If people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines then I could write stories just as rotten.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs
And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. . . . They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men.
- Virginia Woolf
George R.R. Martin and Edgar Rice Burroughs created these worlds and characters.
Chapter One (John Carter)
Only many years later did I recall what happened that night.
Maybe it was the shame, and I took refuge in the forgetting. I had what would have seemed the perfect life. I revel in the joy of battle and I had been named the Warlord of an entire planet, known to its people as Barsoom and to my people as Mars. Now to be sure, a good deal of said planet rejected that title, but its most powerful nations did not. I had married a beautiful princess who adored me. I had won glory, I had friends, and I had every pleasure a society incredibly more advanced than my own could offer: machines that delivered music, food, drink or moving pictures at a spoken command. And still I wasn’t satisfied.
In my dimly-recalled life in Virginia, and even-more-dimly recalled lives before Virginia, I had loved many women. I knew this, even as I forgot their names and their faces. I had enjoyed their company, I had enjoyed their bodies, and I had enjoyed my role as their protector. I had killed uncounted other men in their names, sometimes at their bidding, sometimes against their desperate pleading.
And then I had been gifted with a princess. She had seduced me, I later realized, at the instigation of her grandfather, the ruler of the planet’s most powerful state. He wanted my sword to lead his fleets and armies, and instructed his beautiful granddaughter to gain it by any means necessary. Never had I seen a woman of such perfect form, blessed with such physical grace. I married her, besotted with what I thought to be love and still not fully understanding what sort of bond I had entered.
As a gentleman of Virginia, I had not pressed my physical needs on her until after we had wed. Only then did I discover that I could not do so. For as much as the people of my new home planet resembled those of my birth world, we were not the same.
They were not human.
That my new wife was beautiful could not be denied. Her face, her bosom, her long and smooth legs - all of these were so exquisite as to drive any man wild with desire. Like all noblewomen of her people, she went about barely clothed, enflaming my passion. She was almost as tall as I, perhaps a shade over six feet, and while I had thought true feminine beauty to rest in the petite I could not deny the sheer carnal power of her presence.
Vaguely, I had understood that women of Barsoom did not carry their young in their bodies, like the women of my own race, instead laying eggs that would incubate and hatch in special nurseries. Not until our wedding night did it become clear to me that this also meant that my lovely wife, my beautiful princess, could never enter into true marital congress with me.
She tried to satisfy me with her tongue, her long, blue lizard-like tongue. I allowed her to do so, though the memory still revolts me. She brought her equally beautiful, full-bosomed friend Thuvia into our bedchamber and bade me watch while they pleasured one another with unnatural acts, and then both turned their blue tongues on my manhood. To my eternal shame, I must admit that if I closed my eyes to their ministrations I did find them pleasurable.
Eager to avoid domestic life, I threw myself into my duties, leading the fleets and armies of Helium against its enemies. I had pledged myself to this “woman” and her empire, and I would not break my word. I wrote tales of my adventures, weaving in my love for the princess in a pathetic attempt to convince myself of their truth. My nephew Edgar further embroidered them for publication on Earth, making me into a noble hero who had won the perfect wife.
In public, I declared my love in terms so exaggerated that they sounded ridiculous to me, yet the royal family and the common people both appeared to believe my adoration of “the incomparable” princess to be real. They could not fathom that any man would not adore her. And in fairness, perhaps any man of her own people would indeed have adored her.
I am telepathic, as are the royals of Barsoom, and I carefully shielded my thoughts from my wife and her family. This only increased her distress, as apparently the sharing of thoughts is central to their warped ideas of making love. She began to show open disdain for me, hinting that marriage to one of so little learning was beneath her dignity.
She – a woman - was one of their leading scientists. I fully understand how strange that must seem, but I assure you that it is true. She devoted her time to the pursuit of knowledge instead of keeping home and family like a respectable woman should. She even carried weapons and had fought as a warrior, just like a man. Reluctantly she agreed to put aside her arms, but she would not give up her studies. Continually she met alone with other men she named scientists or court officials, and she laughed at what she deemed my quaint and barbaric ideas of propriety. A woman should never be alone with a man not her husband, nor a man with a woman not his wife.
I must admit, I broke that last vow, with a lovely blonde woman named Phaidor. I could not enter her either, but she pleasured me all the same with her ample bosom. The guilt weighed heavily on my mind, until my princess murdered her even as Phaidor begged forgiveness and mercy. My princess thought me unaware of her crime, yet I could not accuse her without revealing my own shame.
The king, known on Barsoom as the jeddak, detected my unhappiness and sought to bind me more closely to his empire. With their insane science, my princess and her fellow savants found a means to create a hybrid child. First a son, and then a daughter. But these were not my children. These were unholy abominations produced in a laboratory. My princess seemed to have even less interest in them than I.
One night, after I once again declined her offer to pleasure me with that sickening blue tongue, we argued. She called me an unworthy consort for the Princess of Helium, and I declared her unnatural. Angered, I stormed out of our chambers to the hangars where flying craft were stored, and took one into the night. I cared not where I flew, as long as it was far away from my princess.
Eventually I slowed the flyer and landed, then set its automatic directional device to take it far away into what I believed to be uninhabited lands. Hopefully it would never be found.
I stood alone in the desert, and looked up at the nighttime sky. A blue planet beckoned to me. A planet filled with people like me, with women of my people. Women who knew their place and could be loved as a man loves a woman. I raised my arms toward the planet, and in a moment of weakness, wished to be there once again.
Did I actually wish to leave Barsoom? Even now, I’m unsure, but willingly or not, I felt the familiar tug and experienced the bright colors and disorientation that had accompanied my earlier journeys through the ether. And within either the blink of an eye or an eternity, I felt a rush of air and landed on a gritty, dusty surface after a short drop that knocked the wind out of my lungs.
I rolled onto my back and flexed my arms and legs; all appeared to be in good health. I slowly brought myself into a sitting position. All seemed well, and so I stood. Carefully I took short strides, but again I had no troubles. I very easily hefted a rock and threw it a great distance; I remained very strong, but in the moment I did not know why I thought I should have great strength.
Looking above me, I saw blue skies behind a great deal of cloud cover. Blue skies. Blue, normal skies. I had returned to my world. And I would die here, if I didn’t find food and water, and shelter from the morning sun already burning through those clouds.
At the time, I knew little of my past. I had appeared in this desert alone, without clothing, weapons or any accoutrements of any kind. My memories had been left on Barsoom with my harness, sword and pistol. I felt relief, as though a great burden had been lifted from my soul, but as yet I did not know why.