Mars: the God of War


 Mars was the Roman god of war.  It's only fitting that the planet named for him would develop the most war-like variation of the Chess, the game of war.




Edgar Rice Burroughs was an extremely prolific and popular author in the fantasy genre. Most remembered for his Tarzan tales,  his John Carter stories weren't far behind.  It's this series, called the Barsoom Series that concerns us at the moment. This series includes the following titles
A Princess of Mars
                                        The Gods of Mars 
                                        Warlord of Mars 
                                        Thuvia, Maid of Mars 
                                        The Chessmen of Mars 
                                        Master Mind of Mars 
                                        A Fighting Man of Mars 
                                        Swords of Mars 
                                        Synthetic Men of Mars 
                                        Llana of Gathol 
                                        John Carter of Mars

The Chessmen of Mars, the fifth title in the series,  is the reason for this essay.

Serendipitously, I ran across two distinct references to this book in as many days.  The first was an article called, "Is There Chess on Mars?"  by Taylor Kingston and the second was an e-text of the book itself. 





The Chessmen of Mars was a 6-part story published in the pulp-fiction magazine, Argosy on Feb. 18, Feb. 25, March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25 of 1921.

It was published in book form the following year.

The relevant aspect of this book was the invention, and presentation in great detail, of a chess variant, Martian Chess or Jetan.




Burroughs introduced the game, Jetan, right in the introduction (but goes into greater detail later in the book and in the appendix) :





     Shea had just beaten me at chess, as usual, and, also as usual, I had gleaned what questionable satisfaction I might by twitting him with this indication of failing mentality by calling his attention to the nth time to that theory, propounded by certain scientists, which is based upon the assertion that phenomenal chess players are always found to be from the ranks of children under twelve, adults over seventy-two or the mentally defective--a theory that is lightly ignored upon those rare occasions that I win. Shea had gone to bed and I should have followed suit, for we are always in the saddle here before sunrise; but instead I sat there before the chess table in the library, idly blowing smoke at the  ishonored head of my defeated king.
     While thus profitably employed I heard the east door of the living-room open and someone enter. I thought it was Shea returning to speak with me on some matter of tomorrow's work; but when I raised my eyes to the doorway that connects the two rooms
I saw framed there the figure of a bronzed giant, his otherwise naked body trapped with a jewel-encrusted harness from which there hung at one side an ornate short-sword and at the other a pistol of strange pattern. The black hair, the steel-gray eyes, brave and smiling, the noble features--I recognized them at once, and leaping to my feet I advanced with outstretched hand.

     "John Carter!" I cried. "You?"

. . .

     As he spoke he dropped into the chair upon the opposite side of
the chess table.

    "You spoke of children," I said. "Have you more than Carthoris?"

     "A daughter," he replied, "only a little younger than Carthoris, and, barring one, the fairest thing that ever breathed the thin air of dying Mars. Only Dejah Thoris, her mother, could be more beautiful than Tara of Helium."

     For a moment he fingered the chessmen idly. "We have a game on Mars similar to chess," he said, "very similar. And there is a race there that plays it grimly with men and naked swords. We call the game jetan. It is played on a board like yours, except that there are a hundred squares and we use twenty pieces on each side. I never see it played without thinking of Tara of Helium and what befell her among the chessmen of Barsoom.
Would you like to hear her story?"

. . .

     Following the meal Dejah Thoris and The Warlord played at jetan, the Barsoomian game of chess, which is played upon a board of a hundred alternate black and orange squares. One player has twenty black pieces, the other, twenty orange pieces. A brief description of the game may interest those Earth readers who care for chess, and will not be lost upon those who pursue this narrative to its conclusion, since before they are done they will find that a knowledge of jetan will add to the interest and the thrills that are in store for them.

White: Chief e1; Princess f1; Flier d1, g1; Dwar c1, h1; Padwar b1, i1;
              Warrior a1, j1; Thoat a2, j2; 
Panthan b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, h2, i2.
Black:  Chief f10; Princess e10; Flier d10, g10; Dwar c10, h10; Padwar b10, i10;
               Warrior a10, j10; Thoat 
a9, j9; Panthan b9, c9, d9, e9, f9, g9, h9, i9. 

   The men are placed upon the board as in chess upon the first two rows next the players. In order from left to right on the line of squares nearest the players, the jetan pieces are Warrior, Padwar, Dwar, Flier, Chief, Princess, Flier, Dwar, Padwar, Warrior. In the next line all are Panthans except the end pieces, which are called Thoats, and represent mounted warriors.

     The Panthans, which are represented as warriors with one feather, may move one space in any direction except backward; the Thoats, mounted warriors with three feathers, may move one straight and one diagonal, and may jump intervening pieces; Warriors, foot soldiers with two feathers, straight in any direction, or diagonally, two spaces; Padwars, lieutenants wearing two feathers, two diagonal in any direction, or combination; Dwars, captains wearing three feathers, three spaces straight in any direction, or combination; Fliers, represented by a propellor with three blades, three spaces in any direction, or combination, diagonally, and may jump intervening pieces; the Chief, indicated by a diadem with ten jewels, three spaces in any direction, straight, or diagonal; Princess, diadem with a single jewel, same  as Chief, and can jump intervening pieces.

     The game is won when a player places any of his pieces on the same square with his opponent's Princess, or when a Chief takes a Chief. It is drawn when a Chief is taken by any opposing piece other than the opposing Chief; or when both sides have been reduced to three pieces, or less, of equal value, and the game is not terminated in the following ten moves, five apiece. This is but a general outline of the game, briefly stated. It was this game that Dejah Thoris and John Carter were playing when Tara of Helium bid them good night, retiring to her own quarters and her sleeping silks and furs. "Until morning, my beloved," she called back to them as she passed from the apartment, nor little did she guess, nor her parents, that this might indeed be the last time that they would ever set eyes upon her.


Rules to Jetan


There is a tremendous amout of interest in Edgar Rice Burroughs and a certain portion spills over to into the subject of The Chessmen of Mars. Various artists have applied their talents in representing this novel:


The Chessmen by Michael Whelan

A Sketch by Frank Franzetta


A Japanese interpretation


A German-born North Carolinian sculptor, James Killian Spratt created Jetan chess sets based on The Chessmen of Mars.