Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Carter Manuscripts

The name of Norman Carter Bean is one that is familiar to scholars of the two Carter Manuscripts. Paradoxically, the name is practically unknown to the millions who have read the four published excerpts from the Manuscripts, which is just how Bean preferred it.

Norman C. Bean (1855 - 1942) was the son of Julian Hastings Bean, a Richmond, Virginia businessman, and Emily Carter, youngest daughter of Colonel Randolph Bulmer Carter, patriarch of the influential Carter family of Ares, Virginia. Colonel Carter, as a member of Virginia's landowning gentry, initially opposed the match between Emily and Julian, referring to the latter as "a common peddler." However, he was persuaded to change his mind when "Uncle Jack" Carter intervened on the couple's behalf.

John Carter was one of the most colorful and mysterious figures in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For decades many historians disputed his very existence, but the careful scholarship of the noted genealogist and man of letters J. B. Cabell firmly established the astonishing facts surrounding Carter's life. As far back as the seventeenth century, there have been references to a "John Carter," a tall young man with dark hair and gray eyes. Despite the years that pass, John Carter's apparent age is always said to be in the neighborhood of thirty years.

In his 1922 genealogical monograph "The Carters of Ares Plantation," Cabell was able to substantiate a popular legend among the Carter family, that placed its origins in the year 1644. It was in April of that year, according to Cabell, that John Carter adopted a two year old boy who had been orphaned in an Indian attack. Naming the boy Norman Carter, John Carter raised him on a plantation that he had named Ares after the Greek god of war. When Norman Carter married in 1665, John Carter granted ownership of Ares Plantation to him and his wife, then left to fight in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

For the next two centuries, the Carter family continued to own Ares Plantation, and always the figure of "Uncle Jack Carter" hovered in the background, disappearing for years, and then returning to make the acquaintance and win the devotion of another generation of Carters. It was during one such visit in 1853 that Uncle Jack Carter intervened on behalf of Julian Bean's suit for the hand of Emily Carter. This earned John Carter the couple's undying gratitude, and it was at his suggestion that they named their first son Norman Carter Bean in 1855.

The American Civil War (1861-65) proved disastrous for the Carter family. By war's end the family had lost possession of Ares Plantation, while Emily Carter Bean's father and brothers were all killed in various engagements. By contrast, the Bean family prospered, as Julian Bean's Richmond general store expanded to three Richmond stores and a fourth in Petersburg. Thus, 1865 found Julian Bean as the de facto head and chief financial support of the surviving members of the Carter family.

Julian Bean's business acumen brought continued growth to his business, and the J. H. Bean's Dry Goods Company had expanded to ten stores throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1876, the year that saw the sudden return of Uncle Jack Carter. Carter had joined the Confederate Army in 1861, serving as a Captain in a Virginia cavalry regiment, and after the defeat of the C.S.A. in 1865 had gone west to prospect in the Arizona Territory. No records exist of John Carter's activities between his arrival in Tucson, Arizona Territory in October 1865 in the company of his partner James K. Powell, and his appearance eleven years later in San Francisco, California, with a pack train full of newly-mined gold.

The Bean family was immensely pleased by John Carter's return, and all of them urged him to remain with them in their home in Richmond. He did so for the next year, but eventually purchased a property in Westchester County, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, and made it his permanent residence. In his introduction to the first excerpt from John Carter's memoirs, Norman Bean remarks on the change in Carter's personality that his latest absence had brought about: " . . . when he thought himself alone I have seen him sit for hours gazing off into space, his face set in a look of wistful longing and hopeless misery . . . . "

At this time Norman Bean worked as a purchasing agent for his father's company, and whenever his business brought him to New York City, he would travel up the Hudson to visit with Carter. We know that Carter formed a strong attachment to the man whose birth he had helped to facilitate, and who may have reminded him of the orphan he had rescued over two centuries before. When Carter's lifeless body was found on the grounds of his Westchester County home on April 4, 1886, his will revealed that he had made Norman Bean the executor of his estate, and the beneficiary of the income from his numerous investments.

Among the papers Bean found in his "great-uncle's" possession was a sealed manuscript. Carter's will instructed that the manuscript remain sealed until eleven years after his death, and Bean, faithfully adhering to his favorite relative's wishes, did not open the packet until shortly after midnight on the morning of April 4, 1897. What he found was the document now known as the First John Carter Manuscript, or JCM 1 as it is known to scholars.

Over the next week, Bean read JCM 1, a massive work more than 300,000 words long. In it, Captain Jack Carter told of Powell's death at the hands of an Apache war party, and of a strange out-of-body experience that Carter himself underwent in an Arizona cave. With his corporeal body lying lifeless on the floor of the cave, Carter's spirit was drawn across interplanetary space to the planet Mars. The JCM 1 document records Carter's ten years on the planet Mars, first as a captive of the savage Tharks, and later as the husband of Dejah Thoris, a beautiful Martian princess. At the end of ten years, with the planet dying, Carter was able to open a way to a suddenly nonfunction "atmosphere plant." Losing consciousness, Carter awoke to find himself back in his corporeal body in the Arizona cave.

Bean was at a loss to know what to do with his great-uncle's manuscript. Carter's will had specified that the manuscript remain unpublished for an additional ten years. In any case, there was little prospect that the manuscript would see publication even after that time, due both to its fantastic subject matter and its great length.

Bean's dilemma was doubled in August 1898, when he learned that his suspicion about John Carter's 1886 death proved true. Carter's "death" had actually been a second out-of-body experience, and his corporeal body, lying in an open casket in a Richmond mausoleum, had reawakened three months before. Bean again met John Carter, and was given the Second John Carter Manuscript, or JCM 2, an equally massive document detailing Carter's return to Mars, and the next eleven years of his life there. Concerning the publication of his memoirs, Carter told Bean, "Give them what you wish of it, what you think will not harm them, but do not feel aggrieved if they laugh at you."

As he had expected, Bean's attempts to have his great-uncle's memoirs published proved fruitless. The two manuscripts might have remained unpublished to this very day, had it not been for a business trip Bean made to Chicago in June 1911. It was there that Bean met Edgar Rice Burroughs, a stationery salesmen twenty years his junior, in the course of his business dealings. The two men struck up a close friendship, and one night Bean revealed the existence of the two manuscripts to Burroughs. It was then that Burroughs suggested a solution to Bean's dilemma: that he publish excerpts from the Carter manuscripts in a popular fiction magazine. Bean's desire to see Carter's memoirs published overcame his distaste at the idea that they would be regarded as fiction, and he invited Burroughs to visit him in Richmond and read the two manuscripts himself.

It was at Burroughs' suggestion that Bean omitted all of the events in the first Carter manuscript between Carter's marriage to Dejah Thoris in July 1886 and the events surrounding the atmosphere plant in March 1876, resulting in a 70,000 word excerpt. It was also at Burroughs' suggestion that Bean translated the Martian placename Jalarth, or Second Element, as Helium, the second chemical element. Newell Metcalf, the Managing Editor of All-Story Magazine, accepted the resulting manuscript for publication in November 1911, and the excerpt was serialized in All-Story between February and July 1912 under the title Under the Moons of Mars.

Bean was gratified at the positive response the excerpt received from the magazine's readers, but found that he intensely disliked becoming a public figure. When Metcalf wrote in 1912 requesting that Bean "write a sequel" to Under the Moons of Mars, Bean contacted Burroughs with a proposition: he would turn over the two Carter manuscripts to Burroughs, and it would be up to Burroughs to edit them into publishable form. Furthermore, all future excerpts from the manuscripts would be published under Burroughs' name. Burroughs accepted, and over the course of the next four years he published three excerpts from the JCM 2 manuscript. They appeared in All-Story under the titles The Gods of Mars (January through May 1913), The Warlord of Mars (December 1913 through March 1914), and Thuvia, Maid of Mars (April 8, 15, and 22, 1916).

When the A. C. McClurg publishing company released the original excerpt as a hardback book on October 10, 1917, under the title A Princess of Mars, Burroughs was listed as the author. However, Bean's original introduction to the story ran unaltered under Burroughs name, so that the Chicago-born Burroughs appears to be claiming to have been born in Virginia in 1855. The book publication of The Gods of Mars in September 1918 included an account of Bean's 1898 meeting with Carter, also under Burroughs' name.

Carter remained in sporadic contact with Bean for the rest of the latter's life, and several of these contacts resulted in further accounts of events on Mars. A 1920 meeting produced an oral account that was serialized in Argosy All Story Weekly from February 18 to March 25, 1922 under the title The Chessmen of Mars. A 1925 meeting brought the Paxton Manuscript, which was published under the title The Master Mind of Mars in the 1927 issue of Amazing Stories Annual. A 1933 meeting resulted in another oral account, published in Blue Book Magazine from November 1934 to April 1935 under the title Swords of Mars. Finally, a 1940 meeting resulted in yet another oral account, published in four separate installments in Amazing Stories magazine in 1941 and collected together in 1948 as Llana of Gathol. When Burroughs wrote of these meetings in his introductory remarks to these later accounts, he substituted details of his own life for that of Bean, writing of meetings between himself and Carter in Arizona and Hawaii.

Since Bean's death in 1942, there have been no more reports of John Carter returning to Earth; Bean's death had severed the last link between Carter and Earth, and since then Carter has been content to mind the affairs of his adopted Martian homeworld.

Following the magazine serialization of Thuvia, Maid of Mars in 1916, Burroughs returned the original Carter manuscripts to Bean. Bean had the manuscripts sealed, and in accordance with the instructions found in Bean's will, they remained sealed until the 65th anniversary of Bean's death, March 5, 2007. On that date, per Bean's instructions, the two Carter manuscripts were turned over to the College of William & Mary. Since then, Professor Simon Joyce, Director of Literary and Cultural Studies, has been editing the two manuscripts for publication. JCM 1 has been scheduled for publication by W. W. Norton on September 5, 2010, while JCM 2 is tentatively scheduled for publication in September 2011. The upcoming publication of JCM 1 is eagerly anticipated by both Carter scholars and fans of Carter's already-published memoirs.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I always suspected that Randolph Carter and John Carter were related. Of course, I have my suspicions that the "ageless uncle", who had no earthly heirs, was an Earth-exiled individual of one of the Barsoomian progenitor races. I wonder how he spent the first stage of his exile, while his Mars-bred body was too frail to deal with the higher gravity of Earth. Also, how did his Earth-acclimated body make the transition to Barsoom through the medium of astral projection?

For the record, Tars Tarkas is my favorite character in the series.

Johnny Pez said...

Given that John Carter and Dejah Thoris have had at least two children together, I think there's no question that he's a Barsoomian exile. I see Carter as a red-Martian/thern crossbreed.

Let's say that sometime in the 16th century a thern woman takes a fancy to a red Martian slave, and when she finds out she's pregnant, she builds a secret incubator for the egg. After five years, the result is a boy with the pale skin of a thern, the dark hair of a red Martian, and a unique set of gray eyes. How does he wind up on Earth with his memory wiped? Maybe Ras Thavas knows the answer to that question.

It's mentioned in Thuvia, Maid of Mars that after Carter overthrew the therns' theocracy in 1887, some of the more adventurous therns left the Barsoomian Antarctic and traveled among the red Martians. Once the inevitable crossbreed children start hatching in the 1890s, all of them with white skin, black hair and gray eyes, Carter's origins will be obvious to everyone.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Maybe he's a holdover from one of the progenitor races, like the white Martian atavisms who could produce the illusory bowmen (I forget which of the later books featured them). The fact that his thoughts could not be read could be a clue to his status as one of these Elder races.

Uh, teh T00bz say the book was "Thuvia, Maid of Mars".