completely hairless but who hide this fact from others. The Therns acts as one of main antagonists of The Gods of Mars, as they are part of a manipulative cult that preys on the superstitions and religious beliefs of other Martians.
In my experience, The Gods of Mars is ranked very highly among fans of Burroughs's Barsoom novels. I certainly consider it to be the best of them all. That's not to suggest that its immediate predecessor or successor novels are bad -- they're not -- but I think Burroughs really hits his stride with the second novel. In part, that's because he doesn't have to devote as much verbiage to introducing John Carter, Barsoom, or its wonders. Instead, he just dive in and give us a terrific pulp adventure of surprising sophistication. Furthermore, the themes of The Gods of Mars are a bit deeper than those of A Princess of Mars. Whereas the latter is (largely) a love story written in the form of a tale of derring-do, the former is a lot more philosophical, as John Carter and other characters must come to grips with the meaning and purpose of belief. Make no mistake, though: like all the Barsoom books, The Gods of Mars is first and foremost an adventure story and it should be approached with that in mind. However, it's a very good adventure story and one that contains a little more than just swordplay, beautiful damsels, and cruel villains.
Like A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars presents itself as a first-person account of John Carter's exploits on Mars, as presented by his nephew, the author Edgar Rice Burroughs. After a brief prolog in which Burroughs explains how the manuscript came into his possession, the action of the novel picks up almost immediately. Carter returns to Barsoom to find a boat of Green Martians, including his friend, Tars Tarkas, overwhelmed by a group of Plant Men. Tars is the only survivor of this attack and he explains that he had come to this remote area of Barsoom -- the Valley Dor -- where the Martian religion taught that all go after their deaths. As Tars explains it,
"This is the valley of love and peace and rest to which every Barsoomian since time immemorial has longed to pilgrimage at the end of a life of hate and strife and bloodshed," he replied. "This, John Carter, is Heaven."When Carter unexpectedly disappeared after the events at the end of A Princess of Mars, many believed that he had sought out the Valley Dor to end his days. Of course, he'd actually been whisked back to Earth, but since none knew this, the Valley Dor seemed a logical alternative to many Martians. Of course, the Valley Dor was far from the Heaven Tars expected it to be and he and Carter escape the Plant Men and their white apes only by rushing into a cave, where they find a door that leads into the darkness.
Inside the caves, Carter and Tars face numerous perils, free a Martian woman named Thuvia (who will herself become the protagonist of a later book in the series), encounter Black Martian air pirates, the Holy Therns, and even a self-proclaimed goddess, among other things. In true pulp style, the action rarely ceases, as Carter moves from danger to danger, along the way acquiring new friends and allies, as well as new foes. In the process he also learns more about both the history and religion of Barsoom and it's here, I think where The Gods of Mars shines brightest. Whereas A Princess of Mars was a story of adventure in an exotic land, The Gods of Mars affords Burroughs the opportunity to explore that exotic land more fully and to show off his considerable world building skills. In the second novel, Barsoom becomes more than just a place where John Carter can have adventures; it becomes a world of its own.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been very inspired by The Gods of Mars in creating many aspects of my Dwimmermount campaign. In some cases, the inspiration isn't obvious, while in others it's readily apparent. I simply liked ERB's ideas so much that it was hard not to rip them off, even if I tried to disguise the fact. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, then I hope the shade of Burroughs recognizes the high compliments I've paid him.