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Volume 3910
The Seventeenth Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom
Part 3

Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
The more I think about it the more I am convinced that ERB placed himself solidly in the Barsoomian Mythos tradition by having John Carter make special appearances to him as a ploy to develop a fan-based pseudo-religion, like Paul Twitchell (the pulp fiction writer who invented Eckankar) and L. Ron Hubbard (the pulp fiction writer who invented Scientology). However, unlike Twitchell and Hubbard, ERB was just having fun.

If ERB was taking flak because of the pseudo-religious nature of the epiphanies of John Carter, he began using a new tact for receiving stories from Mars: the Gridley Wave. The idea of the Gridley Wave had a swift evolution vis-a-vis the Mythos – from a vague “higher power” method of transmission to the more scientific feasible idea of the Gridley Wave, the frequency that hides in the static. The official Gridley Wave was invented in the Pellucidar series, and was used successfully as a cross-genre device to link Tarzan, Barsoom, and Pellucidar personally to ERB as a necessary fictional character. The incarnation of the author as a fictional character, while not a novel idea, was one rarely used if an author wanted to be taken seriously. ERB was not one of these authors, never taking himself seriously.

The evolution of the Gridley Wave as far as Mars is concerned can be traced in the 6th and 7th installments of the Mythos: The Master Mind of Mars, written in 1925, and A Fighting Man of Mars, written in 1929 (see ERBzine # 0427 and #0735); a 4 year evolution. The actual year Jason Gridley invented his famous wave was 1928, first made known in ERB’s Tanar of Pellucidar, the hollow world at the Earth's Core. A lengthy passage from the Prolog of that book may help to explain the evolution of the Gridley Wave as a literary device and ERB’s fun at becoming a central fictional character in his stories, another stone in the edifice of his fake autobiography:

“Jason Gridley is a radio bug. Had he not been, this story never would have been written. Jason is twenty-three and scandalously good looking – too good looking to be a bug of any sort. As a matter of fact, he does not seem buggish at all – just a normal, sane, young American, who knows a great deal about many things in addition to radio; aeronautics, for example, and golf, and tennis, and polo.
“But this not Jason’s story – he is only an incident – an important incident in my life that made this story possible, and so, with a few more words of explanation, we shall leave Jason to his tubes and waves and amplifiers, concerning which he knows everything and I nothing.
“Jason is an orphan with an income, and after he graduated from Stanford, he came down and bought a couple of acres at Tarzana, and that is how and when I met him.
“While he was building he made my office his headquarters and was often in my study and afterward I returned the compliment by visiting him in his new ‘lab,’ as he calls it – a quite large room at the rear of his home, a quiet, restful room in a quiet, restful house of the Spanish-American farm type – or we rode together in the Santa Monica Mountains in the cool air of early morning.” (TP/Prolog.)
Did you catch ERB’s brazen advertizing of Tarzana as a real estate investment? Good. We also get another insight into ERB’s idealistic life at Rancho Tarzana during this period, which truly marked the end of that period, for soon Rancho Tarzana would go into foreclosure.

ERB always spent more money than he had, hoping that he would always be able to write more stories to sell to Hollywood. Anyway, the financial crisis obviously set his creative juices flowing, for the Gridley Wave is an act of genius as a literary creation, years before static was discovered to be an after echo of the Big Bang.

“Jason is experimenting with some new principle of radio concerning which the less I say the better it will be for my reputation, since I know nothing whatsoever about it and am likely never to.
“Perhaps I am too old, perhaps I am too dumb, perhaps I am just not interested – I prefer to ascribe my abysmal and persistent ignorance of all things pertaining to radio to the last state; that of disinterestedness; it salves my pride.
“I do know this, however, because Jason had told me, that the idea he is playing with suggests an entirely new and unsuspected – well, let us call it a wave.
“He says the idea was suggested to him by the vagaries of static and in groping around in search of some device to eliminate this he discovered in the ether n undercurrent that operated according to no previously known scientific laws.
“At his Tarzana home he erected a station and a few miles away, at the back of my ranch, another. Between these stations we talk to one another through some strange ethereal medium that seems to pass through all other waves and all other stations, unsuspected and entirely harmless – so harmless is it that it has not the slightest effect upon Jason’s regular set, standing in the same room and receiving over the same aerial.
“But this, which is not very interesting to any one except Jason, is all by the way of getting to the beginning of the amazing narrative of the adventures of Tanar of Pellucidar.
“Jason and I were sitting in his ‘lab’ one evening discussing, as we often did, innumerable subjects from ‘cabbages to kings,’ and coming back, as Jason usually did, to the Gridley Wave, which is what we have named it.
“Much of the time Jason kept on his ear phones, than which there is no greater discourager of conversation. But this does not irk me as much as most of the conversations one has to listen to through life. I like long silences and my own thoughts.
“Presently, Jason removed the headpiece. ‘It is enough to drive a fellow to drink!’ he exclaimed.
“‘What?’ I asked.
“I am getting that same stuff again,’ he said. ‘I can hear voices, very faintly, but, unmistakably, human voices. They are speaking a language unknown to man. It is maddening.’
“‘Mars, perhaps,’ I suggested, ‘or Venus.’
“He knitted his brows and then suddenly smiled one of his quick smiles.
‘Or Pellucidar.’
“I shrugged.
“‘Do you know, Admiral,’ he said (he calls me Admiral because of a yachting cap I wear at the beach), ‘that when I was a kid I used to believe every word of those crazy stories of yours about Mars and Pellucidar. The inner world at the earth’s core was as real to me as the High Sierras, the San Joaquin Valley, or the Golden Gate, and I felt that I knew the Twin Cities of Helium better than I did Los Angeles.” (TP/Prolog.)
As to the reference to the Golden Gate, that’s to the strait in western California connecting the Pacific Ocean to the San Franciso Bay – this is 1928, nine years before the Golden Gate Bridge spanned the strait in 1937. Why these California geographical locations reminded ERB of Pelluicar is anyone’s guess, but Pellucidar is full of large valleys, mountain ranges, and coastal regions.

Pay attention now. ERB is about to give us some keen insight into his role as an author vis-a-vis his reading audience, another purpose perhaps as to why he felt the need to create a fake autobiography. Jason, a true believer and one of the Chosen Ones, continues:

“I saw nothing improbable at all in that trip of David Innes and old man Perry through the earth’s crust to Pellucidar. Yes, sir, that was all gospel to me when I was a kid.’
“‘And now you are twenty-three and know that it can’t be true,’ I said, with a smile.
“‘You are not trying to tell me it is true, are you?’ he demanded.
“‘I never have told any one that it is true,’ I replied; ‘I let people think what they think, but I reserve the right to do likewise.’
“‘Why, you know perfectly well that it would be impossible for that iron mole of Perry’s to have penetrated five hundred miles of the earth’s crust, you know there is no inner world peopled by strange reptiles, and men of the stone age, you know there is no Emperor of Pellucidar.’ Jason was becoming excited, but his sense of humor came to our rescue and he laughed.” (TP/Prolog.)
This seems like an absurd conversation nowadays, but in 1928 many occultists still believed in a hollow earth. The Nazi head of the S.S., Heinrich Himmler, allegedly sent out expeditions to find it. There is still an urban legend today that Admiral Byrd flew into a hole at the North Pole into the interior of the Earth’s core. So, it may have been idle table talk in 1928, but not crazy talk. The fake ERB keeps his mind on what is important:
“‘I like to believe that there is a Dian the Beautiful,’ I said.
“‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘but I am sorry you killed off Hooja the Sly One. He was a corking villain.’
“‘There are always plenty of villains,’ I reminded him.
“‘They help the girls to keep their “figgers” and their school girl complexions,’ he said.
“‘How?’ I asked.
“‘The exercise they get from being pursued.’
“‘You are making fun of me,’ I reproached him, ‘but remember, please, that I am but a simple historian. If damsels flee and villains pursue I must truthfully record the fact.’
“‘Baloney!’ he exclaimed in the pure university English of America.” (TP/Prolog.)
Note how ERB got away with suggesting the non-university term “bullshit!” into the 1928 reader’s mind, thus thumbing his nose at censorship. This is truly the King of Pulp Fiction hard at work.
“Jason replaced his headpiece and I returned to the perusal of the narrative of an ancient liar, who should have made a fortune out of the credulity of book readers, but seems not to have. Thus we sat for some time.” (TP/Prolog.)
Gee, do you think ERB made a fortune off the credulity of his readers? It is hard to put oneself into the mind set of the readers of the second decade of the 20th Century, but ERB seems to suggest that the effect upon the imagination that many of his early works generated worked on some sense of a need to believe, as apparent as a need to believe in aliens is today, as in The X6 Files, or the Bermuda Triangle.
“Presently Jason removed his ear phones and turned toward me. ‘I was getting music,’ he said; ‘strange, weird music, and then suddenly there came loud shouts and it seemed that I could hear blows struck and there were screams and the sounds of shots.’
“‘Perry, you know, was experimenting with gunpowder down there below, in Pellucidar,’ I reminded Jason, with a grin; but he was inclined to be serious and did not respond in kind.
“‘You know, of course,’ he said, ‘that there really has been a theory of an inner world for many years.’
“‘And it is substantiated by many seemingly irrefutable scientific facts,’ I reminded him – ‘open polar sea, warmer water farthest north, tropical vegetation floating southward from the polar regions, the northern lights, the magnetic pole, the persistent stories of the Eskimos that they are descended from a race that came from a warm country far to the north.’ 
“‘I’d like to make a try for one of those polar openings,’ mused Jason as he replaced the ear phones.’” (TP/Prolog.)
Note ERB’s genius of creating a false reality for this scene. Jason Gridley is a totally made up person, and ERB argues with him, is annoyed by him, in such a way that he takes on a credibililty he would not otherwise have, thus reinforcing the “belief system” and encouraging the reader’s need to believe:
“Again there was a long silence, broken at last by a sharp exclamation from Jason. He pushed an extra headpiece toward me.
“‘Listen!’ he exclaimed.
“As I adjusted the ear phones I heard that which we had never before received on the Gridley wave – code! No wonder that Jason Gridley was excited, since there was no station on earth, other than his own, attuned to the Gridley wave.
“Code! What could it mean? I was torn by conflicting emotions – to tear off the ear phones and discuss this amazing thing with Jason, and to keep them on and listen.” (TP/Prolog.)
As the narrative progresses, they decode a message from Abner Perry, who has a story to tell from the Imperial Observatory at Greenwich, Pellucidar. Jason answers him back, stating that he is Jason Gridley speaking from the experimental laboratory in Tarzana, California. Perry responds:
“‘I want to get into communication with Edgar Rice Burroughs; do you know him?’
“‘He is sitting here, listening in with me,’ replied Jason.
“‘Thank God, if that is true, but how am I to know that it is true?’ demanded Perry.
“I hastily scribbled a note to Jason: ‘Ask him if he recalls the fire in his first gunpowder factory and that the building would have been destroyed had they not extinguished the fire by shoveling his gunpowder into it?’
“Jason grinned as he read the note, and sent it.
“‘It was unkind of David to tell of that,’ came back the reply, ‘but now I know that Burroughs is indeed there, as only he could have known of that incident. I have a long message for him. Are you ready?’” (TP/Prolog.)
And then Perry tells ERB the story of Tanar of Pellucidar. But, of course, that is off our track. We next hear of ERB’s use of the Gridley Wave in the next story he wrote in 1928, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, where in the Foreword we learn:
“Thrice in the past have we of the outer world received communication from Pellucidar. We know that Perry’s first great gift to civilization to the stone age was gunpowder. We know that he followed this with repeating rifles, small ships of war upon which were mounted guns of no great caliber, and finally we know that he perfected a radio.
“Knowing Perry as something of an empiric, we were not surprised to learn that his radio could not be tuned in upon any known wave or wave length of the outer world, and it remained for young Jason Gridley of Tarzana, experimenting with his newly discovered Gridley Wave, to pick up the first message from Pellucidar.
“The last word that we received from Perry before his messages faltered and died out was to the effect that David Innes, the Emperor of Pellucidar, was languishing in a dark dungeon in the land of the Korsars, far across continent and ocean from his beloved land of Sari, which lies upon a great plateau not far inland from the Lural Az.” (TEC/Foreword.)
Jason Gridley, having a fortune to finance his expedition, hires Germans to construct for him a dirigible, the 0-220 (ERB’s real office telephone number at the time), and Tarzan to lead it.

You should read this book; it is one of ERB’s best. But let us return to the Barsoomian Mythos. The Master Mind of Mars does not begin with a Foreword or Prelude, but “A Letter,” addressed to Edgar Rice Burroughs, dated June 8th, 1925, and sent from Helium. The date is obviously the date ERB began writing the story. The method of transmission is shady at best, and will not be cleared up until Fighting Man, when the Gridley Wave is introduced to his Barsoomian audience. But we must remember that this is 4 years before it was invented. The author of the letter, a true believer and Chosen one, is a man who died on the field of battle during WWI, who signs it at the end as Ulysses Paxton, Late Captain, -----th Inf., U.S. Army.

He tells ERB that he first became acquainted with John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, by reading ERB’s A Princess of Mars while attending officer’s training camp in the Fall of 1917. In other words, at the same time ERB had invented himself into the Mythos via the epiphanies, beginning in the Foreword to the hardback edition of Princess, which if you will remember, came out in September of 1917.

The Martian novel messes with Paxton’s mind: he spends hours dreaming about Mars, wishing that he was there with John Carter. In his real life, Paxton gets blown to hell by German artillery while in France and as he lies dying in a shell crater, he has a John Carter moment, which is decidedly more religious than scientific.

“Then my eyes suddenly focused upon the bright red eye of Mars and there surged through me a sudden wave of hope. I stretched out my arms towards Mars, I did not seem to question or to doubt for an instant as I prayed to the god of my vocation to reach forth and succour me. I knew that he would do it, my faith was complete, and yet so great was the mental effort that I made to throw off the hideous bonds of my mutilated flesh that I felt a momentary qualm of nausea and then a sharp click as of the snapping of a steel wire, and suddenly I stood naked
upon two good legs looking down upon the bloody, distorted thing that had been I. Just for an instant did I stand thus before I turned my eyes aloft again to my star of destiny and with outstretched arms stand there in the cold of that French night – waiting.
“Suddenly I felt myself drawn with the speed of thought through the trackless wastes of interplanetary space. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness, then – 
“But the rest is in the manuscript that, with the aid of one greater than either of us, I have found the means to transmit to you with this letter. You and a few others of the chosen will believe in it – for the rest it matters not as yet. The time will come – but why tell you what you already know?
“My salutations and my congratulations – the latter on your good fortune in having been chosen as the medium through which Earthmen shall become better acquainted with the manners and customs of Barsoom, against the time that they shall pass through space as easily as John Carter, and visit the scenes that he has described to them through you, as have I.
“Your sincere friend,
“Late Captain, -----th Inf., U.S. Army.”
One can see that ERB’s readers may have been concerned about the religious overtones of this letter. Paul Twitchell and L. Ron Hubbard were rivals in coming up with the easiest method of teaching astral traveling to their members. Perhaps ERB is having fun at their expense. One could say that Ras Thavas, the mad genius inventor, was the one greater than both Paxton or ERB, or one could easily surmise some kind of Pagan believe in Roman gods, to wit, the God of War. Whatever, ERB would make the communication much more scientific with the Gridley Wave, first introduced into the Barsoomian Mythos in the Foreword to A Fighting Man of Mars. After relating the details found in the Prolog to Tanar of Pellucidar, ERB goes on, with the knowledge of what occurred in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, to wit, that Jason Gridley decided to remain behind in Pellucidar to pursue the Red Flower of Zoram:
“My considerable association with Gridley had given a fair working knowledge of his devices and sufficient knowledge of the Morse Code to enable me to receive with moderate accuracy and speed.
“Months passed; dust accumulated thickly upon everything the working parts of Gridley’s device, and the white ribbon of ticker tape that was to receive an answering signal retaining its virgin purity; then I went away for a short trip into Arizona.
“I was absent for about ten days, and upon my return one of the first things with which I concerned myself was an inspection of Gridley’s laboratory and the instruments he had left in my care. As I entered the familiar room and switched on the lights it was with the expectation of meeting with the same blank unresponsivenes to which I was by now quite accustomed.” (FMM/Foreword.)
Sounds kind of the like the life of the scientists monitoring the search for intelligent life in the universe by means of radio telescopes (SETI), the work Carl Sagan started. I believe since its inception they have received but one signal that may have indicated intelligence, but they could never pick it up again to be sure.
“As a matter of fact, hope for success had never been raised to any considerable degree in my breast, nor had Gridley been over sanguine – his was merely an experiment. He considered it well worth while to make it, and I considered it equally worth while to lend him what small assistance I might. 
“It was therefore with feelings of astonishment that assumed the magnitude of a distinct shock that I saw upon the ticker tape the familiar tracings which stand for the dots and dashes of code.
“Of course I realized that some other researcher might have duplicated Jason’s discovery of the Gridley Wave and that the message might have originated upon earth, or, again, it might be a message from Jason himself in Pellucidar, but when I had deciphered it, all doubts were quickly put to rest. It was from Ulysses Paxton, one time captain, ----th U.S. Infantry, who, miraculously transported from a battle-field in France to the bosom of the great Red Planet, had become the right-hand man of Ras Thavas, the master mind of Mars, and later the husband of Valla Dia, daughter of Kor San, Jeddak of Duhor.
“In brief, the message explained that for months mysterious signals had been received at Helium, and while they were unable to interpret them, they felt that they came from Jasoom, the name by which the planet Earth is known upon Mars.
“John Carter being absent from Helium, a fast flier had been dispatched to Duhor bearing an urgent request to Paxton to come at once to the twin cities and endeavor to determine if in truth the signals they were receiving actually originated upon the planet of his birth.
“Upon his arrival at Helium, Paxton immediately recognized the Morse Code signals, and no doubt was left in the minds of the Martian scientists that at last something tangible had been accomplished towards the solution of intercommunication between Jasoom and Barsoom.
“Repeated attempts to transmit answering signals to Earth proved fruitless and then the best minds of Helium settled down to the task of analyzing and reproducing the Gridley Wave.
“They felt that at last they had succeeded. Paxton had sent his message and they were eagerly awaiting an acknowledgment.
“I have since been in almost constant communication with Mars, but out of loyalty to Jason Gridley, to whom all the credit and honor are due, I have made no official announcement, nor shall I give out any important information, leaving all for his return to the outer world; but I believe I am betraying no confidence if I narrate to you the interesting story of Hadron of Hastor, which Paxton told me one evening not long since.
“I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did.” (FMM/Foreword.)
Note how ERB kept his options open by delaying news of discovery until his imaginary character returned from the imaginary realms of Pellucidar, which if captured correctly on camera, would make one of the most stunning visual sights in a 3-D movie (I’ve been a fan of 3-D movies ever since I saw John Wayne in Hondo while my father attended an Army officer’s convention in Topeka, Kansas, when I was about six years old.) In fact, one of the most accurate paintings I have ever seen depicting the reverse curvature of Pellucidar is the cover illustration painted by Neal Adams, for the Ballantine edition of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. You have to stare at the painting to really see it in the background. That is not a stormy sky above Tarzan and the thipdar, it is the reverse curvature of the inner world. (See a picture of the cover.) Anyway, back to Barsoom.

Having solved scientifically, to wit, pseudo-scientifically, his transmission problem, ERB was ready for his next epiphany of John Carter. That came with a vengeance in Swords of Mars (see ERBzine #0736.)

7 WONDERS: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

RUNNERS UP: I.a | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII.2.2b.3a.3b | IX | X.2.3.4
|.XI. |.XII.2.| XIII.|.XIV.|.XV.| XVI.| XVII..2.3.4 .| XVIII

A Princess of Mars
Gods of Mars
Warlord of Mars
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Chessmen of Mars
Mastermind of Mars
A Fighting Man of Mars
Swords of Mars
Synthetic Men of Mars
Llana of Gathol
Skeleton Men of Jupiter
John Carter and the Giant of Mars

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