THE MARTIAN OCEANS AND THEIR CITIES
The Eighth Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom
Part Three: Gathol, Horz...and Opar (continued)
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
At the beginning of Llana of Gathol, John Carter trades his Batman
mask that he wore in Swords of Mars for an Indiana Jones hat:
“When I feel that strange urge for solitude
coming over me, it is my usual custom to take a one man flier and range
the dead sea bottoms and the other uninhabited wildernesses of this dying
planet; for there indeed is solitude. There are vast areas on Mars where
no human foot has ever trod, and other vast areas that for thousands of
years have known only the giant green men, the wandering nomads of the
This is a side of John Carter that is new to the reader. Most of the time
he appears to be almost psychopathic in his desire to conquer and fight
to the death. He was willing to depopulate an entire planet to win Dejah
Thoris, and, if a younger man, would have been willing to set Barsoom on
fire to win his daughter, Tara of Helium. This is the time-honored martial
mentality. But there is also that side of John Carter that expose him as
a adventurer-scientistexplorer. We learn about this side as we learn about
his deep desire for solitude, the longing of every hermit and prophet.
We are reminded of Jesus in this, the other bearer of the initials, “JC.”
“Sometimes I am away for weeks on these glorious
adventures in solitude. Because of them, I probably know more of
the geography and topography of Mars than any other living man; for they
and my other adventurous excursions upon the planet have carried me from
the Lost Sea of Korus, in the Valley Dor at the frozen South to Okar, land
of the black bearded Yellow Men of the frozen North, and from Kaol to Bantoom;
and yet there are many parts of Barsoom that I have not visited, which
will not seem so strange when there is taken into consideration the fact
that although the area of Mars is more than one fourth that of Earth its
land area is almost eight million square miles greater. That is because
Barsoom has no large bodies of surface water, its largest known ocean being
entirely subterranean. Also I think you will admit, fifty-six million square
miles is a lot of territory to know thoroughly.
“Upon the occasion of which I am about to tell
you, I flew northwest from Helium, which lies 30 degrees south of the Equator
which I crossed about sixteen hundred miles east of Exum, the Barsoomian
Greenwich. North and west of me lay a vast, almost unexplored region; and
there I thought to find the absolute solitude for which I craved.” (LG/I-1.)
As you have probably guessed by now, solitude will be the last thing
Carter experiences on this last of his Barsoomian adventures.
“I had set my directional compass upon
Horz, the long deserted city of ancient Barsoomian culture, and loafed
along at seventy-five miles an hour at an altitude of five hundred to a
thousand feet. I had seen some green men northeast of Torquas and had been
forced up to escape their fire, which I did not return as I was not seeking
adventure; and I had crossed two thin ribbons of red Martian farm land
bordering canals that bring the precious waters from the annually melting
ice caps at the poles. Beyond these I saw no signs of human life in all
the five thousand miles that lie between Lesser Helium and Horz.
Yes, the melancholy of ancient lost, deserted, and dead civilizations.
ERB wrote this in his early days in Hawaii, when the threat of air bombardment
was at its height. We see this fear expressed in ERB’s depiction of a hypothetical
air bombing of key strategic water sources on Earth, and in his later depiction
of the equilibrimotor assault on Gathol.
“It is always a little saddening to me to look
down thus upon a dying world, to scan the endless miles of ochre, mosslike
vegetation which carpets the vast areas where once rolled the mighty oceans
of a young and virile Mars, to ponder that just beneath me once ranged
the proud navies and the merchant ships of a dozen rich and powerful nations
where today the fierce banth roams a solitude whose silence is unbroken
except for the roars of the killer and the screams of the dying....
“It was about noon of the third day that I sighted
the towers of ancient Horz. The oldest part of the city lies upon the edge
of a vast plateau; the newer portions, and they are countless thousands
of years old, are terraced downward into a great gulf, marking the hopeless
pursuit of the receding sea upon the shores of which the rich and powerful
city once stood. The last poor, mean structures of a dying race have either
disappeared or are only mouldering ruins now; but the splendid structures
of her prime remain at the edge of the plateau, mute but eloquent reminders
of her vanished grandeur -- enduring monuments to the hiteskinned fair-haired
race which has vanished forever.
“I am always interested in these deserted cities
of ancient Mars. Little is known of their inhabitants, other than what
can be gathered from the stories told by the carvings which ornament the
exteriors of many of their public buildings and the few remaining murals
which have withstood the ravages of time and the vandalism of the green
hordes which has overrun many of them. The extremely low humidity has helped
to preserve them, but more than all else was the permanency of their construction.
These magnificent edifices were built not for years but for eternities.
The secrets of their mortars, their cements, and their pigments have been
lost for ages; and for countless ages more, long after the last life has
disappeared from the face of Barsoom, their works will remain, hurtling
through space forever upon a dead, cold planet with no eye to see, with
no mind to appreciate. It is a sad thing to contemplate.
“At last I was over Horz. I had for long promised
myself that someday I should come here, for Horz is, perhaps, the oldest
and the greatest of the dead cities of Barsoom. Water built it; the lack
of water spelled its doom. I often wonder if the people of Earth, who have
water in such abundance, really appreciate it. I wonder if the inhabitants
of New York City realize what it would mean to them if some enemy, establishing
an air base within cruising radius of the first city of the New World,
should uccessfully bomb and destroy Croton dam and the Catskill water
system. The railroads and the highways would be jammed with refugees, millions
would die, and for years, perhaps forever, New York City would cease to
Carter sees a red man in a plaza below being pursued by half a dozen
fierce green warriors and he gets adventure whether he seeks it or not.
Carter lands and engages the green men in combat. Carter discovers to his
shock when the first three of the green men are defeated that the red Martian
is not red at all, but white. Carter was fooled by the man's deep bronze
In fact there is nothing red Martian about the man at all. His harness
and weapons and everything about him differs from what John Carter has
experienced on Mars. The man also wears a headdress, consisting of a leather
band that ran around his head just above his brows, with another leather
band crossing his head from right to left, and another crossing from the
front to the rear.
The bands are highly ornamented with carving and set with jewels and
precious metals. In the center of the band that crosses his forehead is
fixed a piece of flat gold in the shape of a spearhead with the point up.
Inlaid within it is a strange device in black and red. On top of this,
or, to me more exact, under this, he has golden hair.
At first Carter assumes the man is a Thern, but dismisses the idea once
he learns that the golden hair is not a wig. Then comes a strange passage:
“I also saw that my companion was strangely
handsome. I might say beautiful were it not for the effeminateness which
the word connotes, and there was nothing effeminate about the way this
man fought or the mighty oaths that he swore when he spoke at all to an
adversary. We fighting men are not given to much talk, but when you feel
your blade cleave a skull in twain or drive through the heart of a foeman,
then sometimes a great oath is wrenched from your lips.
Many commentators have remarked that ERB is making fun of himself and his
characters in this novel, but I don’t really see this argument at all.
This passage tells us all we need to know about the adventures to come
when Carter will be challenged by every strong man and swordsmen from Horz
to the hothouse city of Pankor, and on to hidden Invak in the Forest of
“But I had little time then to appraise my companion,
for the remaining three were at us again in a moment. I fought that day
I suppose, as I have always fought; but each time it seems to me that I
have never fought so well as upon that particular occasion. I do not take
great credit for my fighting ability, for it seems to me that my sword
is inspired. No man could think as quickly as my point moves, always to
the right spot at the right time, as though anticipating the next move
of an adversary. It weaves a net of steel about me that few blades have
ever pierced. It fills the foeman’s eyes with amazement and his mind with
doubt and his heart with fear. I imagine that much of my success has been
due to the psychological effect of my swordsmanship upon my adversaries.”
By this time in the Barsoomian Mythos, we all know that John Carter
is the best swordsman on two planets and we marvel in vicarious joy as
we experience in our imaginations the exploits of this gifted superman.
ERB was not making fun of himself when he wrote this last Barsoomian epic;
he was creating the egotistical joy of being and experiencing the mind
and exploits of John Carter.
Anyway, Carter and the strange man immediately dispatch two of the green
men, but the third escapes. The white man yells not to let him escape:
“He crossed the courtyard where we had
been engaged and made for a great archway that opened out into a broad
avenue. I was close behind him, having outstripped both him and the strange
warrior. When I came into the avenue I saw the green man leap to the back
of one of six thoats waiting there, and at the same time I saw at least
a hundred warriors pouring from a nearby building. They were yellow-haired
white men, garbed like my erstwhile fighting companion, who now joined
in the pursuit of the green man. They were armed with bows and arrows;
and they sent a volley of missiles after the escaping quarry, whom they
could never hope to overtake, and who was soon out of range of their weapons.”
Carter ends up hopping on another thoat and slaying the green Martian,
much to the delight of the white warriors, who have a peculiar way of showing
it. He is told the safety of Horz is more important than his and he should
be sentenced to death. But because he has performed a great service for
them, they decide to take Carter to their Jeddak for a final sentence.
The white man he aided, Pan Dan Chee, apologizes, but is obedient to
the laws of Horz.
“I was escorted through still magnificent
avenues flanked by beautiful buildings, still beautiful in decay. I think
I have never seen such inspiring architecture, nor construction so enduring.
I do not know how old these buildings are, but I have heard Martian savants
argue that the original dominant race of white-skinned, yellow-haired people
flourished fully a million years ago. It seems incredible that their works
still exist; but there are many things on Mars incredible to the narrow,
earthbound men of our little speck of dust.
There is a tedious answer and response passage before they are admitted
after they are informed that the Jeddak will receive them.
“At last we halted before a tiny gate in a colossal,
fortress-like edifice in which there was no other opening than this small
gate for fifty feet above the ground. From a balcony fifty feet above the
gate a sentry looked down upon us.” (LG/I-3.)
“The citadel was an enormous walled city
within the ancient city of Horz. It was quite evidently impregnable to
any but attack from the air. Within were pleasant avenues, homes, gardens,
shops. Happy, carefree people stopped to look at me in astonishment as
I was conducted down a broad boulevard toward a handsome building. It was
the palace of the Jeddak, Ho Ran Kim.” (LG/I-3.)
The Jeddak is furious at this breach in security. He calls for an explanation
and hears about the exploits of Carter with the green Martians threatening
Pan Dan Chee. Ho Ran Kim looks at Carter with his penetrating blue eyes.
“‘John Carter,’ he said, ‘what you have
done commands the respect and sympathy of every man of Horz. It wins the
thanks of their Jeddak, but –’ He hesitated. ‘Perhaps if I tell you something
of our history, you will understand why I must condemn you to death.’ He
paused for a moment, as though in thought.
This suggestion meets with everyone’s approval and Ho Ran Kim puts off
the death sentence until the next day. In the meantime he sends Carter
and Pan Dan Chee – who unfortunately must share Carter’s fate – to the
“At the same time I was doing a little thinking
on my own account. The casual manner in which Ho Ran Kim had sentenced
me to death had rather taken my breath away. He seemed so friendly that
it didn’t seem possible that he was in earnest, but a glance at the glint
in those blue eyes assured me that he was not being facetious.
“‘I am sure,’ I said, ‘that the history of Horz
must be most interesting; but right now I am most interested in learning
why I should have to die for befriending a fighting man of Horz.’
“‘That I shall explain,’ he said.
“‘It is going to take a great deal of explaining,
your majesty,’ I assured him.
“He paid no attention to that, but continued.
‘The inhabitants of Horz are, as far as we know, the sole remaining remnant
of the once dominant race of Barsoom, the Orovars. A million years ago
our ships ranged the five great oceans, which we ruled. The city of Horz
was not only the capital of a great empire, it was the seat of learning
and culture of the most glorious race of human beings a world has ever
known. Our empire spread from pole to pole. There were other races on Barsoom,
but they were few in numbers and negligible in importance. We looked upon
them as inferior creatures. The Orovars owned Barsoom, which was divided
among a score of powerful jeddaks. They were a happy, prosperous, contented
people, the various nations seldom warring upon one another. Horz had enjoyed
a thousand years of peace.
“‘They had reached the ultimate pinnacle of civilization
and perfection when the first shadow of impending fate darkened their horizons
– the seas began to recede, the atmosphere to grow more tenuous. What science
had long predicted was coming to pass -- a world was dying.
“‘For ages our cities followed the receding waters.
Straits and bays, canals and lakes dried up. Prosperous seaports became
deserted inland cities. Famine came. Hungry hordes made war upon the more
fortunate. The growing hordes of wild green men overran what had once been
fertile farm land, preying upon all.
“‘The atmosphere became so tenuous that it was
difficult to breathe. Scientists were working upon an atmosphere plant,
but before it was completed and in successful operation all but a few of
the inhabitants of Barsoom had died. Only the hardiest survived -- the
green men, the red men, and a few Orovars; then life became merely a battle
for the survival of the fittest.
“‘The green men hunted us as we had hunted beasts
of prey. They gave us no rest, they showed us no mercy. We were few; they
were many. Horz became our last city of refuge, and our only hope of survival
lay in preventing the outside world from knowing that we existed; therefore,
for ages we have slain every stranger who came to Horz and saw an Orovar,
that no man might go away and betray our presence to our enemies.
“‘Now you will understand that no matter how deeply
we must regret the necessity, it is obvious that we cannot allow you live.’
“‘I can understand,’ I said, ‘that you might feel
it necessary to destroy an enemy; but I see no reason for destroying a
friend. However, that is for you to decide.’
“‘It is already decided, my friend,’ said the
Jeddak. ‘You must die.’
“‘Just a moment, O Jeddak!’ exclaimed Pan Dan
Chee. ‘Before you pass final judgment, consider this alternative. If he
remains here in Horz, he cannot carry word to our enemies. We owe him a
debt of gratitude. Permit him then to live, but always within the walls
of the citadel.’” (LG/I-4.)
“I have never seen such courteous and
considerate people as the Orovars; it might almost be a pleasure to have
one’s throat slit by one of them, he would be so polite about it. They
are the absolute opposites of their hereditary enemies, the green men;
for these are endowed with neither courtesy, consideration, nor kindness.
They are cold, cruel, abysmal brutes to whom love is unknown and whose
creed is hate.” (LG/I-5.)
Pan Dan Chee fights and kills an ulsio, the Martian rat, and he looks for
something to wipe the blood off his sword. Carter helps him look and opens
a nearby chest:
“The chest was about seven feet long,
two and a half wide and two deep. In it lay the body of a man. His elaborate
harness was encrusted with jewels. He wore a helmet entirely covered with
diamonds, one of the few helmets I had ever seen upon Mars. The scabbards
of his long-sword, his short-sword, and his dagger were similarly emblazoned.
Carter strips the corpse of his trappings and weapons and carries on an
absurd conversation with Pan Dan Chee about whether the corpse may still
be alive. They step out into a corridor and see a distant light, but they
cannot find the source. Then Carter informs Pan Dan Chee that he doesn’t
plan on being murdered by the Orovars and plans to find a way out of the
pits and Pan Dan Chee tells him it will be his duty to stop him and they
will have to fight to the death. They decide they don’t have to kill each
other just yet and sit down to play a game of Jetan.
“He had been a very handsome man, and he was still
a handsome corpse. So perfectly was he preserved that, in so far as appearances
went, he might still have been alive but for the thin layer of dust overlying
his features. When I blew this away he looked quite as alive and you or
“‘You bury your dead here?’ I asked Pan Dan Chee,
but he shook his head.
“‘No,’ he replied. ‘This chap may have been here
a million years.’
“‘Nonsense!’ I exclaimed. ‘He would have dried
up and blown away thousands of years ago.’
“‘I don’t know about that,’ said Pan Dan Chee.
‘There were lots of things those old fellows knew that are lost arts today.
Embalming, I know, was one of them. There is the legend of Lee Um Lo, the
most famous embalmer of all time. It recounts that his work was so perfect
that not even the corpse, himself, knew that he was dead; and upon several
occasions they arose and walked out during the funeral services. The end
of Lee Um Lo came when the wife of a great jeddak failed to realize that
she was dead and walked right in on the jeddak, and his new wife. The next
day Lee Um Lo lost his head.” (LG/I-5.)
“I opened the leather pocket pouch such
as all Martians carry, and took out a tiny, folding Jetan board with all
the pieces -- a present from Dejah Thoris, my incomparable mate. Pan Dan
Chee was intrigued by it, and it is a marvelously beautiful piece of work.
The greatest artist of Helium had designed the pieces, which had been carved
under his guidance by two of our greatest sculptors.
They finally have it out but Pan Dan Chee offers no real fight because
he cannot kill one whose blood flows in the same veins as Llana of Gathol’s.
He tells Carter that he does not wish to die, but wishes to live to see
Llana of Gathol. Carter suggests he escape with him for Horz is only four
thousand haads away.
“Each of the pieces, such as Warriors, Padwars,
Dwars, Panthans, and Chiefs, were carved in the likeness of well-known
Martian fighting men; and one of the Princesses was a beautifully executed
miniature carving of Tara of Helium, and the other Princess, Llana of Gathol.
“I am inordinately proud of this Jetan set; and
because the figures are so tiny, I always carry a small but powerful reading
glass, not alone that I may enjoy them but that others may. I offered it
now to Pan Dan Chee, who examined the figures minutely.
“‘Extraordinary,’ he said. ‘I have never seen
anything more beautiful.’ He had examined one figure much longer than he
had the others, and he held it in his hand as though loath to relinquish
it. ‘What an exquisite imagination the artist must have had who created
this figure, for he could have had no model for such gorgeous beauty; since
nothing like it exists on Barsoom.’
“‘Every one of those figures was carved from life,’
I told him.
“‘Perhaps the others,’ he said, ‘but not this
one. No such beautiful woman ever lived.’
“‘Which one is it?’ I asked, and he handed it
to me. ‘This,’ I said, ‘is Llana of Gathol, the daughter of Tara of Helium,
who is my daughter. She really lives, and this is a most excellent likeness
of her. Of course it cannot do her justice since it cannot reflect her
animation nor the charm of her personality.’
“He took the little figurine back and held it
for a long time under the glass; then he replaced it in the box. ‘Shall
we play?’ I asked.
“He shook his head. ‘It would be sacrilege,’ he
said, ‘to play at a game with the figure of a goddess.’” (LG/I-6.)
“Now I am no matchmaker; nor neither
do I believe in standing in the way to prevent the meeting of a man and
a maid. I believe in letting nature take her course. If Pan Dan Chee thought
he was in love with Llana of Gathol and wished to go to Gathol and try
to win her, I only would have discouraged the idea had he been a man of
low origin or of a dishonorable nature. He was neither. The race to which
he belonged is the oldest of the cultured races of Barsoom, and Pan Dan
Chee had proved himself a man of honor.
They see the light again and hear a laugh. They follow it:
“I had no reason to believe that his suit would
meet with any success. Llana of Gathol was still very young, but even so
the swords of some of the greatest houses of Barsoom had been laid at her
feet. Like nearly all Martian women of high degree she knew her mind. Like
so many of them, she might be abducted by some impetuous suitor; and she
would either love him or slip a dagger between his ribs, but she would
never mate with a man she did not love. I was more fearful for Pan Dan
Chee than I was for Llana of Gathol.” (LG/I-7.)
“I reached the doorway, and as I stepped
into the opening I had a momentary glimpse of a strange figure; and then
all was plunged into darkness and a hollow laugh reverberated through the
Stygian blackness of the pits of Horz.
They keep a close eye on the man as they drink but Pan Dan Chee declines
to eat when he discovers that the meat is that of an ulsio. Carter asks
him if he knows a way out of the pits and the old man tells them that they
have to rest first.
“In my right hand I held the long-sword of that
long dead Orovaran from whose body I had filched it. In my left had I held
the amazing torch of the Horzians. When the light in the chamber was extinguished,
I pushed up the thumb button of my torch; and the apartment before me was
flooded with light.
“I saw a large chamber filled with many chests.
There was a simple couch, a bench, a table, bookshelves filled with books,
an ancient Martian stove, a reservoir of water, and the strangest figure
of a man my eyes had ever rested upon.
“I rushed at him and held my sword against his
heart, for I did not wish him to escape. He cowered and screamed, beseeching
“‘We want water,’ I said; ‘water and food. Give
us these and offer us no harm, and you will be safe.’
“‘Help yourselves,’ he said. ‘There is water and
food here, but tell me who you are and how you got here to the pits of
ancient Horz, dead Horz – dead for countless ages. I have been waiting
for ages for someone to come, and now you have come. You are welcome. We
shall be great friends. You shall stay here with me forever, as all the
countless others have. I shall have company in the lonely pits of Horz.’
Then he laughed maniacally.
“It was evident that the creature was quite mad.
He not only looked it, he acted it. Sometimes his speech was inarticulate
gibber; often it was broken by meaningless and inopportune laughter – the
hollow laugh that we had heard before.
“He appearance was most repulsive. He was naked
except for the harness which supported a sword and a dagger, and the skin
of his malformed body was a ghastly white -- the color of a corpse. His
flabby mouth hung open, revealing a few yellow, snaggled fangs. His eyes
were wide and round, the whites showing entirely around the irises. He
had no nose; it appeared to have been eaten away by disease.” (LG/I-8.)
“I had always heard that it is best to
humor the insane; and as I was asking a favor of this creature, it seemed
the wise thing to do. Furthermore, both Pan Dan Chee and I were very tired;
so we lay down on the couch and the old man drew up a bench and sat down
beside us. He commenced to talk in a low, soothing voice.
Carter realizes in time that he is being hypnotized and puts up a strong
mental resistance. He realizes the creature intends to eat him. The old
man realizes that Carter is winning the mind contest and pulls out his
dagger. Carter finally breaks free and lops off the old man’s head
with his long-sword. The old man’s death frees all of his past victims.
In the next few moments the chests begin opening and Orovars, long dead,
come back to life.
“‘You are very tired,’ he said, over and over
again monotonously, his great eyes fixed first upon one of us and then
upon the other. I felt my muscles relaxing. I saw Pan Dan Chee’s lids drooping.
‘Soon you will be asleep,’ whispered the old man of the pits. ‘You will
sleep and sleep and sleep, perhaps for ages as have these others. You will
only awaken when I tell you to or when I die – and I shall never die. You
robbed Hor Kai Lan of his harness and weapons.’ He looked at me as he spoke.
‘Hor Kai Lan would be very angry were he to awaken and find that you have
stolen his weapons, but Hor Kai Lan will not awaken. He has been asleep
for so many ages that even I have forgotten. It is in my book, but what
difference does it make? What difference does it make who wears the harness
of Hor Kai Lan? No one will ever uses his swords again; and, anyway, when
Ro Tan Bim is gone, maybe I shall use Hor Kai Lan. Maybe I shall use you.
Who knows?’” (LG/I-8.)
“‘What is the meaning of this?’ demanded
a large man, magnificently trapped. ‘Who brought me here? Who are you?’
He looked around him, evidently bewildered, as though searching for some
The Orovar, Kam Han Tor, has an amusing conversation with another Orovar
and discovers that he had left his guests twenty years before the other
had been hypnotized. He apologizes to Carter, now realizing what a horrible
monster Lum Tar O was. He broods:
“‘Perhaps I can enlighten you,’ I said. ‘We are
in the pits of Horz. I have only been here a few hours, but if this dead
thing on the floor spoke the truth some of you have been here for ages.
You have been held by the hypnotic power of this mad creature. His death
has freed you.’
“The man looked down at the staring head upon
the floor. ‘Lum Tar O!’ he exclaimed. ‘He sent for me – asked me to come
and see him on an important matter. And you have killed him. You must account
to me – tomorrow. Now I must return to my guests.’
“There was a thin layer of dust on the man’s face
and body. By that I knew that he must have been here a long time, and presently
my surmise was substantiated in a most dramatic manner.’” (LG/I-9)
“‘Twenty years!’ repeated Kam Han Tor,
as though he still could not believe it. ‘My great ship! It was to have
sailed from the harbor of Horz the day following my banquet – the greatest
ship that had ever been built. Now it is old, perhaps obsolete; and I have
never seen it. Tell me – did it sail well? Is it still a proud ship?’
Carter attempts to inform Kan Tan Hor that Throxeus no longer exists, but
the man thinks he is mad. Carter gives up and asks if he knows a way out
of the pits. Of course he does, for he was the one who drew up the plans
for the pits. Carter explains that by leaving the pits he will be able
to prove Throxeus is no more. Just then they are disturbed by a large man
entering the chamber:
“‘I saw it as it sailed out upon Throxeus,’ said
the other. ‘It was a proud ship indeed, but it never returned from that
first voyage; nor was any word ever heard of it. It must have been lost
with all hands.’
“Kam Han Tor shook his head sadly, and then he
straightened up and squared his shoulders. ‘I shall build another,’ he
said, ‘an even greater ship, to sail the mightiest of Barsoom’s five seas.’
“Now I commenced to understand what I had suspected
but could not believe. It was absolutely astounding. I was looking at and
conversing with men who had lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, when
Throxeus and the other four oceans of ancient Mars had covered what are
now the vast desert wastes of dead sea bottoms; when a great merchant marine
carried on the commerce of the fair-skinned, blond race that had supposedly
been extinct for countless ages.” (LG/I-9.)
“As the man finished speaking there was
a commotion at the entrance to the chamber. A large man, almost naked,
rushed in. He was very angry. ‘What is the meaning of this?’ he demanded.
‘What am I doing here? What are you all doing here? Who stole my harness
and my weapons?’
Together, they calm him down and they all agree to go to the quays so that
Carter can prove to them there is no Throxeus. As they begin to leave,
Carter sees the lid of one of the chests move, then he hears his name called
from the same direction.
“It was then that I recognized him – Hor Kai Lan,
whose metal I wore. He was very much excited, and I couldn’t blame him
much. He forced his way through the crowd, and the moment he laid eyes
upon me he recognized his belongings.
“‘Thief!’ he cried. ‘Give me back my harness and
“‘I’m sorry,’ I said; ‘but unless you will furnish
me with others, I shall have to keep these.’
“‘Calot!’ he fairly screamed. ‘Do you realize
to whom you are speaking? I am Hor Kai Lan, brother of the jeddak.’
“Kam Han Tor looked at him in amazement. ‘You
have been dead over five hundred years, Hor Kai Lan,’ he exclaimed, ‘and
so has your brother. My brother succeeded the last jeddak in the year 27M382J4.’
“‘You have all been dead for ages,’ said Pan Dan
Chee. ‘Even that calendar is a thing of the dead past.’
“I thought Hor Kai Lan was going to burst a blood
vessel then. ‘Who are you?’ he screamed. ‘I place you under arrest. I place
you all under arrest. Ho! the guard!’” (LG/I-9.)
“As I started to investigate, the lid
of the chest was thrown aside; and a girl stepped out before me. This was
more surprising than my first ancestor would have been, for the girl was
Llana of Gathol!
On the way out of the pits, Llana relates how she was abducted by Hin Abtol
and how she managed to escape and hide in the chest. As they come out of
the pits, the Orovars get a mighty surprise:
“‘Llana!’ I cried; ‘what are you doing here?’
“‘I might ask you the same question, my revered
progenitor,’ she shot back, with that lack of respect for my great age
which has always characterized those closest to me in bonds of blood and
“Pan Dan Chee came forward rather open-mouthed
‘Llana of Gathol!’ he whispered as one might voice
the name of a goddess. The roomful of anachronisms looked on more or less
“‘Who is this person?’ demanded Llana of Gathol.
“‘My friend, Pan Dan Chee of Horz,’ I explained.
“Pan Dan Chee unbuckled his sword and laid it
at her feet, an act which is rather difficult to explain by Earthly standards
of conduct. It is not exactly an avowal of love or a proposal of marriage.
It is, in a way, something even more sacred. It means that as long as life
lasts that sword is at the service of him at whose feet it has been laid.
A warrior may lay his sword at the feet of a man or a woman. It means lifetime
loyalty. Where the object of that loyalty is a woman, the man may have
something else in mind. I am sure that Pan Dan Chee did.
“‘Your friend acts with amazing celerity,’ said
Llana of Gathol; but she stooped and picked up the sword and handed it
back to Pan Dan Chee hilt first! which meant that she was pleased and accepted
his offer of fealty. Had she simply refused it, she would have left the
sword lying there where it had been placed. Had she wished to spurn his
offer, she would have returned his sword to him point first. That would
have been the final and deadly insult. I was glad that Llana of Gathol
had returned Pan Dan Chee’s sword hilt first, as I rather liked Pan Dan
Chee. I was particulary glad that she had not returned it point first;
as that would have meant that I, as the closest male relative of Llana
of Gathol available, would have had to fight Pan Dan Chee; and I certainly
did not want to kill him.
“‘Well,’ interrupted Kam Han Tor, ‘this is all
very interesting and touching; but can’t we postpone it until we have gone
down to the quays.’” (LG/I-10.)
“‘In a few moments,’ said Kam Han Tor,
‘we shall be looking upon the broad waters of Throxeus.’
Pan Dan Chee reminds Carter that they must fight to the death, but Llana
has the final say since Pan Dan Chee has laid his sword at her feet. She
chooses that he come with them to Gathol rather than dying by the sword
of John Carter. They all go through several more exciting adventures before
they all return safe and sound to Gathol and Helium.
“I shook my head. ‘Do not be too disappointed,’
“‘Are you and your friend in league to perpetuate
a hoax upon me?’ demanded Kam Han Tor. ‘Only yesterday I saw the ships
of the fleet lying at anchor off the quay. Do you think me a fool, that
you tell me there is no longer any ocean where an ocean was yesterday,
where it has been since the creation of Barsoom? Oceans do not disappear
overnight, my friend.’
“There was a murmur of approval from those of
the fine company of nobles and their women who were within earshot. They
were loath to believe what they did not wish to believe and what, I realized,
must have seemed an insult to their intelligence.
“Put yourself in their place. Perhaps you live
in San Francisco. You go to bed one night. When you awaken, a total stranger
tells you that the Pacific Ocean has dried up and that you may walk to
Honolulu or Guam or the Philippines. I’m quite sure that you wouldn’t believe
“As we came up into the broad avenue that led
to the ancient sea front of Horz, that assembly of gorgeously trapped men
and women looked about them in dumbfounded astonishment upon the crumbling
ruins of their once proud city.
“‘Where are the people?’ demanded one. ‘Why is
the Avenue of Jeddaks deserted?’
“‘And the palace of the jeddak!’ exclaimed another.
‘There are no guards.’
“‘There is no one!’ gasped a woman.
“No one commented, as they pushed on eagerly toward
the quay. Before they got there they were already straining their eyes
out across a barren desert of dead sea bottom where once the waters of
Throxeus had rolled.
“In silence they continued on to the Avenue of
Quays. They simply could not believe the testimony of their own eyes. I
cannot recall ever having felt sorrier for any of my fellow men than I
did at that moment for these poor people.
“‘It is gone,’ said Kam Han Tor in a scarcely
“A woman sobbed. A warrior drew his dagger and
plunged it into his own heart.
“‘And all our people are gone,’ said Kam Han Tor.
‘Our very world is gone.’
“They stood there looking out across that desert
waste; behind them a dead city that, in their last yesterday, had teemed
with life and youth and energy.
“And then a strange thing happened. Before my
eyes, Kam Han Tor commenced to shrink and crumble. He literally disintegrated,
he and the leather of his harness. His weapons clattered to the pavement
and lay there in a little pile of dust that had been Kam Han Tor, the brother
of a jeddak.
“Llana of Gathol pressed close to me and siezed
my arm. ‘It is horrible,’ she whispered. ‘Look! Look at the others!’
“I looked about me. Singly, in groups of two or
three, the men and women of ancient Horz were returning to the dust from
which they had sprung – ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!’
“‘For all the ages that they have lain in the
pits of Horz,’ said Pan Dan Chee, ‘this disintegration has been going slowly
on. Only Lum Tar O’s obscene powers gave them a semblance of life. With
that removed final dissolution came quickly.’
“‘That must be the explanation,’ I said. ‘It is
well that it is so, for those people never could have found happiness in
the Barsoom of today -- a dying world, so unlike the glorious world of
Barsoom in the full flush of her prime, with her five oceans, her great
cities, her happy, prosperous peoples, who, if history speaks the truth,
had finally overthrown all the war lords and war mongerers and established
peace from pole to pole.’
“‘No,’ said Llana of Gathol, ‘they could never
have been happy again. Did you notice what handsome people they were? and
the color of their skins was the same as yours, John Carter. But for their
blond hair they might have been from your own Earth.’
“‘There are many blond people on Earth,’ I told
her. ‘Maybe, after all the races of Earth have intermarried for many ages,
we shall develop a race of red men, as has Barsoom. Who knows?’” (LG/I-12.)
“I had brought with me Jad-han and Pan
Dan Chee, whom we found among the prisoners of the Panars; and though I
was not present at the meeting between Pan Dan Chee and Llana of Gathol,
Dejah Thoris has assured me that the dangers and vicissitudes he had suffered
for love of the fair Gatholian had not been in vain.” (LG/IV-13.)
Note that ERB did not say that they got married. And now back to Earth
For this section we will assume that Opar was a colony of Atlantis
which was founded on Earth by the Orovars or Lotharians or some other ancient
sea power on Barsoom. The links will be explained fully in the Analysis
section below. Tarzan first hears about Opar during a wild orgy in an African
village in The Return of Tarzan. During the dancing Tarzan is intrigued
by the gold ornaments the villagers wear:
“It was during this dance that the ape-man
first noticed that some of the men and many of the women wore ornaments
of gold – principally anklets and armlets of great weight, apparently beaten
out of the solid material. When he expressed a wish to examine one of these,
the owner removed it from her person and insisted, through the medium of
signs, that Tarzan accept it as a gift. A close scrutiny of the bauble
convinced the ape-man that the article was of virgin gold.” (RT/15.)
Tarzan is intrigued because he has never seen nor heard of golden ornaments
among the savages of Africa. Through further inquiries, he discovers that
the gold comes from Opar, a lost city in the jungle. He arranges an expedition
and they finally discover the hidden city:
“But before him was the view that centered
his attention. Here lay a desolate valley – a shallow, narrow valley dotted
with stunted trees and covered with many great boulders. And on the far
side of the valley lay what appeared to be a mighty city, its great walls,
its lofty spires, its turrets, its minarets, and domes showing red and
yellow in the sunlight. Tarzan was yet too far away to note the marks of
ruin – to him it appeared a wonderful city of magnificent beauty, and in
imagination he peopled its broad avenues and its huge temples with a throng
of happy, active people....
They camp outside the city walls for the night and Tarzan has a hard time
keeping the natives from running away in fear. The next day they explore
the walls for an entrance:
“The outer wall was fifty feet in height where
it had not fallen into ruin, but nowhere as far as they could see had more
than ten or twenty feet of the upper courses fallen away. It was still
a formidable defense.” (RT/19.)
“For fifteen minutes they marched along
the face of the wall before they discovered a means of ingress. Within,
a flight of concrete steps, worn hollow by centuries of use, rose before
them, to disappear at a sharp turning of the passage a few yards
The reader can already discern familiar features between Opar and the ancient
Martian dead sea bottom cities. They become aware of movement within the
ancient temple. Tarzan enters alone into the domelike rotunda:
“Into this narrow valley Tarzan made his way,
turning his giant shoulders sideways that they might enter at all. Behind
him trailed his black warriors. At the turn in the cleft the stairs ended,
and the path was level; but it wound and twisted in a serpentine fashion,
until suddenly at a sharp angle it debouched upon a narrow court, across
which loomed an inner wall equally as high as the outer. This inner wall
was set with little round towers alternating along its entire summit with
pointed monoliths. In places these had fallen, and the wall was ruined,
but it was in a much better state of preservation than the outer wall.
“Another narrow passage led through this wall,
and at its end Tarzan and his warriors found themselves in a broad avenue,
on the opposite side of which crumbling edifices of hewn granite loomed
dark and forbidding. Upon the crumbled debris along the face of the buildings
trees had grown, and vines wound in and out of the hollow, staring windows,
but the building directly opposite them seemed less overgrown than the
others, and in a much better state of preservation. It was a massive pile,
surmounted by an enormous dome. At either side of its great entrance stood
rows of tall pillars, each capped by a huge grotesque bird carved from
the solid rock of the monoliths.” (RT/19.)
“The floor of the chamber was of concrete,
the walls of smooth granite, upon which strange figures of men and beasts
were carved. In places tablets of yellow metal had been set in the
solid masonry of the walls.
Tarzan explores further and finally is trapped in a pitch black room where
he set upon my unseen enemies:
“When he approached closer to one of these tablets
he saw that it was of gold, and bore many hieroglyphics. Behind this first
chamber there were others, and back of them the building branched out into
enormous wings. Tarzan passed through several of these chambers, finding
many evidences of the fabulous wealth of the original builders. In one
room were seven pillars of solid gold, and in another the floor itself
was of the precious metal.” (RT/19.)
“Presently they lifted him from the floor,
and half dragging, half pushing him, they brought him out of the dark chamber
through another doorway into an inner courtyard of the temple. Here he
saw his captors. There must have been a hundred of them -- short, stocky
men, with great beards that covered their faces and fell upon their hairy
They leave Tarzan bound on the floor of the inner court of the temple while
they troop off to another part of the temple. Tarzan takes in the scene:
“The thick, matted hair upon their heads grew
low over their receding brows, and hung about their shoulders and their
backs. Their crooked legs were short and heavy, their arms long and muscular.
About their loins they wore the skins of leopards and lions, and great
necklaces of the claws of these same animals depended upon their breasts.
Massive circlets of virgin gold adorned their arms and legs. For weapons
they carried heavy, knotted bludgeons, and in the belts that confined their
single garments each had a long, wicked-looking knife.
“But the feature of them that made the most startling
impression upon their prisoner was their white skins – neither in color
nor feature was there a trace of the negroid about them. Yet, with their
receding foreheads, wicked little closeset eyes, and yellow fangs, they
were far from prepossessing in appearance.” (RT/19.)
“As Tarzan lay there upon his back he
saw that the temple entirely surrounded the little inclosure, and that
on all sides its lofty walls rose high above him. At the top a little patch
of blue sky was visible, and, in one direction, through an embrasure, he
could see foilage, but whether it was beyond or in the temple he did not
He dozes then hears the pattering of feet, and soon the galleries above
are full of the hairy men who being to chant. Some of them are on the main
floor slowly circling Tarzan, stepping with their feet and chanting, and
all of a sudden they rush him.
“About the court, from the ground to the top of
the temple, were series of open galleries, and now and then the captive
caught glimpses of bright eyes gleaming from beneath masses of tumbling
hair, peering down upon him from above.” (RT/19.)
“At the same instant a female figure
dashed into the midst of the bloodthirsty horde, and, with a bludgeon similar
to their own, except that it was wrought from gold, beat back the advancing
She beats off the men with her golden club and then Tarzan realizes it
is all part of an elaborate ritual. The girl takes a knife and cuts his
bonds. She takes the rope that had been tied around his legs and puts it
around Tarzan’s neck and then leads him across the courtyard, through winding
corridors, into the remoter parts of the temple. They wind up in a vast
chamber where an altar stands in the center:
“Then it was that Tarzan translated the
strange ceremony that had preceded his introduction into this holy of holies.
“He had fallen into the hands of descendants of
the ancient sun worshippers. His seeming rescue by a votaress of the high
priestess of the sun had been but a part of the mimicry of their heathen
ceremony – the sun looking down upon through the opening at the top of
the court had claimed him as his own, and the priestess had come from the
inner temple to save him from the polluting hands of worldlings – to save
him as a human offering to their flaming deity.” (RT/20.)
Tarzan receives confirmation of his view by spotting dried blood
stains on the altar and the floor, not to mention the human skulls that
hung in the niches of the galleries.
“The priestess led the victim to the
altar steps. Again the galleries above filled with watchers, while from
an arched doorway at the east end of the chamber a procession of females
filed slowly into the room. They wore, like the men, only skins of wild
animals caught about their waists with rawhide belts or chains of gold;
but the black masses of their hair were encrusted with golden headgear
composed of many circular and oval pieces of gold ingeniously held together
to form a metal cap from which depended, at each side of the head, long
strings of oval pieces falling to the waist.
Then her eyes feast on Tarzan’s magnificent form. A commotion ensues between
the brute men and the women, Tarzan escapes with La into a hidden chamber.
Tarzan discovers that she speaks the ancient tongue of the great apes and
with that in common she tells him the history of Opar:
“The females were more symmetrically proportioned
than the males, their features were much more perfect, the shapes of their
heads and their large, soft black eyes denoting far greater intelligence
and humanity than was possessed by their lords and masters.
“Each priestess bore two golden cups, and as they
formed in line along one side of the altar the men formed opposite them,
advancing and taking each a cup from the females opposite. Then the chant
began once more, and presently from a dark passageway beyond the altar
another female emerged from the cavernous depths beneath the chamber.
“The high priestess, thought Tarzan. She was a
young woman with a rather intelligent and shapely face. Her ornaments were
similar to those worn by her votaries, but much more elaborate, many being
set with diamonds. Her bare arms and legs were almost concealed by the
massive, bejeweled ornaments which covered them, while her single leopard
skin was supported by a close-fitting girdle of golden rings set in strange
designs with innumerable small diamonds. In the girdle she carried a long,
jeweled knife, and in her hand a slender wand in lieu of a bludgeon.
“As she advanced to the opposite side of the altar
she halted, and the chanting ceased. The priests and priestesses knelt
before her, while with wand extended above him she recited a long and tiresome
prayer. Her voice was soft and musical – Tarzan could scarce realize that
its possessor in a moment more would be transformed by the fanatical ecstasy
of religious zeal into a wild-eyed and bloodthirsty executioner, who, with
dripping knife, would be the first to drink her victim’s red, warm blood
from the little golden cup that stood upon the altar.” (RT/20.)
“‘I am La, high priestess of the Temple
of the Sun, in the city of Opar. We are descendants of a people who came
to this savage world more than ten thousand years ago in search of gold.
Their cities stretched from a great sea under the rising sun to a great
sea into which the sun descends at night to cool his flaming brow. They
were very rich and very powerful, but they lived only a few months of the
year in their magnificent palaces here; the rest of the time they spent
in their native land, far, far to the north.
Tarzan is locked inside the Chamber of the Dead until La can figure out
what to do with him, but he discovers a secret passage that leads him eventually
to a massive stash of gold bars. Tarzan will periodically dip into this
treasure every time he loses money on the stock market or in real estate.
But you get the idea: Opar suffered a similar fate as Horz and Lothar.
“‘Many ships went back and forth between this
new world and the old. During the rainy season there were but few of the
inhabitants remained here, only those who superintended the working of
the mines by the black slaves, and the merchants who had to stay to supply
their wants, and the soldiers who guarded the cities and the mines.
“‘It was at one of these times that the great
calamity occurred. When the time came for the teeming thousands to return
none came. For weeks the people waited. Then they sent out a great galley
to learn why no one came from the mother country, but though they sailed
about for many months, they were unable to find any trace of the mighty
land that had for countless ages borne their ancient civilization – it
had sunk into the sea.
“‘From that day dated the downfall of my people.
Disheartened and unhappy, they soon became a prey to the black hordes of
the north and the black hordes of the south. One by one the cities were
deserted or overcome. The last remnant was finally forced to take shelter
within this mighty mountain fortress. Slowly we have dwindled in power,
in civilization, in intellect, in numbers, until now we are no more than
a small tribe of savage apes.
“‘In fact, the apes live with us, and have for
many ages. We call them the first men -- we speak their language quite
as much as we do our own; only in the rituals of the temple do we make
any attempt to retain our mother tongue. In time it will be forgotten,
and we will speak only the language of the apes; in time we will no longer
banish those of our people who mate with apes, and so in time we shall
descend to the very beasts from which ages ago our progenitors may have
“‘But why are you more human than the others?’
asked the man.
“‘For some reason the women have not reverted
to savagery so rapidly as the men. It may be because only the lower types
of men remained here at the time of the great catastrophe, while the temples
were filled with the noblest daughters of the race. My strain has remained
clearer than the rest for countless ages my foremothers were high priestesses
– the sacred office descends from mother to daughter. Our husbands are
chosen for us from the noblest in the land. The most perfect man, mentally
and physically, is selected to be the husband of the high priestess.’”
All right, first the similarities between the ancient race and Opar. First,
the Orovars, Lotharians, Therns, the inhabitants of Thuria, and the Oparians,
all have white skin. Their hair color varies between auburn, blond, blue,
and black. The Therns are obviously descendents of the Orovars, but through
mutation they have lost their hair. If we follow our theory through we
can speculate that the white race on Earth originated on Mars. Their cities
are almost exactly the same, except that the colonies -- Thuria and
Atlantis/Opar -- use stairways instead of inclined ramps. They all
use hieroglyphs for their writing. The ancient race and the Oparians were
both seafarers. They all suffered a similar fate when on Mars the oceans
evaporated while on Earth Atlantis sunk beneath the waves. On Barsoom the
ancient ones were hounded by the green hordes, while the Oparians are hounded
black hordes from the north and south.
They all are powered with superhuman minds that are able to hypnotize
normal people with powerful suggestions. Opar appears to be an exception
to this rule, but they have undergone years of degeneracy.
They all practice some kind of solar worship. Issus and Opar each have
a Temple of the Sun, and on Thuria, they worship the Flaming God of the
Interplanetary space travel was created in the lifetime of John Carter
on Barsoom, so it cannot be ruled out that the ancient race had not invented
it. We are forced to assume it in the case of Thuria. Of course, ERB may
never had any such thing in mind, but with all these similarities, it is
a wonder why he never explicitly stated the connection. I made it the first
time I read a Tarzan novel and read of Opar. I kept waiting for ERB to
make the connection in subsequent Tarzan novels but he never did.
A fan even wrote a highly controversial work called Tarzan on Mars
(see ERBzine #1966)
that not only makes such a connection, but makes a genealogical connection
between Issus and La. Anyway, it is fun to speculate on the data ERB has
given us. It just shows how the imagination of this one man worked. I am
grateful that ERB gave his imaginary planet an Atlantis myth. It makes
it that much more real.
“Way down below the ocean,
Where I wanna be,
She made me."
– Donovan, "Atlantis."
And there you have it, ERB's Gathol, Horz, and Opar:
Part Three of the Eighth Runner-Up of in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom!