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Volume 6676a

Continued from Part 1 in ERBzine 6676
The Martian Stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs,
A Speculation
by Richard Kyle
Ref: Riverside Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2, January 1970, pp. 110-124
From the David Sorochty Collection
Transcribed and Formatted for Web Display by Bill Hillman

For fifty-seven years, millions of men have dreamed Edgar Rice Burroughs' dreams.
Edgar Rice Burroughs lives on, beyond his critics, a people's storyteller, forever popular.
Time has a voice. It praises dreamers.
The woman -- alive when Carter entered the cave, for how else could the vapour have been produced? -- would have been an earthly analogue of Issus, the cave her temple; and the death of Issus on Barsoom would have ensured the old woman's sympathetic death on Earth. The artistic symmetry the final work so curiously lacks would have been present in such a tale. Otherwise, there is reason for neither the old woman nor for her death.

Seen in this light, other dimensions of The Gods of Mars reveal themselves. If the trilogy had grown from an earlier form of the book, then Dejah Thoris, John Carter's princess and the heroine of the trilogy, would probably not have played a part in that tale -- for her function is not crucial to events in the Valley Dor itself. Thuvia, the beautiful princess of Ptarth, who had been captured and enslaved by the Holy Therns during her mysterious pilgrimage down the River Iss, could have performed effectively in both roles. And without Dejah Thoris and the events external to Dor, the novel acquires a haunting familiarity.

If Burroughs' inspiration for The Gods of Mars is Cleopatra, then the human relationships and geography of Dor found their origin in She.

H. Rider Haggard's She is the story of a mortal woman of compelling beauty who has bathed in "the flame of Life," and who has remained youthful -- "the face before me was that of a young woman of certainly not more than thirty . . ."(l25) -- for two thousand years. Queen of a lost African-valley, the grave site of an unknown people who built a now-ruined city and constructed the cave-tombs in which she dwells, Ayesha has awaited the return of the lover she slew in frustrated passion in the dawn of her youth. Leo Vincey, a reincarnation of Kallikartes, the man who gave up Ayesha and eternal life for the love of an Egyptian princess, Amenartas, finds his way into the valley, following instructions left by Alenartas, his mother two thousand years removed. He is accompanied by his guardian and friend, the narrator of the story.

As Burroughs describes it in The Gods ot Mars, the Valley Dor lies beyond a great antarctic ice barrier. The ice fields surround the Valley Otz, he explains, which "lies in a mighty depression at the south pole. It is sunk thousands of feet below the level of the surrounding country, like a great round bowl. A hundred miles from its northern boundary rise the Otz Mountains which circle the inner valley of Dor, in the exact centre of which lies the Lost Sea of Korus. On the shore of this sea stands the Golden Temple of Issus . . . " (75-6). The River Iss flows beneath the ice fields and below the floor of the Valley Otz -- though its canyon-like channel is exposed to the sky there -- and then through the walls of the Otz Mountains to drain at last into the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor.

In Haggard's tale, the valley of Kor lies in Africa, beyond the barrier of a great swamp. The ground rises, rather than falls, until a vast plain is reached -- but from it towers an immense circular mountain of volcanic origin. A deep channel cuts across the plain and through the wall of the mountain to its hollow, roofless interior, the valley of Kor, which in lost ages had been the bed of an enormous lake. A river, drainage from the Valley, flows out this channel into the plain, and it is through the channel that Haggard's adventurers enter Kor (100-105).

Within Kor and the Valley Dor, beneath their mighty cliffs, are vast meadows and signs of cultivation. (The cliffs of Dor are shot with veins of gold, broken by outcroppings of "ruby, emerald,
and diamond boulders" (21), which suggest the "blaze of gems" that shone about Cleopatra's Amenti.) In the distance, both John Carter and Haggard's narrator catch glimpses of strange buildings, Burroughs'
character of a "gilded minaret" (28), Haggard's of "colossal ruins" (105). And then each finds refuge in a cave, part of a network of caves and tunnels that wind through the mountains' walls. The ruler of the caves apparently rules Kor, in She; and in Burroughs' story, the Holy Therns seem to rule the Valley Dor.

In The Gods ot Mars there are three principal female characters (aside from Dejah Thoris), Phaidor, willful daughter of the ruling high priest ot the Holy Therns; Thuvia, princess of Ptarth and slave of the Holy Therns; and ancient Issue, Death, "Goddess of Life Eternal," who dwells in her golden temple by the Lost Sea of Korus -- and who truly rules the Valley Dor.

In She there are -- seemingly -- only two female roles, queen Ayesha and her subject and slave, Ustane, the reincarnation of the Princess Amenartas. Both Phaidor and Thuvia love John Carter
as Ayesha and Ustane love Haggard's Leo Vineey. Their characters are analogous. But, in fact, there is a third female role in She, as well. Ayesha is two women, the young woman she appears to be, much like Phaidor; and the old, old woman, much like Issus, her seeming youth conceals -- the woman Ayesha eventually comes to be. This old woman is a personification of Death -- the true ruler of Kor.

Burroughs has described Issus in her temple, after she had summoned Phaidor to serve her (and then to be slain after the passage of a Martian year):

On this bench or throne squatted a female black. She was evidently very old. Not a hair remained upon her wrinkled skull. With the exception of two yellow tangs she was utterly toothless. On either side ot her thin, hawk-like nose her eyes burned from the depths of horribly sunken sockets. The skin of her face was seamed and creased in a million deep cut furrows. Her body was as wrinkled as her face, and as repulsive. Emaciated arms and legs attached to a torso which seemed to be mostly distorted abdomen completed the 'holy vision of her radiant beauty.' (85)
And Haggard has described Ayesha after Death summoned her in the cave of the flame of Life (237), immediately following her ill-omened journey to the haunted ruins of the Temple of Truth
in the city of Kor, the "colossal ruins" Haggard's narrator had glimpsed upon entering the valley. Her appearance paralleled that of Gagool, the ancient and dreadful witch-woman of King
Solomon's Mines (136-7), and foreshadowed both that of Issus and the "mummified remains of the little old woman with the long black hair" in the Arizona cave:
Smaller and smaller she grew; her skin changed colour, and in the place of the perfect whiteness of its lustre it had turned a dirty brown and yellow, like an old piece of withered parchment. . . . The delicate hand was nothing but a claw now, a human talon resembling that of a badly preserved Egyptian mummy . . .  Now the skin had puckered into a million wrinkles, and on her shapeless
face was the stamp of unutterable age. She, who but two minutes gone had gazed upon us -- the loveliest, noblest, most splendid woman the world has ever seen - she lay before us, near the masses of her own dark hair, no larger than a big ape, and hideous -- ah, too hideous for words. (237)
Death as a carnate image had ceased to be, Death as a haunt, a phantom, still lived and ruled in the ancient ruins of the Temple of Truth, forever beyond the will of Man. She did not so live in her golden temple in The Gods of Mars.
"First Born," [John Carter] cried, turning to those who stood within the chamber, "you have seen today the impotency of Issus -- the gods are omnipotent. Issus is no god. She is a cruel and wicked old woman, who has deceived and played upon you for ages." (187)
And the Issus torn to bits by her former subjects was mortal.

    Edgar Rice Burroughs' gift was to understand Haggard's anguished personal story and the metaphysical statement implicit in it. Instinct led him safely through the mother-oriented world dramatized in King Solomon's Mines and She and Cleopatra, and into the masculine domain beyond. He saw as Haggard never could that Woman was not Mother, and the conflicts that Haggard could only resolve in a denial of the flesh, in spirituality, and in death did not exist for him. Moreover, the death that the tormented Haggard embraced as a solution was anathema to Burroughs.

    In its earliest conception, then, The Gods of Mars may have been the single story of a man taken by Death, who refuses to die, who rebels, and who destroys Death herself. Where the guilt ridden Ayesha, the eternal woman, seemingly forever thirty, surrenders to the will of Isis (for Haggard's is always a morbidly feminine world, one filled with iron whim but forever yielding to Fate), the vital, life-seeking John Carter, the eternal man, forever thirty, denies Issus and demands Life, a rebel even in Hell.

    This version, however, would have been no more than She reshaped by a healthy masculine mind. It would have cried no to death, but it would have given life no new direction. Instead, The Gods of Mars became part of a trilogy, and around it grew a whole new world, but a world that drew its inspiration from the distant, pre-Christian past as well as from the present.

Beyond the Valley Dor, in the dreams that came to him before his sleep, Burroughs constructed a new civilization, one reborn upon the ruins of the old. He built it of Percival Lowell's theories of Mars, of his own recollection of the Arizona desert and the Indians who journeyed -- like Green Martians  -- across its face, of Greek mythology and its heroes, of his own imaginative speculations and those of others, and of his private dreams. Behind them all, however, giving form and purpose to nature and events, was Darwin's theory of evolution -- for Barsoom is a dramatic recreation of "the survival of the fittest": a world that revels in its animality, where men are born from eggs, and live the savage lives of predacious beasts; where men and women exult in their naked bodies, and hot-blooded passion, often absurdly real, evokes no shame.

Pale Ayesha, who ate only fruit and would not touch the flesh of animals, had died after two thousand years of life, turned into a large and ancient ape -- even as Haggard's generation saw divine, God-created Man dying with the birth of evolution, after two thousand years of Christianity, leaving behind only a large and ancient ape. Haggard's novel paralleled the public's unspoken fantasies, particularly in England, with its dead prince and aging queen. It dramatized their loss, and his private mourning became their own. But in uniting evolution with his personal conflicts, Haggard tainted Darwin's theory. He put upon it a sick and irrelevant moral evaluation, one that -- unconsciously accepted by the public -- must have intensified Victorian revulsion for the flesh.

Burroughs, the American, however, saw proof of Man's divinity in the living body itself, perceiving in our long evolutionary struggle the certain evidence that Man was more than the "beasts that perish." He took a Westerner's pride in our savage will to survive, to understand and dominate our world, to set our sight on goals the other animals could never know.

And so he clothed cold Darwinism in human warmth, replacing the morgue-like images that She and Huxley's lectures and Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau evoked, and he gave his characters the nobility he knew they must have as men.

From there, it would be only one step further to Tarzan of the Apes.

Two astral bodies hurtling across space to other worlds, Isis and Issus, Kor and Korus, twin Valleys of Death, the Eternal Woman and the Eternal Man, and all the other similitudes -- all these could be coincidence. But I do not think so.

Surely, Cleopatra and She and -- perhaps -- King Solomon's Mines gave Edgar Rice Burroughs the crucial symbols with which to utter his most deeply felt emotions. But The Gods of Mars is not the work of a mere fabricator of "entertainment" who lifts plot gimmicks and story devices from this book and that. It is the work of a protagonist of his times. Burroughs came to his Martian trilogy not as an imitator of H. Rider Haggard's ideas, but as a determined opponent of the despairing philosophy of Haggard and the Establishment of his era.

In The Gods of Mars he makes no effort to conceal his source. He states It openly, and argues against its author's beliefs and the neurotic beliefs of the post-Darwin generation. And he advances his own dreams of a new and vital and affirmative world to supplant the gloomy ruin of the past.

For fifty-seven years, millions of men have dreamed Edgar Rice Burroughs' dreams. Our own inhospitable Mars is no longer far Barsoom. But the deeper dreams remain. There, the world has scarcely changed, and so Edgar Rice Burroughs lives on, beyond his critics, a people's storyteller, forever popular.

Time has a voice. It praises dreamers.

1) She (Lancer Books, 1966), 134 (originally published in 1887) .
2) A Princess of Mars (Ballantine, 1963), 12 (originally published in six parts as "Under the Moons of Mars," by "Norman Bean," in The All-Story Magazine , February-July 1912).
3) Allan J. Tompkins, ed. The ERB Digest (Australia, 1967), 48 (citing H.H. Heins and Hulbert Burroughs
4) King Solomon's Mines (Dell, 1961), 50 (originally published in 1885)
5) The Gods of Mars (Ballantine, 1969), 46 (originally published in five parts in The All-Story Magazine, January-May 1913).
6) The "Hall of the Dead" in King Solomon's Mines (239-244) strongly suggests Manator's "Hall of Chiefs" In Burroughs' The Chessmen of Mars (107 ff.). Too, the life-like embalming and
mounting practices of Manator are not unlike those of ancient Kor in She (147-150).
7) Cleopatra (Pocket Books, Inc., 1963), 54-6 (original publication date: 1889).
8) The Gods of Mars, 13; She 104-5.
9) The Gods of Mars is not the only Burroughs novel that appears to have modern sources. The Mad King is unmistakably derived from Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda. A likely explanation, since
the story was written early In Burroughs' career, is that he had "revised" The Prisoner of Zenda in his mind after he first read it -- and well before he became a professional writer -- casting the tale into a form that suited his own philosophy. "He used to put himself to sleep by telling himself all kinds of stories about life on other planets and in the far corners of the earth," John Harwood wrote in "The Master of Adventure" for the Burroughs Bibliophiles. Unlike The Gods of Mars, however, The Mad King was not transformed into a wholly new work. Entertaining enough, the story is of interest primarily for the glimpse it provides of that early, pre-literary Burroughs.
10) Editor's note: For details on the Homeric sources of the Barsoom series see Mr. Kyle's letter in RQ III, 244.


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