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Volume 3310

Second Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsooom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.


“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” wrote Rudyard Kipling in his famous poen, “The Ballad of East and West,” and it is just as fitting a description of Toonol and Phundahl which inhabit the eastern and western boundaries of the Great Toonolian Marshes on Barsoom respectively. These two cities, as we shall see, are polar opposites of each other and eternal enemies.

Toonol is atheistic and Phundahl – as can be imagined by its name – fosters a fundamentalistic religion that is even more absurd than that of Issus. ERB wrote this masterpiece in 1927, ten years before Kipling died, but its lessons are just as valid today as they were then, especially with the West's protracted war with the radical, militant Islam of the Middle East.

But, as socially relevant as it might be, ERB never intended to let religion, philosophy, or politics interfere with a rousing good adventure story. And that is exactly what The Master Mind of Mars serves up, the sixth novel in the Barsoom saga, where we are introduced to these two rival city states.


ERB continues to poke fun at Christianity in his psuedo-myth of John Carter by documenting the account of the faithful believer, Captain Ulysses Paxton, late of the U.S. Infantry – who has perished in France during WWI – and because of his belief and faith, is transported to ERB's Valhalla, the red planet of the God of War. In a letter to ERB transmitted by mysterious means, Paxton tells us of how he first read A Princess of Mars while in officer's training camp:

“The story made a profound impression upon me and while my better judgment assured me that it was but a highly imaginative piece of fiction, a suggestion of the verity of it pervaded my inner consciousness to such an extent that I found myself dreaming of Mars and John Carter, of Dejah Thoris, of Tars Tarkas and of Woola as if they had been entities of my own experience rather than the figments of your imagination.” (MMM/Preface Letter.)
While tongue-in-cheek, ERB is recounting here what took place in the countless millions of readers around the globe that experienced similar dreams and aspirations based on the story that bordered on religious mania. Almost all of the pioneers of classic science fiction, as well as many scientists who went on to launch the first manned moon mission, experienced similar
emotions after reading the Barsoom novels. 

After recounting how his legs were blown off by an artillery shell in the trenches of France, how he lay there bleeding to death in the bomb crater, fearful more of going through life maimed than of surviving, he relates the same kind of experience as Carter went through in the Arizona cave:

“Then my eyes suddenly focused upon the bright red eye of Mars and there surged through me a sudden wave of hope. I stretched out my arms towards Mars, I did not seem to question or to doubt for an instant as I prayed to the god of my vocation to reach forth and succour me. I knew that he would do it, my faith was complete, and yet so great was the mental effort that I made to throw off the hideous bonds of my mutilated flesh that I felt a momentary qualm of nausea and then a sharp click as of the snapping of a steel wire, and suddenly I stood naked upon two good legs looking down upon the bloody, distorted thing that had been I....

“Suddenly I felt myself drawn with the speed of thought through the trackless wastes of interplanetary space. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness, then – “But the rest is in the manuscript that, with the aid of one greater than either of us, I have found the means to transmit to you with this letter. You and a few others of the chosen will believe in it – for the rest it matters not as yet. The time will come – but why tell you what you already know?” (MMM/Preface Letter.)

Note the idea of believers in ERB’s Barsoom as the “chosen ones,” as well as the idea of the letter being transmitted by means of “one who is greater” than both of them. One could assume that he was talking about Ras Thavas, the Master Mind of Mars, but the idea of a Higher Power – the God of Mars – seems to be the more obvious reference. Perhaps ERB thought he was going too far with this last concept, a problem which he took care of with the invention of the Gridley Wave shortly thereafter, which served him well in later novels dealing with Barsoom, Tarzan, and Pellucidar.

A. The Island of Dr. Thavas.

Paxton wakes up naked on his back in the garden of Ras Thavas, who is looking down at him:
“He appeared to be quite an old man, for he was wrinkled and withered beyond description. His limbs were emaciated; his ribs showed distinctly beneath his shrunken hide; his cranium was large and well developed, which, in conjunction with his wasted limbs and torso, lent him the appearance of top heaviness, as though he had a head beyond all proportion to his body, which was, I am sure, not really the case. 

“As he stared down upon me through enormous, many lensed spectacles I found the opportunity to examine him as minutely in return. He was, perhaps, five feet five in height, though doubtless he had been taller in youth, since he was somewhat bent; he was naked except for some rather plain and well-worn leather harness which supported his weapons and pocket-pouches, and one great ornament, a collar, jewel studded, that he wore around his scraggy neck...” (MMM/1.)

The old man speaks to him but he can’t understand the language, then he sits up and looks around:
“I was seated upon a scarlet sward within a highly walled enclosure, at least two, and possibly three, sides of which were formed by the outer walls of a structure that in some respects resembled more closely a feudal castle of Europe than any familiar form of architecture that comes to mind. The facade presented to my view was ornately carved and of most irregular design, the roof line being so broken as to almost suggest a ruin, and yet the whole seemed harmonious and not without beauty. Within the enclosure grew a number of trees and shrubs, all weirdly strange and all, or almost all, profusely flowering. About them wound walks of colored pebbles among which scintillated what appeared to be rare and beautiful gems, so lovely were the strange, unearthly rays that leaped and played in the sunshine.” (MMM/1.)
The old man speaks again with sounds like a command, then goes for his sword when Paxton shakes his head in nonunderstanding. Paxton then leaps to his feet and experiences what Carter experienced before him: the lesser gravity of Mars, confirming the fact in his mind that he is really on Barsoom. The old man is so shocked his spectacles fall off, leaving him almost

A naked red man then comes on the scene carrying a club and attacks the old man. Paxton saves him by killing the man with the club; the old man takes him on as his assistant in his experiments. Paxton learns that the old man is Ras Thavas, a scientist-doctor, who can perform brain transplants from one body to another:

“The old man led me into a small chamber from which opened numerous doors, through one of which they were just bearing my late antagonist. We followed into a large, brightly lighted chamber wherein there burst upon my astounded vision the most gruesome scene that I had ever beheld. Rows upon rows of tables arranged in parallel lines filled the room and with few exceptions each table bore a similar grisly burden, a partially dismembered or otherwise mutilated human corpse. Above each table was a shelf bearing containers of various sizes and shapes, while from the bottom of the shelf depended numerous surgical instruments, suggesting that my entrance upon Barsoom was to be through a gigantic medical colllege.” (MMM/1.)
Paxton witnesses the old man making incisions in the man he had just killed, then inserting tubes which drain the body of its precious fluids, replacing them with somekind of preserving fluid. They go into another room where an old woman seeks aid from the old man. 

She is Xaxa, Jeddara of Phundahl, who wishes to have her brain transplanted into a new beautiful body of a young woman, and they proceed to another room:

“It closely resembled the others except that all of the bodies were of young women, many of them of great beauty. Following closely on the heels of the old man the woman inspected the gruesome exhibit with painstaking care. Thrice she passed slowly among the tables examining their ghastly burdens. Each time she paused longest before a certain one which bore the figure of the most beautiful creature I had ever looked upon; then she returned the fourth time to it and stood looking long and earnestly into the dead face.” (MMM/1.)
She chooses this body, and her brain is then transferred into the body of the girl and the girl’s brain transferred into her old body. This scene is wonderfully captured by several artists which can be viewed at ERBzine #0875, ERBzine #0427, and at (for the latter, scroll down to the “Art” section, click on the “Thomas Yeates Art Gallery,” then click on “Portfolio I,” the bottom picture; above that one, to the left, is a fairly accurate version of the Jetan Field of Manator with Gahan of Gathol and U-Dor riding thoats.)

Weeks pass and Paxton slowly learns the Martian language and that the Master Mind of Mars is originally from Toonol. Ras Thavas gives him a Martian name, Vad Varo, and teaches him his art and makes Vad Varo his bodyguard because he believes in such things as love, loyalty, friendship, enmity, jealousy, hate, and a thousand others, whereas Ras Thavas believes
these things to be merely sentimentalism, explaining to Vad Varo:

“‘Sentiment is indeed a bar to all progress. We of Toonol are probably less subject to its vagaries than most other nations upon Barsoom, but yet most of my fellow countrymen are victims of it in varying degrees. It has its rewards and compensations, however. Without it we could preserve no stable form of government and the Phundalians, or some other people, would overrun and conquer us; but enough of our lower classes have sentiment to a sufficient degree to give them loyalty to the Jeddak of Toonol and the upper classes are brainy enough to know that it is to their best interests to keep him upon his throne.

“‘The Phundalians, upon the other hand, are egregious sentimentalists, filled with crass stupidities and superstitions, slaves to every variety of brain withering conceit. Why the very fact that they keep the old termagant, Xaxa, upon the throne brands them with their stupid idiocy. She is an ignorant, arrogant, selfish, stupid, cruel virago, yet the Phundalians would fight and die for her because her father was Jeddak of Phundahl. She taxes them until they can scarce stagger beneath their burden, she misrules them, exploits them, betrays them, and they fall down and worship at her feet. Why? Because her father was Jeddak of Phundahl and his father before him and so on back into antiquity; because they are ruled by sentiment rather than reason; because their wicked rulers play upon this sentiment.’” (MMM/2.)

Vad Varo reminds Ras Thavas that he too displays sentiment in the pride he takes in his intellect, to which Ras Thavas replies:
“‘It is not pride,’ he said, patiently, for him, ‘it is merely a fact that I state. A fact that I should have no difficulty in proving. In all probability I have the most highly developed and perfectly functioning mind among all the learned men of my acquaintance, and reason indicates that this fact also suggests that I possess the most highly developed and perfectly functioning mind upon Barsoom. From what I know of Earth and from what I have seen of you, I am convinced that there is no mind upon your planet that may even fairly approximate in power that which I have developed during a thousand years of active study and research.’” (MMM/2.)
Thus the title, Master Mind of Mars. Ras Thavas allows Vad Varo to experiment on the old body of Xaxa and he falls in love with her brain, the one of the beautiful young woman, whom he learns is named Valla Dia of Duhor. He vows to restore her brain to her true body and finds just the opportunity when Ras Thavas tells him the real reason why he has taught Vad his surgical technique:
“This plan that I have chosen is simplicity itself provided that I can count upon just two essential factors – skill and self-interested loyalty in an assistant. My body is about worn out. I must have a new one. My laboratory is filled with wonderful bodies, young and complete with potential strength and health. I have but to select one of these and have my skilled assistant transfer my brain from this old carcass to the new one.’” (MMM/4.)
Vad agrees to the operation on one condition, that the body of Valla Dia is returned to her, a condition to which Ras Thavas reluctantly agrees. He performs the operation and Ras Thavas begins to trust him so much, he gives him a full tour of his domain, including a high tower:
“He led me immediately to a lofty tower that rose at the corner of the largest building of the group that comprised his vast establishment. Within was a circular runway which led not only upward, but down as well. This we ascended, passing openings at each floor, until we came at last out upon its lofty summit. 

“About me spread the first Barsoomian landscape of any extent upon which my eyes had yet rested during the long months that I had spent upon the Red Planet. For almost an Earthly year I had been immured within the grim walls of Ras Thavas’ bloody laboratory, until, such creatures of habit are we, the weird life there had grown to seem quite natural and ordinary; but with this first glimpse of open country there surged up within me an urge for freedom, for space, for room to move about, such as I knew would would not be long denied.

“Directly beneath lay an irregular patch of rocky land elevated perhaps a dozen feet or more above the general level of the immediatel surrounding country. Its extent was, at a rough guess, a hundred acres. Upon this stood the buildings and grounds, which were enclosed in a high wall. The tower upon which we stood was situated at about the center of the total area enclosed. Beyond the outer wall was a strip of rocky ground on which grew a sparse forest of fair sized trees interspersed with patches of jungle growth, and beyond all, what appeared to be an oozy marsh through which were narrow water courses connecting occasional open water – little lakes, the largest of which could have comprised scarce two acres. The landscape extended as far as the eye could reach, broken by occasional islands similar to that upon which we were and at a short distance by the skyline of a large city, whose towers and domes and minarets glistened and sparkled in the sun as though plated with shiny metals and picked out with precious gems.

“This, I knew, must be Toonol and all about us the Great Toonolian Marshes, which extend nearly eighteen hundred Earth miles east and west and in some places have a width of three hundred miles. Little is known about them in other portions of Barsoom as they are frequented by fierce beasts, afford no landing places for fliers and are commanded by Phundahl at their western end and Toonol at the east; inhospitable kingdoms that invite no intercourse with the outside world and maintain their independence alone by their inaccessibility and savage aloofness.’” (MMM/6.)

Vad Varo then spies Great White Apes emerge from the patches of jungle on their island and Ras Thavas tells them that they serve a dual purpose: they keep out assassins from Toonol and they prevent desertion from his slaves and assistants. To get around this, Vad Varo plans his escape so that he can return with Valla Dia’s true body, currently possessed by Xaxa.
He conceals Valla Dia and enlists the help of several allies: Gor Hajus, the assassin of Toonol, whose body has been in suspended animation for six years; Dar Tarus, a handsome noble of Phundahl who was betrayed by another noble who then arranged for their brains to be transferred so that the rival noble could possess a girl who was in love with Dar Tarus; and
Hovan Du, a Great White Ape that has had half of his ape brain transferred into that a human, and half of the human's – Hovan Du’s – transferred into the Great White Ape’s. Hovan Du's human half brain is dominant in the Great White Ape and makes a perfect ally.

B. Toonol.

They stow aboard a flier and make their escape to Toonol:
“From the summit of the landing tower I had my first view of a Martian city. Several hundred feet below me lay spread the broad, well-lighted avenues of Toonol, many of which were crowded with people. Here and there, in this central district, a building was raised high upon its supporting, cylindrical metal shaft; while further out, where the residences predominated, the city took on the appearance of a colossal and grotesque forest. Among the larger palaces only an occasional suite of rooms was thus raised high above the level of the others, these being the sleeping apartments of the owners, their servants or their guests; but the smaller homes were raised in their entirety, a precaution necessitated by the constant activities of the followers of Gor Hajus’ ancient profession that permitted no man to be free from the constant menace of assassination. Throughout the central district the sky was pierced by the lofty towers of several other landing stages; but, as I was later to learn, these were comparatively few in number. Toonol is in no sense a flying nation, supporting no such enormous fleets of merchant ships and vessels of war as, for example, the twin cities of Helium or the great capital of Ptarth.

“A peculiar feature of the street lighting of Toonol, and in fact the same condition applies to the lighting of other Barsoomian cities I have visited, I noted for the first time that night as I waited upon the landing stage for the return of Bal Zak with the watchman. The luminosity below seemed confined directly to the area to be lighted; there was no diffusion of light upward or beyond the limits of the lamps were designed to light. This was effected, I was told, by lamps designed upon principles resulting from ages of investigation of the properties of light waves and the laws governing them which permit Barsoomian scientists to confine and control matter. The light waves leave the lamp, pass along a prescribed circuit and return to the lamp. There is no waste nor, strange this seemed to me, are there any dense shadows when lights are properly installed and adjusted; for the waves in passing around objects to return to the lamp, illuminate all sides of them.

“The effect of this lighting from the great height of the tower was rather remarkable. The night was dark, there being no moons at that hour upon this night, and the effect was that obtained when sitting in a darkened auditorium and looking upon a brilliantly lighted stage.” (MMM/8.)

This scene is breathtakingly captured by Frank R. Paul and can be viewed at ERBzine #0875. To avoid detection in reaching the house of Gor Hajus’ friend, Mu Tel – where they hope to find shelter – they descend the tower by means of equilibrimotors:
“We therefore found the doors of the depot open and Gor Hajus and Dar Tarus quickly selected four equilibrimotors and adjusted them upon us. They consist of a broad belt, not unlike the life belt used aboard trans-oceanic liners upon Earth; these belts are filled with the eighth Barsoomian ray, or ray of repulsion, to a sufficient degree to just about equalize the pull of gravity and thus to maintain a person in equilibrium between that force and the opposite force exerted by the eighth ray. Permanently attached to the back of the belt is a small radium motor, the controls of which are upon the front of the belt. Rigidly attached to and projecting from each side of the upper rim of the belt is a strong, light wing with small hand levers for quickly altering its position.

“Gor Hajus quickly explained the method of control, but I could apprehend that there might be embarrassment and trouble awaiting me before I mastered the art of flying in an equilibrimotor. He showed me how to tilt the wings downward in walking so that I would not leave the ground at every step, and thus he led me to the edge of the landing stage.” (MMM/8.)

As expected, what follows is an amusing flight and chase, but they eventually find their way to the palace of Mu Tel’s palace of refuge. Again, this scene is vividly depicted by Frank R. Paul at ERBzine #0875. Vad Varo and Mu Tel hit it off and Mu Tel is interested in Earth customs and eventually shows him a wonderful invention in which events on Earth can be viewed – much like the device Dejah Thoris had told John Carter about in A Princess of Mars:
“Mu Tel took me to a small auditorium in his palace that reminded me somewhat of a private projection room on Earth. It had, I should say, a capacity of some two hundred persons and was built like a large camera obscura; the audience sitting within the instrument, their backs towards the lens and in front of them, filling one entire end of the room, a large ground glass upon which is thrown the image to be observed.

“Mu Tel seated himself at a table upon which was a chart of the heavens. Just above the chart was a movable arm carrying a pointer. This pointer Mu Tel moved until it rested upon the planet Earth, then he switched off the light in the room and immediately there appeared upon the ground glass plate a view such as one might obtain from an airplane riding at an elevation of thousand feet.” (MMM/9.)

Vad Varo witnesses a devastated landscape and asks if the pointer can be directed to another locality:
“He lighted a small radio bulb between us and I saw a globe there, a globe of Earth, and a small pointer fixed over it.

“‘The side of this globe now presented to you represents the face of the Earth turned towards us,’ explained Mu Tel. ‘You will note that the globe is slowly revolving. Place this pointer where you will upon the globe and that portion of Jasoom will be revealed to you.’” (MMM/9.)

Vad Varo discovers that the allies won the war and is happy it is over because they fought for a great principle, to which Mu Tel replies:
“If you mean that you hope that your principle will triumph because you fought and won, or that peace will come, your hopes are futile. War never brought peace – it but brings more and greater wars. War is Nature’s natural state – it is folly to combat it. Peace should be considered only as a time for preparation for the principle business of man’s existence. Were it not for constant warring of one form of life upon another, and even upon itself, the planets would be so overrun with life that it would smother itself out. We found upon Barsoom that long periods of peace brought plagues and terrible diseases that killed more than the wars killed and in a much more hideous and painful way. There is neither pleasure nor thrill nor reward of any sort to be gained by dying in bed of a loathsome disease. We must all die – let us therefore go out and die in a great and exciting game, and make room for the millions who are to follow us. We have tried it out upon Barsoom and we would not be without war.’

“Mu Tel told me much that day about the peculiar philosophy of Toonolians. They believe that no good deed was ever performed except for a selfish motive; they have no god and no religion; they believe, as do all educated Barsoomians, that man came originally from the Tree of Life, but unlike most of their fellows they do not believe that an omnipotent being created the Tree of Life. They hold that the only sin is failure – success, however achieved, is meritorious; and yet, paradoxical as it may seem, they never break their given word. Mu Tel explained that they overcome the baneful results of this degrading weakness – this sentimental bosh – by seldom, if ever, binding themselves to loyalty to another, and then only for a definitely prescribed period.” (MMM/9.)

Vad Varo finds much to criticize about this philosophy, finding them, despite their vaunted view of science, that they are much in the same way as religious fanatics, and thus unbalanced. Vad Varo decides it is time to go to Phundahl and fulfill his plan to return the rightful body to Valla Dia.

C. Phundahl.

They take a flier and head out for Phundahl, are stopped by a Toonlian patrol, but are helped on their way for the Toonlians hold Gor Vajus in high regard. They reach Phundahl undetected and enter the storage area district where there is little traffic. They eat, entertain the crowd with Hovan Du, who pretends to be a performing ape, and then head for a place of lodging. But before they reach it, Dar Tarus of Phundahl, feels obligated to perform his religious obligations. What passes is the funniest poke at organized religion I have ever read:
“As we went we approached a great building of wondrous beauty in and out of which constant streams of people were streaming, and when we were before it, Dar Tarus asked us to wait without as he must enter. When I asked him why, he told me that this was a temple of Tur, the god worshipped by the people of Phundahl.

“‘I have been away for a long time,’ he said, ‘and have had no opportunity to do honor to my god. I shall not keep you waiting long. Gor Hajus, will you loan me a few pieces of gold?’

“In silence the Toonolian took a few pieces of money from one of his pocket pouches and handed them to Dar Tarus, but I could see that it was only with difficulty that he hid an expression of contempt, since the Toonolians are atheists.

“I asked Dar Tarus if I might accompany him into the temple, which seemed to please him very much; and so we fell in with the stream approaching the broad entrance. Dar Tarus gave me two of the gold pieces that he had borrowed from Gor Hajus and told me to follow directly behind him and do whatever I saw him doing. Directly inside the main entrance, and spread entirely across it at intervals that permitted space for the worshippers to pass between them, was a line of priests, their entire bodies, including their heads and faces, covered by a mantle of white cloth. In front of each was a substantial stand upon which rested a cash drawer. As we approached one of these we handed him a piece of gold which he immediately changed into many pieces of lesser value, one of which we dropped into a box at his side; whereupon he made several passes with his hands above our heads, dipped one of his fingers into a bowl of dirty water which he rubbed upon the ends of our noses, mumbled a few words which I could not understand and turned to the next in line as we passed on into the interior of the great temple. Never have I seen such a gorgeous display of wealth and lavish ornamentation as confronted my eyes in this the first of the temple of Tur that it was my fortune to behold.” (MMM/10.)

Recalling that ERB worked as a policeman in Salt Lake City is helpful to see what he is getting at with this parody. But on with the show:
“The enormous floor was unbroken by a single pillar and arranged upon it at regular intervals were carven images resting upon gorgeous pedestals. Some of these images were of men and some of women and many of them were beautiful; and there were others of beasts and of strange, grotesque creatures and many of these were hideous indeed. The first that we approached was that of a beautiful female figure; and about the pedestal of this lay a number of men and women prone upon the floor against which they bumped their heads seven times and then arose and dropped a piece of money into a receptacle provided for that purpose, moving on then to another figure. The next that Dar Tarus and I visited was that of a man with the body of a silian, about the pedestal of which was arranged a series of horizontal wooden bars in concentric circles. The bars were about five feet from the floor and hanging from them by their knees were a number of men and women, repeating monotonously, over and over again, something that sounded to me like, bibble-babble-blup.

“Dar Tarus and I swung to the bars like the others and mumbled the meaningless phrase for a minute or two, then we swung down, dropped a coin into the box, and moved on. I asked Dar Tarus what the words were that we had repeated and what they meant, but he said he did not know. I asked him if anyone knew, but he appeared shocked and said that such a question was sacrilegious and revealed a marked lack of faith. At the next figure we visited the people were all on their hands and knees crawling madly in a circle about the pedestal. Seven times around they crawled and then they arose and put some money in a dish and went their ways. At another the people rolled about, saying, ‘Tur is Tur; Tur is Tur; Tur is Tur,’ and dropping money in a golden bowl when they were done. 

“‘What god was that?’ I whispered to Dar Tarus when we had quit this last figure, which had no head, but eyes, nose and mouth in the center of its belly. 
“‘There is but one god,’ replied Dar Tarus solemnly, ‘and he is Tur!’
“‘Was that Tur?’ I inquired.
“‘Silence, man,’ whispered Dar Tarus. ‘They would tear you to pieces were they to hear such heresy.’
“‘Oh, I beg your pardon,’ I exclaimed. ‘I did not mean to offend. I see now that that is merely one of your idols.’“Dar Tarus clapped a hand over my mouth. ‘S-s-s-t!’ he cautioned to silence. ‘We do not worship idols – there is but one god and he is Tur!’
“‘Well, what are these?’ I insisted, with a sweep of a hand that embraced the several score images about which were gathered the thousands of worshippers. 
“‘We must not ask,’ he assured me. ‘It is enough that we have faith that all the works of Tur are just and righteous. Come! I shall soon be through and we may join our companions.’
“He led me next to the figure of a monstrosity with a mouth that ran entirely around its head. It had a long tail and the breasts of a woman. About this image were a great many people, each standing upon his head. They also were repeating, over and over, ‘Tur is Tur; Tur is Tur.’ When we had done this for a minute or two, during which I had a devil of a time maintaining my equilibrium, we arose, dropped a coin in the box by the pedestal and moved on.
“‘We may go now,’ said Dar Tarus. ‘I have done well in the sight of Tur.’
“‘I notice,’ I remarked, ‘that the people repeated the same phrase before this figure that they did at the last – Tur is Tur.’
“‘Oh, no,’ exclaimed Dar Tarus. ‘On the contrary they said just exactly the opposite from what they said at the other. At that they said, Tur is Tur; while at this they absolutely reversed it and said, Tur is Tur. Do you not see? They turned it right around backwards, which makes a very great difference.’
“‘It sounded the same to me,’ I insisted.
“‘That is because you lack faith,’ he said sadly, and we passed out of the temple, after depositing the rest of our money in a huge chest, of which there were many standing about almost filled with coins.” (MMM/10.)

If this was not hilarious to you, then you lack faith. But, wait, the fun is not over. Vad Varo asks Dar Tarus to explain the religion of Tur to him, for he is fascinated by the mysteries of religion:
“‘Ah, but that is the beauty of the religion of Tur,’ he exclaimed, ‘it has no mysteries. It is simple, natural, scientific and every word and work of it is susceptible of proof through the pages of Turgan, the great book written by Tur himself.

“‘Tur’s home is upon the sun. There, one hundred thousands of years ago, he made Barsoom and tossed it out into space. Then he amused himself by creating man in various forms and two sexes; and later he fashioned animals to be food for man and each other, and caused vegetation and water to appear that man and the animals might live. Do you not see how simple and scientific it all is?’

“‘But it was Gor Hajus who told me most about the religion of Tur one day when Dar Tarus was not about. He said that the Phundalians maintained that Tur still created every living thing with his own hands. They denied vigorously that man possessed the power to reproduce his kind and taught their young that all such belief was vile; and always they hid every evidence of natural procreation, insisting to the death that even those things which they witnessed with their eyes and experienced with their own bodies in the bringing forth of their young never transpired.

“Turgan taught them that Barsoom is flat and they shut their minds to every proof to the contrary. They would not leave Phundahl far for fear of falling off the edge of the world; they would not permit the development of aeronautics because should one of their ships circumnavigate Barsoom it would be a wicked sacrilege in the eyes of Tur who made Barsoom flat.

“They would not permit the use of telescopes, for Tur taught them that there was no other world than Barsoom and to look at another world would be heresy; nor would they permit the teaching in their schools of any history of Barsoom that antedated the creation of Barsoom by Tur, though Barsoom has a well authenticated written history that reaches back more than one hundred thousand years; nor would they permit any geography of Barsoom except that which appears in Turgan, nor any scientific researches along biological lines.  Turgan is their only text book – if it is not in Turgan it is a wicked lie.

“Much of all this and a great deal more I gathered from one source or another during my brief stay in Phundahl, whose people are, I believe, the least advanced in civilization of any of the red nations upon Barsoom. Giving, as they do, all their best thought to religious matters, they have become ignorant, bigoted and narrow, going as far to one extreme as the Toonolians do to the other.” (MMM/10.)

As the story progresses, they come across a huge idol of Tur in the Jeddara’s temple, which allows more fun and priest trickery to unfold. But I will allow the reader to enjoy that on his or her own, the main point of this discourse being finished.


H.G. Wells dealt with unethical medical research and the horrors of vivisection in The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1895, with which I am sure ERB was acquainted. Dr. Moreau had been ostracized out of his country when the gruesome details of his research came to light. The narrator, an admirer of research, comments early in the novel, before the full facts of the island
are made known:

“It was not the first time that conscience had turned against the methods of research. The doctor was simply howled out of the country. It may be he deserved to be, but I still think the tepid support of his fellow investigators, and his desertion by the great body of scientific workers, was a shameful thing. Yet, some of his experiments, by the journalists account, were wantonly cruel. He might perhaps have purchased his social peace by abandoning his investigations, but he apparently preferred the latter, as most men would have once fallen under the overmastering spell of research.” (Chapter 7.)
Later, Dr. Moreau explains his philosophy to the narrator:
“‘You see, I went on with this research just the way it led me. That is the only way I ever heard of research going. I asked a question, devised some method of getting an answer, and got – a fresh question. Was this possible, or that possible? You cannot imagine what this means to an investigator, what an intellectual passion grows upon him. You cannot imagine the strange colorless delight of these intellectual desires. The thing before you is no longer an animal, a fellow-creature, but a problem. Sympathetic pain – all I know of it I remember as a thing I used to suffer from years ago. I wanted – it was the only thing I wanted – to find out the extreme limit of plasticity in a living shape.’

“‘But,’ said I, ‘the thing is an abomination – ’

“‘To this day I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter. The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature.’” (Chapter 14.)

This is the logic of the Nazi doctors who experimented on human beings during the Third Reich, even though modern medicine advanced by leaps and bounds as a result of it. Vad Varo assesses Ras Thavas similarly:
“Ras Thavas was as remarkable as the things he accomplished. He was never intentionally cruel. He was not, I am sure, intentionally wicked. He was guilty of the most diabolical cruelties and the basest of crimes; yet in the next moment he might perform a deed that if duplicated upon Earth would have raised him to the hightest pinnacle of man’s esteem. Though I know that I am safe in saying that he was never prompted to a cruel or criminal act by base motives, neither was he ever urged to a humanitarian one by high motives. He had a purely scientific mind entirely devoid of the cloying influences of sentiment, of which he possessed none. His was a practical mind, as evidenced by the enormous fees he demanded for his professional services; yet I know that he would not operate for money alone and I have seen him devote days to the study of a scientific problem the solution of which could add nothing to his wealth, while the quarters that he furnished his waiting clients were overflowing with wealthy patrons waiting to pour money into his coffers.

“His treatment of me was based entirely upon scientific requirements. I offered a problem.” (MMM/2.)

We face the same dilemma today with single cell stem research. We must beware the extremes of both Toonol and Phundahal as we move forward on this great quest. The whole idea of brain transplants ERB raised in this story is gripping in the metaphysical dilemma it poses. Where does the soul dwell, if there is one? Is the brain merely another organ like a heart or kidney that does not effect the “I-ness” of a person if it is transplanted. Or is it that part of a person that is indispensable to an individual?

I remember when the first heart transplant was accomplished. Most of the world thought that the whole idea was impossible. But now it is routine. As for Toonol and Phundahl, they can be imagined as metaphors for Capitalism and Socialism, or Christianity and Buddhism or Islam, where never the twain shall meet. And as for Tur, well, Tur is Tur forwards and backwards. I remember being raised by my mother who taught us that the Bible was dictated by God and we were never to allow another book on top of
it or God would punish us. I was afraid to even read it, but I must say, I enjoyed the pictures of all of the battles in the Old Testament.

When we recall the Dark Ages, and that Roman priests who were terrified to peer into Galileo’s telescope out of fear of losing their faith and being punished by God, it is fun to see this dilemma put into such a comic light in the story of Turgan. As I write this on September 2, 2010, I recall seeing on the History Channel this morning a narrator informing me that the most visited
religious shrine in America is the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, and it makes me wonder how such an absurd religion can capture the hearts and minds of so many educated people, who wear magic underwear and perform secret magical rites in their temples.

In Robert Heinlein’s future history of the world, outlined in the Forties, he prophesied that America would experience a Mormon like theocracy in this century. Stranger in a Strange Land is a story from this period. When I see a Mormon candidate for President of the United States being viewed as a viable candidate, as well as the insanity of the Tea Party Movement, it makes me wonder if Heinlein was right. God help us all if he was.

And there you have it, 
ERB’s Toonol and Phundahl: the Second Runner-up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom!

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

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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