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Volume 3382
The Eleventh Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom 
Part Six

Tars Tarkas
Rafael Kayanan Gallery
J. Allen St. John
Thark Warrior by J. Allen St. John
ERBzine Thark Galleries

Thark Green Man
Rafael Kayanan Gallery
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.

D) Tars Tarkas Transcendent

“Leave to a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer.”
– ancient Tharkian proverb.

So far, we've seen Tars Tarkas grasp such foreign ideas as friendship, alliance with the Red Men, and now, finally, we see him grasping for enlightenment – mental freedom from religion – in the next story in the Barsoomian Mythos: The Gods of Mars. As it turns out to no one's true surprise, John Carter's second advent on Mars comes at a crisis time in Barsoomian history. In the ten years he has gone missing on the angry red planet, many ominous developments have occurred.

His son, Carthoris, was hatched soon after Carter saved the planet from asphyxiation by getting the atmosphere plant running, an event which caused his near death and inadvertent astral traveling back to the Yaqui witch’s cave in the Arizona desert. But his son has been taken into captivity by the Black Pirates and imprisoned on the Isle of Shador in the underground Omean ocean, a slave gladiator for Issus. The incomparable Dejah Thoris has gone missing because of the intrigues of the Jed of Zodanga, who has his eyes on the prize. And the Alliance of Helium is also in danger for the great Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, has taken the pledge and gone on his last voyage down the River Iss.

As the master of Martian fate and coincidence arranges it – the true God of Barsoom – both Tars Tarkas and Carter arrive simultaneously in the Valley Dor, the Martian paradise. Tars Tarkas arrives in a small boat with a band of Green Men pilgrims consisting of another male and three females. Carter incarnates naked and alone in a nearby forest of gigantic multicolored fantasy trees, ironically, in the very place where Tars Tarkas hopes to find him. However, Martian fate is a strange thing, for it takes the Plant Men to bring them together.

A call from a guardian Thern high on a balcony carved in the Golden Cliffs of the Otz Mountains stirs the Plant Men from their grazing to the Green Men, who have assembled in defense atop a gigantic boulder. Carter witnesses the Plant Men hopping to the boulder and follows them making great leaps and bounds. 

He is amazed by what he sees, for the Green Martians seem to be from different hordes and not at warfare with each other, a most unusual sight. The Plant Men make short shrift of them by leaping over them and smashing their skulls in with a flap of their huge deadly tails.

The last Martian, a male, figures this out in time to cleave an overleaping Plant Men in half, deciding as a last stand to charge them.

“As the green warrior saw the last of his companions go down and at the same time perceived that the entire herd was charging him in a body, he rushed boldly to meet them, swinging his long-sword in the terrific manner that I had so often seen the men of his kind wield it in their ferocious and almost continual warfare among their own race.

“Cutting and hewing from right and left, he laid an open path straight through the advancing plant men, and then commenced a mad race for the forest, in the shelter of which he evidently hoped that he might find a haven of refuge.

“He turned for that portion of the forest which abutted on the cliffs, and thus the mad race was taking was the entire party farther and farther from the boulder where I lay concealed.

“As I had watched the noble fight which the great warrior had put up against such enormous odds my heart had swelled in admiration for him, and acting as I am wont to do, more upon impulse than after mature deliberation, I instantly sprang from my sheltering rock and bounded quickly toward the bodies of the dead green Martians, a well-defined plan of action already formed.

“Half a dozen great leaps brought me to the spot, and another instant saw me again in my stride in quick pursuit of the hideous monsters that were rapidly gaining on the fleeing warrior, and this time I grasped a mighty long-sword in my hand and in my heart was the old blood lust of the fighting man, and a red mist swam before my eyes and I felt my lips respond to my heart in the old smile that has ever marked me in the midst of the joy of battle.” (GM/1.)

Carter soon joins the Green Man and they have an epic battle with first the Plant Men, and then, after another call from the Thern guardian, a horde of Great White Apes joins the carnage. As they watch them approach the battle, they exchange words for the first time:
“‘It will be a great death,’ I said to my companion. ‘Look!’ “As he shot a glance in the direction I indicated he smiled.

“‘We may at least die fighting and as great warriors should, John Carter,’ he replied.

“We had just finished the last of our immediate antagonists as he spoke, and I turned in surprise wonderment at the sound of my name.

“And there before my astonished eyes I beheld the greatest of the green men of Barsoom; their shrewdest statesman, their mightiest general, my great and good friend, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.” (GM/1.)

They escape from the mad hordes through a hole at the base of one of the massive tree trunks in the forest, but first they struggle with each other to see who will go first down the hole: 
“At length he yielded, for it seemed the only way in which either of us might be saved from the ever-increasing numbers of our assailants, who were still swarming upon us from all directions across the broad valley.

“‘It was ever your way, John Carter, to think last of your own life,’ he said; ‘but still more your way to command the lives and actions of others, even to the greatest of Jeddaks who rule upon Barsoom.’

“There was a grim smile upon his cruel, hard face, as he, the greatest Jeddak of them all, turned to obey the dictates of a creature of another world – of a man whose stature was less than half his own.

“‘If you fail, John Carter,’ he said, ‘know that the cruel and heartless Thark, to whom you taught the meaning of friendship, will come out to die beside you.’

“‘As you will, my friend,’ I replied; ‘but quickly now, head first, while I cover your retreat.’

“He hesitated a little at that word, for never before in his whole life of continual strife had he turned his back upon aught than a dead or defeated enemy.

“‘Haste, Tars Tarkas,’ I urged, ‘or we shall both go down to profitless defeat; I cannot hold them for ever alone.’

“As he dropped to the ground to force his way into the tree, the whole howling pack of hideous devils hurled themselves upon me. To right and left flew my shimmering blade, now green with the sticky juice of a plant man, now red with the crimson blood of a great white ape; but always flying from one opponent to another, hesitating but the barest fraction of a second to drink the lifeblood in the center of some savage heart.” (GM/2.)

Finally, Tars Tarkas reaches up and grabs Carter’s ankles, dragging him inside the hole beneath the tree. Torn and bleeding, they take a moment to catch their breaths as Tars Tarkas clears the opening of any invading creature. Carter finds a ladder carved inside the trunk and they both climb to a cave high in the cliffs above, where they have an astonishing view of the Valley Dor:
“As far as the eye could reach gorgeous forest and crimson sward skirted a silent sea, and about all towered the brilliant monster guardian cliffs. Once we thought we discerned a gilded minaret gleaming in the sun amidst the waving tops of far-distant trees, but we soon abandoned the idea in the belief that it was but a hallucination born of our great desire to discover the haunts of civilized men in this beautiful, yet forbidding, spot.

“Below us upon the river's bank the great white apes were devouring the last remnants of Tars Tarkas’ former companions, while the great herds of plant men grazed in ever-widening circles about the sward which they kept as close clipped as the smoothest of lawns.” (GM/2.)

The cave leads into a tunnel corridor and they explore the inside of the cliff until they are interrupted by a maniacal voice. They halt immediately, waiting in tense and expectant silence. 
“At length Tars Tarkas laughed softly, after the manner of his strange kind when in the presence of the horrible or terrifying. It is not a hysterical laugh, but rather the genuine expression of the pleasure they derive from the things that move Earth men to loathing or to tears.

“Often and again I have seen them roll upon the ground in mad fits of uncontrollable mirth when witnessing the death agonies of women and little children beneath the torture of that hellish green Martian fete – the Great Games. 

“I looked up at the Thark, a smile upon my own lips, for here in truth was greater need for a smiling face than a trembling chin.” (GM/2.)

Carter asks his friend what he makes of everything and Tars Tarkas is shocked that John Carter does not know where he is.
“‘Where have you been since you opened the mighty portals of the atmosphere plant years ago, after the keeper had died and the engines stopped and all Barsoom was dying, that had not already died, of asphyxiation? Your body even was never found, though the men of a whole world sought after it for years, though the Jeddak of Helium and his granddaughter, your princess, offered such fabulous rewards that even princes of royal blood joined in the search.

“‘There was but one conclusion to reach when all efforts to locate you had failed, and that, that you had taken the long, last pilgrimage down the mysterious River Iss, to await in the Valley Dor upon the shores of the Lost Sea of Korus the beautiful Dejah Thoris, your princess.” (GM/2.)

Carter interrupts, glad to know that his princess still lives. He then asks again where they might be. This is hard for Tars Tarkas to grasp, since Carter is exactly where everyone expected him to be, not knowing that Carter had astral traveled to Earth for ten years.
“‘We are where I expected to find you, John Carter – and another. Many years ago you heard the story of the woman who taught me the thing that green Martians are reared to hate, the woman who taught me to love. You know the cruel tortures and the awful death her love won for her at the hands of the beast, Tal Hajus.

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

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

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

John Carter finally groks the situation. It is not clear if he even has an inkling of the role that Barsoomian fate had had in arranging the strange coincidence of their coming together precisely in the place Tars Tarkas imagined him to be, but is there any doubt that Tars Tarkas and Carter have indeed been brought together to bring the hideous Religion of Issus to a bloody end on the planet? And if you can remember the name of the woman who taught Tars Tarkas love, you have a really good memory. I would wager that few would ever get it right in a trivia contest. Her name was Cozava, the atavistic goddess of Tharkian love.

Tars Tarkas takes the realization that for his whole life what he has absolutely believed in – that the Martian afterlife is just a pleasant delusion to deceive Barsoomians into a gruesome end – with Martian dignity and irony. He knows that even if he were to escape and expose the horrible truth of this twisted religion, he would not be believed and would be surely tortured to death for blasphemy.

“‘We are between the wild thoat of certainty and the mad zitidar of fact – we can escape neither.’

“‘As Earth men say, we are between the devil and the deep sea, Tars Tarkas,’ I replied, nor could I help but smile at our dilemma.

“‘There is naught that we can do but take things as they come, and at least have the satisfaction of knowing that whoever slays us eventually will have far greater numbers of their own dead to count than they will get in return. White ape or plant man, green Barsoomian or red man, whosoever it shall be that takes the last toll of from us will know that it is costly in lives to wipe out John Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, and Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, at the same time.’

“I could not help but laugh at his grim humor, and he joined in with me in one of those rare laughs of real enjoyment which was one of the attributes of this fierce Tharkian chief which marked him from the others of his kind.” (GM/2.)

Carter then explains to him where he has been for the last ten years, and even though Tars Tarkas finds it all hard to accept, he believes him, not knowing why. Most people, having their delusions crushed like this would experience some kind of nervous breakdown or a great bout of depression, many ending with some form of mental illness. But not our resilient heroes.

However, Tars Tarkas will need one final push to send him back into the arena with something like confidence of victory again. After all, he knows that a return to Thark after experiencing Valley Dor will mean certain torture, death and disgrace.

They enter the Chamber of Mystery where they are constantly assaulted by huge wild banths appearing as if out of nowhere. After slaying many banths, Carter finally figures out they are appearing from openings in the wall that suddenly appear and then disappear. He times the next opening and hops inside, facing a white man with blond hair. Carter slays him, and then is almost killed by another, saved by the yell of a slave girl chained to the wall.

After he dispatches his opponent with a pistol, he searches frantically for a key to open the door to save his friend. The slave girl says that she can help him after he asks her if she knows the secret of the lock.

“‘Yes; release me and I will give you entrance to the other horror chamber, if you wish. The keys to my fetters are upon the first dead of thy foemen. But why would you return to face again the fierce banth, or whatever form of destruction they have loosed within that awful trap?’

“‘Because my friend fights there alone,’ I answered, as I hastily sought and found the keys upon the carcass of the dead custodian of this grim chamber of horrors.

“There were many keys upon the oval ring, but the fair Martian maid quickly selected that which sprung the great lock at her waist, and freed she hurried toward the secret panel.

“Again she sought out a key upon the ring. This time a slender, needle like affair which she inserted in an almost invisible hole in the wall. Instantly the door swung upon its pivot, and the contiguous section of the floor upon which I was standing carried me with it into the chamber where Tars Tarkas fought. 

“The great Thark stood with his back against an angle of the walls, while facing him in a semi-circle a half-dozen huge monsters crouched waiting for an opening. Their blood-streaked heads and shoulders testified to the cause of their wariness as well as to the swordsmanship of the green warrior whose glossy hide bore the same mute but eloquent witness to the ferocity of the attacks that he had so far withstood.

“Sharp talons and cruel fangs had torn his leg, arm, and breast literally to ribbons. So weak was he from continued exertion and loss of blood that but for the supporting wall I doubt that he even could have stood erect. But with the tenacity and indomitable courage of his kind he still faced his cruel and relentless foes – the personification of that ancient proverb of his tribe: ‘Leave to a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer.’

“As he saw me enter, a grim smile touched those grim lips of his, but whether the smile signified relief or merely amusement at the sight of my bloody and dishevelled condition I do not know.

“As I was about to spring into the conflict with my sharp long-sword I felt a gentle hand upon my shoulder and turning found, to my surprise, that the young woman had followed me into the chamber. 

“‘Wait,’ she whispered, ‘leave them to me,’ and pushing me advanced, all defenceless and unarmed, upon the snarling banths.

“When quite close to them she spoke a single Martian word in low and peremptory tones. Like lightning the great beasts wheeled upon her, and I looked to see her torn to pieces before I could reach her side, but instead the creatures slunk to her feet like puppies that expect a merited whipping. 

“Again she spoke to them, but in tones so low I could not catch the words, and then she started toward the opposide side of the chamber with the six mighty monsters trailing at her heel. One by one she sent them through the secret panel into the room beyond, and when the last had passed from the chamber where we stood in wide-eyed amazement she turned and smiled at us and then herself passed through, leaving us alone.

“For a moment neither of us spoke. Then Tars Tarkas said: “‘I heard the fighting beyond the partition through which you passed, but I did not fear for you, John Carter, until I heard the report of a revolver shot. I knew that there lived no man upon all Barsoom who could face you with naked steel and live, but the shot stripped the last vestige of hope from me, since you I knew to be without firearms. Tell me of it.’” (GM/4.)

Carter relates his narrow escape on the other side of the chamber from the two adversaries, then they explore the wall for the secret locks in hope of opening one of them, but in vain. Then the slave girl, Thuvia, returns and demands to know how they can be so bold as to believe they will escape the certainty of death for their defiance of Issus. This dialogue centers on Thuvia, but it is easy to imagine Tars Tarkas listening intently as his dream of Valley Dor lies shattered, bleeding in his heart, especially after Carter announces he intends to use Tars Tarkas as his main witness against the false religion:
“‘Who are you?’ she asked, ‘and what your mission, that you have the temerity to attempt to escape from the Valley Dor and the death you have chosen?’

“‘I have chosen no death, maiden,’ I replied. ‘I am not of Barsoom, nor have I taken yet the voluntary pilgrimage upon the River Iss. My friend here is Jeddak of all the Tharks, and though he has not yet expressed a desire to return to the living world, I am taking him with me from the living lie that hath lured him to this frightful place.

“I am of another world. I am John Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium. Perchance some faint rumor of me may have leaked within the confines of your hellish abode.’” (GM/4.)

Thuvia then relates her sad tale of being a plaything of the Holy Therns for fifteen years, as well as the belief-system of the Holy Therns, with a fate of possibly ending up as a slimy silian wriggling in the deeps of the Lost Sea of Korus, which cheers up Tars Tarkas:
“‘We sent several Holy Therns to the silians today, then,’ said Tars Tarkas, laughing.

“‘And so will your death be the more terrible when it comes,’ said the maiden. ‘And come it will – you cannot escape.’

“‘One has escaped, centuries ago,’ I reminded her, ‘and what has been done may be done again.’

“‘It is useless even to try,’ she answered hopelessly.

“‘But try we shall,’ I cried, ‘and you shall go with us, if you wish.’

“‘To be put to death by mine own people, and render my memory a disgrace to my family and my nation? A Prince of the House of Tardos Mors should know better than to suggest a thing.’

“Tars Tarkas listened in silence, but I could feel his eyes riveted upon me and I knew that he awaited my answer as one might listen to the reading of his sentence by the foreman of a jury.

“What I advised the girl to do would seal our fate as well, since, if I bowed to the inevitable decree of age-old superstition we must all remain and meet our fate in some horrible form within this awful abode of horror and cruelty.

“‘We have the right to escape if we can,’ I answered. ‘Our own moral senses will not be offended if we succeed, for we know that the fabled life of love and peace in the blessed Valley Dor is a rank and wicked deception. We know that the valley is not sacred; we know that the Holy Therns are not holy; that they are a race of cruel and heartless mortals, knowing no more of the real life to come than we do.

“‘Not only is it our right to bend every effort to escape – it is a solemn duty from which we should not shrink even though we know that we shall be reviled and tortured by our own peoples when we returned to them.

“‘Only thus may we carry the truth to those without, and though the likelihood of our narrative being given credence is, I grant you, remote, so wedded are mortals to their stupid infatuation for impossible superstitions, we should be craven cowards indeed were we to shirk the plain duty which confronts us.’” (GM/4.)

If you hear the voice of ERB preaching his gospel, your ears are just fine. It is easy to see an analogy of Jesus Christ teaching his apostles Mary Magdalene and John Mark in this scene. It is no call to obey some imaginary God, but a call to be true to the Truth, regardless of the cost! 

Some times you have to do what you know is right disregarding the consequences, hard as that may be. This takes real courage. But this is where the true confrontation between self consciousness and Existence comes into focus. This is true existentialism, where the moment has meaning in itself because you are true to it.

Carter has gotten through to his two new disciples. Their superstition had two layers of fear to overcome. The first was the fear that came from the realization that their religion had been a lie, nothing but a lure to a cannibalistic death. The second was the fear that came from what would await them when they returned and announced that the Religion of Issus was a lie, ruining their family’s reputation. The second fear is the greatest to overcome.

“Both the girl and the green warrior stood silent in thought for some moments. The former it was who eventually broke the silence.

“‘Never had I considered the matter in that light before,’ she said. ‘Indeed would I give my life a thousand times if I could but save a single soul from the awful life that I have led in this cruel place. Yes, you are right, and I will go with you as far as we can go; but I doubt that we ever shall escape.’

“I turned an inquiring glance toward the Thark.

“‘To the gates of Issus, or to the bottom of Korus,’ spoke the green warrior; ‘to the snows of the north or to the snows to the south, Tars Tarkas follows where John Carter leads. I have spoken.’” (GM/4.)

They have many adventures, but finally they gain the Gardens of the Therns, where they discover that the Therns are being attacked by the Black Pirates. Carter manages to steal a Black Pirate flier, but it cannot bear the weight of the three of them, so, in a heroic gesture, he sets the controls and jumps out of the flier, leaving Tars Tarkas and the lovely maid Thuvia to their fate while he faces his own.

Carter is captured by the Black Pirates, is imprisoned on the Island of Shador in the underground Sea of Omean, and escapes with Xodar, a black dator, and his son, Carthoris. As they make their getaway, they join up with Thuvia, who then tells them what happened to her and Tars Tarkas after they escaped from the Therns.

“The great Thark, I fear, is dead,’ she replied sadly. ‘He was a mighty fighter, but a multitude of green warriors of another horde than his overwhelmed him. The last that I saw of him they were bearing him, wounded and bleeding, to the deserted city from which they had sallied to attack us.’

“‘You are not sure that he is dead, then?’ I asked. ‘And where is this city of which you speak?’

“‘It is just beyond this range of hills. The vessel in which you nobly resigned a place that we might escape defied our small skill in navigation, with the result that we drifted aimlessly about for two days. Then we decided to abandon the craft and attempt to make our way on foot to the nearest waterway. Yesterday we crossed these hills and came upon the dead city beyond. We had passed within its streets and we walking toward the central portion, when at an intersecting avenue we saw a body of green warriors approaching.

“‘Tars Tarkas was in advance, and they saw him, but me they did not see. The Thark sprang back to my side and forced me into an adjacent doorway, where he told me to remain in hiding until I could escape, making my way to Helium if possible.

“‘“There will be no escape for me now,” he said, “for these be the Warhoons of the South. When they have seen my metal it will be to the death.” 

“‘Then he stepped out to meet them. Ah, my Prince, such fighting! For an hour they swarmed about him, until the Warhoon dead formed a hill where he had stood; but at last they overwhelmed him, those behind pushing the foremost upon him until there remained no space to swing his great sword. Then he stumbled and went down and they rolled over him like a huge wave. When they carried him away toward the heart of the city, he was dead, I think, for I did not see him move.’

“‘Before we go farther we must be sure,’ I said. ‘I cannot leave Tars Tarkas alive among the Warhoons. Tonight I shall enter the city and make sure.’” (GM/14.)

The rest all want to go too, but Carter refuses, going it alone. He sneaks into the city, makes his way down the streets, in and out of buildings, heading for the center. He enters one building by climbing up a wall and entering a third floor, which allows him to overhear a warrior in the hall below him addressing another in an adjoining room:
“‘Come, Tan Gama,’ he cried, ‘we are to take the Thark before Kab Kadja. Bring another with you.’
“The warrior addressed arose and, beckoning to a fellow squatting near, the three turned and left the apartment.” (GM/14.)
Carter follows them to where he guesses they are going: to the Pits below. He follows them at a distance and finally comes upon a spiral stairway leading up and down. From Carter’s knowledge of the Warhoons, he assumes they have gone down.
“I myself had once been a prisoner of the great cruel hordes of the northern Warhoon, and the memory of the underground dungeon in which I lay still is vivid in my memory. And so I felt certain that Tars Tarkas lay in the dark pits beneath some nearby building, and that in that direction I should find the trail of the three warriors leading to his cell.

“Nor was I wrong. At the bottom of the runway, or rather at the landing on the floor below, I saw that the shaft descended into the pits beneath, and as I glanced down the flickering light of a torch revealed the presence of the three I was trailing.

“Down they went toward the pits beneath the structure, and at a safe distance behind I followed the flicker of their torch. The way led through a maze of torturous corridors, unlighted save for the wavering light they carried. We had gone perhaps a hundred yards when the party turned abruptly through the doorway at their right. I hastened on as rapidly as I dared through the darkness until I reached the point at which they had left the corridor. There, through an open door, I saw them removing the chains that secured the great Thark, Tars Tarkas, to
the wall.” (GM/14.)

The three warriors escort Tars Tarkas upwards and Carter gets lost in the dark and takes ages before he gets back on track. When he sees light again, it is from the three returning with Tars Tarkas, taking him back to his cell. Two of the guards stroll toward the spiral stairway why the third refastens Tars Tarkas to the wall.
“The torch had been stuck in a socket beside the door, so that its rays illuminated both the corridor and the cell at the same time. As I saw the two warriors disappear I approached the entrance to the cell, with a well-defined plan already formulated.

“While I disliked the thought of carrying out the thing I had decided upon, there seemed no alternative if Tars Tarkas and I were to go back together to my little camp in the hills.

“Keeping near the wall, I came quite close to the door to Tars Tarkas’ cell, and there I stood with my longsword above my head, grasped with both hands, that I might bring it down in one quick cut upon the skull of the jailer as he emerged.

“I dislike to dwell upon what followed after I heard the footsteps of the man as he approached the doorway. It is enough that within another minute or two, Tars Tarkas, wearing the metal of a Warhoon chief, was hurrying down the corridor toward the spiral runway, bearing the Warhoon’s torch to light his way.

A dozen paces behind him followed John Carter, Prince of Helium.
“The two companions of the man who lay now beside the door of the cell that had been Tars Tarkas’ had just started to ascend the runway as Tars Tarkas came in view.

“‘Why so long, Tan Gama?’ cried one of the men.

“‘I had trouble with a lock,’ replied Tars Tarkas. ‘And now I find that I have left my short-sword in the Thark’s cell. Go you on, I’ll return and fetch it.’

“‘As you will, Tan Gama,’ replied he who had before spoken. ‘We shall see you above directly.’

“‘Yes,’ replied Tars Tarkas, and turned as though to retrace his steps to the cell, but he only waited until the two had disappeared at the floor above. Then I joined him, we extinguished the torch, and together we crept toward the spiral incline that led to the upper floors of the building.” (GM/15.)

They climb and climb and finally reach a balcony overlooking the courtyard, to their right a window leading into the room from which Carter had heard Tan Gama first speak.
“His companions had returned here, and we now overheard a portion of their conversation.

“‘What can be detaining Tan Gama?’ asked one.

“‘He certainly could not be all this time fetching his short-sword from the Thark’s cell,’ spoke another.

“‘His short-sword?’ asked a woman. ‘What mean you?’

“‘Tan Gama left his short-sword in the Thark’s cell,’ explained the first speaker, ‘and left us at the runway, to return and get it.’

“‘Tan Gama wore no short-sword this night,’ said the woman. ‘It was broken in today’s battle with the Thark, and Tan Gama gave it to me to repair. See, I have it here,’ and as she spoke she drew Tan Gama’s short-sword from beneath her sleeping silks and furs.

“The warriors sprang to their feet.

“‘There is something amiss here,’ cried one.

“‘’Tis even what I myself thought when Tan Gama left us at the runway,’ said another. ‘Methought then that his voice sounded strangely.’

“‘Come! Let us hasten to the pits.’

“We waited to here no more. Slinging my harness into a long single strap, I lowered Tars Tarkas to the courtyard beneath, and an instant later dropped to his side.

“We had spoken scarcely a dozen words since I had felled Tan Gama at the cell door and seen in the torch’s light the expression of utter bewilderment upon the great Thark’s face.

“‘By this time,’ he had said, ‘I should have learned to wonder at nothing which John Carter accomplishes.’ That was all. He did not need to tell me that he appreciated the friendship which had prompted me to risk my life to rescue him, nor did he need to say that he was glad to see me.

“The fierce green warrior had been the first to greet me that day, now twenty years gone, which had witnessed my first advent upon Mars. He had met me with levelled spear and cruel hatred in his heart as he charged down upon me, bending low at the side of his mighty thoat as I stood beside the incubator of his horde upon the dead sea bottom beyond Korad. And now among the inhabitants of two worlds I counted none a better friend than Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of the Tharks.” (GM/15.)

Those last sentences sum up the essence of the friendship between John Carter and Tars Tarkas. The brave Thark will go on to play major roles in the battle of the Valley Dor against the Therns and Black Pirates, and even against the fleet of Zodanga again. And finally, Tars Tarkas and the green hordes will play a decisive role in the great battle of Kadabra, the Barsoomian Armageddon. This is true friendship.

Call me a slow study, but it is only now – and I ‘ve read this story at least five times – that I have come to understand the strong theme of friendship at the core of every page of the novel. I see ERB now as a kind of early John Lennon, using his art to preach a certain clear message of friendship and trusting alliances, of racial tolerance, equality of the sexes, and kindness to animals. There is something deliberately universal in the ethics of the Barsoomian Mythos that transcend traditional American Judeo-Christian ideals. Both Tarzan and John Carter are masters at bringing diverse groups together to achieve a common purpose, usually good.

They may have psychopathic tendencies – what hero doesn’t? – but there is nothing evil in their characters, except a dark side they keep at bay. They champion the rights of the underdog. They hate and defy tyranny. They are the true stuff of classical mythology brought into Twentieth Century archetypes. I now see clearly that the mental and moral progress of Tars Tarkas plays an essential role in the development of the first two stories in the Barsoomian Mythos, coming to an understated conclusion in Warlord of Mars, where the character of Tars Tarkas is regarded by all Red Martians in the Helium Alliance, which also includes members of the Black and Yellow Martians – as a master statesman; a Martian equivalent of the British Disraeli, the German Bismarck, the French Talleyrand, or the American Woodrow Wilson.

In doing the analysis of the story, I was reminded deeply of the first time I learned the true meaning of friendship. For the sake of storytelling, we’ll call this adventure "My Hussong's Enlightenment."

I was twenty years old, attending Fresno City College in the spring of 1967. A group of my friends, mostly known since High School, decided to attend the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Ensenada, Mexico. Every year on that day, a yacht race was held between Newport Beach, California, and Ensenada, and we didn’t want to miss the fun when the boats came in. The year before, the Federales had to be called in to put down widespread rioting and drunken disturbances caused by American sailors. It was rumored that this year the roads were going to be blocked by Federales, 5,000 of them having been called up in advance to police the streets during the three-day weekend celebration.

We arrived in Tijuana about noon and prepared for the coming party by drinking two pitchers of beer apiece at the famous Long Bar on Revolucionary Avenue. My good friend, Tom Smiley, and I then bought a bottle of tequila which we split between us on our road trip, with nothing but one lime to chase it down with, and we were hallucinatory drunk out of our minds by the time we hit Ensenada.

It was a pleasant drive down a newly constructed highway, and when we neared the cliffs overlooking the sea close to Ensenada, I was amazed to see that some of the off-ramps were horseshoe turns dead-ending in the middle of nowhere; if a driver was unlucky to take one of them he would end up with a sudden end of pavement and find himself sailing off into the air to be dashed on the rocks below.

As it was, after we had a margarita at some castle-like cantina overlooking the sea, the driver of our ride lost his wallet and ended up down on his hands and knees in the gutters looking for it. Sensing a lost cause, the rest of us split up and wandered off on our separate ways. I linked up with one of my oldest High School friends and we finally ended up in Hussong's cantina, where, for some reason or other, a local police officer asked me to step outside.

The Federales were randomly rounding up drunken Americans where they would then be transported to the police station and either be charged $15.00, which they were prevented from paying from the money they had on them, or spend fifteen days in the Carcel de Municipal: the local jail. In three days, hundreds of Americans were arrested and fined. It proved to be a real money-maker for the local economy.

As soon as I realized I was not going to be able to buy my way out of this one – the police officer had waved for a group of Federales and a paddy wagon parked down the street – I started to make a dash for escape, but already four or five other officers had arrived and, surrounding me, they beat me over the head with their batons until I was submissive and barely conscious. I still have a slight dent in my skull even as I write this 44 years later. They then took me by the hands and feet and, Uno, Dos, Tres, tossed me into the back of the paddy wagon head over heels.

When I sat up I noticed that the other occupant, a long-haired hippie, looked up from his seat, where he had been holding his head in his hands, and asked me, “Hey, what part of Los Angeles are we in, man? These fucking cops are totally out of control!”

I could tell he was on acid I and carefully told him that we were in Mexico and that we were on our way to the Ensenada jail, and he better hope it was not as bad as it was notoriously reported to be. He said he wasn’t going to worry because he had really good friends that would never let him down and was confident they would bail him out the next morning. I was relieved to remember that one of my closest friends from High School had been with me when I was arrested and trusted the same fate awaited me the next morning. But even then, I was positive I could always trust Tom Smiley to rescue me once he discovered where I was.

However, a few hours later, after being locked inside a huge roofed room, I was saddened to discover that Tom Smiley was joining me; he too had been arrested. Then I passed out for the night. The next day neither the friends of the LA hippie nor our friends bailed us out. But the day was far from being boring, even though most of it consisted of endless stretches waiting for people to come who never did.

The first thing that morning we learned was that we shared our cell with a doctor from Berkeley, who had come down to go deep sea fishing with his friend, the chief of the Ensenada police. He had inadvertently double-parked on entering the city to get out of his car to aid a young boy who was injured on the sidewalk. When the Federales arrived, he was unable to explain in time that they were making a big mistake before they struck him under the right eye with a baton, knocking him out cold. He woke up in the new cell to which they transferred us the next morning. He had a large dark goose-egg under his eye from the baton.

Tom and I immediately made friends with him, as we were college students, and Tom’s father was also a doctor. We gave him our parents names and numbers so that he could inform them of our whereabouts when he was finally able to bribe one of the guards to take a message to the chief letting him know where his missing guest was abiding.

Then Juan was admitted into our cell, which was a huge open-aired space resembling the Alamo, with broken glass embedded on the tops of the white-washed walls. Juan was treated like a local celebrity because he was the head bandito of Ensenada. Twice a year he would be arrested on trumped up charges and held until enough ransom, er, bribery, could be raised to release him. Shortly after that, a drunken business man, wearing a very flashy expensive suit, was thrown in with us.

It was soon evident that he was very drunk and openly gay, hitting on everyone, and finally, putting his face into the small window that looked out of the door into the adjoining corridor, he began shouting insults and demanding justice at the top of his lungs. One of the guards walked by and smacked him across the face with a rubber hose, shattering his nose. He fell unconscious to the floor, bleeding profusely.

Almost before he hit the floor, Juan clapped his hands, and five or six men stripped the business man of his new suit, replacing them with rags. When they were through the doctor treated the business man’s damaged nose. Juan ordered the men to pass the suit through the window to the guard outside, who returned about forty minutes later with a kilo of marijuana wrapped in newspaper. I was later told that if I stuck around long enough I would discover that they were also able to get women inside just as easy.

They rolled up fat joints with the newspaper and offered one to us, but we declined since we were so scared of being in that jail that we were not taking any chances of having drug charges added to our public drunkeness charges. Juan seemed to take a liking to me, however, and he approached me with a proposition I couldn’t refuse. It seems that he was also a local revolutionary and if I would agree to teach him how to write the English word “TRUTH” – so that he could paint it on the white-washed walls of the city in big red letters – he would make sure no one sodomized me that night when I fell asleep. 

Fair is fair. I taught him to spell out the word on the dirt floor with my finger, like Moses did when he invented the Ten Commandments, or, better yet, like Jesus did when he let the adulterous wife go free. That’s how I learned about friends of necessity.

By the end of the day the doctor had finally been released after promising us again that he would contact our parents. The hippie’s friends had also come through and he was anxious to get back to LA in his red VW bus. Tom had been smart enough to stash money in his sock before they confiscated his wallet at the police station and he got to know the guard pretty well by bribing him money so we could eat some tacos, instead of the common pot of boiling who-knewwhat they served us once a day. 

Finally, on the third day, he was able to bribe the guard to let him make a phone call and he discovered that the doctor had notified our parents and that the chief of police was personally coming to pick us up in his Cadillac in the morning.

Our other friend, the one who had driven us there and who had lost his wallet, had no idea of what had become of us and had driven back to UCLA, but after he received a phone call from our parents, he was heading down to meet us in Ensenada. The police chief arrived in his Cadillac and Tom and I then split up, with Tom watching the main road into town for our ride from UCLA, while I went with the chief to await our money being wired by Western Union.

It was amazing what a true friend the doctor from Berkeley had been. Not only was he instrumental in our getting out of the carcel, his friendship was extended to us by the chief of police himself. After getting the money and squaring our account with the chief, I walked back across town to meet Tom at the outskirts so that we wouldn’t miss our ride. But first I stopped off at Hussong’s cantina for a couple of beers. I was dirty, raggedy, and likely stunk, but right then I needed those cold beers more than anything else in the whole wide world; besides, it was kind of exciting to return to the scene of the crime while sober and in my right mind.

There was only one other customer at the bar, a rich American, who lived in a large house next to Bing Crosby’s on the coast. I told him my story and he showed me a protection card he carried in his wallet issued by the police. For a thousand dollars a year he had absolute immunity for any crime except murder. He said, “I’d never come to Mexico without one of these.” Then he asked me if I had heard the news of the hippies who had been killed driving off one of the new highway's off-ramps in their red VW bus. This hit me hard and was a great weight on my soul for the whole trip back home. His friends had been true friends, not leaving him behind, friends to the death!

We never did get an adequate explanation from our “good old High School friends” of why they didn’t bail us out or even report to our parents the predicament we were in. They just thought it was best for them to forget about us and hope for the best for us. The only person I had known for sure that I could trust to rescue me had been in the same predicament with me at the same time. We didn’t have any more opportunities to express our true friendship after that, unless....

Exactly one year later, on May 5, 1968, near Pleiku, in the central highlands of South Vietnam, while guarding the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Tom Smiley was killed by a rocket propelled grenade while manning the machine gun on top of an armored personnel carrier. His true friendship haunted me like a ghost for years after. In fact, his ghost may have saved my life in a friendship that proved to be stronger than death. It gives me comfort to think that things like this are possible in some of my surviving superstitions.

I had some interesting mind-bending experiences during my college years, coming to a harsh end when I was drafted into the Army at the end of May 1969. One of my more intriguing LSD trips occurred just prior to my induction in Isla Vista, near Santa Barbara, California, on the first anniversary of Tom’s death. I had dropped some very pure and powerful LSD, and had been tripping heavily on a soap-opera-like episode of a friend’s lesbian girlfriend when I felt a strong compulsion to go down to the beach. It was like a psychic calling.

I walked out of the apartment as if literally being pulled like a magnet to the ocean. When I arrived, there was no one on the beach within sight in either direction, save for a lone German Shepherd frolicking in the surf about a hundred yards to my left. I then found a spot on the beach where there was little tar from the recent oil spill and sat down. Immediately the German Shepherd started running like hell towards me. Okay, I thought, he wants to play.

I waited him for him to come to a stop, but he never did, instead he ran head-on into me, knocking me back with his huge muzzle. Without looking at me, he dug intently in the very spot I had been sitting, digging up a rock about five inches in diameter. He gave me a quick gaming glance, then sped off helter skelter in the opposite direction, never stopping until he was out of sight. Wow, I thought, what were the odds of that ever happening? Sitting down in the exact spot where a dog, the only soul inhabiting the beach, had buried his prize rock?

As I contemplated what this coincidence might signify, I noticed the tug of the tide, at the waves washing in, and I suddenly realized, like the Fool on the Hill, that the world was spinning beneath me at one thousand miles an hour. Distracted from my musings by scores of sand flies who pestered the huge clumps of seaweed intermingled with clumps of tar, I waved my hand and thought, more than I said, “Begone!”

There was a cracking sound as the sand flies were smacked back, and suddenly, a domed force field formed around my head keeping the rest at bay. I thought, “Wow, if I could learn how to do this at will I could become a super hero.” But my musings were soon interrupted by a deep bass electronic hum coming from the sky above, almost like celestial organ music. The overcast sky parted dramatically over a portion of the ocean, streams of sunlight poured down, lighting up a huge circle on the surface, and then a voice spoke loudly and authoritatively inside my head, like the voice of God in a movie.

This was a very lucid and vivid hallucination I was having, where telepathic contact was not out of the ordinary. I had experienced telepathy many times on LSD. Here, though, I was being telepathically contacted by an entity who told me he was from another galaxy, whose race acted as the guardians of this galaxy. He told me – let us for the sake of storytelling, call him Zenon – that I was actually from another planet in this galaxy and had been sent to Earth to incarnate as a human being in order to save the Earth from nuclear destruction. The entity told me that I must go into the Army where I would become a hero in Vietnam, leading me to a position of political power where I would finally be in a place to prevent nuclear Armageddon.

This was a real bummer for me since I had taken the LSD – called “Orange Sunshine” from Owsley’s famous original formula, in fact, I had bought the last batch – hoping that I would finally become a true hippie and dodge the draft without family guilt at having disgraced them. And yet, here I was, experiencing the opposite of what I had expected.

The experience seemed incredibly real at the time, but, with the wearing off of the acid, so with the belief system that provided the context of the trip. But I always kept it in mind as a possibility since it made me very special in my own mind.

My father, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Army, who worked in the training department at Fort Ord, told me that if I could get into Artillery OCS, I would spend my first year as an officer in Germany, rather than Vietnam. Then, after being promoted to First Lieutenant, I would be in charge of a battery and not have to serve as a Second Lieutenant forward observer in Vietnam. I had made it clear to my father, however, that after studying both American and Soviet history and foreign policy at Fresno State College, that I would never go willingly to Vietnam, especially since I had to sign up for the Regular Army to get into OCS.

Well, I made it through boot camp and advanced infantry training at Fort Ord and got into Artillery OCS, but things started to take a strange turn after that. From the very first week it was rumored that our entire class was going to be sent to Vietnam as a relief force. A general’s son committed suicide soon afterwards, perhaps because of this rumor. After all, in Army talk, relief forces often go hand in hand with invasions.

This was confirmed in late January 1970 when a Major from the Rangers gave us a class on counter-insurgency guerilla warfare. He told us a story where in the beginning of the war a whole brigade of NVA regulars had been allowed to escape from a rubber plantantion – owned by B.F. Goodrich – because of the amount of time it took to haggle out an accepted price for every rubber tree destroyed in the engagement. “That’s what this war is all about,” he concluded.

Then he told us that the rumors we’d been hearing were true, that our entire class was being sent to Vietnam as a relief force at the end of April. Remember when the Cambodian invasion occurred? Remember Kent State?

I remembered the first day I was inducted: catching the morning Army bus in Fresno heading for Fort Ord. Then, once getting there, being placed in a holding barracks for assignment to a training unit. While there, I looked through a recent Life magazine that was devoted to the military service pictures of over one hundred soldiers who had been killed in Vietnam the previous week. Page after page I looked at their faces, noting that so many of them were officers. Now, back to the present, I remembered that we were doomed to be forward observers in Vietnam, a hazardous profession with a six week life span.

Wow, I thought at the time, this is it, I am really going to be sent to Vietnam. I’m really going to be a forward observer, having to keep track of how many trees are killed. After all the trouble I went through to get out of going there, I was going there anyway! What a moral dilemma? I prayed for a sign.

That night I had the most lucid realistic dream I’ve ever had. I was leading a platoon in Vietnam as an infantry officer and for some odd reason we were all wearing WWII uniforms. Suddenly we were ambushed and we all hit the ground, myself and a few others crouched down behind a fallen tree trunk. The enemy machine gun was whittling down our cover and suddenly I remembered my training – the counter-intuitive lesson learned by many deaths, that in case of ambush you should always charge firing fully automatic at the location from which you are receiving the greatest amount of fire, usually the machine-gun nest. Besides, I thought in the dream, the galactic entity – Zenon, I believe we were calling him – said I would be a hero. That must mean that I wasn’t going to die in Vietnam.

I pulled out a hand grenade, pulled the pin, lifted my head to aim and throw it, and was shot between the eyes. I remember feeling the wind whistling in the hole in front of my head and out the back before losing consciousness.

I awoke on a grassy plain stretching out as far as the eye could see in all directions. Since the sun was directly over head, making it impossible to tell direction – like in Pellucidar – I started walking in the direction I was facing at the time. I walked for what seemed like hours, always the same grassy plain, until, finally, I could make out a set of wooden bleachers surrounding a baseball diamond a few hundred yards in front of me. As I approached the rear of the bleachers I could see that someone was seated in the front row between first base and home plate with his head hanging down.

I walked around and stood on the pitcher’s mound and waited for the man to raise his head. When he did my heart stopped. It was Tom Smiley. He said, “Hi, Woody, what took you so long to get here?”

I woke up on my barrack’s bunk trembling in a cold sweat, my mind no longer in doubt. Call me a sentimentalist, but I like to believe that Tom Smiley’s friendship was so strong that he was able to reach out beyond the grave and warn me that Zenon was wrong, thus saving my life. Why not?

I went AWOL on Valentine’s Day and gained protected exile for three years in Canada. I don’t have any regrets and was never punished by the imaginary galactic entity Zenon for my willful disobedience. In the end I was granted the same kind of Unconditional Presidential Pardon received by Richard Nixon, of which I am very proud, since it allowed me to go to law school and become a trial attorney. Of course, in between, I had to spend four and a half months at hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After all, I went AWOL and had to be punished. But my punishment was just. Some times I feel as if my life has been written by ERB, with all of those coincidences and such.

The desire for a fantasy afterlife where you are reunited with loved ones along with a solid fear of hell are at the core of religion and they are both delusions of the human mind. ERB is saying that a courageous individual can have as much satisfaction and joy in existence by experiencing the love for others and true friendship, as he or she can have at any charismatic religious service, or by giving them money. There is a genuine spirituality that comes out of people when they forget themselves, the kind that comes when you love others and have true tested friends you know you can rely upon.

The thing that prevents me from the nihilism of believing everything is just random chance is the fact that there is a progressive spiral to evolution. It’s coming from somewhere and going somewhere, developing more complex organisms as it progresses who knows where. Why should this be so? Why should matter evolve into self-consciousness? Why does it progress at all? Like Nietzsche facing the Eternal Recurrence, I say, “Yes!” to Existence. Or, as succinctly put by John Carter: “As long as we live we still have hope!”

Sometimes I wish old Zenon had been right, that I was indeed sent here from another planet, because sometimes I feel so alien on this one. How could America have so soon forgotten the lessons of Vietnam, doing it all over again in Afghanistan and Iraq? It makes me wonder sometimes: did this really happen? Or was it just another vivid LSD hallucination flashback?

Am I still dreaming? The only long-term lesson learned from Vietnam seems to be that we were able to do it with a regular army this time and without draftees. Thanks be to a merciful God there is still Vodka.

In the Barsoomian Mythos, especially in the stirring opening trilogy, John Carter is the Christ figure and Tars Tarkas is the beloved disciple. This is all the reader needs to know in order to truly grok the narrative.

We will conclude our examination of the Green Hordes next time in Part Seven. I hope.

~ continued

I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII
Murphy Anderson ~ DC comics
Green Man Horde by Murphy Anderson
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