Saturday, September 24

The Warlord of Mars (The Barsoom Series #3, 1913-1914 serial, 1919 book)

Art by Frank Frazetta
By Edgar Rice Burroughs

I have now finished my latter-day "threereading" of the opening “trilogy” of ERB's first, and I believe to be, better series of novels. I put “trilogy” in quotation marks because the first novel, A Princess of Mars, could arguably have stood on its own as a book, but the second and third, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, are clearly one long story that, when taken with Princess, complete the story of the great impact the displaced Virginian Confederate soldier has made on what has become his adopted world. That theme is in fact made explicit near the end of the story. John Carter has brought the various and historically hostile races of Barsoom together:

Art by Frank Frazetta
“Red men from Helium and Ptarth, yellow men of the north, rubbing elbows with the blacks of the First Born who had come under my friend Xodar to help in the search for me and my princess. There were savage, green warriors from the dead sea bottoms of the south, and a handful of white-skinned therns who had renounced their religion and sworn allegiance to Xodar. ...

“Of all the strange scenes [the silent and empty throne of Okar] must have witnessed since that long-dead age that had first seen a Jeddak of Jeddaks take his seat upon it, none might compare with that upon which it now looked down, and as I pondered the past and future of that long-buried race of black-bearded yellow men I thought that I saw a brighter and more useful existence for them among the great family of friendly nations that now stretched from the south pole almost to their very doors.

“Twenty-two years before I had been cast, naked and a stranger, into this strange and savage world. The hand of every race and nation was raised in continual strife and warring against the men of every other land and color. Today, by the might of my sword and the loyalty of the friends my sword had made for me, black man and white, red man and green, rubbed shoulders in peace and good-fellowship. All the nations of Barsoom were not yet as one, but a great stride forward toward that goal had been taken, and now if I could but cement the fierce yellow race into this sodality of nations I should feel that I had rounded out a great lifework, and repaid to Mars at least a portion of the immense debt of gratitude I owed her for having given me my Dejah Thoris” (1971 Doubleday-Science Fiction Book Club edition of Gods and Warlord, pp. 330-331)

Art by Gino d'Achille
Again, there's no real need to summarize this story – far better if you read it for yourself, from the beginning of Princess to the end of Warlord. Suffice it to say that from the cliffhanger ending of Gods the action takes up virtually immediately, and ranges from pole to pole of the red planet. Gods of Mars took place entirely in the false paradise of that lay at the south pole, but in Warlord we travel from that Valley Dor, the land of the white and black men of Mars to the icy north polar cap land of Okar, home of the yellow men (who truly have skin that is yellow like that of a lemon, like the coal-black skin of the First Born). We encounter new and even fiercer Martian beasts such as the six-limbed yeti-like apt and some kind of gigantic bumblebee-like-thing the name of which escapes me. And ERB manages to convey a driving suspense even when the reader clearly knows more than the hero himself what is really going on – much like the interminable teasing we were subjected to in Gods wondering when in the heck John Carter was going to realize that his new young red Martian comrade was in fact his own son, Carthoris. Not that we had been told such – it was just obvious. Particularly sticking with me here was how John Carter fought on and on and on thinking that Dejah Thoris, with whom he had finally been reunited, was still safely behind him though he could not spare even a glance over his shoulder when we the readers know – again without being told – that she had been abducted yet again! And then there's the final scene when something of a mock resumption of John Carter's “heresy” trial suspended from Gods has him baffled and increasingly enraged, only to end, of course, with his sudden (and not any at all unexpected) acclamation by representatives of all those races of Mars as “Jeddak of Jeddaks – Warlord of Barsoom!” (p. 335).

I do intend to continue rereading this series at some time in the future – I have fond memories of at least the next two stories (Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and The Chessmen of Mars), as well as a couple of the later offerings. But, as may be obvious in the title of Thuvia, which centers around a relatively minor character introduced in Gods who barely even appears in Warlord, the focus shifts away from John Carter with that next volume. Thuvia tells the story of that princess of Ptarth and Carthoris, while Chessmen stars an as-yet-unhatched (!) daughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris named Tara of Helium (I think). And then other characters still take center stage before John Carter returns as protagonist in the eighth or ninth volume, I think. That resumption of John Carter's own story is an improvement, as I recall, from somewhat lacking stories after Chessmen, so I may skip those this go'round. In any case, I'm not heading directly into Thuvia anyway. I seldom read more than a couple or three volumes in any particular series before taking a break from it for some time with something else – I always have so much that I want to read, far more than I can. In fact, I have a couple of things still hanging from a couple months back that I read, and do want to blog about, but at this remove I feel like I've got to go back and at least skim-read in order to do them justice. So many books – so little time!

And, with the Dynamite franchise of Warlord of Mars comics, I'll be getting a roughly monthly dose of Barsoomian action to keep it on my mind, so I'm sure I'll get back to the red planet sooner rather than later.

'Til then, Kaor!

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