Again she flushed, and started over. ‘Not even I could save you.’” (GM/8.)

Carter gives up his attempt to create a human conscience in Phaidor after she has offered herself to him:
“I said no more. Evidently it was useless. She was even more steeped in superstition than the Maritans of the outer world. They only worshipped a beautiful hope for a life of love and peace and happiness in the hereafter. The therns worshipped the hideous plant men and the apes, or at least they reverenced them as the abodes of departed spirits of their own dead.’” (GM/8)
Xodar returns and allows them on deck to witness the entrance to the Sea of Omean and the real Martian heaven, enjoying the look of dismay in Phaidor’s eyes as he tells her: 
“‘It will be an excellent lesson for the daughter of the therns,’ he added, ‘for she shall see the Temple of Issus, and Issus, perchance, shall embrace her.’ 

“Phaidor’s head went high.

“‘What blasphemy is this, dog of a pirate?’ she cried. ‘Issus shall wipe out your entire breed an’ you ever came within sight of her temple.’ 

“‘You have much to learn, thern,’ replied Xodar, with an ugly smile, ‘nor do I envy you the manner in which you will learn it.’” (GM/8.)

They fly back the same way they had escaped, and Carter marvels at the sight of the south polar ice cap; they cross over the great bowl depression of the Otz Valley. Xodar acts as their tour guide:
“‘Yes,’ answered Xodar. ‘You crossed this ice field last night in the long chase that you led us. The Otz valley lies in a mighty depression at the south pole. It is sunk thousands of feet below the level of the surrounding country, like a great round bowl. A hundred miles from its northern boundaries rise the Otz Mountains which circle the inner Valley of Dor, in the exact center of which lies the Lost Sea of Korus. On the shore of this sea stands the Golden Temple of Issus in the Land of the First Born. It is here that we are bound.’” (GM/8.)
If all of this geography is getting too much for you, some wonderful maps have been drawn depicting both the south and north poles that can be viewed at ERBzine #2807. They cross a village of lost souls inhabited by pilgrims who lost their nerve to finish the voyage or those who escaped and feared their fates if they returned to their homeland.
“Xodar had left us to attend to some duty on the vessel, and Phaidor and I stood alone beside the rail. The girl had not once spoken since we had been brought to the deck.

“‘Is what he has been telling me true?’ I asked her.

“‘In part, yes,’ she answered. “That about the outer valley is true, but what he says of the location of the Temple of Issus in the center of his country if false. If it is not false – ’ she hesitated. ‘Oh, it cannot be true, it cannot be true. For if it were true then for countless ages have my people gone to torture and ignominous death at the hands of their cruel enemies, instead of to the beautiful Life Eternal that we have been taught to believe Issus holds for us.’

“‘As the lesser Barsoomians of the outer world have been lured by you to the terrible Valley Dor, so may it be that the therns themselves have been lured by the First Born to an equally horrid fate,’ I suggested. ‘It would be a stern and awful retribution, Phaidor; but a just one.’

“‘I cannot believe it.’

“‘We shall see,’ I answered.” (GM//8.)

In this scene and in a few others, ERB perfectly captures the cognitive dissonance of the human mind when it is confronted with facts that contradict what it has been taught to believe.

Overcoming religious delusion is the greatest challenge the human mind can face and ERB manages to capture it in a very artistic and nonplayful manner.

Xodar then takes their ship to a volcanic opening and descends thousands of feet to a subterranean sea, Omean, where they are escorted the base of the Land of the First Born in a submarine. As the craft submerges, Phaidor becomes pathetic in her denial:

“Phaidor grasped my arm. 

“‘Save me!’ she whispered. ‘Save me and your every wish shall be granted. Anything within the power of the Holy Therns to give will be yours. Phaidor –’ she stumbled a little here, and then in a very low voice, ‘Phaidor is already is yours.’

“I felt sorry for the poor child, and placed my hand over hers where it rested on my arm. I presumed my motive was misunderstood, for with a swift glance about the apartment to assure herself that we were alone, she threw both her arms around my neck and dragged my face down to hers.’ (GM/8.)

ERB chose this point to start a new chapter. We must always remember that except for harnesses that are worn for utility and ornamentation, everyone is naked on Mars, with genitalia fully exposed. (See “Nakedness on Mars,” ERBzine #3177.) When we fully understand this, we begin to understand ERB's problems he faced with both his family and the censors, because, after all, John Carter is a married man. This story was told to the public in the winter and spring of 1913, at the height of Victorian morality and Puritanical prudery.

ERB spends the next few paragraphs of chapter nine to explain that he is not a ladies man and that he is a fool in the ways of a man with a maid, but this is always a subtle tip-off that what is being narrated is racy, suggestive, and sometimes pornographic. The reader is left to his or her imagination as to exactly what transpired before Carter broke off the embrace and explained his
great love for his incomparable princess to Phaidor. Phaidor is madly in love with Carter and is extremely jealous, taking the opportunity to act like her race still controls the world:

“‘Dog,’ she hissed. ‘Dog of a blasphemer! Think you that Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, supplicates? She commands. What to her is your puny outer world passion for the vile creature you chose in your other life?

“‘Phaidor has glorified you with her love, and you have spurned her. Ten thousand unthinkable atrocious deaths could not atone for the affront that you have put upon me. The thing that you call Dejah Thoris shall die the most horrible of them all. You have sealed the warrant for her doom.

“‘And you! You shall be the meanest slave in the service of the goddess you have attempted to humiliate. Tortures and ignominies shall be heaped upon you until you grovel at my feet asking the boon of death.

“‘In my gracious generosity I shall at length grant your prayer, and from the high balcony of the Golden Cliffs I shall watch the great white apes tear you asunder.’” (GM/9.)

Carter seems to understand the mental turmoil she suffers and not to add any more discomfort, merely points to the nearest porthole to remind her that they are underwater going to a certain doom. She sits down on a bench, her face buried in her arms, sobbing “more like a very unhappy little girl than a proud and all-powerful goddess.” (GM/9.)
7 WONDERS: CONTENTS | Intro | 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.| XVII..2.3.4 .| XVIII

The Gods of ERB
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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