The Death of Tars Tarkas

John "Bridge" Martin

I was thumbing through some of my old ERB-doms the other day, looking at the news items about mentions of ERB in various publications, when I saw one about a short story in IF in which Tars Tarkas died.

The issue of World of IF Science Fiction was Volume 15, No. 9 (Issue 94) of September 1965.

Back in those days, by the time you got your issue of ERB-dom any magazines mentioned has usually gone off sale, and there was little chance of finding the designated issue. But now, with ebay, it’s a whole different world! I did a search on ebay and found the very issue at a very reasonable price, so soon I was able to obtain the magazine and read the story. It’s called “Under Two Moons” by Frederick Pohl and was the lead story in that issue of IF.

The story was about an intergalactic secret agent named Johan Gull who, as the story began, had just been tied up by a beautiful girl who said she loved him but who also placed an explosive device in his mouth. If he spit it out, she had the floor covered with gunpowder. He got away, though, by bravely burning his mouth to “chew out” the spurting flame on the fuse.

He then worked himself loose and got back to headquarters to receive his next assignment, investigating some UFOs on Mars. And once again he ran into the mysterious girl, Alessandra, who had tried to kill him.

Of more interest, though is that he and the girl ran into Tars Tarkas (Three Wally Wood illustrations accompany this story, including the one reproduced on this page.)

Tars Tarkas found them roaming the Martian plains and rode up to them on his thoat, carrying a lance. He tossed the weapon away and said, “I won’t need this for such as you! Prepare to defend yourself, Earthling – and know that you face the mightiest warrior of the dead sea bottoms Tars Tarkas of Thark!”

Gull,thinking quickly, said, “It’s true that we don’t have tickets…but you see we were torpedoed in the Sinus Sabaeus and had no opportunity to pass the usual admission gate.”

“Wretched Earthling!” roared Tars. “If I issue you tickets there is a ten per cent surcharge; I don’t make Barsoomland policy, I only work here….”

Tars agreed to accept Gull’s American Express card and Tars issued them two lavender slips. He welcomed them to Barsoomland and recommended they be “sure to visit the Giant Sky Ride from the Twin Towers of Helium, in the base of which are several excellent restaurants.” But they wanted more – a ride on his thoat to Heliopolis. “And no tricks,” Gull warned. “I’ve taken this ride fifty times and I know what the meter should show.”

Tars gave them the ride but on the way they encountered the UFO – a flying saucer – that Gull has been sent to investigate.

“Blood of Issus!” shouted the Barsoomian. “It’s one of them!”

Tars “bellowed animal hatred to the dark Martian sky and raised his lance. Fierce white fires leaped from its tip – struck the alien vessel, clung and dropped away. The craft was unharmed.”

In retaliation, the saucer shot out a single needle of ruby light which zapped Tars between the eyes, causing an explosion which stunned Gull. When he got up, half-conscious, he saw that Tars Tarkas had been reduced to a giant mound of gray-green flesh and bright metal parts, writhing faintly. He cradled the ravaged head and Tars Tarkas said: “We…are property,” and died.

So, Frederik Pohl kills off an ERB character, but he does so in such a comic scenario that we can only assume the whole passage was a joke and that the great green Martian still rides the dead sea bottoms.

There’s more to the story, as Gull continues his investigation, but the Tars part was the important part. – Reviewed by John Martin