A READERS' COMPANION TO THE BARSOOMIAN
THE EPIPHANIES OF JOHN CARTER
THE FAKE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF
The Seventeenth Runner-Up in the Seven
Wonders of Barsoom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
THE SECOND EPIPHANY
We turn now to the hardback edition of The
Gods of Mars, published on September 28, 1919, by A.C. McClurg – first
published in the January-May 1913 editions of All-Story (see ERBzine
#0423) – for the newly added Foreword, to which the readers of the
pulp magazine didn’t have access. The Foreword either contains inadvertent
mistakes, or clues to mysteries ERB wanted the reader to solve, which was
one of his favorite pastimes. The first one can be found at the beginning
of the third paragraph. See if you can guess why. Remember, the last time
John Carter allegedly died from the fake ERB's point of view, was on March
“Twelve years had passed
since I had laid the body of my great-uncle, Captain John Carter, of Virginia,
away from the sight of men in that strange mausoleum in the old cemetary
We learn that ERB had a good reason for calling Carter “Uncle
Jack,” for we now learn that Carter was ERB’s “great-uncle.” And did you
catch the admission of guilt? If you recall, the instructions called for
the manuscript being left sealed and “unread,” just as he found it, for
eleven years, to wit, until March 4, 1897. Yet, here we are told, sometime
in 1898 – twelve years after March 4, 1886 – that he had read the manuscript
almost immediately after receiving it.
“Often had I pondered on the odd
instructions he had left me governing the construction of his mighty tomb,
and especially those parts which directed that he be laid in an open casket
and that the ponderous mechanism which controlled the bolts of the vault’s
huge door be accessible only from the inside.
“Twelve years had passed since
I had read the remarkable manuscript of this remarkable man; this man who
remembered no childhood and who could not even offer a vague guess as to
his age; who was always young and yet who had dandled my grandfather’s
great-grandfather upon his knee; this man who had spent ten years upon
the planet Mars; who had fought for the green men of Barsoom and fought
against them; who had fought for and against the red men and who had won
the ever beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, for his wife, and
for nearly ten years had been a prince of the house of Tardos Mors, Jeddak
of Helium.” (GM/Foreword.)
Perhaps the fake ERB figured out a way of justifying this
in his fake mind so he could still state that he had performed his duty
with absolute fidelity; perhaps something like, “there may be something
in there that may require immediate emergency attention.” That’s always
a good one in the clinch. Ask any law enforcement officer.
“Twelve years had passed
since his body had been found upon the bluff before his cottage overlooking
the Hudson, and oft-times during these long years I had wondered if John
Carter were really dead, or if he again roamed the dead sea bottoms of
that dying planet; if he had returned to Barsoom to find that he had opened
the frowning portals of the mighty atmosphere plant in time to save the
countless millions who were dying of asphyxiation on that far-gone day
that had seen him hurtled ruthlessly through forty-eight million miles
of space back to Earth once more. I had wondered if he had found his black-haired
Princess and the slender son he had dreamed was with her in the royal gardens
of Tardos Mors, awaiting his return.
Just to keep ourselves oriented in imaginary time, the fake
ERB received this telegram sometime in August, 1898. This is actually a
year after he was supposed to read the manuscript.
“Or, had he found that he had been
too late, and thus gone back to a living death upon a dead world? Or was
he really dead after all, never to return either to his mother Earth or
his beloved Mars?
“Thus was I lost in useless speculation
one sultry August evening when old Ben, my body servant, handed me a telegram.
Tearing it open I read:
“‘Meet me tomorrow hotel Raleigh
Note the presence of “old Ben.” One can easily surmise
that old Ben had once been one of ERB’s slaves in the good old days of
State’s Rights. Now he had to be satisfied as being known as ERB’s body
Was ERB worried that Carter might rebuke him for reading
the manuscript too early? After all, no one else was to know of the manuscript
for twenty-one years after March 4, 1886, to wit, until March 4, 1907,
which would be a little under nine more years in the future. Well, he is
about to find out.
“Early the next morning
I took the first train for Richmond and within two hours was being ushered
into the room occupied by John Carter.
Okay, let’s do a fact check on that last one. In the imaginary
time of the Foreword, it is August 1898. We know from the first Foreword
that ERB had first remembered Carter in December 1860 or January 1861,
a few months before the outbreak of the civil war. Thus 1898 minus “nearly”
35 years ago – which would be just short of 35 – would place the time in
1864, three years longer than stated in the first Foreword. To be exact,
however, it was over 37 years earlier since Carter disappeared from the
young ERB’s life shortly after the war started in April 1861. Personally,
I think this was a common error ERB made, with nothing of significance
“As I entered he rose to greet
me, his old-time cordial smile of welcome lighting his handsome face. Apparently
he had not aged a minute, but was still the straight, clean-limbed fighting-man
of thirty. His keen gray eyes were undimmed, and the only lines upon his
face were the lines of iron character and determination that always had
been there since first I remembered him, nearly thirty-five years before.”
If he was like me, ERB just made stupid mistakes when
it came to math.
“‘Well, nephew,’ he greeted me, ‘do you feel
as though you are seeing a ghost, or suffering from the effects of too
many of Uncle Ben’s mint juleps.’
Now, there is no epiphany or Foreword in the next two installments
of the Barsoomian Mythos, but there is information in this epiphany that
lends belief to the idea that the notes Carter gives to ERB contain much
more information than appears in The Gods of Mars or The Warlord
of Mars. There is no epiphany either in Thuvia, Maid of Mars,
the fourth book in the Mythos.
“‘Juleps, I reckon,’ I replied, ‘for I certainly feel
mighty good; but maybe it’s just the sight of you again that affects me.
You have been back to Mars? Tell me. And Dejah Thoris? You found her well
and awaiting you?’
“‘Yes, I have been to Barsoom again, and – but it’s a
long story, too long to tell in the limited time I have before I must return.
I have learned the secret, nephew, and I may traverse the trackless void
at my will, coming and going between the countless planets as I list; but
my heart is always in Barsoom, and while it is there in the keeping of
my Martian Princess, I doubt that I shall ever again leave the dying world
that is my life.’” (GM/Foreword.)
We don’t get another epiphany – the Third One – until
the Prelude in the fifth book of the series, The Chessmen of Mars.
So, all of the information before then must have been in the information
conveyed in this, the second, epiphany. Anyway, this assumption makes things
a lot easier to understand.
“‘I have come now because
my affection for you prompted me to see you once more before you pass over
for ever into that other life that I shall never know, and which though
I have died thrice and shall die again tonight, as you know death, I am
as unable to fathom as are you.
Thus, he died for the third time on Mars in order to come
back to Earth. He must die again in order to return to Barsoom. He died
on Mars and returned to Earth three months prior to meeting the fake ERB
at the hotel Raleigh in Richmond. We assume that Carter had some sort of
means, likely stored in his tomb, that would have allowed him a means of
income during this three month period, since otherwise ERB had control
of his old assets, and he wasn’t aware that Carter had returned to Earth
since he received the telegram in August 1898.
“‘Even the wise and mysterious
therns of Barsoom, that ancient cult which for countless ages has been
credited with holding the secret of life and death in their impregnable
fortresses upon the hither slopes of the Mountains of Otz, are as ignorant
as we, I have proved it, though I near lost my life in the doing of it;
but you shall read it all in the notes I have been making during the last
three months that I have been back upon Earth.’” (GM/Foreword.)
Anyway, ERB is about discover an enormous amount of evidence
indicating that John Carter is a divine being, being unconsciously controlled
by the higher powers of fate. Carter has specifically returned to reveal
this evidence to ERB.
“He patted a swelling portfolio
that lay on the table at his elbow.
Here we see the development of a pseudo-religious belief
system, where those that believe in the Barsoomian Mythos are true believers
and Chosen Ones. We will see this belief system at its highest in The
Master Mind of Mars, where Ulysses Paxton is resurrected from a WWI
battlefield in France to the garden of the mad scientist Ras Thavas on
Mars. And all because of Paxton’s belief in John Carter and Barsoom, and,
of course, in the God of War.
“‘I know that you are interested
and that you believe, and I know that the world, too, is interested, though
they will not believe for many years; yes, for many ages, since they cannot
understand. Earth men have not yet progressed to a point where they can
comprehend the things that I have written in those notes.
“‘Give them what you wish of it,
what you think will not harm them, but do not feel aggrieved if they laugh
at you.’” (GM/Forword.)
“That night I walked down
to the cemetery with him. At the door of his vault he turned and pressed
The “much” that ERB has left out in Gods and Warlord
gives him the artistic leeway to write about Thuvia and Carthoris, John
Carter’s son, later in the fourth book of the series, Thuvia, Maid of
Mars. At least that is how I see it. I think this idea pans out for
the reason that ERB wrote a glossary
for the end of Thuvia before he conceived the epiphanies and fake biographies.
Thuvia first appeared in pulp in All-Story in 1914 (see ERBzine
“‘Goodbye, nephew,’ he said. ‘I
may never see you again, for I doubt that I can ever bring myself to leave
my wife and boy while they live, and the span of life upon Barsoom is often
more than a thousand years.’
“He entered the vault. The great
door swung slowly to. The ponderous bolts grated into place. The lock clicked.
I have never seen Captain John Carter, of Virginia, since.
“But here is the story of his return
to Mars on that other occasion, as I have gleaned it from the great mass
of notes which he left for me upon the table of his room in the hotel at
“There is much which I have left
out; much which I have not dared to tell; but you will find the story of
his second search for Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, even more remarkable
than was his first manuscript which I gave to an unbelieving world a short
time since and through which we followed the fighting Virginian across
dead sea bottoms under the moons of Mars.
The First Epiphany appeared in the 1917 Foreword to the
Princess. This shows a conscious early development
of the Mythos, which was later embellished, adding depth by means of the
epiphanies and fake biographies.
Also, as we learn in the Third Epiphany, ERB had learned
the secret of astral traveling with clothing and accoutrements from Kar
Komak, the Lotharian bow man, and since he had somehow learned to travel
by will alone before this, as he explained to ERB in his Second Epiphany,
he might have learned this also from Kar Komak. It is reasonable speculation.
Let us now go on to our next epiphany.
THE THIRD EPIPHANY
From 1914 to 1921, except for new material in the hardback
Forewords, ERB turned his back on Barsoom. That’s seven years. Why did
he feel he had to return to the peep show during this period? Well, this
was the year he wrote his Lust Trilogy. Something was turning him on, and
I have already given my reason in the Introduction to “Ghek’s Manatorian
ERB titles this epiphany as “John Carter Comes to Earth.”
Could it be that this epiphany of John Carter was linked to ERB’s love
life? That it was some kind of secret code to his discerning readers, like
the amount of stars on the Playboy logo indicated, according to urban legend,
the amount of times Hugh Hefner shagged the Playmate of the Month? Anyway,
we the readers are grateful for the creation of Tara of Helium, regardless
of who was the inspiration behind the sexy Princess.
The Prelude is also ERB’s way of setting the reader up
for his new creation: the board game of Jetan, to wit, Martian chess. I
have no idea if the Prelude was part of the Argosy All-Story Weekly pulp
magazine from February to March 1922, but it makes little difference since
there was just a few months before the pulp and the hardback edition, published
by A.C. McClurg on November 29, 1922. (See ERBzine
But both the Prelude and the story were written after
1917, when ERB invented the First Epiphany and Fake Autobiography, so nothing
is being added that the reader is not already prepared for. A man named
Shea appears in this Prelude, and it is my understanding that he was an
actual person who worked at Rancho Tarzana, the mansion of which is subtly
described as background in this epiphany. I will highlight these descriptions
to make it easy.
“ Shea had just beaten
me at chess, as usual, and, also as usual, I had gleaned what questionable
satisfaction I might by twitting him with this indication of failing mentality
by calling his attention to the nth time to that theory, propounded by
certain scientists, which is based upon the assertion that the phenomenal
chess players are always found to be from the ranks of children under twelve,
adults over seventy-two or the mentally defective – a theory that is lightly
ignored upon those rare occasions that I win. Shea had gone to bed and
I should have followed suit, for we are always in the saddle here before
sunrise; but instead I sat there before the chess table in the library,
idly blowing smoke at the dishonored head of my defeated king.
Since by now, 1921, ERB was world famous and everyone knew
he was living at Rancho Tarzana, ERB made sure that the fake ERB was likely
situated, even though the ranch is never specifically mentioned. For a
visual guide of the sparse descriptions, check out tarzana.ca.
This is the first time ERB sees John Carter as he appears to the other
Martians on Barsoom. Except for his utilitarian harness, John Carter is
“While thus profitably employed
I heard the east door of the livingroom open and someone enter. I thought
it was Shea returning to speak with me on some matter of tomorrow’s work;
but when I raised my eyes to the doorway that connects the two rooms I
saw there framed the figure of a bronzed giant, his otherwise naked body
trapped with jewel-encrusted harness from which there hung at one side
an ornate short-sword and at the other a pistol of strange pattern. The
black hair, the steely-gray eyes, brave and smiling, the noble features
– I recognized them at once, and leaping to my feet I advanced with outstretched
Like the real ERB, who was not embarrassed by the male
nude form, the fake ERB takes little note of this fact, spending most of
his time on the short-sword and pistol. Note that in the narrative to come
there is no mention of the tomb back in the old cemetary back in Richmond.
In fact, the reader never hears of the body in the tomb again. Was the
tomb empty? Is this Easter Sunday for the fake ERB? Though there may be
mischief here, it has not been made obvious by any mention of the date.
“‘John Carter!’ I cried.
Of course, when you get older, it is natural to want to feel
young again, full of vigor. After all, that is why Viagra is so popular.
So, its been ten years in the real ERB’s career since he first took pen
in hand to write “Under the Moons of Mars,” meaning ERB is on the short
of side of 50 years old. Was he going through some sort of midlife crisis?
He was in the perfect area to have one, not far from Hollywood, but still
far enough out in the country to give him the illusion of being a rich
landowner. He had a tendency to forget that most of the money that kept
him at the ranch was from Hollywood, unless he had fallen love with a girl
from Hollywood, as the novel he wrote after Chessmen was titled.
“‘None other, my son,’ he replied,
taking my hand in one of his and placing the other upon my shoulder.
“‘And what are you doing here?’
I asked. ‘It has been long years since you revisited Earth, and never before
in the trappings of Mars. Lord! but it is good to see you – a not a day
older in appearance than when you trotted me on your knee in my babyhood.
How do you explain it, John Carter, Warlord of Mars, or do you try to explain
“‘Why attempt to explain the inexplicable?’
he replied. ‘As I have told you before, I am a very old man. I do not know
how old I am. I recall no childhood; but recollect only having been always
as you see me now and as you saw me first when you were five years old.
You, yourself, have aged, though not as much as most men in a corresponding
number of years, which may be accounted for by the fact that the same blood
runs in our veins; but I have not aged at all. I have discussed the question
with a noted Martian scientist, a friend of mine; but his theories are
still only theories. However, I am content with the fact – I never age,
and I love life and the vigor of youth.’” (CM/Prelude.)
As it turns out, both ERB and now John Carter both have
daughters. We learned of his son in Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Thuvia
had been a Martian Princess from Ptarth, but had been kidnapped by the
Therns and made their plaything for fifteen years before Carthoris married
But Tara, while she has much of the haughtiness of Thuvia
– who didn’t let the fact that she had been soiled for fifteen years get
in the way of resuming her role as a haughty Princess after being freed
– is the daughter of both John Carter and the incomparable Dejah Thoris,
notorious for being the most beautiful woman on the planet. Both of these
daughters are precious to their fathers, which becomes apparent as the
“‘And now as to your natural
question as to what brings me to Earth again in this, to earthly eyes,
strange habiliment. We may thank Kar Komak, the bowman of Lothar. It was
he who gave me the idea upon which I have been experimenting until at last
I have achieved success. As you know I have long possessed the power to
cross the void in spirit, but never before have I been able to impart to
inanimate things a similar power. Now, however, you see me for the first
time precisely as my Martian fellows see me – you see the very short-sword
that has tasted the blood of many a savage foeman; the harness with the
devices of Helium and the insignia of my rank; the pistol that was presented
to me by Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.
And so ends the Prelude. But fortunately, ERB brings us back
to the ranch at the very end of the story in what amounts to a postscript,
where again I shall highlight the references to the mansion at Rancho Tarzana:
“‘Aside from seeing you, which
is my principle reason for being here, and satisfying myself that I can
transport inanimate things from Mars to Earth, and therefore animate things
if I so desire, I have no purpose. Earth is not for me. My every interest
is upon Barsoom – my wife, my children, my work; all are there. I will
spend a quiet evening with you and then back to the world I love even better
than I love life.’
“As he spoke he dropped into the
chair upon the opposite side of the chess table.
“‘You spoke of children,’ I said.
‘Have you more than Carthoris?’
“‘A daughter,’ he replied, ‘only
a little younger than Carthoris, and, barring one, the fairest thing that
ever breathed the thin air of dying Mars. Only Dejah Thoris, her mother,
could be more beautiful than Tara of Helium.
“For a moment he fingered the chessmen
idly. ‘We have a game on Mars similar to chess,’ he said, ‘very similar.
And there is a race there that plays it grimly with men and naked swords.
We call the game jetan. It is played on a board like yours, except that
there a hundred squares and we use twenty pieces on each side. I never
see it played without thinking of Tara of Helium and what befell her among
the chessmen of Barsoom. Would you like to hear her story?
“I said that I would and so he
told it to me, and now I shall to try to re-tell it for you as nearly in
the words of
The Warlord of Mars as I can recall them, but in the
third person. If there be inconsistencies and errors, let the blame fall
not upon John Carter, but rather upon my faulty memory, where it belongs.
It is a strange tale and utterly Barsoomian.” (CM/Prelude.)
“His story finished, John
Carter rose from the chair opposite me, stretching his giant frame like
some great forest-bred lion.
The fake ERB inquires about Gahan and Ghek, and the Warlord
answers until he tires:
“‘You must go?’ I cried, for I
hated to see him leave and it seemed that he had been with me but a moment.
“‘The sky is already red beyond
those beautiful hills of yours,’ he replied, ‘and it will soon be day.’
“‘Just one question before you
go,’ I begged.” (CM/22.)
“‘But come! No more questions
Thus ends the Third Epiphany. How much money are you willing
to bet that at the real Rancho Tarzana, until it was raised, there existed
a scratched cross on one the arches in the arcade? Check out the photos
of the real Rancho Tarzana at ERBzine
#1041. We will proceed with the next two epiphanies in Part Three.
“I accompanied him to the east
arcade where the red dawn was glowing beyond the arches.
“‘Goodbye!’ he said.
“‘I can scarce believe that it
is really you,’ I exclaimed. ‘Tomorrow I will be sure that I have dreamed
“‘He laughed and drawing his sword
scratched a rude cross upon the concrete of one of the arches.
“‘If you are in doubt tomorrow,’
he said, ‘come and see if you dreamed this.’
“A moment later he was gone.” (CM/22.)