Post 4 The Chessmen Of Mars By Edgar Rice Burroughs

January 31, 2009

Edgar Rice Burroughs On Mars

A Review

The Chessmen Of Mars

Part IV

by

R.E. Prindle

The Taxidermist Of Mars

Part I

     While reading through the autobiography of Ian Whitcomb (see my review) who himself was depressed I came across an explanation of the cause of depresseion that explains much of ERB and actually world history, here on Earth and up on the Mars of ERB.

     Whitcomb quotes a psychologist whose name I can’t rembember who explained the cause of depression as the result of the failure of expectations to meet reality.  So, let’s talk about depresseion for a little while.  We’ll feel better for it.

     Somewhere in the first decade of the twentieth century ERB remarked of his life:  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  How was it supposed to be?  Well, one of three favorite books of ERB was the Prince And The Pauper by Mark Twain.  ERB read it six or seven times by the time he wrote this book.  Twain was himself depressed as is apparent from any of his writings, not least being Huckleberry Finn.  In a wonderful description of failed expectations Twain gave an acurate analysis in his great story Puddinhead Wilson.  Wilson’s life was blasted by one bad joke.  ERB read that story too which made a lasting impression.

     In Prince, of course, the young Prince exchanges places with a Pauper then has a very difficult time reclaiming his place in society.  ERB obviously felt that this too was his story.  He was born into a life of comparative luxury being coddled by his brothers if not his parents then being displaced, probably when his father removed him from Brown School in the sixth grade setting him on an unsettled course of many schools.

     A cardinal sign of  his depression was when on his way to Idaho in 1898 he met an old army buddy in Denver.  The pair got drunk, hired a band and marched behind it down the main street of Denver, a desperate attempt at aggrandizement.   Thus figuratively the Pauper posed as the Prince.  Then in the throes of poverty a few years later in a cri de coeur ERB exclaimed:  It wasn’t meant to be like this.

     Perhaps at that time he hit a low deciding he had better do something about it.  If so, his writing career began to unfold.  Here ERB was a raging success- of sorts.  That is to say that he was a commercial success but a critical failure.  Thus, in a manner of speaking he received the monetary rewards of his success but not the critical substance he craved.

     He was a somebody yet if everyone didn’t shun him neither would they accept him at his own valuation.

     Then, as if to realize his wildest fantasies he migrated to Los Angeles where he bought a fantastic estate- the dream of a lifetime.  It might seem that his expectations had become reality.  Not so easy.  He had bit off more than he could chew.  Tarzana was not only an estate but a country at least the size of San Marino.  Anyone who has collected stamps will recognize that one.  ERB even got it its own post office.  Didn’t issue any Tarzana stamps though.

     Just as through his own mismanagement he was losing the dream of Tarzana he suffered cruel critical rejection because of The Chessmen Of Mars.  Thus all his expectations were crumpled by the juggernaut of reality.  Enough to throw anyone into a deep hole.  And so having abandoned the land of Bantoom Gahan, a Burroughs Animus substitute, Tara, an Anima surrogate and Ghek the Kaldane arrive at the gates of another lost city, that of Manator.

     This novel is essentially a tale of two cities- Bantoom and Manator.  Is it possible that Bantoom represents Chicago and Manator L.A.?  It’s a thought.

     Perhaps Ghek, the all-brain, represents the ERB who uses his brain to become a writer while the Rykor of Ghek represents ERB’s idyllic physical life on the ranch.  This aspect or character as of 1921 properly belongs to Chicago where his writing career began and flowered.  Arriving at Mantor or LA ERB begins another career but as yet his further writing is a thing of the future so it can’t figure into this story, hence Ghek ceases to be a leading character and becomes subsidiary comic relief, something like Nigger Jim in Twains’ Huckleberry Finn.

     ERB might easily have made Ghek a much more central character in this half of the book with his ability to roam Manator at will unseen and unnoticed.  After having created the network of paths leading from the pits to every room in Manator, curiously ERB fails to exploit the opportunities.

     The key to the Manator story becomes I-Gos as would Ras Thavas, The Mastermind O f Mars, another mad scientist figure who would be created in 1925.  Just as Ras Thavas would deal with the living, I-Gos lives among the dead.  Excellent depression image.  What an opportunity ERB missed by not calling the Taxidermist I-Gor.  He would have captured the very essence and reality of the B movie for all time except for one letter.

     I-Gos clearly designates Chessmen a novel of depression.  What a terrible job.  Who wouldn’t be depressed?  I-Gos even works in the lowest depths of the pits of Manator.  So far down that he’s lost in the structural psychology of the brain stem.  The brain stem is where all those horrible fixations reside, that unconscious of Freud that directs and misdirects our conscious acts; that overwhelms our conscious  will and negates our best intentions.

     Now, amazingly, this is just how ERB portrays his story.  It isn’t necessary for ERB to be conscious here of what he is actually portraying.  One can sense a condition without consciously understanding it.  One’s fixations are upper most in our minds and we talk of them constantly not being aware of what we are actually talking about.

     ERB describes the results of his encounter with John the Bully on the street corner on the way to school at the moment when Gahan and Tara are standing in the the lowest protion of the pits with I-Gos surrounded by the corpses the Great Taxidermist is working on.  In memory all is dead among the walking the shadows of the past.

     At this point Anima and Animus, Psyche and Eros, are together.  I-Gos tells Gahan that he wants him to get something from a storeroom.  He lures Gahan into the room then slams the door locking Gahan away.  Psychologically this means that one has been isolated from the rest of the world in one’s fixation.  I-Gos then goes back to violate Tara, or the Anima,  of ERB.  She’s a real tigress in ERB’s dreams unlike in real life.  She slips a little steel between I-Gos’ ribs.  Then fleeing she is captured by the Jeddak O-Tar’s men, that’s Rat spelled backward, and carried off.

      At this point Gahan/ERB is isolated, trapped and out of sight of man and god so to speak.  In other words ERB was psychologically cut off from society.  He could no longer interact with his fellows.  So what choice is left for ERB?  He must break out of his isolation.

     Gahan/ERB finds a heavy axe with which to attack the door made of heavy skeel wood.  Working like a berserker Gahan attacks the door.  Resting frequently to recruit his strength he finally makes an opening only big enough to just squeeze through.  Having done so he finds I-Gos lying on the floor as though dead with no sign of Tara.  So how are we to interpret this?

     Based on the evidence it would appear that in his confrontation with John the Bully something like this may have happened although in real life his Anima had abandoned him passively.  ERB doesn’t relate all the details just the key one’s for his conscious mind.  It can’t be proven that he was with Emma at the time but suppose he was.  We know for a fact that he was confronted by a young Irish thug of twelve who terrorized him.  Three years younger at nine ERB may have been transfixed by terror but Emma kept on walking leaving him to his fate.  Hence he, the Animus was separated from his Anima now represented by Emma with whom he developed a love hate relationship.  This would accoount for his fixation on Emma and possibly hers on him.  This would also give a firm basis for his love-hate relationship that expressed itself as total hatred for her upon her death.

     ERB always writes about his experiences.  So taking my exposition a little out of sequence Gahan is separated from Tara for a period of time.  This might represent the period from sixth grade until ERB and Emma’s marriage.  So now, O-Tar near the end of the novel is enamored of Tara/Emma and proposes to force himself on her.  Thus O-Tar is equivalent to Frank Martin.  Gahan as in real life ERB with Emma, gets Tara/Emma away from O-Tar/Martin and marries Tara/Emma himself.

     So, once again ERB tells the story of A. John the Bully and B. His struggle for Emma with Frank Martin.  Thus ERB’s depression is linked with his marriage.

     ERB terminates the story at this point, his winning of the girl; the reuniting of Pyche and Eros.

     But back in the pits of Manator Gahan/ERB has to struggle with his depression and try to overturn his confrontation with John the Bully.

     So, let us now backtrack and survey the setting of Manator as Gahan, Tara and Ghek land and Gahan enters the city.  At this point the story may represent ERB’s own reception in Los Angeles.

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