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Volume 7186

by Alan Hanson

Continued from Part I at 1785
by Alan Hanson
We have now determined Carson Napier to be an adventurer always and an intelligent fellow at times. In spite of that, he is generally considered a “wimp” in the Burroughs pantheon of heroes. But did the course of his life on Venus support that conclusion? The next question in our test will reveal the answer to that query.

Question #3: Carson Napier is

 a. compassionate
b. a heartless killer
c. a survivor
d. all of the above

“As he drew his dagger and struck at me, I ran his own blade through his heart.” Thus did Carson Napier take human life for the first time. He victim was one of two Thorists Carson killed in Duare’s garden to thwart the princess’s abduction in Pirates of Venus. Carson was clearly not a fighting man when he arrived on Venus, and although he survived the encounter in the garden that day, it was not due to confidence in his fighting ability. “The fellows had backed me against the wall,” he admitted, “where I was confident that I must go down in defeat beneath four swords wielded by men more accustomed to them than I.”

It was as a fighting man that Carson Napier underwent his greatest and most sudden change. He came to Venus with neither the skills nor the instincts of a fighting man. During his adventures chronicled in the first three books of the series, he developed fighting skills out of necessity. He learned to carry weapons and he learned to kill, but he only did so when it was necessary. Still, throughout the first three volumes, Carson’s aggressive instincts were tempered by a sense of compassion and fair play. However, in the adventures recounted in Escape on Venus, a great change came over him. He killed often, unemotionally, and sometimes with pleasure. The sudden change from Carson the compassionate to Carson the Bloody is inexplicable. It is yet another anomaly in the enigma that is Carson Napier.

When Carson came to Venus, he was not a fighting man, but he had the physical raw materials to be one. He described himself as an athletically inclined young man who, as he grew up, developed his muscles through swimming, boxing, and wrestling. During his collegiate days in California he was a successful amateur middleweight boxer, and he took up fencing seriously in Germany after graduation. The latter was the only training he had ever had in the use of weapons. He never carried them and never used them outside of the competitive arena prior to arriving on Venus.

The fact that Carson, in addition to lacking a familiarity with weapons, also lacked an aggressive nature was shown in his attitude on leaving Earth. He certainly was not planning on conquering a world. “My friends had urged a perfect arsenal upon me before I embarked upon my adventure,” he recalled, “but I had argued that if I arrived on Mars unarmed it would be prima facie evidence of my friendly intentions.”

Of course, once having arrived on Venus, the exigencies of survival caused Carson to learn how to use weapons. In Lost on Venus, after Duare and Carson escaped from Kapdor, they both faced a primitive, unfriendly world for the first time. Initially, Carson lacked confidence. “To be perfectly frank, it seems rather hopeless inasmuch as neither of us knows where Vepaja is, or what further dangers may confront us in this land,” he confessed. But armament gave Carson a new confidence. He fashioned bow and arrows and spear. “I cannot express the change that came over me with the possession of weapons,” he explained. “I had come to feel like a hunted beast whose only defense is flight … Now I stepped out with a new stride. I was the hunter rather than the hunted. I was now equal to any emergency.”

Of course, Carson did not distinguish himself with the bow and arrow like Tarzan or the sword like John Carter. Carson’s favorite weapon was the r-ray pistol, and every time he got his hands on one his confidence soared. After killing Moosko and taking his pistol, Carson remarked, “I now felt much better, far more efficient. It is strange what the possession of weapons will do even for one not accustomed to bearing them.”

When necessary, Carson did not hesitate to kill. In Pirates of Venus, besides the two in Duare’s garden, Carson killed three more Thorists during the mutiny he led on the Sofal. In Lost on Venus, he killed only once, that when he strangled Moosko. That was necessary not only to save Duare from further torture, but also to allow Carson and Duare time to escape from Kapdor. In Carson of Venus, he killed three of Muso’s men with his pistol to effect the rescue of Nna, the daughter of Taman. Later he gunned down the pirate Folar in self-defense. No doubt an undetermined number of Zanis also died during the few weeks that Carson spent bombing their lines from the anotar.

This minimal blood shed by Carson was in keeping with the sense of compassion and fair play that he often displayed throughout the three stories. For example, Carson was a humane pirate. Although he was unable to do so, he wanted to spare the lives of the officers after the successful mutiny on the Sofal. Later, in preparing his pirate crew to board the Sovang, he gave an implicit order. “There is to be no unnecessary killing.” During the actual attack, Carson first gave the captain of the Sovang the opportunity to surrender. When the captain declined and attacked, Carson put down his pistol and faced his opponent with a blade, despite knowing he was at a grave disadvantage in doing so. Carson won that encounter, but his sense of fair play almost cost him his life when he put aside his pistol and took on Muso with a sword in Carson of Venus. Carson, perhaps the worst swordsman of three worlds, was saved only when little Nna shot Muso dead.

In the same story Carson displayed his compassion when Torko went on leave, making Carson the acting governor of the notorious Prison of Death in Amlot. “During the time that he was away I did what I could to alleviate the sufferings of the inmates of that hideous sink of misery and despair,” Carson explained. “I permitted them to clean up their foul cells and themselves, and I gave them quantities of good food. There were no ‘trials’ while I was in charge.”

Carson of Venus closes with Carson pursuing Duare to Sanara and then across the ocean to Vepaja. After he found her, they both abandoned Vepaja forever and flew off in the anotar. When the ship next came to ground, a transformed Carson began his adventures chronicled in Escape on Venus. Perhaps the cloud rift wind that drove the anotar wildly north resulted in a mysterious change in Carson’s brain, or heart. In any event, in Escape on Venus Carson engaged in a pageant of bloodlust in mind and action totally different from his character in the first three books.

Completely gone was Carson’s sense of compassion. Before he had taken life only when necessary, and certainly never out of pleasure. Now we begin to see examples of joyful, indiscriminate, and unnecessary killing. While a slave among the Myposans, Carson, with pistol in hand, warned back a Myposan warrior who intended whipping him. Carson explained, “My only reason for not wishing to kill him was based upon the certainty of reprisal that might jeopardize Duare’s safety. Otherwise, I should have been glad to kill him and all his kind.” Of course, the Myposan came on and Carson indulged himself by drilling “a great hole in the center of the fellow’s face.”

In Escape on Venus, Carson killed for revenge for the first time. After pursuing Tyros the Bloody through the underwater passage of the jong’s palace, Carson came upon Tyros kneeling over a lifeless Duare. Rather than sorrow, Carson’s thoughts turned to revenge. “I advanced slowly toward him, taking my time, gloating over my vengeance.” Tyros drew his sword, but there was no sense of fair play in Carson then. He killed Tyros with the r-rays that dissolve flesh and bone.

Carson’s greatest joy in killing, however, came when he strangled his jailer in the dungeon of Japal. “I choked the brute,” exulted Carson. “I thought of the blows that he had struck us so wantonly, and I gave his neck an extra twist. I have killed many men in self-defense or in the line of duty; some I have been glad to kill, but usually it has made me sad to think that I must take a human life. Not so now. I enjoyed every second of it until his corpse hung limp in my grasp.”

It was not only the killing of individuals for revenge that Carson came to enjoy. He also learned to get pleasure from indiscriminate killing. When the Brokols attacked Japal, Carson leapt into the battle, justifiably to help his friend Kandar, the new jong of Japal. Using his pistol, Carson killed three Brokols in defense of himself and Kandar. Then, however, the bloodlust took over. “I started right through the ranks cutting a path wide enough to drive a combine through,” he said. “I was having a glorious time. I felt as though I were winning a war all by myself.”

Carson experienced another “glorious” time in battle when he manned a t-ray gun on the Falsan flagship in the land battle against the Pagans. Carson saw a foot protruding unprotected from a Pangan ship and blew it off. When the screaming Pangan rolled onto the deck, Carson zeroed in on his head and dissolved that. Looking around for another “lucky shot,” he found two more gunners to kill.

Carson’s conversion to joyful killer became ingrained in his mind; he thought of it and longed for it. Consider his musings while hanging paralyzed on a wall in the Museum of Natural History in Voo-ad: “I killed Vik-yor in some dozens of different and most satisfying ways during those long hours. I also killed Ata-voo-med-ro and Vik-vik-vik, nor did I stop there; I indulged in a perfect orgy of murder—the vain wishful imaginings of impotency. However, it was very pleasurable imagining.”

In closing this emotional indictment of Carson Napier, perhaps the objectivity of statistics should have its say. In the first three volumes of the Venus series, putting aside how many Zanis might have died in Carson’s bombing runs, Carson killed only 10 times, 5 by pistol, 4 by sword, and 1 by strangulation. In the pages of Escape on Venus alone, Carson had a confirmed kill count of 32. These include 28 by pistol, 2 by spear, 1 by strangulation, and 1 by a thrown bench. And that count does not include an undetermined number who must have died when Carson mowed down the Japalian warriors with the anotar landing gear or when he waded through the attacking Brokols with his pistol.

I can’t help but prefer the old, compassionate Carson. Perhaps Edgar Rice Burroughs did too, for in The Wizard of Venus he brought him back. There Carson declined Ero Shan’s suggestion that he develop his telepathy skills to the point that he could kill from a distance. Also, Carson rejected the easy way of ridding Amtor of the evil power of Morgas. “It would be simple to fly over and shoot up the place, but that wouldn’t be sporting,” he explained. “It would come pretty close to being plain murder, as they have no firearms.” The vainglorious spell of bloodlust that afflicted Carson during Escape on Venus had passed, and it is pleasing to have the final image of Carson Napier on Venus a humane one.

In most of the Venus stories, then, Carson was compassionate. He was a survivor and he killed only when his survival, or that of Duare or his friends, was at stake. In Escape on Venus, however, the enigmatic Carson turned heartless killer. The answer to question #3, therefore, is “d.” He is often compassionate, but also a survivor and a heartless killer. You have one more chance to improve your score.

To no one’s surprise, the first three test questions have confirmed the perplexing nature of Carson Napier’s character. The final question of the test asks if there is one label that can be used to categorize ERB’s hero on Venus.

Question #4: Carson Napier is

a. an individualist
b. an obedient slave
c. a good soldier
d. all of the above

“If I am nothing else, I am a rugged individualist.” So Carson Napier labeled himself. But do his actions support his words? Certainly there are many instances in the Venus series in which Carson treated authority with arrogance. Then again there were times when he swore allegiance to authority, and even knelt to it. Is Carson inconsistent in his reaction to authority, or is there a pattern in his response to those in power?

Certainly, Carson resisted authority in the first Amtorian society he encountered. He surely would not have lived long on Venus had not the tree city of Kooaad taken him in. While he was more than willing to accept their protection and education, he was not willing to accept their authority over him. “I was commencing to tire of the virtual imprisonment that had been my lot ever since my advent upon Amtor,” he admitted, “for even a kindly jailer and a benign prison regime are not satisfactory substitutes for freedom, and I determined to force the issue.” In his audience with Mintep, therefore, Carson demanded his freedom, and then accepted apprenticeship as a taral-gatherer under Duran’s training. Carson was willing to remain in Kooaad as a citizen, but even as such he had no respect for the customs of Vepajan society. Although advised to stay away from the end of his veranda that bordered a forbidden garden, Carson did not. He vaulted the fence and began his pursuit of Duare, defying Vepajan society’s strongest sanctions against doing so. Later, in Lost on Venus, Carson told Duare, “I care nothing for customs nor jongs nor dynasties. I shall tell your father that I love you, and I shall tell him that you love me.”

There are other examples in the series of Carson’s resistance to authority. Most obvious were the times he turned arrogant while being questioned by various captors. Carson showed such contempt when he told the captain of the Sofal to “sit down,” when he laughed in the face of the Myposan Vomer, when he told Hangor’s jong Jeft that he was “a big bag of wind,” and when he laughed at the wizard Morgas and told him he was a jackass. Carson admitted that such an outburst in the face of authority was probably not the most intelligent course of action. “Diplomacy would have curbed my tongue,” he noted, “but I am not particularly diplomatic, especially when I am angry.”

Although Carson often displayed a resistance to authority, there were other times when he seemed to accept subservience to others. The most puzzling of these came when he was a slave of the Myposans. He had retained his pistol and had built up a healthy respect for it among his captors. Despite at first being openly defiant of their orders, Carson later promised to work for and obey the orders of Yron as long as he and Kandar were treated well. Carson evidently took this promise seriously. “I had a job to do; and it was only natural that, being what I am, I should do the best I could to acquit myself worthily.” Quite an extraordinary statement for a “rugged individualist.”

Of course, Carson’s only lasting allegiance to authority was to the land of Korva. He gave his reasons for giving up his individualism: “I have no country on Amtor, and the ruler and people of Sanara have accorded us courtesy and hospitality.” However, Carson also admitted that binding himself even to the benevolent Korvans was not easy for him to do. “I took the oath of allegiance to Korva and was commissioned a captain in the army of the jong,” Carson stated. “Now, at last, I had a country; but I also had a boss. That part of it I didn’t like so well.”

Although it was hard for Carson to swear his allegiance, once he had done so, he became the most loyal of subjects, even to the point of following orders of the traitorous jong Muso. Carson did not question Muso’s motive in sending him on a secret mission to Amlot, nor the jong’s admonition against telling Duare where he was going. “All that evening I felt like a traitor to Duare; but I had sworn allegiance to Muso, and while I served him I must obey his orders,” he explained. Later, in Amlot Carson considered returning to Sanara before his mission was complete, but, like a good soldier, he rejected the thought. “My sometimes foolish sense of duty to a trust imposed in me soon put that idea out of my head. No, I would go on and carry out my orders — that was my duty as a soldier.”

After Carson read Muso’s letter suggesting he be killed in Amlot, you’d think it would have soured him on bowing to any authority. Yet, when Carson finally returned to Sanara, there had been a change in jongs, and he not only maintained his allegiance to Korva, but also bowed to the new jong. “Taman is the only man in two worlds before whom I should be proud to kneel,” Carson admitted. “Above all others, he deserves reverence for his qualities of mind and soul. And so I knelt.”

Rugged individualist, loyal slave, good soldier — apparently Carson was capable of being all three. Although the three roles seem inconsistent, they can be reconciled. The bottom line is that Carson chose his allegiances; when there was pressure for him to accept authority, he always resisted. In Kooaad he could not accept his status until he was given a chance to have a say in it. It is hard to understand why he promised loyalty to Yron the Myposan, but it was his decision to do so, not one that was forced upon him. Finally, in Korva, when he gave his allegiance to a country and a man, he did so in both cases because he felt they were worthy of his loyalty, and not because they commanded it. I agree, Carson; whatever else you are, you are your own man, an individualist. The answer to question four is “a.”

Test Analysis

How many of the four questions did you get right? If you didn’t do well on the test, don’t feel bad. I suspect Carson Napier himself would have gotten no more than two correct answers out of four. You can evaluate your score on the following scale.

0 right — Your knowledge of Carson Napier is average.
1 right — You probably guessed “a” every time.
2 right — You know Carson Napier as well as he knows himself.
3 right — You must be on the same telepathic wave length as Carson Napier.
4 right — Congratulations! You win a free ride on the anotar! (Transportation to and from Venus not included.)


I set out with the idea of tracking down the reason Carson Napier is such an uninspiring hero. However, now that the entire investigation is complete, it seems the answer is a simple one. Carson is sometimes brave, sometimes afraid, sometimes intelligent, sometimes foolish, sometimes arrogant, and so on. In other words, he is too much like me, and I read Edgar Rice Burroughs to get away from me. I keep going back to Tarzan, because both in character and action he is someone I could never be. I could be Carson Napier; in fact, sometimes I am. That’s why I can’t seem to get comfortable with him.

—the end—


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

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