SOME SPECULATIONS REGARDING THE "COINCIDENCES" IN THE MARTIAN STORIES
J. G. Huckenpöholer
Originally appeared in ERBapa #45, 1995
One of the major criticisms of Burroughs is his overuse of coincidences. The Mars series is no exception, but some of the alleged coincidences may not be coincidences at all.
In A Princess of Mars, John Carter arrives on Mars at the Tharks' incubator near the abandoned city of Korad a few days before Dejah Thoris, accompanying a scientific expedition, is shot down there. In The Gods of Mars, he arrives in the Valley Dor just before Dejah Thoris reaches that alleged Barsoomian Valhalla. Coincidences? Maybe not.
Compare, for example, the "Palos" trilogy of John Ulrich Giesy, written at approximately the same time as the early Martian stories.(1) In this trilogy, the main character, Jason Croft, travels to the planet Palos, circling the star Sirius, via astral projection--a process accepted in several Eastern religions. Strangely enough, he reaches the exact spot on the planet (at a distance of nine light-years) where the caravan carrying Prince Lakkon and his daughter Naia is about to pass.
It was as though suddenly he had found something he had lost--as though he had met one known and forgotten and now once more recognized. ...[I]n his studies of the occult he had more than once come in contact with the doctrine of twin souls--that theory that in the beginning the spirit is dual, and that projecting into material existence the dual entity splits into two halves, a male and a female, and so exists forever until the two halves meet once more and unite.(2)
But we do not need to go so far afield as Hinduism or Buddhism to find this theory advanced; we can find its counterpart in our own classical literature. In Plato's Symposium (Jowett translation), Aristophanes says,
[T]he primeval man was round and had four hands and four feet, back and sides forming a circle, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike ... Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods; and of them is told the tale of Otus and Ephialtes who, as Homer says, dared to scale heaven, and would have laid hands upon the gods. Doubt reigned in the councils of Zeus and the gods. Should they kill them and annihilate the race with thunderbolts, as they had done the giants, then there would be an end of the sacrifice and worship which men offered to them; but, on the other hand, the gods could not suffer their insolence to be unrestrained. At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus discovered a way. He said: "I have a notion which will humble their pride and mend their manners; they shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us. ...After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and threw their arms about one another eager to grow into one... Each of us when separated is but the indenture of a man, having one side only like a flat fish, and he is always looking for his other half.(3)
Now, while no one has ever claimed that Burroughs was a student of Tibetan Buddhism (though it appears from the introduction to Pirates of Venus that he had more than a passing acquaintance with Eastern religions), it is quite likely that he was familiar with Plato, and made use of this doctrine of twin souls as a device to bring John Carter and Dejah Thoris together on those two occasions. He simply did not feel the need to spell it out in words of one syllable or less. (Perhaps, in the character of John Carter, a "simple fighting man," he was not familiar with Plato.) In the later books, of course, John Carter learned from Kar Komak how to control his comings and goings so that he could arrive at any point he desired.(4)
This same concept was used later by Lin Carter in the "Green Star" series published by DAW in the 1970's; however, these may be considered derivative, drawing both on Burroughs and Giesy for source material.(5) The idea may also be invoked to resolve other "coincidences" that strain credulity-- for example, we note that the Claytons were set ashore on a little natural harbor that had never been visited before, and for twenty years was not visited again. Then, within a period of two years, we find a positive traffic jam crowding into that little inlet--Professor Porter's party, the French cruiser under Capt. Dufranne, the lifeboats of the Lady Alice, and the French cruiser again.(6) Tarzan's cabin seems to have acted as a magnet to draw Tarzan and Jane together on those two occasions.
28 February 1995
- 1. Giesy, J. U., Palos of the Dog Star Pack (originally published in All-Story Magazine, 1918, hardback edition published by Avalon, 1965); The Mouthpiece of Zitu (originally published in 1919, hardback published by Avalon, 1965); and Jason, Son of Jason (originally published in Argosy in 1921, hardback edition by Avalon, 1966).
- 2. Giesy, Palos of the Dog Star Pack, Avalon edition, pp. 33-34.
- 3. Jowett, B., The Works of Plato (New York, Tudor Publishing Company, n.d.), Vol. 3, pp.315-316.
- 4. Burroughs, The Chessmen of Mars (Chicago, A. C. McClurg, 1922), p. 3.
- 5. Carter, Lin, Under the Green Star (New York, DAW Books, 1972); When the Grees Star Calls (New York, DAW Books, 1973); By the Light of the Green Star (New York, DAW Books, 1974); As the Green Star Rises (New York, DAW Books, 1975); and In the Green Star's Glow (New York, DAW Books, 1976).
- 6. As an aside, was Tennington's yacht named after Tarzan's mother? There is never any mention of a family relationship between Tennington and Tarzan, and yet one is tempted to theorize that there must have been some connection.