I was slumming in the Halls of Academia (aka ERBCOF-L, an "in joke") when some interesting conversation erupted. I was con in a debate regarding the origins of John Carter which speculated that the Virginian was extra-terrestrial rather than human (my viewpoint). As my worthy opponent faltered I switched horses for the fun of it and rode his nag to produce the following intellectual exercise. This article is an expanded and restructured version of the original post at ERBCOF-L, and benefits from additional research which corrects a previously misstated Barsoomian time frame.
Bozarth's Hypothesis Regarding The Extraterrestrial Origins of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 1998
All Rights Reserved
Last Updated: January 2018
The Barsoomian stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs feature a heroic protagonist named John Carter. Edgar Rice Burroughs portrays Carter as a long time soldier with family in Virginia and as a man who once served in the armies of several (unnamed) European powers. Carter held a Captaincy in the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.
The war over, John Carter and a fellow named Powell spent a year prospecting for gold in Arizona. They found a very rich vein which promised to make them wealthy men but disaster, in the form of hostile indians, intervened. Powell was captured and killed.
Carter had risked his life attempting to save Powell and was subsequently chased into the mountains. Looking for a defensive position Carter stumbled upon a cave. When he entered it, to Carter's amazement, the indians withdrew. That the cave held a mysterious significance for the indians Carter was soon to discover. An uknown gas inside the cave paralyzed the ex-Confederate officer and lay him prostrate upon the floor. Desperation at his plight grew until something snapped within Carter's mind and he suddenly found himself in astral body looking down upon his own.
Not long after this astonishing event the red eye of Mars beckoned to Carter, seeming to draw him toward it—and it did. What happened after that is chronicled in the fantastic books ERB penned beginning in 1912.
The above facts are mundane, that is, they are consistent with the era (March, 1865) and are not particularly unusual, other than the astral body event, except for a short declaration made by Captain Carter in the very first paragraph of the tale, A PRINCESS OF MARS:
I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that some day I shall die the real death from which there is no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality.
Immortal—that's a far from mundane! Could Captain Jack Carter, CSA, be alien? This was the question posed at the ERBCOF-L Listserver.
The following speculation is best understood if you have read at least the first book of the Barsoomian series, A PRINCESS OF MARS. Recommended reading for some of the finer details includes GODS OF MARS, WARLORD OF MARS and THUVIA, MAID OF MARS. A general overview of the Barsoomian world is found elsewhere at A BARSOOM GLOSSARY.
In the books the red race of Mars, which Carter adopts and is adopted by, has a scientific basis despite their barbaric culture. Ras Thavas (MASTER MIND OF MARS) exemplifies the super-science of the red man. Space travel in human-built ships is a significant plot device in SWORDS OF MARS and SKELETON MEN OF JUPITER. Yet, in all the books, we do not find mention of space travel between Barsoom and earth and, in any event, space vessels were not developed until after Carter has been on Mars for a number of years. Possibly because the red man had developed space-faring ships speculation at ERBCOF-L hinted that Carter might be a red Martian on earth, perhaps bio-engineered to withstand earth's gravity field. This is a somewhat interesting concept but for one minor detail:
John Carter is white, which immediately precludes him being a red martian. The white race on Barsoom at the time of Carter's arrival (1865) is the Therns. This race is completely bald. They wear blond wigs and are religious fanatics, not scientists. Carter is black-haired. A Thern he cannot be, but there is mention of yet another fair-skinned race, remnants of which are found only in the isolated city of Lothar (THUVIA). They are described as auburn-haired (yellowish in the original meaning of the word, not reddish brown as is common usage today). We now have a fair-skinned, non-bald race from which John Carter, a supposed Barsoomian relocated to earth, might have come. However, there is no appreciable science in Lothar.
What we do find in Lothar is a race of mentalists, humans with incredible powers of hypnotic and telekinetic powers. Through mental will alone these masters of deception can create whole armies of imaginary soldiers which are used to keep the barbaric green men at bay. So successful in detail and execution with these images is Tario the Jeddak of Lothar that a favored illusion, Kar Komak, comes alive, solid and independent! Could Lothar be the origin for John Carter? Alas, no: there is no science in Lothar, nor do these people have any interest of the world outside their city. However, these few survivors of the Orovars, the elder white race more fair skinned than John Carter, offer another possibility to support speculation that the Virginian was, in fact, a Barsoomian on earth.
Presuming that John Carter is a martian transported to earth we are faced with the question of how a being from a planet with substantially less gravity could function, much less survive on our planet. The evidence presented in the stories shows Carter endowed with superior physical strength compared to the natives of Barsoom. This seemingly indicates a terrestrial origin rather than Barsoomian. It would then appear that Carter is not Barsoomian. Yet, there is a third possibility, which is the basis of this imaginative speculation.
BUILDING A CASE:
The Orovars were the dominate race of Barsoom a million years before the events of A PRINCESS OF MARS. The red race at that time was savage and barbaric, as nomadic as the green martians. The red man did not rise to dominance until after the oceans of Mars receded, an event which took a million years. Carter, as an elder race Orovar, would have had to come to earth long before human civilization appeared on Earth. Was this possible, and if so, how did Carter arrive on earth?
Kar Komak reveals something of the oceanic world of Barsoom, gone for a million years. His descriptions of vessels plying the great oceans of Mars are equipped with sails, hardly high tech. Bow and arrows are the ultimate in weaponry, indicating a pre-industrial culture. The elder Orovarian race could not have built a space ship to travel between Barsoom and Jasoom (earth). Having reached an apparent dead end, we look to yet another possibility.
In LLANA OF GATHOL John Carter encounters the Orovars of Horz, an isolated city in the northern hemisphere. Ho Ran Kim, the blue-eyed, yellow-haired Jeddak of Horz, reveals that science did indeed exist and that the Orovar, not the red man, created the atmosphere plant which, through continuous operation, has provided breathable atmosphere for Barsoom. This science, however, does not appear technologically advanced to build spaceships nor do the present inhabitants of Horz have advanced technology. Carter visited the atmosphere plant and his descriptions of its operation do not change this conclusion.
The telepathic and mental capabilities of John Carter as described in the books suggest he has powers ordinary terrestrial humans do not. From whence comes this ability? Kar Komak, the bowman of Lothar who came into corporeal existence, had mental abilities of his own and was able to project armies of imaginary warriors to rout an attack by savage greenmen. Carter's mental abilities are not as pronounced, but remain significant nonetheless.
The telepathic inertness that shielded Carter from prying minds on Barsoom, yet was coupled with an extraordinary ability to focus his own telepathic efforts upon others, could be an indication of otherworldliness—and may be our link to the ancient Orovarian race. That elder civilization did not have the capacity to build spaceships, but what if their mental powers were even more pronounced than the degenerate mentalists of Lothar? Could an ancient Orovarian project a simulacrum across 40,000,000 miles of space? Could that mental construct have been created to report conditions and to explore the third planet? Given the abilities of the documented Lotharian mentalists, this seems possible. It might have required a group of Orovarian mind-scientists to accomplish the task—and perhaps they accomplished too well: the result being a fully-formed physical presence on Jasoom, wholly adapted to life on earth. If so, then the event would have happened over 1,000,000 years ago.
No human, as we know humanity, can live so long, yet if Carter is born of ancient Orovarian mental processes and has survived to the contemporary century of his return to Barsoom, he would have to be immortal or gifted of a life-span measured in astronomical units. Carter believes himself immortal. If so, then our speculative ancient Orovar creation, which was not born of flesh but pure mental energy, may be our John Carter of Mars!
Resolving the question how a million year old Orovarian came to be on earth and not remember any of it is more difficult.
I suggest that a lifetime of such magnitude, particularly on a planet bare of civilization or others of its kind, would have been a lonesome existence that might have had a profound effect upon the creature's mind. Such endless existence may have resulted in the human-like construct suffering from cyclic periods of profound amnesia as a form of mental self-defense against painful isolation. Carter declares in the opening paragraph that he does not know his age and does not recall events greater than the specified subjective time frame. Our million year old Carter of 1865 may have recently (in terms of a life span of a million years) experienced an amnesia episode.
Continuing on that foundation Carter, the Orovar, may have enjoyed many normal human lifetimes of memories and lost them unawares. His recent memories, as portrayed in the books, indicate service in European armies though time frames and actual countries are not mentioned. Carter, the warrior, may have moved from war to war throughout earth's ancient history, perhaps as a nameless mercenary. Who remembers soldiers after the battle is over? Since soldiers suffer extraordinary casuality rates it would seem reasonable that one John Carter could appear to die and another reappear elsewhere without raising suspicion. A continual life as a warrior "mentally reborn" every 1,000(?) years (that self-protecting amnesia reflex suggested above) would endow the creature's physical form with uncommon martial skills, a learned "muscle memory" which would be acutely honed. This would greatly explain John Carter's prowess with weapons. His constant "I still live!" refrain is indicative of an extreme will to survive.
Editor's Note: While refreshing the erblist.com website in 2017, a separate piece exploriing Carter's human life and family on Earth was published at this site. See John Carter's Old Lady by John Martin and David Bruce Bozarth.
Bozarth again returned to the question of Carter's "family". See: Virginia and Carter's Family.
Could this creature born of thought by mentalists dead perhaps 1,000,000 years on a world some 40,000,000 miles away have the ability to procreate on earth? Alas, too little detail is offered to truly speculate. He may simply have attached himself as a friend to various clans throughout the ages, accepted as a family member or even taking their name. Burroughs' only references to John Carter as a family member was "uncle" with no further explanation of the relationship, in particular to Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Such a being, a creature born of thought in the likeness of its creators and constructed for use upon a different planet, might have a natural "polarity" (for wont of a better word) to return to the source of his creation: Barsoom. When the physical Carter entered the Arizona cave and succumbed to the mysterious gas, it may have been the first time since its creation that the core mind was freed of the physical form. In a flash, with a bit of dark, cold and oblivion thrown in, the pure Orovarian part of Carter returned to the planet which spawned him. His million year existence on earth would have quite likely eradicated any residual memories of his creators' world, yet there is a constant refrain throughout the books that Carter keenly felt part of that barbaric planet and that Barsoom was his home.
Were John Carter a created being formed by the mental energies of long dead Orovarian psychologist-scientists for use upon our terrestrial earth, his physicalities are explained, his ability to cross the void is explained, his mental and telepathic capabilities are explained and, lastly, his fertility with Dejah Thoris is explained.
That said, I still personally believe Carter is of human terrestrial origin, else the wondrous heart of the Barsoomian fantasies loose their appeal.