CHAPTER 51: "THE PLANT KING"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
Several important things occurred to John Carter as he
was being passed from plant to plant though the lower branches of the trees.
The first thing that he found to be odd was that he was now in a jungle
very much like the one that covered the Plateau of Eo. And yet he had fallen
such a great distance through the bowls of that same mountain that he logically
must have exited the cavern somewhere near its base. Although one side
of the mountain merged into lightly forested hills, nothing he had seen
below the mesa top suggested that a great rain forest jungle existed adjacent
to the Plateau of Eo. The second thing that seemed odd was that the rays
of sunlight penetrating the forest came from directly overhead. The bird-men
had begun their chase just after sunrise and probably not even an earthly
hour had elapsed between that time and when he fell into the shaft that
took him deep inside the mountain. Half a day could not have passed so
quickly, no matter how much insanity had come upon him. Finally, he had
certainly lost his radium torch and his dagger inside the cavern, yet they
were now inexplicably attached to his harness again.
Had Captain Carter paused to consider these points a bit
more carefully, he might have added one more oddity -- the very fact that
he henceforth gave them no further thought. But such are the ways of madmen
and if he was indeed insane he need not worry about small matters.
After being passed along by the strange plants for what
seemed like many minutes, John Carter finally found himself seated upon
a giant mushroom before the king. The man did not know whether to call
the weird intelligent plant a jed, jeddak or jeddra, so he imitated the
other flowers, who called their leader "mighty one," which is the general
Barsoomian idiom indicating "king" or "queen." The Virginia Captain did
not feel it was a proper subject of inquiry to try and determine the sex
of the "mighty one," but simply called the extraordinary plant "king" and
After exchanging the usual Barsoomian "koar" greetings,
the man and the plant eyed each other in silence for a long while. What
this interval signified, John Carter had absolutely no idea, but it gave
him ample opportunity to look the leader over, from top to bottom. The
king of the plant men was perhaps a dozen times the height of the Earthman,
and had a long stem-like body which was perhaps a half dozen times his
girth. Fully a quarter of this huge body was taken up by the plant king's
head. And if Captain Carter's memory is correct, the plant king's countenance
bore an uncanny resemblance to both the giant durkoos of Go-La-Ra and to
the giant bird-men who lived on the northeastern slopes of the Plateau
The plant king's stem-like body was mostly light brown
interspersed with patches of orange color. Three quarters of the way up
from its root-like bottom the plant split into three parts with the center
portion supporting the great head and the side portions tapering off into
stubby arms that ended in three claws or clawed fingers.
The plant king's head was surrounded by a frame of large
green sepals, which in turn was surmounted by a mass of long, thin red
and yellow petals. In the center of all this colorful finery was the plant
king's huge green beak, projecting between two bird-like eyes. The head
was topped by a tall shock of yellow foliage. All in all the plant king
cut a most dashing and imposing figure and any stranger could be easily
forgiven for supposing that the bestowal of kingship among the plant men
depended primarily upon how resplendent and flamboyant a candidate's head
coloration was judged to be by his fellow flowers.
Whether or not these plants had lungs, Captain Carter
never decided, but the king appeared to draw in a long breath before he
opened wide his leafy mouth. Then again, perhaps it is not quite correct
to say that the plant king spoke with his mouth. The Virginia Captain was
almost certain that the beings' primary communication was telepathic, but
for reasons that seemed good at the time, he did not preoccupy himself
what that small matter.
"Say something funny!" the intelligent plant shrieked,
"before I wilt away. It's been simply ages since I've heard anything to
make me laugh,"
Despite his earlier easy success with the plant king's
subjects, he could not think of much to say that was humorous. The audience
reminded him of nothing else so much as a recurring dream he once suffered
for several years, in which President Jefferson Davis would ask Captain
Carter to read a speech before his assembled generals and the Captain would
fumble through all his pockets and never be able to locate his handwritten
copy of the address.
"When asked why it had crossed the road, the chicken replied,
'to get to the other side," the Earthman began lamely.
"No doubt that is true, man-thing. But now please say
something hilarious!" wailed the king.
"People from Earth," replied the astonished man, "would
laugh uproariously were I to tell them that I had once conversed with a
John Carter felt like an idiot and he had not a shadow
of a doubt that the plant king was think the exact same thing about him.
If plants faces can be said to hold expressions, that of the king was quite
dour at the moment.
"Excuse me," said the king, "but I am not at all amused."
"I was afraid that might be the case..." the Earthman
Whereupon, clutching the Earthman in its arms, the plant
king thrust itself high up into the forest canopy. The man's skull missed
a huge tree limb by a finger's width and he was left choking upon mouthfuls,
nosefuls and earfuls of pasty green leaves.
"I take it that you're trying to kill me?" was all that
John Carter could think to say, once he had spit the leaves out.
"Why goodness gracious! That's the funniest thing you
have said so far!" roared the plant king. Do you suppose I'm going to chop
you up and feed your remains to my own roots? Why, then you would be in
my sap and seeds!"
The plant kind laughed outrageously at his own joke, but
the confused Earthman could only wonder what was coming next.