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Volume 7151

Encounters with the Elders of Barsoom…
By Laurence Dunn
I saw no signs of extreme age among them, nor is there any appreciable difference in their appearance from the age of maturity, about forty, until, at about the age of one thousand years, they go voluntarily upon their last strange pilgrimage down the river Iss…

Only about one Martian in a thousand dies of sickness or disease, and possibly about twenty take the voluntary pilgrimage.  The other nine hundred and seventy-nine die violent deaths in duels, in hunting, in aviation, and in war…

The average life expectancy of a Martian after the age of maturity is about three hundred years, but would be much nearer the one thousand mark were it not for the various means leading to violent death.

~ A Princess of Mars
Such was John Carter's perspective of the life expectancy of all Martians shortly after his first advent on the red planet.  In the years that followed and during his many adventures, Carter would come to meet some very old Martians, and he would find that frailty was not always a characteristic in old age Martians as it is in their Earthly counterparts.

John Carter's first encounter with Martian old age came at the Atmosphere Plant.  An impressive structure that covered four square miles, rose two hundred feet into the air and covered with a glass domed roof that was built to furnish the planet with the air that all life on the planet depended upon in which to survive.

Then a door opened at the far side of the chamber and a strange, dried up, little mummy of a man came towards me.  He wore but a single article of clothing or adornment - a small collar of gold from which depended upon his chest a great ornament as large as a dinner plate set solid with diamonds, except for the centre which was occupied by a strange stone

The un-named keeper of the Atmosphere Plant who came to Carter's aid was singularly remarkable amongst the Barsoomian races in that he had the ability to see right through Carter's body with x-ray vision clarity.  No other Barsoomian appeared to have this ability as Carter's later disguised adventures would have got no further than stepping outside his own front door.  Not even Dejah Thoris was able to tell that Carter was from another world when they first met.  Other than the fact his skin colour was not red, merely being human in appearance was enough for her to ask his help.

The keeper later felt that the security of the Atmosphere Plant had been compromised during his discussions with Carter and had every intention of making sure that Carter would never be able to divulge its secrets.  In later chapters, the keeper and all of Barsoom would come to praise Issus (who was still at that time revered) that Carter escaped that night with the knowledge of being able to open the doors to the plant.

Twenty years will have passed before we next encounter old age on Barsoom.  In the meantime, John Carter has spent 10 years with his wife Dejah Thoris, and 10 years separated from her, trapped on Earth.  When he finally returns to the red planet, he finds himself at the mercy of Issus, Goddess of Eternal Life.  Indeed, his first encounter was one of humiliation as he was forced down to his hands and knees and to crawl backward towards her.  Carter's initial reaction to the appearance of Issus was through Phaidor.

I could not see the girl's face as her eyes rested for the first time on the Supreme Deity of Mars, but I felt the shudder that ran through her in the trembling flesh of the arm that touched mine.

'It must be dazzling loveliness indeed' thought I, 'to cause such emotion in the breast of so radiant a beauty as Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang.'

A short time later, Carter had the opportunity to see this vision of loveliness for himself.
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 fangs she was entirely toothless.  On either side of her thin, hawk-like nose her eyes burned from the depths of horribly sunken sockets.  The skin of her face was seamed and crinkled with 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 radiant beauty.'

The lifelong friendship that would later exist between John Carter and Xodar almost fell at the first hurdle when he told the black Dator what he really thought of Issus.
'I mean that I thought her the most repulsive and vilely hideous creature my eyes had ever rested upon.'
It was an opinion shared by Carthoris.  Like father, like son.
'I looked upon the radiant beauty of Issus nearly a year since.  It has always been a source of keen wonder to me that I did not drop dead at the first sight of that hideous countenance.  And her belly!  By my first ancestor, but never was there so grotesque a figure in all the universe.'
Issus almost had the last laugh on Carter when she imprisoned Dejah Thoris with the vengeful Phaidor in the Temple of the Sun.  But it was to be her last wicked act as Omean was overrun with red and green men, fighting side by side against the First Born.  When the highest noble of her realm called upon her to strike dead the blasphemers, her end came swiftly enough.
And then it was that she went mad. A screaming, gibbering maniac writhed in my grasp.  It bit and clawed and scratched in impotent fury.  And then it laughed a weird and terrible laughter that froze the blood.
After revealing to Carter just exactly what she had done with his wife, Carter pushed the former deity into the 'waiting clutches of her betrayed and vengeful people.'  It was only later that Carter discovered that in their rage, her people had torn her to pieces.  So ended the corrupt religion that had dominated Barsoom for an eternity.

At the other end of the world sat Solan.

'He who faced me was a yellow man - a little wizened-up, pasty-faced old fellow with great eyes that showed the white round the entire circumference of the iris'
Solan was probably the most powerful man of the North. He was not royalty, nor did he head a government or even an army, yet he held the life of every man, woman and child in the grasp of his hand.  Carter, having escaped the Pit of Plenty, first came across Solan at an opportune moment when he was in deep conversation with Thurid, the black Dator.
The control room that had been put in Solan's charge, controlled not only the sun ray tanks that stored the city's heating system, but also a large magnetic pole known as Guardian of the North that was so strong that no ship once caught in its power, could ever escape.  But if John Carter thought the old man to have slowed down in his advancing years, he was sadly mistaken.  To prevent Helium's invasion fleet from being dashed into the magnetic pole, he had to cut its power and to do that, he had to get past Solan.  Throughout the years that Carter would spend on Barsoom, few one-on-one battles would last as long as they did that day.  Such was his admiration for the fighting skill of Solan, that he felt it a calamity that there were none should ever have witnessed the duel that passed in that room.  In a moment of desperation during the fight, Carter threw the switch with the tip of his sword knowing full well that he would court death by leaving his breast exposed.  But it was Solan that made the mistake by reaching to return the lever to its original position and so leaving himself exposed.  Solan died that day, but what a warrior he must have been during his youth.

In his search for Tara, Gahan had finally caught up with the Warlord's daughter in the city of Manator.  Deep beneath the palace, they discover the ghoulish playground of I-Gos, the 2000-year-old architect behind the silent figures that line the balconies that overlook the city.

…he discovered a strange figure of a man standing in a doorway.  It was one of those rarities occasionally to be seen on Barsoom - an old man, with the signs of age upon him.  Bent and wrinkled, he had more the appearance of a mummy than an old man.
Apart from those that chose to take that final voyage down the River Iss, the dead are normally buried, or as in the case of ancient Horz, embalmed and placed in the catacombs below the city.  But in Manator, the dead are placed in the hands of a taxidermist and live on in silent splendour for all to see.

Ulysses Paxton did not have as long to wait as John Carter to see the appearance of old age on Barsoom.  In fact, old age in a person was the first sight he saw upon his arrival on the red planet.

He appeared to be quite an old man, for he was wrinkled and withered beyond description.  His limbs were emaciated; his ribs showed distinctly beneath his shrunken hide; his cranium was large and well developed, which, in conjunction with his wasted limbs and torso, lent him the appearance of top-heaviness, as though he had a head beyond all proportion to his body... he stared down upon me through enormous, many lensed spectacles… five feet five in height… his skin was red, his scant locks grey.
Ras Thavas was the master surgeon upon Barsoom, how old we do not know exactly but he confesses to be beyond a thousand years.  Placing Vad Varo (Paxton) under his wing, Ras Thavas trains the former soldier into a first-class surgeon until the day comes when he is good enough to carry out his plan of transplanting his brain into a much younger body.  As barely as a few months will have passed before he asks Vad Varo to perform this task which means that the timing of his appearance on Barsoom could not have come any closer.
The first client of the Master Mind that Vad Varo meets is Xaxa, Jeddara of Phundahl.
Here, in a large, gorgeously decorated and sumptuously furnished apartment an elderly red-woman awaited us.  She appeared to be quite old and her face was terribly disfigured as by some injury.
Xaxa is there to have her brain transferred into the much younger body of Valla Dia so that she may continue a reign of terror over her subjects.  But Vad Varo has other plans and steals back the body to its rightful owner.  Xaxa's end comes quickly as Dar Tarus is proclaimed the new monarch.

Xaxa fell foaming to the floor.  She shrieked and gasped and then lay still - a wicked old woman dead of apoplexy.

There are others too like Phor Tak, a brilliant scientist but treated badly by his native city of Jahar.  He declares war on Barsoom by developing an invisibility paint that he intends to apply to a flying torpedo, his “flying death”.  With his familiar cry of “Heigh Oo”, one has to wonder if Phor Tak had a yearning for the days when ships sailed the five oceans of Barsoom.

But those that John Carter had met during his long years upon Barsoom were mere children to those that he found beneath the city of Horz.  Having been imprisoned in the pits alongside Pan Dan Chee awaiting their execution, John Carter meets the ancient embalmer Lum Tar O.

His appearance was most repulsive.  He was naked except for the harness which supported a sword and a dagger, and the skin of his malformed body was a ghastly white - the colour of a corpse.  His flabby mouth hung open, revealing a few yellow fangs.  His eyes were wide and round, the whites showing entirely around the irises.  He had no nose, it appeared to have been eaten away by some disease.
After John Carter dispatches Lum Tar O for attempting to place him in a never-ending sleep, the other inhabitants of the pits awaken from their embalmed state only to find a very different Barsoom to the one they had left.  Their end comes quickly and mercifully as time catches up on them and they crumble to dust.

What is the life span of a Barsoomian?  Shortly after his arrival on the red planet, John Carter would have us believe they could live as long as 1000 years.  The few that managed to achieve this longevity were rewarded for their efforts by taking the last pilgrimage down the River Iss to Heaven.  Others however decided to carry on with their lives until a natural death finally befell them.  In the case of Lum Tar O, the poor fellow survived in his embalmed state for a million years, never realising that he was already dead.  Whatever the truth may be, it would seem that will, endurance and great deal of luck play a major part in achieving old age on Barsoom.

A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
A Princess of Mars
The Gods of Mars
Mastermind of Mars
Llana of Gathol
ERBapa: Edgar Rice Burroughs Amateur Press Association

Laurence Dunn is a 65-year-old retired structural engineer,
who has attended over 40 ERB conventions in the US, UK, and Canada.
He is the author of several articles that have appeared in the Burroughs Bulletin, ERB News Dateline,
ERB Collector, Fantastic Worlds of ERB, The Anotar, the ERB-APA. . .  and ERBzine.
Laurence is pictured here at Peveril Castle, Castleton in 2017 attended by members of the British ERB Society.

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