Tucker's Reviews > The Chessmen of Mars

The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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May 22, 12

bookshelves: eunuch, finished
Read from May 19 to 21, 2012, read count: 1

One of the last lines of Virginia Woolf's first novel The Voyage Out is "It would certainly be very dull to die before they have discovered whether there is life in Mars." So maybe it is no coincidence that, immediately after finishing that book, I picked up The Chessman of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), creator of the Tarzan character. This is a fantasy in which a beautiful princess is serially taken hostage and perpetually threatened with rape and cannibalism were it not for her heroic soldier who always finds her at the right moment.

Actual dialogue:

"Entirely surrounding us is a great salt marsh, which protects us from invasion by land, while the rugged and ofttimes vertical topography of our mountain renders the landing of hostile airships a precarious undertaking."

"Thy tongue is as venomous as that of the she-banth O-Tar sent to The Towers of Jetan."

Most memorable is a strange humanoid species that (dis)embodies the idea of total mind/body separation, consisting of the "kaldane" which is the head and the "rykor" which is the rest of the body. The kaldanes scuttle around on crabby appendages and occasionally plug themselves into the neck-holes of unsuspecting, brainless rykors which they can then control as vehicles. The mentalist kaldanes are, of course, evil, believing in their own perfect rationality, translating into their own superiority and their right to dominate anyone perceived as inferior. They will eat a rykor as well as more intelligent creatures after conversing with them. They have a touch of telekinesis. When not traveling on rykors, they live in airless subterranean chambers, awaiting the day when they will finally become, in the words of one kaldane,

"just a great, wonderful, beautiful brain with nothing to distract it from eternal thought."
"You mean it will just lie there and think?" cried Tara of Helium.
"Just that!" he exclaimed. "Could aught be more wonderful?"


At the end of the book, there is a eunuch surprise. (I collect eunuchs.) The abducted princess is locked up prior to her forced marriage with these words: "Conduct her thither, E-Thas, with a suitable guard of honor and see to it that slaves and eunuchs be placed at her disposal, who shall attend upon all her wants and guard her carefully from harm." When her heroic soldier comes to rescue her, the "huge eunuch" guard jumps up from the floor, brandishing his sword. The princess stabs the eunuch in the heart with her concealed dagger. He dies "without a sound". The soldier worries that they should hide the body, but Tara points out that the powerful man who is forcing her to marry is unlikely to punish anyone over the death: "what cares O-Tar for the life of a eunuch?"

This line reminds me of an odd book I recently read called Martian Dawn: "And now the Sun and both Moons rode together in the sky, lending their far mysteries to make weird the Martian dawn."
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