“The Chessmen of Mars” is the fifth book in the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published in 1922. Set on the planet Barsoom, known to Earthlings as Mars, the novel follows the adventures of Tara of Helium, the daughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris. This science fiction tale intertwines romance, warfare, and a unique Martian version of chess, called jetan.

Comprehensive Plot Summary

Tara of Helium, the strong-willed and beautiful daughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, lives in the grand palace of Helium on the planet Barsoom. Raised in the midst of nobility and warfare, Tara is both graceful and fierce. She is unimpressed by the persistent courtship of Djor Kantos, a noble suitor, and her heart remains untouched by the concept of love. Her life takes an unexpected turn during a garden party hosted by her father, where she encounters Gahan of Gathol, a handsome and richly adorned young chieftain. Gahan boldly declares his admiration for Tara, but she dismisses his advances, seeing him as vain and superficial despite his noble demeanor.

Seeking solace and a reprieve from her romantic frustrations, Tara takes her personal flier for a solo journey, yearning to lose herself in the vast Martian skies. However, a sudden and violent storm engulfs her craft, hurling her far from the safety of Helium. Battling fierce winds and lightning, Tara struggles to maintain control of her flier but ultimately crashes in an uncharted and hostile region of Barsoom. Stranded and disoriented, Tara must summon all her courage and resourcefulness to survive in this alien land.

As she ventures through the unknown terrain, Tara stumbles upon a secluded valley inhabited by grotesque, headless creatures. These beings, known as Rykors, are controlled by an advanced race called the Kaldanes, who have developed the ability to detach their heads and use the bodies of the Rykors as vessels. Captured by the Kaldanes, Tara meets Ghek, a Kaldane with an unusual sense of individuality and empathy. Ghek’s compassion and willingness to help Tara stand in stark contrast to the cold, logical nature of his kin.

Meanwhile, back in Helium, Gahan of Gathol learns of Tara’s disappearance and sets out on a perilous journey to rescue her. Disguised and resolute, Gahan faces numerous challenges, including fierce battles with monstrous creatures and confrontations with hostile tribes. His unwavering love for Tara and determination to find her drive him forward through every trial, demonstrating his valor and dedication.

As Tara spends time among the Kaldanes, she learns about their society and their ultimate goal of transcending their physical forms entirely. With Ghek’s assistance, she formulates a daring plan to escape from their grasp. Together, they flee the Kaldanes’ lair and find refuge in a nearby city. This city, however, holds its own dangers, as its inhabitants engage in a brutal game of jetan, a form of chess played with human participants.

Captured and forced to participate in this deadly game, Tara must use her wits and agility to survive. The rules of jetan are simple but deadly: the pieces on the board are living beings, and the stakes are life and death. As Tara navigates the treacherous board, Gahan arrives in disguise, having followed her trail to this dangerous city. Together, they fight to survive the perilous matches, their bond growing stronger with each battle.

During one of these deadly games, Gahan reveals his true identity, much to the astonishment of the city’s inhabitants. With his prowess and Tara’s agility, they turn the tide against their captors. Their combined strength and determination inspire the oppressed people of the city to rise against their tyrannical rulers. A fierce battle ensues, and with the help of Ghek and newfound allies, they overthrow the city’s despots, liberating its people.

As the dust settles, Tara begins to see Gahan in a new light. His bravery, honor, and unwavering dedication to her cause awaken feelings she had never before acknowledged. She realizes that Gahan is not just a suitor but a true partner, deserving of her love and respect. The journey back to Helium is filled with reflection and newfound understanding.

Their return to Helium is met with joyous celebration. John Carter and Dejah Thoris embrace their daughter and her heroic rescuer, their blessings sealing the bond between Tara and Gahan. Their union symbolizes the merging of different cultures and the triumph of love over adversity.

The tale of Tara and Gahan becomes a legend in Helium, a testament to the power of love, courage, and the enduring spirit of the Martian people. Their adventures, filled with danger and discovery, illustrate the unbreakable bonds of family and the strength that comes from facing challenges together. Tara’s journey of self-discovery and Gahan’s unwavering dedication to her forge a love that is as boundless as the Martian skies.

As Tara and Gahan stand before the gathered nobles and citizens of Helium, their hearts filled with gratitude and love, they look towards a future filled with promise. They vow to protect their home and honor the legacy of their parents, knowing that together they can overcome any obstacle. Their story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration, reminding all of Barsoom that love, courage, and unity can conquer even the greatest of challenges.

Main Characters

  • Tara of Helium: The protagonist, a princess of Helium, known for her beauty and spirit. Her journey is one of growth and self-discovery.
  • Gahan of Gathol: A noble and brave warrior who loves Tara. His determination and heroism are central to the rescue and protection of Tara.
  • John Carter: Warlord of Mars and Tara’s father, whose legacy and heroism set a high standard for his children.
  • Dejah Thoris: Tara’s mother, renowned for her beauty and wisdom.
  • Ghek: A Kaldane who develops empathy and aids Tara in her escape, representing the possibility of change and growth in even the most rigid societies.

Themes and Motifs

  • Love and Sacrifice: The novel explores the depth of true love and the lengths to which individuals will go for those they care about. Gahan’s journey epitomizes this theme.
  • Courage and Heroism: The characters consistently display bravery, facing overwhelming odds and deadly games to achieve their goals.
  • Cultural Conflict and Unity: The interactions between different Martian cultures highlight the potential for understanding and unity amidst diversity.
  • Freedom and Oppression: The oppressive regimes and the struggle for freedom are central to the narrative, emphasizing the value of liberty and self-determination.

Writing Style and Tone

Edgar Rice Burroughs employs a vivid and descriptive narrative style, rich with imaginative details that bring the alien landscapes and cultures of Barsoom to life. His tone is adventurous and romantic, capturing the grandeur and peril of the Martian setting. The dialogue is formal, reflecting the noble heritage of the characters, and the prose is dynamic, propelling the reader through the fast-paced and thrilling storyline. Burroughs’ ability to blend romance, action, and intricate world-building makes “The Chessmen of Mars” a compelling addition to the Barsoom series.

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Categories: Book Summary