Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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"WE STILL LIVE!" ...John Carter
Copyright © 1982, 1996-2003 All Rights Reserved.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the many varied races ERB populated Mars with the Green Martian creates the greatest impact on the reader. ERB deftly painted a vivid picture of a wild, barbaric race of giant nomadic warriors that remains long after the stories have been read and returned to the shelf.
John Carter, upon reaching Barsoom, did not have long to wait before encountering his first glimpse of the fierce green martian. At the time Carter was naked and unarmed, having just crossed the interplanetary distance between Earth and Mars, materializing outside of a Thark incubator. Edgar Rice Burroughs introduced John Carter and the reader to the harsh life of the green man in a novel manner, by showing us exactly how they are born into the world.
Martians, without exception (including the red, yellow and white races) are oviparous, that is to say they reproduce by laying eggs about the size of a terrestrial goose egg. ERB never offers a satisfying reason for the phenomenal growth of goose-sized eggs to their hatching size of two and one-half feet in diameter. Where do the nutriments for this growth come from? Surely it cannot all be solar radiation!
Carter's manuscript, written from a first person past tense, made it possible for the reader to be given information that theoretically could not have been revealed without the protagonist having been among the green martians for some time. In short, John Carter tells us:
The roof of the enclosure was of solid glass about four or five inches in thickness, and beneath this were several hundred large eggs, perfectly round and snowy white. The eggs were nearly uniform in size being about two and one-half feet in diameter.
Five or six had already hatched and the grotesque caricatures which sat blinking in the sunlight were enough to cause me to doubt my sanity...
John Carter's "grotesque caricatures" were newly-hatched Tharks, off-spring of one of the most ferocious of the war-loving hordes of green men that inhabit, and terrorize, the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom.
From birth the life of a green martian, is fraught with peril and disaster. The social and familial relations of this war-like race are not conducive to the more gentle influences of parent hood, for the Green Martian adult never knows the identity of their children.
Burroughs strongly believed in family. This fact is a constant refrain throughout his entire body of work. Some of his greatest villains were men who deliberately destroyed families, or placed great hardship on them. One example is ERB's short novel The Moon Men published in 1925. A staunch family man, the most alien concepts of other-worldly life might certainly be his green martian, who was definitely not a family oriented creature. John Carter tells us:
...They paid no further attention to me and I was thus permitted to remain close and watch their operations, which consisted in breaking an opening in the wall of the incubator large enough to permit the exit of the young Martians.
On either side of this opening ... the younger Martians, both male and female, formed two solid walls... Between these walls the little Martians scampered, wild as deer; permitted to run the full length of the aisle, where they were captured one at a time by the women and older children...until all the little fellows had left the enclosure and been appropriated by some youth or female.
How was it these eggs were placed in a massively built incubator of such heroic proportions in this barren, desolate, and out of the way part of the desert? What motivated the Green Man to accept the acquisition of "parental" responsibility in such a haphazard fashion? John Carter explained it this way:
...I believe this horrible system which has been carried on for ages is the direct cause of the loss of all the finer feelings and higher humanitarian instincts among these poor creatures. From birth they know no father or mother love, they know not the meaning of the word hope; they are taught that they are only suffered to live until they can demonstrate by their physique and ferocity that they are fit to live. Should they prove deformed or defective in any way they are promptly shot...
I do not mean to say that the adult Martians are unnecessarily or intentionally cruel to the young, but theirs is a hard and pitiless struggle for existence upon a dying planet, the natural resources of which have dwindled to a point where the support of each additional life means an added tax upon the community into which it is thrown.
Considering that "Under the Moons of Mars" (the original title for A Princess of Mars) was written shortly before November 1911, Burroughs touched upon topics the majority of authors found difficult to handle. To be sure there was an abundance of titillating and outright pornographic books available, but they were not circulated to the general public at large. Fanny Hill, the Karma-Sutra, and other works, some dating into antiquity. Known to scholars, or banned by religious groups, these books were virtually unknown to the reading public. Burroughs may have been one of the first authors to speak of "zero population growth" and birth control.
By careful selection they rear only the hardiest specimens of each species, and with almost supernatural foresight they regulate the birth rate to merely offset the loss by death. Each adult Martian female brings forth about thirteen eggs each year, and those which meet the size, weight, and specific gravity tests are hidden in the recesses of some subterranean vault where the temperature is too low for incubation. Every year these eggs are carefully examined by a council of twenty chieftains, and all but about one hundred almost perfect eggs are destroyed out of each yearly supply. At the end of five years about five hundred almost perfect eggs have been chosen from the thousands brought forth. these are then placed in the almost air-tight incubators to be hatched by the sun's rays after a period of another five years.
What was written in A Princess of Mars
The community of which the green Martians with whom my lot was cast formed a part was composed of some thirty thousand souls. They roamed an enormous tract of arid and semi-arid land between forty and eighty degrees south latitude, and bounded on the east and west by two large fertile tracts. Their headquarters lay in the southwest corner of this district, near the crossing of two of the so-called Martian canals.
From ERB'S NOTEBOOKS
From the author's work notes for Under The Moons OF Mars
A Community: (figures are approximate only)
500 children (immediately after a hatching)
The Thark community numbers 30,000. Assuming 30 percent of the population is female and is of egg-laying age, more than 116,000 eggs would be produced yearly. How these eggs are inseminated is not specified but we may assume anatomical similarities to humans since John Carter and Dejah Thoris became parents of Carthoris and Tara. Trading the nine month gestation of terrestrial females for a clutch of eggs might seem labor saving to women (sorry for the pun!) and allows the adults to continue their lives without undue inconvenience, but that is off-set by a need to maintain the egg for 5 years — and then having a half-grown off-spring — no Terrible Twos! Maybe ERB was exhibiting a little wishful thinking since diaper changing and mouths to feed was a strong motivator for writing manuscripts for money.
Continuing with Carter's description, we learn what happens to the few eggs that fail to hatch at the Tharks' secret incubator:
They were not wanted, as their offspring might inherit and transmit the tendency to prolonged incubation, and thus upset the system which has maintained for ages and which permits the adult Martians to figure the proper time for return to the incubators, almost to an hour.
What do these larger than life nomadic warriors look like when they come into the world? (See also: Anatomy of the Green Martian by Bozarth and Bozarth).
At birth the young appear to be all head and six limbs, two for walking erect, two used as arms and two in between which can be used as either. Eyes are set at extreme sides of heads and above center and can look in one or two directions without turning the head. Ears, slightly above eyes and close together; small cup-like antennae protruding about one inch on small specimens. Noses are longitudinal slits entered in face midway between mouth and ears. No hair. Light-greenish color in infants and women, deepening to dark olive for adult males. Iris of eye is blood-red, pupils are dark, eyeball is very white, as are the pair of tusks extending from the lower jaw upwards in a curve toward the center of the face where human eyes would be. It is interesting to note that Kulan Tith, Jeddak of Kaol (Warlord of Mars and Thuvia, Maid of Mars) along with John Carter and his son Carthoris, of all the Barsoomian characters, have the sole distinction of the color of their eyes being mentioned.
Green Martian women are similar except tusks are higher and larger. Female bodies show rudimentary nails which males lack. ERB notes that only the higher order of man and one mammal have well-formed nails. That mammal is not mentioned elsewhere in the novels, nor is it described.
Adult Green Martian males are fifteen feet tall and four hundred pounds in weight. Females reach ten to twelve feet. Maturity is age forty and lasts for a thousand years, until they voluntarily take the pilgrimage of death down the River Iss to the Valley Dor--Martian Heaven.
Only one Martian in a thousand dies of sickness or disease, and possibly twenty per thousand live long enough to take the pilgrimage, the other 979 die violent deaths. The greatest loss of life, one reason the green martians have not overwhelmed the planet, is the terrible toll taken by the great white apes on green martian young. The average age of maturity seems to be three hundred years.
The weapons of the green man are: long sword, short sword, dagger, pistol, hatchet and rifle. Swords and daggers are self-explanatory. The hatchet is mentioned in only two books, Princess and Thuvia. The rifle is white metal stocked with wood. The wood is light-weight and highly prized (sorapus, perhaps?) and the metal is an alloy of aluminum and steel, an exceedingly hard temper. Long barred, the rifle can fire one hundred rounds before reloading and it's effective radius is three hundred miles (sic) though in practical use, even with wireless finders and sights, it is accurate to only two hundred miles. The green martians are acknowledged as the best marksmen on Mars with this particular weapon.
The radium bullet — "radium" is ERB's interpretation of a Martia hieroglyphic — must be manufactured in artificial light. The unusual properties of this substance, similar to refined phosphorous and its reaction with atmospheric oxygen, is explosive under natural solar light. Burroughs noted how the bullets could be used as solid projectiles in night battles, becoming potentially dangerous debris with the rising of the sun. Medical personnel operating on a radium bullet victim were in serious jeopardy if the operation had to be conducted in daylight conditions.
The spear carried by the warriors of the green race are forty feet in length, metal tipped and shod. Standard usage is from the back of a thoat, holding the weapon in two arms of the same side and leaning the opposite direction to maintain balance while charging their foes.
Martian clothing appears as sparse to non-existent. John Carter's first meeting with Tars Tarkas showed the great Thark wearing a harness of leather which supported his weapons, a few ornaments at head, limbs and breast, and nothing else. The Jeds and Jeddaks were similarly adorned, with the addition of gay-colored feathers and beautifully wrought trappings of leather, set with precious stones. At the shoulder the male would often wear a short cape of white fur lined with red silk. Green Martian women wore the simple costume first described, with a set of breast ornaments.
Etiquette among the green martians (quoted from page 28, Princess)
"There were few formalities observed in approaching the Martian Chieftain. My captor merely strode up to the rostrum, the others making way for him as he advanced. The chieftain rose to his feet and uttered the name of my escort who, in turn, halted and repeated the name of the ruler followed by his title.
"At the time, this ceremony and the words they uttered meant nothing to me, but later I came to know that this was the customary greeting between two green Martians. Had the men been strangers, and therefore unable to exchange names, they would have silently exchanged ornaments, had their missions been peaceful--otherwise, they would have exchanged shots, or fought out their introduction with some other of their various weapons.
"...convinced me that we at least had something in common, the ability to smile, therefore, to laugh; denoting a sense of humor. But I was to learn that the Martian smile is merely perfunctory, and that the Martian laugh is a thing to cause strong men to blanch in horror"..."(the) death agonies of a fellow being are, to these stranger creatures, provocative of the wildest hilarity...(their) greatest amusement is to inflict death on prisoners..."
The Green Martians are nomadic in general, though Thark is a city usually occupied by five of the twenty-five tribes of Thark. The chariots of the green men are three wheeled and propelled by the mighty thews of zitidars, a mastodonian type animal. For personal transportation the green men rely on the thoat, a large beast with eight legs controlled entirely by telepathic command. Most of the hordes move about in communities of eight to sixteen hundred individuals and take all of their possessions during any move.
The green martians exist almost exclusively on a plant they find in the desert which makes a liquid similar to milk--up to eight or ten quarts a day--and provides a cheese-like food. Could this food be made from the mantalia plant mentioned in later stories? I assume, though it is not specifically mentioned in the stories, that Tharks when in the company of red men eat meats and other vegetables.
The sex life of a green martian is hinted in only the most clinical of terms by ERB. The female lays thirteen eggs which can be, and normally are, stored until the horde gets back to its secret incubator. There the eggs are sorted, those of a too small size are destroyed, as are any which appear defective. The eggs are then placed inside the incubator and forgotten as they take five years to mature under the rays of the sun. They grow from the size of a goose egg to two and a half feet in diameter. When born the green martian hatchlings are four feet in height and, as the matter of parentage is never known under these conditions, is raised by the first waiting females to catch and raise them for the community.
There are numerous personal duels in the community, as many as eight a day. The victor of each encounter assumes the name of the vanquished and all of his chattels held by the deceased. John Carter acquired the name of Dotar, then shortly thereafter, the name Sojat. The greater the prowess, the more names, conversely the o-mad (man with one name) is rather low in importance.
Each Horde is ruled by a Jed and nine lesser chieftains. A Jeddak rules all Hordes and is also surrounded by the Jeds of the Hordes in a loose hierarchy. Any male can become a Jed or Jeddak by merely fighting his way up through the ranks. John Carter became number eleven in the Thark tribe in a matter of days.
For the beginnings of the green martian culture see the section on Tree of Life.
The green Martian hordes became a dominate power when the seas of Mars began to fail. They took up their warrior existence in the dead sea bottoms, multiplied, and therefore became the raging death of the dying Orovar white race, and the successor red races which surrounded the sea beds. the pride of this war-like society is illustrated in the ancient Tharkian proverb: "Leave to a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer."
Copyright © 1982, 1996-2003 by David Bruce Bozarth. All Rights Reserved.