Book Corner: Llana of Gathol (Burroughs, E., R., 1948)

Llana of Gathol is a bit of a different kind of tale in the Barsoom series, as while it again leans heavily on the well-tried formula, it also is constructed of 4 different stories, that are tied together with a central narrative of John Carter's attempts of saving his granddaughter Llana, daughter of Tara. Also, the tone of the stories is more humorous one and Carter's own personality is quite a different from his more usual fair, but stern fighting man. In these stories, Carter jokes around quite a bit and the stories themselves feel more self-aware in their presentation of Barsoomian story cliches.

The first story, The Ancient Dead, is probably the strongest of the book. It starts out with John Carter having a day off from his duties as a warlord. He's flying towards an ancient, dead city of Horz, when he spots a sole man fighting some green Martians. As he's accustomed to, he lands and helps the man fight off the jolly green giants, only to find himself taken as a prisoner by a race of white, fair-headed Orovars, who has been assumed dead ages ago.

To Carter's surprise, the people really aren't mean. They do intend to kill him, as they're afraid he'd lead their enemies to them, but at the same time, they are very sorry about it.  Pan Dan Chee, the man Carter helped out, is also to put to death, as he was trying to warn Carter of this looming death. Just before the heads are about to roll, Pan Dan Chee manages to convince the jeddak to imprison them to the old, unused pits, so that the jeddak would have some time to reconsider just keeping Carter as a prisoner for the remainder of his days.

From the pits, Carter and Pan Dan Chee locate an old, wrinkled madman, who has mystical hypnotic powers. Just as he's about to put a spell upon Carter, he manages to lop off his head. This has an amazing result, as hundreds of people, whom the grazed old man has prisoned to the pits over the decades, wake up from their suspended animation. Some of them are so old, that they even remember the old, dried up martian oceans. But the most amazing part of the whole thing is, that Llana of Gathol is in one of the coffins.

Her tale is, that a brutish jeddak Hin Abtol, who has declared himself as jeddak of jeddaks of the north, tried to capture her, but she managed to escape when they landed near Horz and green Martians attacked them.

So, in any case, they'll rise up from the pits, the ancient sleepers realize that their world is gone and most of the just die from the shock of it. Carter, Pan Dan Chee and Llana notice that Carter's ship is gone, so they need to start walking towards home. And of course, Pan Dan Chee falls madly in love with Llana, like it is customary in these tales.

The second tale, The Black Pirates of Barsoom, is relatively weak excuse to visit the ebony skinned Martians not seen since Warlord of Mars.  The whole tale is pretty simple, as the threesome, walking over the dead ocean floor, sees a group of green Martians, whom they hide in a chasm. They arrive in a little valley with trees and all and just as they're leaving, the natives, who are the titular black pirates, take them as prisoners. To make things worse, their biological information is stored on a device, which makes escaping impossible, as the machine can kill anyone whose information is in it.

Anyhow, some fights, and Carter black facing himself, later, the mighty warlord, who never boasts about his fighting skills, manages to not only to destroy the infernal machine but to capture a flier as well. He proceeds to rescue Llana, Pan Dan Chee and a new friend, Jad-Han and the journey continues.

On the 3rd tale, Escape on Mars, Carter has almost gotten Llana back home to Gathol, when they notice that the city is under a siege. Hin Abtol has decided to start his conquests by taking on Llana's home city.

Carter and his group of escapees decide to camp out for a while, as they need some food. Carter as an expert decides to go gather some when he's suddenly captured, as he has forgotten to wash the black body paint off himself. The men of Gathol don't recognize him at first, but after some dragging on the ground, they realize that Carter is the father of their dearly beloved princess Tara. 

During this time Llana and co. have been taken prisoners, again. John needs to infiltrate the enemy ranks and find out where his so abduction prone, most likely coming from Dejah Thoris's side, kin has been taken. As he learns that the girl's been taken to the north, he manages to nab an enemy vessel, recruit some men and go after her. 

Of course, John Carter, the man's man he is, manages to befriend a panar officer Gor-Don, who helps Carter to get in the enemy city of Pankor. There Carter masquerades as a slave and finds out the truth behind Hin Abtol's army: he has captured millions of men during the years and has been freezing them like popsicles, only to be defrosted and used in the large-scale war he's been dreaming of. In any case, just like with the black First Born, Carter manages to awe them all with his fighting skills by killing their best swordsman, after which he escapes with Llana in his old ship, as it was Hin Abtol who stole it in the first story, and helpfully parked it in the front of his palace.

The last story, Invisible Men of Mars, pits Carter and Llana against, well invisible men. Carter and Llana have decided to go to Helium and recruit the navy to help them when they notice that they're hungry again. They land next to a rare forest strip in order to find some food when Llana is again taken a prisoner. Carter is amazed, as it looks like his favourite kidnap victim is struggling with thin air until he's attacked as well, you guessed it, by the titular invisible men.

In the city of Invak Carter soon learns, that the people there have invented a pill, that renders them invisible for a day. This pill they use constantly because they are afraid of being attacked. This all does make daily life a bit of a hassle, as they can't see each other either unless they are under a special light. Luckily the insides are illuminated thus, so the danger of a head-on collision is the greatest only in the outside.

Luckily for Carter a young woman Rojas takes a shine on him and, while Carter feels a bit sleazy about it, he decides to use his manly charms on her and let Dejah Thoris sort things out later, as he states that the missus has had to explain things to poor love-struck women a couple of times before.

In any case, Carter scores some pills for himself, Llana and a new friend Ptor Fak, a fellow prisoner. There's some battle again, in which Carter amazes all, and then escape under the influence of invisibility pills. The new fab four, as Rojas is coming as well, escape Invak and turn the prow towards Helium. 

After the Helium navy has been recruited, John goes to Gathol, where he captures Hin Abtol with the help of the invisibility pill, thus ending the siege and the reign of an evil brute. They then proceed to defrost the Panar prisoners and find the other friends as well. And of course, Llana and Pan Dan Chee get their happy ending.

While the stories in Llana of Gathol are very formulaic it is also evident that they're not supposed to be taken that seriously. They very often read out like an intentional parody from Burroughs's part and the very different kind of personality he uses for Carter underlines it. The writing flows very nicely and is very often quite funny, even when there's nothing spectacular about the plotting itself.

Llana, just like many other women in the world of Barsoom, is mainly an excuse for the whole adventure. Her inclusion to the story also plays out like a joke, as she just suddenly climbs up from a coffin in the first story, just as it's almost at the end. 

The numerous captures of Llana and Carter play out in a humorous manner, especially with Carter. Every time he's captured, he's been questioned about his name and his whereabouts. To these he always gives the name Dotar Sojat, a name the Tharks gave him in the Princess of Mars, as well as he mentions his place of origin to be from Virgina or some other Earthly location. He also on more than once tells his captors, that he's the Sultan of Swat, a joke that fully opened to me only after a bit of Googling. It all is very good spirited really and really elevates the story as such above the latter Barsoom stories. Though some of the humour does have a darker edge on it.

Despite its simple and formulaic structure, Llana of Gathol is a very nice read. Among the series that very often does feel a bit too heavy for its own good, Llana of Gathol feels light-hearted and fun on a different level. It doesn't take itself too seriously and this makes it a fun, easy story to read on a lazy Sunday morning. Or four Sunday mornings.

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