It seems that Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells both held the belief that WWI, or as it was known then as The Great War or The War to End All Wars was just a preamble to bigger conflict and that the world powers would eventually toss the planet into chaos on an even more global scale. Of course, WWII proved them right but lucky for us it was not quite as bleak as they wrote for in H.G. Wells’s Things to Come and Burroughs stories Beyond the Farthest Star and today’s entry The Moon Maid all dealt with a world war the raged for decades.
Once again Burroughs deploys the narrative device of the story being recounted to the author of this book by a second party only in the case of The Moon Maid it involves the narrator’s reincarnation backward through time. Yes, Burroughs does not stint on bizarre storytelling motifs. The book begins in the distant year of 1967 where the war that had been raging since 1914 has finally ended with the Anglo-Saxon side winning a complete victory over all other races. It’s then that we are introduced to Julien the 3rd who has knowledge of the future because he has a complete awareness of memories of his past and future incarnations. He recounts the tale of his ancestor Julien the 5th and his adventures on the moon.
The story then jumps to the perspective of Julien the 5th in the 21st Century who is a member of the International Peace Fleet which is the only military on the planet as almost all weapons have been banned and just as the people of Earth are wondering what to do with themselves now that there is no war communications with Barsoom (That’s Mars for the John Cater uninitiated) is established. Using the Barsoomian science of controlling the different “Rays” plans for travelling between worlds are made, but unfortunately the Barsoom attempt to travel to Earth fails and when our hero Julien the 5th and his team attempt to travel to Mars/Barsoom they are brought down by sabotage and end up landing on or to be more accurate in the Moon.
The sabotage of the craft (The ship was christened with the hopeful name Barsoom) was carried out by Lieutenant Commander Orthis who in a drunken jealous rage destroyed the crafts radio, engines, and navigation. Orthis was a brilliant scientist, and the one responsible for the ship’s design and construction, but his entire career had been overshadowed by Julien since their school days. Think Reed Richards and Doctor Doom’s relationship. Orthis, in his drunken state, would rather see the mission fail and all on board die than let any credit go to Julien the ship’s captain.
Lucky for the crew of the Barsoom it turns out that the Moon isn’t a lifeless rock but is actually hollow and its interior holds a vast and marvelous world full of both wonders and terrors. Julien makes the colossal mistake of not shooting Orthis in the face for his treasonous acts and lets mercy stay his hand. Even worse Julien takes Orthis out on an exploratory mission when really the dude should have been at least confined to the ship. Some would call Julien’s actions too trusting but I’d go with downright stupid.
They soon encounter one of the primary inhabitants of the Moon (which is named Va-Nah by its inhabitants) which are called Va-gas and are a brutal cannibalistic race of centaur-like creatures. In battle Julien and Orthis are shocked to see that when they wound one of the Va-gas it is immediately murdered by the nearest Va-gas to which they soon learn is because the main source of food among the Va-gas is each other. It seems the Va-gas, and actually, all the sentient races on the Moon are not big on fruits and vegetables as most of the animal life on the Moon is too poisonous to eat, thus cannibalism is apparently the best option.
Julien and Orthis are captured by the Va-gas but because of their strange appearance and even stranger origins they are not immediately tossed into a stew pot, but they are separated which allows Orthis to work his evil machinations on the Va-gas chieftain. While in captivity a brutal storm hits the tribe and out of it drops a fair maiden of the other prominent race on the Moon, Nah-ee-la a princess of the city of Laythe, who is an U-ga a race that looks remarkably human if a bit pale. This Moon Maid is not eaten because the Va-gas Chief hopes to ransom her for more of her people, who they will of course then eat. Later we find out that the U-ga also eat the Va-gas and actually raise these sentient centaurs as cattle, breeding them to be dumb as possible so that they are unaware of their destiny as dinner. Overall this is one messed up and disturbing world our hero has landed in.
Of course, Julien will escape the nasty Va-gas with Nah-ee-la and eventually they will make it to her people, but not before he is separated from the beautiful Moon Maid and captured by the Kalkars a rival city of U-gas that splintered the race centuries ago. His escapes from them only to finally arrive at Laythe to find that city on the brink of revolution as Nah-ee-la’s father is about to be overthrown by a nasty piece of work that is secretly working with Kalkars. No rest for the wicked.
Julien’s love life is also threatened due to once again a girl misunderstanding the situation and believing that our hero is working with the villains, but Civil War and love are both put on hold as even though the city is being torn apart from within it is suddenly attacked from without. Orthis, leading an army of Kalkars that he has outfitted with modern weapons of war has taken this perfect moment to attack Laythe. It seems that while Julien was traipsing around the Moon having adventures good ole Orthis was wheeling and dealing to make himself a warlord. Things look pretty dire indeed.
This is by far one of the most gruesome yet fascinating stories that Burroughs had ever written, the cannibalistic natures of not only the villains but of everybody on the moon is just bizarre. One would not expect the author to reveal that the heroine eats sentient beings but Burroughs pulls off such a topic brilliantly allowing the readers to come to grips with such a gruesome idea. The history and culture of Va-nah is rich and captivating and easily the most well thought out world that Burroughs ever created.
As Julien, Nah-ee-lee and the crew of the Barsoom make their escape from the Moon the reader can only wonder, “What does this mean for Earth?”
The Moon Maid
This is one of my favorite Burroughs stories as it is just chock full of amazing settings and peoples; the chief villain is your typical mustache twirling baddie but the races that our hero encounters on the Moon are well constructed sociologically and politically. Who but Burroughs could create cannibalistic centaurs and then reveal that the heroine’s people eat them as well?