Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 7185

by Alan Hanson

by Alan Hanson
Likeable, disappointing, loyal, selfish, clever, inept, inventive, helpless, intelligent, foolish — on the surface Carson Napier fluctuates between extremes. He’s hard to get comfortable with. Drop John Carter or Tarzan into a sticky situation, and you can bet they’ll come out fighting and on top. They’re predictable, but not Carson. In any given situation, he’s just as liable not to act as to act, just as likely to turn and run as to stand his ground. He’s a puzzling enigma — or is he? Is there a pattern to the confusion Carson exhibits on the surface? Let’s try a short multiple choice test to see if you understand the real Carson Napier. We’ll start with a sample question.

Sample Question: Carson Napier is

 a. a classic hero
b. an unlikely hero
c. a comic hero
d. not a hero

Well, our first impression of him certainly is that of a man high in hero potential. He walked into ERB’s office and came directly to the point. He commanded attention. Light skin, blue eyes, blond hair, athletic and muscular, exceptionally handsome and smiling. He planned mankind’s greatest adventure, and in its preparation he inspired loyalty and enthusiasm in those around him. How is it, then, that he came to be generally considered the most incompetent clod in the Burroughs pantheon of heroes?

First of all, Carson obviously suffers by comparison. He possibly possesses the physical strength of John Carter or Tarzan, but he displayed neither the fighting skill of the former nor the nobility of the latter. Of course, we must take into account that Carson was not as prepared for his adventures as were the two ERB super heroes. Carter was already trained and tested in fighting traditions before arriving on the red planet. Before Tarzan had to deal with the dilemmas of civilization, his unerring sense of right and wrong had already been developed during a childhood among the beasts. On the other hand, when Carson floated down through the clouds of Amtor, he was a man who had never carried weapons and whose adventures had been confined to the athletic arena.

Still, Carson was surely capable of heroic acts. There are examples in the Venus series of willing self-sacrifice and his taking action in the face of overwhelming odds. Carson departs from the image of a classic hero, however, in that, as noted earlier, he was not always willing to sacrifice himself, and, in some situations, he withered in the face of overwhelming odds. At times that made him a disappointing hero, but a hero nevertheless. Carson’s lack of preparation for his adventures makes him an unlikely hero. You should have marked “b” on your answer sheet for the sample question.

Now let’s go on with the main part of the test, which covers several selected aspects of Carson Napier’s seemingly enigmatic attitude and behavior. Remember, choose the best answer. Set your own time limit. When you have made your choice, read on to find the correct answer.

Question #1: Carson Napier is

a. an optimist
b. a pessimist
c. a fatalist
d. an adventurer

Carson Napier himself would have a hard time answering this question. Consider the following statements, all Carson’s assessments of himself.
I’m something of an optimist.”
“Each morning that I awoke on Venus it was with a sense of surprise that I still lived.”
“While I live I shall never admit the possibility of death. Somehow it doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.”
“One must die eventually … so he might as well crowd all the adventure and experience into his life that he can.”

It is true that at times Carson acted optimistically, but it was rarely out of confidence in his own abilities. When Carson got a good feeling in a tight situation, it was usually because he counted on luck. Take his experience in the room of seven doors. “I have always enjoyed more than my share of the lucky ‘breaks’ of life, and now something seemed to tell me that fate was driving me toward the one door beyond which lay life and liberty. So it was with the optimism of almost assured success that I leaped from the table and the yawning jaws of the great snake and ran toward that fateful door.” Of course, his optimism proved unfounded.

Carson was just as likely to dwell on the dark side of a difficult situation. After Duare had escaped from Voo-ad, Carson and Ero Shan both had dreams as they hung on the wall in the Museum of Natural History. Ero Shan’s dream was hopeful, if not exactly prophetic. He envisioned all of them back in Havatoo with Nalte preparing them a wonderful dinner. And what did Carson, the self-styled optimist, dream? “I saw the anotar crash, and I saw Duare’s broken body lying dead.”

Carson surely did not play the optimist when he encountered a challenge. His initial reaction when faced with trouble was almost always one of hopelessness and despair. Even before arriving on Venus, Carson displayed this tendency. He described how the death of his mother left him absolutely stunned. Life seemed to hold no interest for him immediately thereafter, and he embarked on a life of recklessness. Then on Venus, consider his initial reaction to being swept off the deck of the Sofal by a huge wave. “Even in the immensity of interstellar space I had never felt more helpless nor more hopeless than I did at that moment on the storm-lashed sea of an unknown world, surrounded by darkness and chaos and what terrible creatures of this mysterious deep I could not even guess. I was lost!” In Carson of Venus, when Carson saw Duare flew away from Sanara without him, his heart sank. “I was utterly unnerved as I sat there staring out across that lonely ocean after my lost love.”

However, Carson’s adventures on Venus would have been short indeed had he not been able to shake off his initial feeling of helplessness. There seemed to have been three major motivations that inspired Carson to rise up in the face of impending doom — Duare, friendship, and survival instinct.

Like most Burroughs heroes, Carson Napier would face the eternal devil to earn an approving look from his lady. A good example of how the thought of Duare could overcome Carson’s initial feeling of despair and replace it with determination came when she told him she didn’t love him, even after he had killed Moosko to rescue her. “I felt suddenly cold and wary and forlorn,” recalled Carson. “All hope of happiness was crushed in my breast. I turned away from her. I no longer cared what happened to me. But only for an instant did this mood possess me. No matter whether she loved me or not, my duty remained plain before me; I must get her out of Kapdor, out of the clutches of the Thorists and, if possible, return her to her father.”

Carson often put himself in danger to protect Duare. In Lost on Venus, virtually unarmed he faced a basto, a vere, and a “shaggy creature as large as an elephant” to defend her. In Carson on Venus, he refused the honors Tamon offered him in Sanara and sailed out into the vast ocean in search of her. “I shall never rest in peace until I know that I have done all that man can do to rescue Duare,” he asserted. Then there was Carson’s most melodramatic testimony of his devotion. When he and Duare were suspended on the nobargan grills and about to be barbecued, Carson turned to her and said, “I would rather be here with you, Duare, than to be anywhere else in the universe without you.” At least in his worship of Duare, Carson was not a disappointing hero.

Once Carson formed a friendship, that also proved strong motivation to overcome his lack of confidence. After he and Duare escaped from Mypos, Carson was uncomfortable with leaving Dandar and Artol as captives in the city. “I had commenced to feel responsible for them,” he explained. “I think we always feel responsible for our friends. I know I do.” His return to rescue them was but one example of his willingness to place himself in danger on a friend’s behalf. He also faced the perils of the dead city of Kormor to rescue Nalte, who had helped him escape from Skor earlier. When he could have easily left the Zani city of Amlot and returned to Duare in Sanara, Carson stopped to warn his friend Zerka of the danger she was in, although it resulted in Carson’s own capture. On returning to Sanara, Carson delayed leaving in search of Duare long enough to go undercover and rescue Nna, the daughter of his friend Taman, from her kidnappers.

So Carson could muster up some fortitude when the safety of Duare or a friend was at stake. But what about when he was alone? What motivation saw him through then? Well, if Carson did not attack hopeless situations with confidence of a John Carter or a Tarzan, he at least wasn’t a quitter. Carson, while usually expecting failure and death, nevertheless was always able to convince himself to do something, however feeble, in his own defense. He was a survivor. Although hopeless after being swept into the sea off the Sofal, Carson was not willing to meekly go down for the third time. “No matter how favorably I thought of living,” he noted, “I knew that I must also do something about it. My present situation offered me no chance of salvation; the shore alone could give me life; so I struck out for the shore. As I drew nearer it, many things, some of them quite irrelevant, passed through my mind; but some were relevant, among them the Burial Service. It was not a nice time to think of this, but then we cannot always control our thoughts; however, ‘In the midst of life we are in death’ seemed wholly appropriate to my situation. By twisting it a bit, I achieved something that contained the germ of hope — in the midst of death there is life.”

This unwillingness to crawl into a shell and let the wave of oblivion pass over him was what saved Carson time and time again. When he faced his first beast of Amtor high in the trees of Vepaja, he only had a rope to defend himself. Yet in despair he flicked it in the face of the creature, and it led to his salvation. In the room of seven doors, Carson forsook the easy death of the poison drink and opened a door, risking a horrible death for that one-in-seven chance of life. In Skor’s castle Carson stood with the point of the jong’s sword at his belly. “I might have grasped it, but its edges were so sharp that it would have slipped through my fingers, severing them as it plunged into my body,” he reasoned.“Yet that I intended doing. I would not wait like a sheep the lethal blow of the butcher.”

There is a final question to ask about the confusing motivation of Carson Napier. Why did a man, apparently lacking the level of confidence needed to deal with dangerous situations, so often find himself in them? The answer lies in perhaps his most redeeming heroic quality. He was an adventurer. He was born and raised to be one by a father who went out tiger hunting on elephants. “When I was young I used to dream of living an adventurous life,” Carson recalled. “It may be that these youthful dreams more or less shape one’s later life. Perhaps that is why I took up flying when I was old enough. It may account for the rocket ship I built for a trip to Mars — a trip that ended on Venus!” When Carson first realized his rocket was going to hit Venus, he still expected death, as sure as if he were flying into the sun. “Yet I was excited,” he admitted. “Now that the great adventure loomed so close I was overwhelmed by contemplation of it and the great wonder that it induced. What would follow?”

Once on Venus the thrill of adventure spurred him into further unknown regions and mysterious escapades, overcoming even the fear of death. Commanding the Sofal, he became a pirate seeking the excitement of preying on Thorist shipping and exploring portions of Amtor. “The entire northern hemisphere was a terra incognita to the men of the southern hemisphere, and for that reason I had been anxious to explore it.” Even in the room of seven doors, with death close at hand, Carson’s only regret seemed to be that he would never know the strange races and the new civilizations that he might have discovered in the northlands. It is fitting that Carson’s final adventure on Venus resulted from this desire to explore the unknown. To give the newly built anotar a test flight, Carson chose to fly west, far over the unexplored portion of Anlap, and there he found the Wizard of Venus.

It is when he spoke of the alluring call of adventure that Carson Napier seemed most appealing. “Only by comparison,” he dreamed, “might I make you see the landscape that stretched before our eyes … intriguing, provocative, compelling, always beckoning one on to further investigation, to new adventure.” At times Carson was an optimist, a pessimist, and a fatalist, but he was always an adventurer. The best answer to question one, therefore, is “d.”

Now that we have determined that Carson Napier was an adventurer at heart, for the second question of the test, let’s move our attention to his head.

Question #2: Carson Napier is

 a. intelligent
b. stupid
c. foolish
d. two of the above

If there is one area in which Carson Napier seems to have it over John Carter and Tarzan, it would seem to be intelligence. Certainly Carson was well educated on his home planet. He grew up in India under the tutorage of Chand Kabi, who taught him “many things that are not in the curriculum of schools for boys under ten. Among them was telepathy.” Years later in California, Carson attended a small college at Claremont, “which is known for its high scholastic standing and the superior personnel of both its faculty and student body.”

Napier graduated with honors in studies that must have been scientific in nature, for he often demonstrated a quick mind when it came to figures. Carson himself worked out the calculations for his trip to Mars and directed the construction of the gigantic rocket ship on Guadalupe Island. After takeoff, when Carson first realized his ship might collide with the Moon, he showed how fast his mind could work. “I leaped to the periscope, and in the next few seconds I accomplished some lightning mental calculating that must constitute an all-time record,” he modestly explained. “As I watched the deflection of our course in the direction of the Moon, following it across the lens of the periscope, I computed the distance to the Moon and the speed of the torpedo, and I came to the conclusion that I had better than a fighting chance of missing the great orb.”

If Carson, then, can be granted a high level of natural intelligence, the next question to ask is, “How well was he able to apply his intelligence in dealing with the problems of the real world?” Of course, his first attempt to do so was a colossal failure. It is the first great irony, the first great inconsistency of his adventures, that after years of studying the planets, making space flight calculations, and building a rocket, his plan failed because he overlooked the most basic of considerations. “Explain it if you can; I cannot,” was the only defense Carson could offer for his failure to include the gravitational pull of the Moon in his calculations.

Well, allowing that even the most brilliant of minds can make one simple mistake, more to the point is how Carson used his intellect once he had been deposited on Amtor. First of all, in Vepaja it only took Carson three weeks to learn to speak, read, and write the Venusan language. Even the multi-tongued Tarzan would envy that feat.

“I can use my brains as well as my sword,” explained Carson to his shipmates on the Nojo Ganja near the end of Carson of Venus. (Considering the quality of his swordsmanship, it was fortunate that Carson had his brain to fall back on.) Indeed, there are many instances of Carson using his smarts to extradite himself from sticky situations. For example, in the room of seven doors Carson was no physical match for the creatures loosed upon him, but the mere touch of the noose above him gave quick birth to thought and Carson climbed to safety.

Later in Havatoo, Carson’s intelligence saved him three times. First, his knowledge of the universe, causally mentioned, caused the janjong to reverse the death sentence they had pronounced upon him. Then, when Carson had gone under the river to rescue Duare and Nalte from the dead city of Kormor, he faced a dilemma when the disguises he and the girls were using were reported to Skor. Carson’s hastily devised plan to remove the disguises and walk toward the searchers to disarm suspicion worked and they escaped to Havatoo. There Carson faced a third crisis when the “impure” Duare was condemned to death. When Carson first heard of Duare’s sentence, rescue never came to mind. The plan came as a sudden inspiration when he visited Duare at Hara Es’s house. He tied up Hara Es and returned home with Ero Shan, only to return later to retrieve Duare. They then flew away into the night to close the second volume of the series.

In Carson of Venus the quick-witted Napier was at work again. First, he devised a plan to divert suspicion away from Lodas, a royalist agent at whose farm Carson landed the anotar on his way to infiltrate the Zani city of Amlot. Carson had Lodas loudly order him to leave the farm. After landing the anotar on an island, Carson was brought back to the mainland by Lodas in his boat. “You are a very smart man to have thought of this plan,” acknowledged Lodas. Later, of course, there was Carson’s ingenious plan to determine whether or not Mintep was an inmate in Amlot’s Prison of Death. “I finally hit upon a plan that I hoped would serve my purpose,” noted Carson. “With difficulty, I wrote some very bad verse in Amtorian, which I sang to a tune that had been popular in America when I left Earth. In two of the verses was the message I wished to use to elicit a sign from Mintep that he was a prisoner there, and thus to locate his cell.”

Carson’s intelligence was a relative thing on Venus. More often than not, what saved Carson was not his own intelligence as much as the stupidity of his adversaries. This disparity in intelligence was most obvious on the numerous occasions that Carson was able to simply talk his way out of trouble. When Anoos the spy had been murdered aboard the Sofal by one of Carson’s Soldiers of Liberty, Carson convinced the dense Thorist captain that Anoos was actually trying to foment a mutiny. In Carson of Venus, Mephis ordered Napier tortured immediately after capturing him at Zerka’s home. However, Carson got Mephis to rescind the order by telling him the city would be bombed in the morning if he were harmed. Later in the same novel, when the pirates of Nojo Canja captured Carson, he knew that he faced sure death. Instead, Carson survived by arrogantly telling the captain he should make him one of his officers, thus earning the captain’s respect. When the Myposans captured Carson in Escape on Venus, he kept possession of his pistol by convincing his captors that anyone who touched the weapon would die. Carson used the same strategy in The Wizard of Venus when he told the members of Tovar’s family that touching the anotar would bring death.

The most remarkable thing about Carson’s intelligence, however, was not when he did use it, but rather when he didn’t use it. He possessed a particular mental ability of immense power, but he never applied it until the end of his chronicled adventures on Venus. Carson knew the potential of his telepathic skills before he even left Earth. He caused visions of both a female figure and himself to appear in the author’s office. During his years on Venus, he periodically beamed his adventures across the void to the author. And yet, it was not until he encountered the Wizard of Venus that Napier thought to put this mental talent to use on Amtor. Often he could have used it to inspire trust in people, as when his vision of Vanaja’s father counseled her to trust Carson. And he could have used it to escape capture, such as when his conjured vision of himself led Morgas and his men on a wild goose chase across the valley. And when in captivity, he could have used telepathy to free himself, like when his vision of Morgas ordered the jailer to free Carson and his companions from the wizard’s castle.

In Carson’s defense, he did offer an explanation for declining to use this power. “I have practiced these powers but seldom, for I have the Anglo-Saxon’s feeling of repugnance for anything that smacks of the black art,” he lamely explained. Still, once deciding to use the power, Carson showed no repugnance in causing Morgas’s death with it. The fact is that rather than making a moral decision not to use his telepathic skills, he simply seemed to forget that he had them through the first four volumes of the series.

Carson’s intelligence surely did not see him through all his problems on Venus. In fact, there were times when he seemed positively dense. In Lost on Venus, he seemed unaware of Duare’s obvious jealousy toward Nalte. In Carson of Venus, he failed to see through Muso’s thinly veiled deceit in sending him on a death mission to Amlot. And he made a foolish error in judgment when he stopped to visit Zerka instead of sailing away from Amlot with the rescued Mintep.

What, then, is the final evaluation of Carson Napier’s intelligence? First, there can be no doubt that in some respects he appears to be the most intelligent person on Amtor. After all, he did build the anotar in Havatoo, and after he left, it took Ero Shan and “some of the best minds in Havatoo” a long time, even using Carson’s plans, to build another ship. While capable of prodigious mental calculations, he occasionally overlooked the most simplistic of facts. He demonstrated the ability to come up with lifesaving plans on the run, while at other times the obvious escaped him. He had the power to throw his thoughts millions of miles across the void to Earth, yet he forgot he had these skills, even when they could easily have saved his life. Intellectually he was an enigma.

In fairness, the final evaluation of Carson’s intelligence should be his own: “It seems to me that I always plan intelligently, sometimes over meticulously; and then up jumps the Devil and everything goes haywire. However, in all fairness, I must admit that it is usually my fault and attributable to a definite timorousness which is characteristic of me. I am rash. I take chances. I know that that is stupid. The thing that reflects most discredit upon my intelligence is the fact that oftentimes I know the thing I am about to do is stupid, and yet I go ahead and do it.”

Carson, then, admitted what the evidence shows. He is intelligent, but he was often incapable of the directed and consistent use of that intelligence. Carson called it stupidity, but foolishness is more accurate. He is both intelligent and foolish. The answer to question #2, then, is “d.” How are you doing so far? We are now halfway through the test.

Concluded in Part II: ERBzine 7186
From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
1. Pirates of Venus
2. Lost on Venus
3. Carson of Venus
4. Escape on Venus
5. The Wizard of Venus
    (Tales of Three Planets)

Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

Visit our thousands of other sites at:
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2020 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.