Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Nkima Speaks

And here is one of the rarities. I sent this to be published in an ERB-APA Special, and apparently it was. I do not have a copy of the issue in which it appeared. It is actually my first pastiche effort written in 1996? You might like to use this at Nkima Speaks sometime. (ed note: I did!)

My old internet buddy, Flem, liked this piece a lot. I suppose it reminded him of our hero, ELMO. My long poem, Tarzan’s Last Adventures came from this little prose wonder.

A Visit to Barsoom
A Mark Twain Odyssey

Expressed by David Adams

For many centuries it was thought that we were confined to moving about in space and time in a fixed way. Of course writers were never held to these rules, for they have always been free to travel through any age or to any place their imaginations would take them.

Once we discovered that it would be possible to actually enter those wonderful realms created by words alone, I took up Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ offer to visit one of his strange worlds of fiction. I enjoy traveling. I’ve certainly done my share as you probably know from reading my Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad , and Following the Equator.

I agreed that Barsoom would be a good place to start. We talked the evening before about the people we would meet, and I felt that I might have something in common with that intrepid traveler in space, John Carter, since I was born when Halley’s comet passed by Earth in 1835, and I rode it out on its return in 1910.

I also discovered that Ed and I just happened to be at the Chicago World’s Fair together in 1893. Not that I knew him then since he was just a lad on vacation from military school whereas I had a number of novels published by then, most of my good ones really. However, I think it curious that we were once so close we might have bumped into each other. Of course, he might have gone on another day, in that case there’s nothing curious about it at all.

When we arrived at Helium, John Carter came bounding down the marble steps of his palace like a kangaroo. I immediately knew I would like this man. Ed and John got on famously. They met with a strange greeting by putting their hands on each other’s shoulders and speaking some brotherly words I didn’t understand. I knew they had been great friends since Ed had actually received manuscripts and stories from him, which he always acknowledged in his writings.

Dejah Thoris, Tangor 2000

I was impressed with John’s wife, whom he always called “My Princess” in an affectionate way; he was almost shy around her like a little boy although he was a giant figure of sturdy manhood. She was a stunningly beautiful woman, nearly as handsome as my own Livy, although her skin was a curious shade of red not at all like our American Indians. The most amazing thing about her though was her graceful movements when she walked, which reminded me of the suppleness of a cat.

We had some strange tasting food and drinks served by women, whom Ed had previously warned me were slaves. I didn’t approve of this odious practice, but I had promised to be on my best behavior and not mention a thing about it.

John told me about his strange life, and I was most curious about his many previous lives, which he seemed unable to explain. I told him about my Mysterious Stranger, which interested him a good deal. We surmised that they might have a common source of existence.

I was most anxious to meet one of the green men that Ed had told me about, and John informed me that Tars Tarkas happened to be at the palace. He had taken his meal in an separate room since he was a warrior upon a mission and could not be distracted by other thoughts or conversation when we arrived. It seems that the green men are a warrior race with a strict code of behavior that does not allow for any deviation from duty. John agreed to arrange an interview with him in his quarters, and I was very pleased when he agreed to see us if only for a few minutes.

No matter how much preparation or explanation you might get before meeting a green man of Mars, you will undoubtedly be startled nearly out of your wits when you actually see one. I had been warned that Tars Tarkas was a gigantic being, but when I came into the room where he was standing, I had the impulse to turn around and run the other way. I would have too, had not John Carter walked so calmly toward him as though nothing unusual was happening.

When you approach a creature who is 15 feet in height, the top of your head barely reaches his waist, but it is not so much the tallness that impresses you as the greater overall size in bulk and form. And what a form this man was! The four arms were disconcerting at first, which gave him an insect-like appearance since with his two legs he had six limbs in all. When I looked at his face my heart began pounding even faster than it already was, for it is one of those faces you can only imagine in a horrible nightmare.

His eyes were set at the extreme sides of his head, and he rolled them independently forward and down, looking at John as he approached below him, while peering coldly at us at the same time. However it was the lack of a nose and the great, upward curving tusks that were the most frightening part of his countenance.

He motioned to the chairs set about the room with three of his arms, while feeling backwards for one of his own with the other. These limbs seemed to move like a man’s arms, yet the unusual number remained an eerie condition of his presence that I never felt comfortable with as long as we were with him. I also had the odd sensation that he wassomehow commanding us to sit with his thoughts, a feeling that made me quickly sit down in the chair to which he pointed.

When I had settled down, gripping the arms of the chair, I noticed that the iris of his eyes was a blood red that seemed to swim in a pool of the whitest milk. He was covered in a strange sort of harness studded in precious stones that glinted in the darkened room like distant fires or like a host of stars. Although I had been told that he was green, I couldn’t really tell as the shade was so dark -- olive in completion, not really displeasing to the sight.

Tars Tarkas sat behind a large table of carved marble, so his limbs were not visible to us except for his two muscular arms which lay folded upon its cool surface. Perhaps John Carter had told him to make this interview as natural for us as possible.

With John as our translator, we asked him many things and were amazed at his answers, which were all laconic, spoken in a few words that never seemed to be in doubt for the answers. All the while, Tars Tarkas kept one eye upon the door as though he were watching for something, perhaps just the habit of a vigilant warrior.

We were only allowed about 15 minutes of time, but it seemed hours that we were in the presence of this strange being. He rose abruptly, and the interview was over. John Carter motioned us to the door, and I walked away in a sort of daze, noticing that Ed put out his arms toward the creature and was met in a friendly embrace within those amazing limbs.

I staggered out of the room into the hallway, and was followed a moment later by Ed and John Carter.

“Burroughs, my lad,” I exclaimed in awe, “you actually had it in you to say goodbye to that creature -- to touch him?”

“Nothing to it Sam,” he laughed, “you get used to them after awhile.”

I looked at Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs with a new sense of wonder and respect.

“The truth is,” he said a moment later, “ I’ve not been around green men that much myself. It’s John here who is the brave man. You can see how an ordinary man is affected by the strange beings on this planet. John just stepped right in and did battle with these great creatures when he first met them as though it was the most natural thing in the world -- and it WAS to him because he is a natural warrior. It’s like Caesar you know. When you read his Commentaries , the most horrific battles are told in a dry, mater-of-fact way - - which they were to a man of his mind. John Carter’s accounts were colored by my prose a good deal I can tell you. The way John would have it, he really did nothing out of the ordinary - - it was just the thing a man (a warrior) would do as a matter of course.”

“But, they are so, so, different, so alien, I replied. “The way he looked at us, and ...”

“Yes,” Burroughs said to me, “John feels that too, but being the man he is, it kind of short-circuits, and he goes into his fighting mode. It’s a place that ordinary men don’t ordinarily find unless they are hard pressed like in a desperate battle. The thing is with John Carter, he has it instinctively, you might say. He reacts before he thinks about it, and his course of action is usually the right one.”

“Then you are either the greatest fool or the bravest man I have ever met, I responded with heartfelt emotion, looking into John Carter’s calm, grey eyes.

“Bravery really has nothing to do with it, my friend,” John Carter replied. “I simply do what a man must do in every situation in which I find myself.” And with this, he turned his great shoulders and sprang down the stairs to the great hall like a boy getting out of school on a holiday.

Ed winked at me, and we followed the warrior as he passed out a tall gate into the courtyard.

“John is going to show you his thoats,” Ed said, as though I knew what he was talking about.

“What’s a thoat?” I replied with some apprehension, “not another of those monsters with great, gleaming fangs, I hope.”

“Well, just wait and see,” Ed said as we trudged across some odd yellow moss that felt amazingly good under me feet.

In the distance I saw a series of tall, domed buildings linked one after another with large, arched doorways like those I saw at the Coliseum in Rome. And behind those dark entrances came an odd shuffling sound and heavy breathing and snorting like elephants at the zoo. At this point, I was not too interested in seeing thoats, but Burroughs thought it was safe enough for me, so I followed him slowly several paces behind.

We stepped into the gloom of one of the large buildings, and for a moment I thought my first conjectures had been correct. We were in an elephant barn.

Yet, when my eyes became used to the dim light, which came from a series of round opening in the domes, I could see that they were actually more of these odd Martian beasts but this time with 8 legs instead of 6 - - four on each side of massive, smooth bodies. At first I thought they had been painted, as the custom is with elephants in India, but Ed informed me that the vivid yellow of their feet was perfectly normal.

The necks of thoats are thick and elongated, and they have wide, gaping mouths. They are altogether the strangest horses I have ever seen, for this is what Ed called them. They have a long, broad, flat tail that they hold out behind them while running that acts as a sort of balancing rudder.

I was familiar with horses from my days in the West, so Ed and I rode with John Carter around his palace grounds and even took them beyond the walls for a gallop, which seemed to work well despite their unusual number of legs. The thing about thoats is their surprising flexibility despite their great size. They are actually almost as agile as our stoats (which I wondered if it was their name’s origin) and can move very rapidly across the strange, moss-covered landscape almost without a sound on their heavily padded feet. I asked if the yellow shading on their legs and feet was a sort of camouflage, and John Carter told me he assumed it must be so. When they lie down in the ocer-colored moss, they look like great, slate colored boulders from a distance, a fact which John Carter had put to good use many times in his reconnaissance missions.

We had a great ride. John Carter told us to point them in the right direction by thinking about it and to also control our speed that way. It seemed amazingly simple to me, and came as no surprise that these beasts make such wonderful mounts.

John Carter rode barebacked, probably showing off a bit, I thought, hanging on while his thoat made great leaps into the air like a bucking bronco, but Ed and I used a kind of leather saddle studded with a king’s ransom in jewels. Ed later told me that John Carter had let me use his own saddle and harnesses, which was deemed to be a great honor among his people.

We returned to the palace under the light of two great moons, and, being so thrilled with the moment, even I cried, “Kaor!” to the guards at the gate.