Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > Llana of Gathol

Llana of Gathol by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Read 2 times. Last read July 1, 2021 to July 4, 2021.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1941 Llana of Gathol, tenth in the eleven-book Barsoom series, begins, as these novels often do, with a visit from John Carter to the fictionalized author, during which the Warlord regales Burroughs with a Martian tale of adventure and heroism, which the author then transcribes for us as his first-person story. This time, the encounter takes place on a moonlit lanai with Burroughs "watching the white[-]maned chargers of the sea racing shoreward" toward "the windward shore of the Island of Oahu" (1979 Del Rey paperback, page v). The setting of Hawaii in late 1941 raises the hair on the back of the neck for the modern reader, but of course this piece was written, and even was published, when the attack upon Pearl Harbor could not yet even be imagined by his American audience.

The novel we now read actually first was published in Amazing Stories as four novellas appearing in mid-'41: "The City of Mummies," which here is titled "The Ancient Dead," in March; "The Black Pirates of Barsoom" in June; "Yellow Men of Mars," called "Escape on Mars" here, in August; and "Invisible Men of Mars" in October (page iv). Book 1, Book, 2, and Book 3 actually all do have what I might call a sub-conclusion, each of the first two with an almost sitcom-like droll shrug regarding the superior smugness of women during courtship, and the third with more of an ominous foreboding about the ultimate resolution of the overall plot. Although each Book pretty much could stand alone as its own work, with the Books 2 through 4 each having a broad intro sentence allowing us to start in medias res after an escape from some grave danger, there is, after all, a single story that runs through the entire adventure.

The novel begins with John Carter, who, despite the pleasure of "be[ing] with [his] family, [his] friends, [his] fighting men," nevertheless is "at times equally keen to be alone," going on one of his occasional "glorious adventures in solitude," when he "take[s] a one-man flier and range[s] the dead sea bottoms and the other uninhabited wildernesses of this dying planet" (page 9). On this particular jaunt he comes upon what "is, perhaps, the oldest and the greatest of the dead cities of Barsoom," Holz, whose "oldest part...lies upon the edge of a vast plateau" and whose "newer portions, though they are countless thousands of years old, are terraced downward into a great gulf, marking the hopeless pursuit of the receding sea upon the shores of which this rich and powerful city once stood" (pages 10-11). Surprisingly, though, as John Carter "float[s] lazily above the deserted city," he suddenly espies a sword fight in which "a lone red man [is] beset by half a dozen fierce green warriors" (page 11) of huge stature and with four arms. And by now, already nine books in, we know that "no man worthy of his metal would abandon one of his own kind in such dire extremity" (page 11), don't we?

Yes, of course. And so "the master swordsman of two worlds" (page 27) comes down to help...but, again, with our familiarity with Burroughs, we know somethin's gonna go wrong. Even after vanquishing the huge green warriors, for example, John Carter and his newly made friend, Pan Dan Chee, might be sent by an unyielding king to the dark pits below the city, there to encounter, ahem, the ancient dead. And Llana of Gathol, John Carter's granddaughter and she who gives name to the book? Well, this chick is down there in a stone casket in the dark, too, and though the random coincidence sounds crazy, Burroughs has her tell a backstory of abduction by a baddie both classless and cowardly that at least sort of makes sense.

Oh, yes-- And Pan Dan Chee already has been awestruck by the "gorgeous beauty" of the likeness of Llana of Gathol carved into one of the tiny pieces of John Carter's portable set for Jetan, or Martian chess, and would consider it "sacrilege" to use this "figure of a goddess" in a game (page 28). Upon meeting girl, therefore, he "unbuckle[s] his sword and [lays] it at her feet," which "is not exactly an avowal of love or a proposal of marriage" but, "in a way, something even more sacred," indicating "that as long as life lasts that sword is at the service of him at whose feet it has been laid" (page 40). The princess of Gathol apparently is "pleased," for she "accept[s] his offer of fealty" (page 40) while at the same time pointedly avoids seeming to notice any implications of love.

So the novel has a subplot of love interest, and somewhere out there there's still that baddie from the north polar regions of Mars, who not only desireth the supple flesh of Llana of Gathol but also hopes to conquer noble Helium with his strange army of...mm, well, I guess I should avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say, then, that we will encounter an outpost city of the First Born, also known as the Black Pirates of Barsoom, where John Carter naturally will be enslaved and yet in a contest will perform some exquisitely mischievous sword work upon a boastful jackass who truly deserves it. Once the First Born are given the slip, we will find out why the bad guy's henchmen speak ruefully about having been "frozen in" at his secret northern city, and we'll see John Carter in yet another contest teach a different blowhard the meaning of swordsmanship. And yes, there indeed eventually will be invisible men, too.

Swordplay, captures, escapes-- Courage and perseverance, and the occasional befriending of seeming enemies in the name of fairness and common humanity-- Ancient cities and the rugged open vistas of a slowly dying world-- The clank of arms hanging from carved and jeweled leather trappings, and sly humor, and wild coincidences-- These are the characteristics of the Barsoomian tales, and Burroughs's Llana of Gathol a solid 4-star entertainment no less than its predecessors.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 1, 2021 – Started Reading
July 4, 2021 – Finished Reading
July 5, 2021 – Shelved

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