Where is Betty Callwell now?
By Laurence G. Dunn
Originally published in Frank Westwood's fanzine, Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Copyright © 1985. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Contains a new Editor's Note by David Bruce Bozarth, Copyright © 2001
To discover an unresolved plot amongst the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs exposes the sad reality that the master storyteller is no longer with us to tie up the loose ends. In the eleventh novel of the Martian series, John Carter and Dejah Thoris remain marooned on Sasoom / Jupiter. Earlier in the series, Kar Komak is last seen joining his imaginary utans of warriors as they chase after a band of green warriors and is never spoken of again. In Beyond the Farthest Star, Tangor is about to embark upon a voyage to the neighbouring planets in the system, but the entry of the United States into World War Two put an end to Burroughs ever finishing the story. These and other unfinished endings have led to numerous fan writings over the years, but ERB Incorporated has never sanctioned any of them.
One of the most fascinating mysteries lies in the novel Escape on Venus. Here Burroughs has deliberately left the reader in the dark as to the mystery surrounding the character and eventual disappearance of Betty Callwell a.k.a. Loto-El-Ho-Ganja Kum O Raj (translated to: Most High More Than Woman Of The Fire or more simply put, Fire Goddess).
Carson Napier is taken to meet Loto-El-Ho-Ganja, Goddess of the Brokols after he had been taken as their prisoner. In a private audience, Carson asks Loto how she became a Goddess to the people of an alien race.
"I do not know," she said. "That is one of the things I can never recall. Once I found myself sitting on the temple throne. I did not even know the language of these people. They had to teach me it. While I was learning it, I learned that I was a goddess; and that I came from the fires that surround Amtor."
The "fires that surround Amtor" is discussed earlier in the novel when Carson and Duare are out flying in their Anotar…
"It looks as though the sun were trying to break through the cloud envelopes of Amtor," I said.
"It has happened in the past," said Duare. "Of course our people knew nothing of the sun of which you tell me. They thought it the all-enveloping fire which rose from the molten mass upon which Amtor is supposed to float. When a break came in our protective cloud envelopes, the flames struck through, destroying all life beneath the cloud rift."
During the conversation between Carson Napier and the Fire Goddess, Loto asks that he tell her something of his home world. However, when Carson mentions such places as the United States of America and New York, her reaction is mystifying as though these names awaken something hidden deep within her memory. Unfortunately, their conversation is cut short by the demand of the Jong, that Carson is to be their next sacrifice. When the Fire Goddess declines the demand, both Loto and Carson are incarcerated in a cell together before their execution. Rather than dwell on the situation in which they find themselves, Carson is eager to take up Loto's suggestion of talking of other things and so they resume their earlier conversation…
"Let us talk of something else then," said Loto. "I should like to hear more about The United States of America, of New York - New York - New York- " She whispered the name slowly, drawing it out; and her eyes were dreamy and introspective. Suddenly she exclaimed, "Betty! Betty! Betty! I'm getting it!" She was terribly excited. "Call - call - Betty call. I almost have it. Oh, God, I almost have it! Brooklyn! Now I have it! Brooklyn!" Then she swooned.
Carson tries in vain to revive her, but decides in the end that she will regain consciousness eventually by herself. While Carson tries to make sense of what has transpired, he knows that he will not get an answer until Loto awakens, and in the meantime, he falls asleep. When he wakes up the next morning, he is surprised to discover that he is alone in the cell, and yet the door to the cell is still securely locked.
And that is where Burroughs has left us dangling, finger tips on the next page, eager to discover the true identity of Loto-El-Ho-Ganga, when suddenly he makes her disappear in the middle of the night without any explanation. But just to keep us guessing, Burroughs then gives us a footnote…
Not that it has any bearing on the story, but just as an example of remarkable coincidence, I want to reproduce here a news item that appeared in the daily press recently. Brooklyn, Sept. 24. Special Correspondence. The body of Betty Callwell, who disappeared twenty-five years ago, was found in the alley back of her former home here early this morning. The preservation of her body was remarkable, as Miss Callwell must have been dead for twenty five years. Friends who viewed the body insist that it did not look a day older than when she disappeared. The police fear foul play and are investigating.
Beyond Thirty West Editor's Note:
Burroughs wrote Carson of Venus in 1937. Callwell's disappearance would have been in 1912 according to the editor's footnote, coincidental to the same time periods when Carter was traversing the void and ERB wrote Gods of Mars. Carson of Venus was first published in 1939, perhaps some other editor applied a "current date" correction--indicating Callwell might have vanished in 1914 instead of 1912. If the latter, ERB was again visited by Uncle Jack to receive the Thuvia tale, unpublished until 1916. In 1937 ERB was hard at work on Synthetic Men of Mars. ERB does not reveal how this tale was transmitted, though precedence suggests John Carter again journeyed from Barsoom to Earth. Could it be that innocent Betty Callwell was caught in the astral vortex of Carter's passage between planets, by some strange mechanism--perhaps sympathetic telepathy?--and thus transported from earth in 1912 and returned, to her death, in 1937?
So, who was Betty Callwell / Loto-El-Ho-Ganja Kum O Raj? How did she arrive on Venus? Did she die by fair means or foul? Or more to the point, was Betty Callwell dead at all...?
Carson's first impressions upon the matter was that Loto-El-Ho-Ganja had met a fellow American who had made a similar space flight to his own and had told her of various places on Earth. But unfortunately, Carson never had the opportunity to question Loto-El-Ho-Ganja further before she disappeared. An obvious choice would be his close friend, Jimmy Welsh. When Carson was preparing his rocket ship to Mars, Jimmy constantly urged Carson to take him along as well. Working close with Carson, Jimmy may possibly have had the technical ability to build a rocket ship for himself. He could have tracked Carson's flight by radar, noticed the deviation in his flight path, and upon discovering his friend's plight, decided upon launching a rescue mission.
Unfortunately the flaw to this explanation is that Carson was a wealthy person and was able to finance the building of the rocket ship from his own funds. We are not told the financial status of Jimmy Welsh, but it is unlikely that he was equally as wealthy or indeed be able to raise sufficient funds to launch a rescue mission.
We also have to solve the problem of how Loto / Betty was able to leave her cell while the door remained locked. Locks of course can be picked but it seems unlikely that Loto / Betty would leave Carson behind to become a sacrificial victim, when she had already lost her status as Goddess in an attempt to save him from such a fate. So whatever means Loto / Betty found to leave her cell, it was not through the door.
To begin to unravel this mystery, we should start by taking a closer look at Loto-El-Ho-Ganja's first advent upon Venus and we find that...
"I came from the fires that surround Amtor."
This then would suggest that she descended from the skies to arrive amongst the Brokols. We are not told how she landed, but since she appears to be injury free (with the exception of total amnesia) it could be assumed that her descent was accomplished safely and that suggests she may have been wearing a parachute at the time. Certainly there was no aircraft or rocket ship as neither are mentioned, but that does not preclude the possibility that either of them may have been involved.
To take this assumption one stage further, we can devise a scenario that Betty Callwell, perhaps a lady of some means, was an accomplished pilot and that one day whilst out flying alone she experiences problems with her plane. The engine stalls and the craft begins to lose control. She releases her safety harness and is all set to parachute to safety when suddenly the plane goes into a spin. Betty cracks her head against the side of the cockpit and blacks out. The next thing she knows is that she is landing on an alien planet whereby she is greeted by the inhabitants who revere her as a Goddess of the fire, but unfortunately the blow to her head has rendered her without any memory of her former life.
There is however an alternative suggestion, and perhaps an even more sinister one… In the editor's note, we are told that Betty Callwell is found dead in the alley at the back of her former home, 25 years after she first disappeared. Therefore, it is quite plausible to assume then that on the day of her disappearance, Betty Callwell fell (or was possibly even pushed since the police report states that they suspect foul play) from her apartment window. When Loto was crying, "Betty! I'm getting it!... I almost have it" was she grasping for that forgotten memory or was she recalling her last words as she grasped for something that had fallen out of the window and lost her balance, falling out of the window in the process. Either way, death was staring at her in the face, when suddenly she is mystically transported through space to another time, another world. Burroughs was after all, a writer that had developed formulas for his stories and he was unafraid to use them over and again. He first used this device for John Carter in the novel A Princess of Mars who somehow managed to transport himself to the red planet after facing a fate worse than death at the hands of the Apache Indians. This was followed by Ulysses Paxton also reaching Barsoom in The Mastermind of Mars after being maimed and left to die on a battlefield in France. And finally Tangor found his way to Poloda in Beyond the Farthest Star who was also facing death as his plane was being shot out of the skies over Germany.On the night that Loto-El-Ho-Ganja was imprisoned with Carson and the true revelation of Betty Callwell is revealed to her, the shock of her fall from power brings memories flooding back to her. Realising that she does not belong on Venus, she is again mystically transported back to Earth and returns to her body outside her apartment just moments in Earth time after she had first left it.
Did the spirit of Betty Callwell return to her earthly body prior to it hitting the ground, or was she perhaps more fortunate and arrive after the terrible incident? Her poor, broken body is now beyond use and any hopes that Betty held out of resuming her former life were sadly gone. Given this turn of events, one may hope that her spirit once again took leave of this Earthly existence and transported her to another world leaving behind a lifeless form in the dark alley for the last time. Her fate is now sealed as she can never return to Earth as undoubtedly she would find herself imprisoned within the last resting-place of her Earth-bound shell.