John Carter, former Confederate cavalry officer and now interplanetary expatriate, has fallen among the Tharks, a cruel, barbaric tribe of green, four-armed Martians. By virtue of his fighting prowess he has gained a certain amount of status and respect among the Tharks, but he knows this is temporary; as soon as the tribe returns to their capital city, he will face the judgement of their jeddak, Tal Hajus, a merciless tyrant regarded as sadistic even by Tharkish standards.
He has also met and fallen in love with Dejah Thoris, the beautiful granddaughter of the jeddak of Helium, a city-state of the Red Martians; who is a captive of the Tharks. She loves him too, but because of Carter's unfamiliarity with Martian customs, he seems unable to speak to her without putting his foot in his mouth. She's mad at him and he doesn't know why.
He has also made an enemy in Sajorka, a Tharkish female who had developed an unreasoning implacable hatred towards Carter. She has persuaded a young warrior named Zad to pick a fight with Carter and he has found himself embroiled in a duel to the death. Stabbed in the chest, Carter makes one last desperate lunge at his opponent and passes out.
He is only unconscious for a trice. When he recovers, he sees that he has successfully delivered a fatal blow and his opponent lies dead upon the Martian moss. Zad's blade had driven through his chest, but has glanced off his ribs without piercing any vital organs; nothing that the remarkable medicinal techniques of the Martian women cannot take care of.
He goes to find Dejah Thoris, who lies weeping in her chariot. Sola, the Martian woman who has been acting as Carter's teacher and servant and who has been watching over Dejah, explains that she thinks Carter is dead.
"Tears are a strange sight upon Barsoom," she continued, "and so it is difficult for me to interpret them. I have seen but two people in all my life, other than Dejah Thoris: one wept from sorrow, the other from baffled rage. The first was my mother, years ago before they killed her; the other was Sarkoja, when they dragged her from me today."Carter tells Sola to tell Dejah how he survived, but not to tell her he saw her weeping. He's on thin enough ice with the Princess; he doesn't want to risk further wounding her pride.
He is curious, however, about Sola's comment regarding her mother. The Green Martians generally don't know who their parents are. Their eggs are gathered and placed in communal incubators. Once the young are hatched, they will be selected by some of the tribes women who will finish raising them; but neither the child or the foster mother ever know who the actual parents were.
(Oh, and all Martians are oviparous; even the Red Martians like the beautiful Dejah Thoris. If you want to know why egg-laying creatures have breasts, take it up with Frank Frazetta).
Later, Sola tells Carter her story. Sola's mother was a sensitive woman, who detested the cruel sadistic culture of her people. Too small to be considered adequate breeding material, she nevertheless fell in love with a young warrior who shared some of her sentiments. She gave birth to his child and hid the egg in a secret place, lest she and her lover be executed for their sin. Her lover determined that he would someday challenge the jeddak, Tal Hajus, and bring about reforms. The lover was off on a military campaign far to the south when the egg hatch. Sola's mother then kept her hidden, biding her time until the next batch of hatchlings were brought to the city.
But the mother was overheard telling her daughter of her story by none other than Sarkoja, who passed the news on to Tal Hajus. The mother had just enough time to slip Sola among the newly-arrived hatchlings before she was captured. The mother died under torture without ever confessing the name of her lover: Tars Tarkas, the warrior who Sola now serves and who has been John Carter's patron among the Tharks.
The rest of the journey back to the Thark capital. Carter keeps his distance from Dejah, waiting for her to make the next move. Which she doesn't.
I verily believe that a man's way with women is in inverse ratio to his prowess among men. The weakling and the saphead have often great ability to charm the fair sex, while the fighting man who can face a thousand real dangers unafraid, sits hiding in the shadows like some frightened child.When the caravan arrives in the City of Thark, Carter is assigned living quarters appropriate to his current warrior's status in the tribe. Now, finally he goes to talk with Dejah. She addresses him coldly: "What would Dotar Sojat, Thark, of Dejah Thois his captive?" She uses the name given to Carter by the Tharks as a pointed reminder of their relative positions.
"Dejah Thoris, I do not know how I have angered you. It was furtherest from my desire to hurt of offend you, whom I had hoped to protect and comfort. Have none of me if it is your will, but that you must aid me in effecting your escape, if such a thing be possible, it is not my request, but my command. When you are safe once more at your father's court you may do with me as you please, but from now on until that day I am your master, and you must obey and aid me."This actually impresses her. Women. Go figure.
They bring Sola into their conspiracy and plan an escape. Sola has already heard scuttlebutt that the Princess is going to be thrown to the wild calots, and so they have little time. Carter will steal a couple thoats and come back to get the girls; then they will proceed to one of the canals near the city and follow it into territory controlled by Helium.
Stealing the thoats goes without a hitch, but when he returns to Dejah's apartment (leaping to her second-story window so as to be inconspicuous) he discovers a group of guards positioned there waiting for him. Overhearing their discussion he learns that the Princess and Sola have already been taken to the unspeakable Tal Hajus.
Evading the guards before they spot him, Carter proceeds to the palace of Tal Hajus and sneaks into the throne room where even now the loathsome jeddak is drooling over his lovely captive. Earlier, John Carter had commented on how as a rule the Tharks were quite virtuous in regards to the sexes, despite their callous contempt for the finer emotions in other respects. Tal Hajus is the exception. It's a tradition in popular fiction that you have to have the Beautiful Girl menaced by a malevolent pervert, the more ugly and obscene the better, who threatens her with A Fate Worse Than Death. Tal Hajus fits the criteria in spades.
"Princess of Helium, I might wring a mighty ransom from your people would I but return you to them unharmed, but a thousand times rather would I watch that beautiful face writhe in the agony of torture it shall be long drawn out, that I promise you ... But before the torture you shall be mine for one short hour, and word of that too shall go forth to Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, your grandfather, that he may grovel upon the ground in the agony of his sorrow."It turns out that one short hour was optimistic. Before Tal Hajus has a chance to lay even one of his several sweaty palms on the incomparable Dejah Thoris, John Carter leaps to her defense. He is strongly tempted to slice the foul jeddak's gizzard right there, but decides that he shouldn't rob Tars Tarkas of that pleasure and so contents himself with simply giving Tal Hajus a sock on the jaw. Now Tal Hajus is the one on the ground.
Carter, the Princess and Sola, accompanied by Woola his faithful calot, flee the city. They travel for a couple days before they spot a group of Green Martians in the distance pursuing them. Carter tells his companions to hide in the ravines of the hill country they are entering while he attempts to draw off pursuit. Dejah doesn't like this plan.
She sprang quickly from the thoat and throwing her dear arms around my neck, turned to Sola, saying with quiet dignity, "Fly, Sola! Dejah Thoris remains to die with the man she loves."But Carter is too much of the Virginian gentleman to permit her to die like that. He dumps her back on her thoat and gives the critter a slap on the rump, (the thoat, not the Princess), to send it off. Bounding into the air with his tremendous leaps, he draws the attention of Martians and leads them away from his companions. But he is greatly outnumbered, and eventually they capture him.
These Martians are not Tharks sent to recapture him, as he first thought, but rather come from Warhoon, a rival tribe, smaller and not quite as cultured as the Tharks. Carter isn't in their clutches five minutes before the jeddak of the Warhoons is killed by his chief lieutenant in a vicious and bloody duel. He is thrown into a dungeon to keep until the next round of gladiatorial games.
For many weeks, Carter sits in that lightless dungeon, slowly losing his grip on sanity. He manages to attack and kill the guard who brings him food, but before he can find the guard's keys, the unfortunate fellow is grabbed by a creature who has been lurking in the dungeon all this time waiting for something to die. Then after a while, Carter gets another cellmate: a padwar, or lieutenant, of the Helium navy named Kantos Kan, who was captured by the Warhoons while searching for the Princess. The two prisoners become friends.
A couple days later, they are both dragged out of their cell to participate in the great games, with a great number of wild calots, mad zitidars, green men and women from other hordes and critters Carter has never seen before. They will all be pitted against each other in the arena and the last one alive will win his freedom. Carter has a plan.
With his incredible earthly strength and agility, Carter easily beats his opponents. Kantos Kan has a harder time of it, but being a skilled warrior he defeats all his foes too; until it is just Carter and Kantos Kan. Carter tells his companion to stall, drawing out their fight until evening. Then, when the light is growing dim, Carter takes a dive and Kantos Kan fakes delivering a coup de grâce. Since the custom of the Green Martians is to leave the dead lie where they are after duels, no one thinks to check to make sure he's really dead, and so Carter is able to sneak off after nightfall.
He hopes to connect with Kantos Kan again once his friend has been granted his freedom, but Kantos does not show up, so Carter proceeds onward into the desert. For two weeks he wanders, trying to navigate as best he can by the stars. Faithful Woola shows up and saves him from a wild beast. Woola's ten stumpy legs may have difficulty keeping up with Carter's leaping stride, but he always catches up eventually.
Carter comes to a huge building, about two hundred feet high and covering about four square miles. He is allowed in by an old man who explains that this is one of the Atmosphere Factories which maintain the breathable atmosphere on Mars. We get a little bit here of the science which the ancient Barsoomians possessed. The ancients had discovered two additional "rays" beyond the seven colors of the visible spectrum: the "Eight Ray" is a repulsive force which propogates light from the sun and which the Red Martians use to propel their sky ships; and the "Ninth Ray" provides power for much of their super-technology, including the Atmosphere Factories. These factories are vital to the existence of life on Mars, so all races, even the barbaric Green Martians, respect them.
The keeper of the Atmosphere Factory, has an advanced form of the telepathy all Martians have, but is incapable of reading Carter's mind. Carter, however, can see his thoughts, and sees that the keeper considers him a possible threat to the planet and is planning to kill him in his sleep. Carter slips away unnoticed before he can carry this out.
Continuing on, Carter comes to Zodangan territory, another Red Martian city-state hostile to Helium. The actual citizens of Zodanga are helpful and friendly to John. A family of farmers he stays with give him needed supplies and a riding thoat. They also help him dye his skin a martian copper so that he'll blend in better. He is careful not to mention his association with Dejah Thoris. Relations between Zodanga and Helium are tense due to attacks made on the Helium fleet by Zodanga's ruler.
In the Zodangan capital, Carter runs into Kantos Kan. These coincidences tend to happen to John a lot. Kantos brings him up to date on what has happened since they last parted. It turns out that Dejah Thoris has been captured by Sab Than, prince of Zodanga, who has fallen madly in love with the Princess. Than Kosis, the prince's father and jeddak of Zodanga, has made her voluntary marriage to Sab Than the price of peace between the two countries. Kantos Kan has infiltrated the city to try and find her.
Posing as a Zodangan citizen, Kantos Kan is going to enlist in the Zodangan air navy in order to get closer to the prince and suggests that Carter do the same. He does so and soon is learning to fly the Barsoomian sky ships.
On his first day on patrol as a sky scout he spots a band of Green Martians converging on a downed Zodangan ship whose pilot is trying to make emergency repairs. Carter is able to drive off the hostiles and rescue the pilot, who turns out to be a cousin to the jeddak. For his act of heroism, the jeddak promotes him to padwar and now has a place in the Palace Guards.
Now all he has to do is find Dejah.
NEXT: It's Not That Easy; Lost in the Air; Tars Tarkas's Revenge; Raid on Zodanga, and the Princess At Last. It's Dejah View All Over Again!!!