Barsoom | Pellucidar | Moon | Venus | Caspak | Historical
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was an American writer who created Tarzan1 and wrote numerous science fiction stories. Many of these stories were set on different planets in the solar system, including Mars and Venus. Among Burroughs' most well-regarded works is his highly-influential Moon trilogy. This is an unusual trilogy, consisting of a novel, a novella, and a novelette. In spite of the differences in form, the books taken together are representative of Burroughs' narrative skill as a writer, as well as highlighting the problematic nature of his outlook. The stories contain many of the elements Burroughs is famed for: brave, immortal heroes, beautiful princesses and landscapes full of wonders. Yet the stories are told with a strong right-wing, and even racist, bias.
Journey To The Moon
Burroughs' career began in 1911. Despite his overwhelming success following the creation of Tarzan, he still received publication set-backs. In 1919 a novella he had written titled Under the Red Flag was rejected by every magazine editor he sent it to. It was a satire of Russia's recent Communist revolution and was one of the first stories to ask what life in America would be like if Communists ruled.
After rejection Burroughs put the story away for a few years as he concentrated on writing what would sell, such as Tarzan sequels and science-fiction set on other worlds. Then in the early 1920s he rewrote Under the Red Flag to make it into science-fiction, changing the Russian Communists into aliens who had conquered the world, predating McCarthyism and 1950s B-Movies by 30 years.
Burroughs wrote a new introductory story, the novel The Moon Maid, which established that the Moon was inhabited by the Kalkar race. This led into the novella The Moon Men, as Under the Red Flag was now renamed, which told the tale of how the Earth was conquered by the Kalkar invaders and their oppressive regime. The story concluded with the novelette The Red Hawk which showed the end of the Kalkars' rule.
As the Moon trilogy begins, Earth's 50-year world war (1914-1967) has ended with the complete victory of Britain and America. After campaigning against 'pirates of the air and... some of the uncivilised tribes of Russia, Africa and central Asia' (!) peace is finally assured. Earth's twin capitals are Washington DC and London.
Religious leaders manipulate the people of Earth to call for a complete abandonment of all weapons and science. Britain and America embark on ensuring Earth's total unilateral disarmament with every arms factory and almost every weapon on Earth being destroyed. Only Britain's King is able to stand against this pressure and he secures the continued existence of the International Peace Fleet, though severely reduced in numbers.
When the war ends, on 10 June, 1967, the Earth receives a message from Barsoom (Mars). After John Carter2, develops an interplanetary code, relations between Earth and Mars grow until both planets plan to build ships capable of transporting crews across the interplanetary gulf. After the first ship, launched by Mars in 2015, fails to reach Earth it is felt that the difficulties encountered in such a voyage are insurmountable. Then a revolutionary engine is developed by a brilliant but unstable scientist, Lieutenant Commander Orthis of the International Peace Fleet. This results in the launch, in 2024, of a ship named The Barsoom containing a team of five, led by Captain Julian. They intend to travel from Earth to Mars.
The Julian Dynasty
The Moon trilogy tells the story of the Julian family. Many of Burroughs' heroes are immortal; Tarzan enjoys double immortality3, no-one ages in Pellucidar and on Venus they have an immortality serum. Julian too has a form of immortality, being reincarnated again and again in his descendants, although quite how this happens is never fully explained. His closest male descendent to be born following his death is his next reincarnation, so he is never reincarnated as his son but is often, although not always, his own grandson.
Confusingly, it is implied that Julian is reincarnated into previous lives, so rather than being reincarnated into one of his descendants in the future, he is pre-incarnated into one of his ancestors in the past.
Julian 3rd narrates the bookend sections of the first two stories. In The Moon Maid we learn that Major Julian 1st was born in 1896, married in 1916 and either died in France on Armistice Day 1918 or in 19174. The son he never saw, Julian 2nd, was born in 1917 and died fighting in service in Turkey in 1938. Julian was reincarnated as Julian 3rd in 1937 and from the age of 16 until the end of the Great War in 1968 became Admiral of the Air commanding the International Peace Fleet before dying in the line of duty in 1992. His son Julian 4th was born in 1970 and also died in the line of duty. Julian was reincarnated as Julian 5th in 2000 and graduated from West Point Military Academy in 2016, proudly boasting that for 100 years no adult in his family had ever owned or worn civilian clothes. Julian 5th is the hero of The Moon Maid.
The Moon Maid (Magazine: 1923, Book: 1926)
The Moon Maid opens in 1967 on board the Transoceanic Liner Harding on Mars Day, the day communication with the city of Helium on Barsoom began. There Edgar Rice Burroughs encounters Julian 3rd who tells him the tale of how he remembers being reincarnated as his grandson Julian 5th. In 2024 he and Orthis with three others are the first to leave Earth aiming to travel to Mars.
Although Orthis had hoped to command the mission, he had to take orders from Captain Julian. Orthis angrily sabotaged the ship shortly after launch, destroying the engines and radio, leaving it heading straight to the Moon5 with fateful consequences.
In the trilogy, the Moon itself is hollow. Many of the Moon's craters are actually openings that lead to its interior. There life exists on the inside of the Moon's crust as gravity keeps things near the inside of the crust anchored on the crust, rather than drifting to the centre of the Moon. There is eternal sunshine, created by the abundance of radium rocks as well as sunlight shining through the many crater openings. This is similar to Burroughs' novels set on Pellucidar, the Earth's inner world, although there the inner Earth is lit by an internal sun at the planet's core.
The Moon has a vast array of vegetable life but comparatively little animal life. There are three reptilian species. The first are flying-reptiles, the second, called a rympth, is a four-legged snake that prefers to slither rather than use its primitive limbs and finally there is a lion-like reptile called the tor-ho. All three are heavily poisonous, both through using venom on their prey when attacking and through being too poisonous to eat. In fact all non-poisonous animals on the Moon have been hunted to extinction. The Moon is called Va-nah by its inhabitants who once lived on the surface but moved into the Moon's interior when the outer atmosphere became too thin to breathe. Despite their legends of the surface, most believe that the universe, except for Va-nah, is solid rock.
The first sentient lifeforms encountered on the Moon are the Va Ga. They are centaur-like quadrupeds with the lower body of a horse and human faces. Nomadic, they prowl the interior plains of the Moon, speaking the same language as the humanoids, and they fight using spears. Although two thirds of Va Ga young are male, few males survive to adulthood. The Va Ga need meat as well as vegetation to survive and have resorted to cannibalism; injured and disobedient males are eaten. Females are never eaten as males gain social status based on the size of their 'herd' of females.
On the Moon Julian and Orthis are captured by the Va Ga. Being a book by Burroughs, Julian inevitably bumps into a beautiful princess6, Nah-ee-lah, the Moon Maid of the title. A fellow prisoner and identical in every way to a human woman, she is the Jemadav (princess) and daughter of the Jemadar (king) of the hidden U-Ga city of Laythe. She had been captured after she had been blown off course by a severe storm while wearing a helium-filled backpack that allowed her to fly.
The U-Ga are humanoids who used to rule the Moon until an oppressive political movement called the Kalkars (meaning 'The Thinkers') revolted. The Kalkars have since conquered most of the Moon, though in their uprising much of the Moon's technology and art was lost. The U-Ga and Kalkars are descended from the same species with the only difference being political ideology: the U-Ga are monarchists, the Kalkars are communists. Yet the Kalkars are portrayed as a lower, sub-species. They are described as 'coarse and brutal in appearance - low-browed, vulgar, bovine'.
Due to the difference in gravity, Earthlings visiting the Moon can jump much further and run much quicker than they would be able to on Earth. They are also far stronger than Moon natives, although, Moon natives are easily adaptable to life on Earth with no ill-effects. Humans and U-Ga can interbreed.
While Orthis ingratiates himself with the Va Ga leader, promising to make him powerful and asking only for Nah-ee-lah in exchange, Julian rescues the princess. They travel to Laythe, which, as the last city free from Kalkar rule, is subject to besieging forces. Inside the city, Nah-ee-lah's father Jemadar Sagroth's rule is challenged by a powerful rival, Javadar Ko-tah, who is prepared to sell-out his people in order to gain power.
Who will win in the power struggle between Ko-tah and Sagroth? What part will Orthis play? Can the spaceship be repaired and will the humans return to Earth?
The Moon Maid has also been published under the title Conquest of the Moon.
The Moon Men (Magazine: 1925, Book: 1926)
The Moon Men is bookended with an adventure featuring a fictional 114-year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs7, a persona based on the author. In 1968 the fictional Burroughs goes polar bear hunting in the Arctic for the first time since the 50-year war ended, only to be savaged himself. He is rescued in 1969 by Julian 3rd, who had been dispatched by the President of the United States to offer Burroughs the post of Secretary of Commerce. Julian 3rd tells Burroughs the tale of his pre-incarnated descendant Julian 8th.
Burroughs learns how Julian 5th remained on the Moon for a decade before returning to Earth in 2034 with his lunar wife Nah-ee-lah. Their son Julian 6th was born in 2036. In 2050 a vast invasion force of millions of Kalkars and Va Gas led by Orthis came to Earth and destroyed the cities of Washington and London. As Orthis had served in the International Peace Fleet he knew how to defeat the Fleet, destroying all their ships until Julian 5th rammed Orthis' flagship, killing them both. Orthis' half-Kalkar son Or-tis survived. The Kalkars, directionless, nevertheless imposed a savage rule on Earth in the generations before Julian 9th was born. In the generations since the invasion fewer machines work as no-one has the knowledge to repair anything, none of the spaceships Orthis designed remain and no-one can build any new ones, meaning no more Kalkars can come to Earth but neither can they leave.
Julian 9th was born on 1 January, 2100, the son of Julian 8th and Elizabeth James. His parents were unwed as marriage was one of the many things, including reading and owning flags, the Kalkars had made illegal. Every clergyman or equivalent for every religion had been put to death for the crime of suggesting the existence of higher powers than the Kalkars. Religion still exists as an underground movement, but only as half-remembered fragments from different faiths and denominations randomly fitted together, with overall emphasis on the worship of flags. Judaism still exists intact, though according to heroic character Moses Samuels, half-human/Kalkar hybrids are particularly anti-Semitic. No reason for this is given, unless it is a legacy from when the original story featured Bolshevik villains.
Life has returned to a feudal system ruled by the Kalkar overlords, known as the Teivos or 'brothers', and enforced by the Kash Guard. For the human race life is horrific. Anyone can be killed by the Kalkars for any reason at any time following a military trial at which they are not allowed to speak. Women are considered the property of the state who can be claimed by the Kash Guard at will and for this reason girls are either hidden, disfigured or killed by their parents at birth8. Taxation is so high that the general population barely survive and many are prepared to betray their neighbours for rewards as little as extra eggs to eat. Power struggles between the bureaucratic Teivos and the military Kash Guard are common. In the ruins of Chicago where Julian 9th lives the commander of the Kash Guard is Or-tis, a cruel and ambitious descendant of Orthis, who dreams of being Jemadar of the United Teivos of America.
Pushed beyond breaking point, what will the result of the uprising led by Julian be? Who will win this generation's fight between Julian and Or-tis? Will Julian 9th marry in a secret underground ceremony and what name will 'his woman, Juana' call their son9?
The Red Hawk (Magazine: 1925, Book: 1926)
The Red Hawk is the weakest and shortest of the three sections of the trilogy. It's not only the most overtly racist story of the three, it's the least satisfying narratively, consisting largely of a derivative adventure that ends abruptly. Unlike the first two it begins without a preamble featuring the author. Instead it launches straight into the story, with only a brief explanation of the setting to inform the readers that in 2408 the Kalkars had been pushed to America's west coast by Julian 18th.
By 2430 all traces of technology have gone and the people of America live a nomadic, tribal existence. Each tribe speaks a different language. The tribe led by Chief of Chiefs Julian 20th the Red Hawk lives in the desert near the mountains behind which the last Kalkars in America are based. This tribe is united with other tribes, particularly Utaws and Kolrados. The Red Hawk, along with his brothers the Vulture and Rain Cloud, plan the final drive to rid America of the last Kalkars on American soil.
The people of the tribe believe that the Flag created the world and that the stars in the sky were created by the stars on the Flag in their image. The tribe is dedicated to fighting for freedom from oppression, but perhaps it should look a little closer to home. In order for the tribe's women to be free of domestic duties, they have slaves to perform menial chores. Unbelievably, these slaves are described by Julian 20th with the words:
They have been here always – a stolid, dark-skinned people, weavers of blankets and baskets, makers of pottery, tillers of the soil. We are kind to them, and they are happy.
Slavery is not particularly known for promoting worldwide happiness. Another uncomfortable and rather racist section is when Julian encounters the Nipons, the 'toy-size' tribe, who are described in terms that are not considered acceptable today.
The Red Hawk decides that the time has come to either wipe out the Kalkars or be totally defeated. He leads all his people, including women and children, across the mountains leaving only bare desert behind him. However, after gaining a foothold, he is captured. After meeting the Kalkar ruler, Jemadar Or-tis 16th, Julian is imprisoned. Languishing in the same cell is the true, pure-human Or-tis, who had been deposed by the impostor who calls himself Or-tis 16th. The real Or-tis believes his sisters were slain and that he is the last survivor of his family, but shortly after they both escape the Red Hawk meets and falls in love with Or-tis' sister Bethelda. After rescuing her from the beast Raban, a 9-foot-tall Kalkar cannibal, Julian and Bethelda marry and end the feud between the houses of Julian and Or-tis, later having a son, Julian 21st, who is born to an America free of the Kalkars.
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote before paperback books were widely available, when most authors wrote for various magazines. Their stories were serialised over a number of issues. Each part of the Moon trilogy is a different length. When the stories were first published together in book format in 1926 Burroughs heavily edited them to compress them into one volume. Since then both the original, longer magazine versions and shorter book versions have been reprinted.
Early in his career Burroughs discovered a winning formula that proved highly successful. Most of his books use this formula, which played to his strengths and delivered a strong sense of adventure. The Moon trilogy covers many of the common elements of his formula: princesses, cannibals, uprisings and people surviving in the ruins of a more powerful civilisation, to name but a few. However, he subverts the results. Unlike his other work, the acts of the heroes and villains have lasting consequences in a tale spread over several generations. This story is strong with addictive pacing that highlights Burroughs' narrative strengths combined with a willingness to push a step beyond his previous limits.
In his other work, Burroughs' human heroes find themselves in a strange world and, through a combination of strength, bravery and superior intelligence, establish their dominance. So John Carter becomes Warlord of Mars and David Innes becomes Emperor of Pellucidar after introducing archery and guns, both resulting in eras of peace and prosperity. This trilogy tells the same story although this time the human who dominates a new world is not noble and brave, but underhanded and unstable, the antithesis of his heroes. Orthis becomes Jemadar of Jemadars, the ruler of the Moon, after developing mortars and grenades with which to destroy the sole surviving free city. Instead of creating an era of peace, prosperity and plenty, his acts lead to the end of civilisation across two worlds.
As with many of Burroughs' work, the ending seems rushed and disappointing. In The Red Hawk it is emphasised that all of Julian's forces, women and children have a precarious foothold in Kalkar territory with only desert behind them and no reinforcements coming, while in front of them lies the vast Kalkar force which greatly outnumbers them. This is followed by the words:
Two years later and we had driven the Kalkars into the sea.
This ending is certainly an anti-climax. It is possible that Burroughs considered this a provisional ending and had planned to write the story of how in greater detail at a later point, but if so he never did. The story of Burroughs' encounters with Julian 3rd were also never resolved. Had he intended this to result in the fictional Burroughs who has been appointed into an important political position taking action that would prevent this whole timeline from coming to pass?
The Moon trilogy is also undoubtedly Edgar Rice Burroughs at his most politically biased. Some passages are practically right-wing campaigns on the virtues of gun ownership. Burroughs never explains how having different political beliefs makes people become physically subhuman but there is a pervading theme that inferior thoughts and political beliefs lead to inferior form.
Burroughs has an interesting interpretation of genetics and eugenics. The Kalkar invasion of Earth consisted of comparatively few Kalkar women, leading to the Kalkar men breeding with human women. A child born to a Human father and Kalkar mother remains human, but a child born to a Kalkar father and Human mother is considered a Kalkar, because:
No stock can be improved, or even kept to its normal plane, unless high grade males are used.
This means that both the Julian and Or-tis dynasties consider themselves to be pure-blood human, even though both Julian 6th and Or-tis son of Orthis had mothers from the Moon.
For three decades, Burroughs was one of the most popular and imaginative authors in American pulp magazines. He is credited with encouraging reading within the working class and even the uneducated with his escapist fiction often set on other planets and within lost worlds, and should be applauded for that achievement. Consequently a century later his legacy remains undiminished and his work has inspired countless others. Yet the Moon stories set on our own home world quickly bring down to Earth how unacceptable many of his opinions and beliefs truly are today.