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Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter/Vandor

Rapas the Ulsio

Fal Sivas

Ur Jan


Gar Nal





Dejah Thoris

Jat Or

Tardos Mors

Mors Kajak




Ul Vas



Swords of Mars

Summarized by
David Arthur Adams


Zeuschner’s Bibliographical Information: The eighth Mars story was written in six weeks at the end of 1933. It was first published as a six-part serial in The Blue Book Magazine November, December 1934; January, February, March, April 1935. The first book edition was by ERB Inc, February 15, 1936 with the first G&D reprint on the following year. After Burroughs and Florence Gilbert were married in 1935, Burroughs arranged it so that the first words in the Preface and the twenty-four separate chapters form an acrostic: “To Florence with all My Love Ed.”


The Prologue is a framing device for the story that follows. John Carter appears at ERB’s cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona with this first person tale of high adventure.

Chapter 1 - Rapas the Ulsio

The Barsoomian city of Zodanga is the headquarters of a powerful guild of assassins. Assassination is a profession; kidnapping, a fine art. Carter has countered this practice by creating a secret organization of “super assassins” to provide a balance of justice. An “X” is carved over the heart of executed villains. Zodanga is a hotbed of assassins; Carter goes there in disguise to teach them a lesson. Carter takes room at a public house where he meets Rapas the Ulsio (Rat). He introduces himself as Vandor, a panthan. Rapas reveals he is a “gorthan,” a freelance assassin outside the guild. Rapas invites Carter to meet Fal Sivas.

Chapter Two - Fal Sivas

Carter’s swordsmanship is tested by Fal Sivas. Carter makes easy work of Rapas, who instantly becomes his enemy. Fal Sivas reveals he is an inventor threatened by another inventor who has employed an agent of the assassins guild (headed by Ur Jan) to kill him. Carter becomes a personal bodyguard and is assigned a suite on the same floor. Carter's real mission is to overthrow Ur Jan, but fate has placed him outside the guild rather than in it. Carter hides Zanda, a slave girl, who is “threatened” by Fal Sivas. He learns that Fal Sivas steals the inventions of others and has them murdered. One of the stolen inventions is an interplanetary space ship, another is a mechanical brain that he is perfecting by experimenting on the living brains of his slaves.

Chapter Three - Trapped

Fal Sivas comes to Carter’s room, who is reading a book on Theoretical Mechanics. Fal Sivas wonders if Carter might become an assistant and reveals his greatest enemy is Gar Nal, the inventor. Gar Nal has hired Ur Jan to kill him. Carter says he will spy on Ur Jan tomorrow evening. For safety’s sake, Zanda spends the night with Carter, but she sleeps in the other room. Fal Sivas promised him a slave, so he plans to chose her. In the morning there are two armed men at the common breakfast table, Hamas, the major-domo, and Phystal, who is in charge of the slaves. When Zanda arrives she pretends she spent the night with Hamas. Carter chooses her to be his slave. That night, Carter gets necessary directions and signals; he goes to the house of Ur Jan, landing his flier on the roof. Carter climbs down the wall to an open window. He follows some voices to a room where he hopes to learn the secrets of the assassins. Just then, he hears footsteps approaching down the corridor.

Chapter Four - Death By Night

John Carter slips behind a cupboard and observes 50 men seated around a table headed by Ur Jan. Rapas the Ulsio tells Ur Jan that “a stranger to Zodanga” is the man who does the killing for Fal Sivas. He also declares that he wants to join the assassins guild. Uldak is sent with Rapas to kill this Vandor. Carter memorizes the faces of as many of the assassins as he can before he leaves. Then he follows Uldak and kills him.

Chapter Five - The Brain

Carter meets Rapas at the eating-place where he is supposed to be assassinated by the now dead Uldak. When they finally leave the proprietor tells them that Uldak has been found in the Avenue of the Green Throat -- the cross of the Warlord above his heart. The next morning Carter tells Fal Sivas that Ur Jan knows that he is his personal bodyguard so there must be a leak. Fal knows it is Rapas since no one else as gone out of the house, so he orders Carter to kill him. Fal decides to trust Carter and shows him his interplanetary space ship, which is controlled by a mechanical brain linked to his own. He claims that this invention has cost him every human instinct, so he is now a creature of cold insensate formulas.

Chapter Six - The Ship

Carter comments that Fal Sivas seems like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type. They inspect the ship together. It has two ports that appear like the eyes of a monster. The “brain” that controls the ship allows one to see what the crystal eyes of the ship sees. It can go on missions by itself when it is programmed by thoughts. There are powerful radium rifles and cameras aboard. Carter helps Fal Sivas improve the motor gearing. The mechanical and electrical shops are manned by zombies chained to their benches. Carter remarks that “there is nothing more glorious than freedom.” Carter returns to his quarters and Zanda warns him that Hamas fears that Carter is usurping his authority and hates him for it. Fal Sivas does not let Carter out of the house after his disclosure of the secrets of the ship. Carter discovers that he too can control the ship by his thoughts, but he is discovered doing this by Fal Sivas.

Chapter Seven - The Face in the Doorway

Actually, the ship had landed before Fal Sivas saw anything, but being suspicious he asks Carter to try to move it by his thoughts. Carter thinks of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair instead. Fal Sivas imagines himself as master of the universe at the head of a great mechanical army controlled by his thoughts alone. First he plans to go to Thuria and its mountains of gold and platinum and vast plains carpeted with precious stones. Carter finally gets permission to leave the house, and he meets with Rapas, learning that Ur Jan suspects that the Warlord is in Zodanga. When he leaves, he spots an assassin waiting to kill him.

Chapter Eight - Suspicion

Carter meets the assassin, Povak, even telling him he is the famous John Carter, but Povak does not believe him until he carves an “X” on his breast. Carter kills him. Back at Fal Sivas’ house Zanda tells him that she hates John Carter because he is responsible for her parent’s death during the battle at Zodanga. Hamas has reported that he saw Vandor with Rapas, and Fal Sivas questions “John” why he did not kill him as ordered. Carter-Vandor replies that Rapas has connections with Ur Jan that require further investigation. That night, Carter meets with Rapas again, and the rat mentions that it is strange that Povak was killed with the mark of Carter just after they parted the previous night.

Chapter Nine - On The Balcony

After supper with Rapas, Carter gives the slip to two more assassins and takes his flier to the headquarters of the assassins guild. He climbs down a rope to a balcony outside the meeting room to listen, discovering that they plan to abduct his princess, Dejah Thoris, and hide her on Thuria since Gar Nal has finished his interplanetary ship. As Carter is climbing the rope back to his ship, he gets tangled and falls noisily back to the balcony.

Chapter Ten - Jat Or

Carter manages to hang on to the rope, so after a brief tussle with Ur Jan, he flies away, dangling from his ship. He heads toward Helium to warn Dejah Thoris of her impending kidnapping, escaping a patrol boat on the way. Back at Helium, Jat Or, a young padwar (lieutenant), informs him that Dejah has already been abducted. Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak have sent a thousand ships to look for her. Carter and Jat Or immediately depart for Zodanga to rescue the princess.

Chapter Eleven - In The House of Gar Nal

Carter goes to Fal Sivas and learns where Gar Nal keeps his interplanetary ship. He hears a sob in the next room but is unable to investigate, and Zanda is missing from his quarters. Carter goes to Gar Nal’s hangar, but a noisy accident brings two guards. He kills one and gets information from another. Gar Nal's’ ship has picked up someone near Helium and then proceeded to Thuria. Carter tells Jat Or to take their flier west and wait for him to arrive (with Fal Sivas’ experimental ship.)

Chapter Twelve - “We Must Both Die!”

Rapas tells “Vandor” that Dejah has been kidnapped by Ur Jan and the ransom is two shiploads of treasure. He knows that Ur Jan and Rapas is sending him this message this way, still pretending that they do not know he is really Carter. Carter tells Fal Sivas that Ur Jan and Gar Nal are already on their way to Thuria. (The moon is 7-miles in diameter, and an earth-man would be able to perform spectacular physical deeds upon its surface. Fal Sivas tells Carter of the theory “compensatory adjustment of masses” which would reduce his size to eight sofs (sof=1.1694 English inches) tall. Carter thinks the idea is preposterous. Hearing a scream from the next room, he finds Zanda about to undergo “brain surgery.” As Carter frees her, Fal Sivas runs for help.

Chapter Thirteen - Pursued

Zanda takes Carter dagger and puts the three other already experimented on girls out of their misery. Hamas, Phystal, a slave, Wolak, and Fal Sivas return, and Carter kills Wolak (he lasts one page in the story). Zanda downs Fal Sivas with a thrown missile, then the 2 others throw down their swords in cowardice. Carter binds and gags them, then going to the experimental ship hangar, he calls it with his thoughts. Zanda tells Carter she will be his slave forever and that she loves him. Suddenly, a patrol boat sends a wailing signal.

Chapter Fourteen - On To Thuria

They easily escape the patrol boats, going 1350 haads (Barsoomian “mile”) an hour. Controlling the ship by thought makes Carter feel that he is in the power of some soulless Frankenstein. They meet Jat Or, waiting as planned in the flier. They send the flier back to Helium on autopilot, and Jat Or comes aboard. After some misgivings and conjectures about the possibilities for evil by the mechanical brain, they set out for Thuria.

Chapter Fifteen - Thuria

The mechanical brain figures the correct trajectory to arrive on Thuria given the orbits of both bodies. (The scientific facts and figures are given.) The theory of “compensatory adjustment of masses” takes effect, so that they are growing smaller to proportion themselves to the size of the moon. Carter tells Zanda she is a free woman and fellow adventurer and assigns Jat Or as her protector. They arrive at Thuria, but wait until morning to land. Wondering how they will ever find Gar Nal’s ship, Zanda suddenly sees something.

Chapter Sixteen - Invisible Foes

They see a towered castle and Gar Nal’s ship in a walled courtyard. Landing beside the ship; Zanda dresses like a warrior, and persuades the men to take her on their adventure. The castle is composed of blocks of precious stones -- at first no one is about. Carter inspects Gar Nal’s deserted ship. They all feel invisible eyes peering at them. Suddenly, the voice of Dejah Thoris cries out, “Escape my chieftain!” Then they are all captured by invisible beings. Carter says, “We still live” and sends a thought-signal to their ship.

Chapter Seventeen - The Cat-Man

They are taken to the throne room, still seeing no one, then removed to separate tower prisons. Carter meets a one-eyed, two-mouthed grinning Cat-Man who keeps changing color to blend with the background like a chameleon. The Cat-Man purrs and meows and leaps about the room. Carter starts to learn its language when food is brought into the room along with a caged winged creature with four legs, a beak, and the scales of a fish. The Cat-Man eats the bird-like creature after playing with it awhile. “It was not a pretty sight.” After their meal (Carter ate vegetables, fruit, and meat) the Cat-Man goes to sleep.

Chapter Eighteen - Condemned To Death

During days of captivity Carter learns to communicate with Umka, the Cat-Man. Umka tells Carter that he can see their captors, the Tarids. Umka is a Masena, who suggests that Carter can neither see nor hear the Tarids because of a powerful mental block which may be overcome by concentration. The Tarids have developed their hypnotic power as a protective device. They are few, about 1000, and all live in this castle. They capture anyone who comes near for sacrifice to the sun when the time is right. After a long period Carter is able to see the Tarids, white men with blue hair and blue eyebrows. Later, Carter and Umka are taken to the throne room. Carter sees the people but pretends he cannot. Jat Or, Zanda, Ur Jan, Gar Nal, and Dejah Thoris are there. Ul Vas, the man on the throne, is fat and old. By his side is a beautiful young woman named Ozara. Carter explains to the fellow captives they can break the hypnotic spell. He convinces them to work together to escape. The Tarids have no clue since they do not speak the Barsoomian language. Ozara, however, suspects Carter can see and hear them. Ul Vas decides to sacrifice the men to the Fire God, keeping the two women for himself.

Chapter Nineteen - Ozara

The men are led to the Turquoise Tower, the women to the Tower of Diamonds. Carter explains the real situation to the others who can see and hear nothing of the Tarids. They call Thuria “Ladan.” Days later Carter is taken to Ozara, Jeddara of the Tarids. He is led into her “presence” by Ulah, a slave girl. Carter admits to her that he can see and hear them. He explains his mission to her, and she tells him that she too is a prisoner in the castle of Ul Vas.

Chapter Twenty - We Attempt Escape

Ozara tells Carter she is a Domnian kidnapped from her home. She is the Jeddara until Ul Vas finds a woman more beautiful than she -- and Dejah is that woman. She wants to escape with Carter. She reveals his ship lies in the sky above the castle (His thought command did work.) Carter persuades Ozara to include his companions in their escape plans. She is to get a file for the bars of the men’s room, then go to the women’s Tower of Diamonds and hang a red scarf from the window. When Carter returns to his tower he finds Jat Or and Gar Nal can see the Tarids. He suggests that when they escape they take their own ships because the joint truce is over. Ulah brings bar-cutting files in the food jar; Ur Jan sees the Tarid maid. Carter mentally summons the ship. He pulls out the bars and they board (binding the 2 Tarid guards who happened to get caught on the ship when Carter sent it off so many days ago.) They fly to Gar Nal’s ship. He instructs Gal Nal to follow his ship to the Tower of Diamonds to free the women.

Chapter Twenty-One - In The Tower of Diamonds

Carter has misgivings about his plan and who he must depend on, but it must be carried through. As Carter leaps through the window to free the women they are spotted by guards below. He gathers the women, but then discovers both ships are gone! He has forgotten to tell the ship's brain to stop--it continued on course when he jumped into the room. He calls the ships back as he and his friends fight a terrific battle in the tower room. In the end, he sends his ship away with Jat Or, Ur Jan, Zanda and Umka aboard. Gar Nal flees alone with Dejah Thoris. Ozara does not escape and Carter is recaptured.

Chapter Twenty-Two - In The Dark Cell

Carter finds himself in a dark, cold stone cell. Gar Nal has Dejah, and none of his companions know how to control the other ship. The guard who brings him food is rather friendly, and he tells him he is a great swordsman but unfortunately condemned to death along with Ozara. Carter explores the beams 20-feet above his head for a means of escape. He hides there, so when the guard returns he thinks Carter has escaped. Foolishly the guard enters the cell, and Carter springs upon him.

Chapter Twenty-Three - The Secret Door

Carter locks the guard in his cell, and taking his sword and dagger he proceeds down the corridor. Running into a woman on the way, he pulls her into a room and discovers that he is Ulah, the slave of Ozara. He sends her for a 20-foot rope and a hook because Ozara is imprisoned in the room directly above this one. At night, he climbs to Ozara’s room, and they both return to the room below. Ozara tells him about a secret door that leads to the river and freedom. She is glad that Dejah is gone, for now she has him all to herself. They are discovered on the way to the door and Carter again gives a fine account of his swordsmanship. They are pursued by 20 more guards down the final corridor to the river into which Carter springs with Ozara in his arms.

Chapter Twenty-Four - Back To Barsoom

Carter and Ozara enter the forest. She suggests they will not last a night because of the terrible beasts. Carter builds a fire. Ozara relates the Masenas eat human flesh. The couple is chased by wild beasts into a tree, they rest in a Masena nest. Three days later they are captured by Masenas. The Masenas king says they will be eaten, but Umka arrives in time to save them. The ship is nearby. Carter commands the ship mentally. Even Ur Jan is glad to see Carter, placing his sword at Carter's feet to swear eternal fealty. Zanda controls the ship, learned from previous conversations with Vandor. She knows Vandor is John Carter, but has forgiven him. She now loves Jat Or. Ozara is returned to Domnia where her father is Jeddak. They learn Gar Nal’s ship has become disabled and are sky captives in Ombra. Ozara gives up Carter. He is told the Ombrans will give up Dejah Thoris if he demonstrates his ship's firepower. However, the ship flies out of control back to Barsoom and Zodanga without Dejah Thoris! At the home of Fal Sivas the Warlord finds a note: Fal Sivas called the ship home. Rapas reveals that Fal Sivas hides in the house of Gar Nal. Accosting the villains, Gar Nal tells Carter that Dejah Thois is still in Ombra. In reality, she is tied-up in the next room. Carter's wife valiantly struggles free and is reunited. Ur Jan kills Gar Nal, a sword piercing his putrid heart.


ERB Quotes of Note

“Human nature is alike everywhere. We think that we want to forget the tragedies of life, but we do not. If they momentarily pass us by and leave us in peace, we must conjure them again, either in our thoughts or through some such medium as you have adopted. As you find grim pleasure in reading about them, so I find a grim pleasure in thinking about them.” (1)

“Every man thinks that he is a great character reader; and when something like this occurs to substantiate his belief, he has reason to be pleased; and the more so because few men are really good judges of character, and it is therefore very seldom that one of us is open to self-congratulation on this score.” (4)

“I confess that I do not understand women. Some of the things that they do, their mental processes, are often inexplicable to me.” (21)

Nkima’s Note

The first half of the tale is a thrilling spy story. The second half is pure Oz, totally delightful and filled with ERB’s special magic. On the whole, this is a very good Barsoomian yarn like all of them. Burroughs works his formulas with great charm and humor and presents us with another fascinating story of heart-stopping adventure. He does it so well even with all of the strings showing that we are entranced by this master conjurer of love and fabulous exploits in the realm of the fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and would rank it among his better tales.

I found ERB’s descriptive powers to be at their height in this novel. Sure the plot is plodding and filled with the usual coincidences, but his characters are interesting and new ones appear often enough to keep our interest high. Yes, this is a typical formula novel, but it is worth the read to follow the master’s mind once again through the mazes. When the story is over, it is again one that leaves us filled with wonder, and that is the mark of a great storyteller.

Managing Editor's Afterword

The acrostic:

T-HE moon had risen above...

O-VER nineteen hundred ...

F-OR the balance of the...

L-OWERING my book, I looked...

O-N MORE than one occasion...

R-APAS was waiting for me...

E-VERY one of us, I believe...

N-ONCHALANCE is a corollary.

C-LUROS, the farther moon, ...

E-YES speak the truth more ...

W-ERE I prone to seek excuses...

I-GNORANCE and stupidity ...

T-HURIA! She had always ...

H-ERALDING the approach of...

A-LTHOUGH I had realized the...

L-ATER, as we hurtled on ...

L-OOKING down in the direction...

M-Y THOUGHTS were still centered...

Y-OUTH adapts itself easily ...

L-IFE is sweet; and when I ...

O-ZARA may have overestimated...

V-AGUE misgivings disturbed me...

E-NVELOPED in darkness...

E-CHOING through the chamber...

D-ARK, forbidding waters closed...

The acrostic indicates that Edgar Rice Burroughs could be as disciplined as he was adventurous in his writing. Written in 1933, Ed married second wife Florence in 1935 then, in 1936 (for the first edition) revised/edited the opening paragraph of each chapter to generate his "hidden" dedication.

Revealing the ERB "Formula"

014452%The Hook
426313%The Build
1738565%The Meat
2126463%The Setup
2352207%The Rush to End
Total Words80079100%