Thoat: 8-Legged “Horse” of Mars

A thoat of Barsoom, by Vance Kovacs.
March 21, 2023  
Categories: Learnin'
Tags: Nerdalcon

NERDALCON: In this article we’re going to look at something from the Barsoom Bestiary: the thoat. Like classic “Sword and Planet” sci-fi? Then read on.


Beasts of Battle, Bests of Burden

Burroughs’ Barsoom

Cover photo: A thoat of Barsoom, by Vance Kovacs.

Thoat. It sounds made up, right? Well, I should hope so. The thoat is an entirely fictional creature, from Barsoom, a fictionalized take on the planet Mars. (My sincerest apologies to anyone hoping to learn about a new discovery of life on Mars.) Fictional or not, the thoat is still quite an interesting creature. One that is worth learning about. 

So where did the thoat come from? 

The creature originates from a popular sci-fi book series, one known by many names. The series is most often referred to as the “Barsoom” or “John Carter of Mars” series. It is a series of novels written and brought to life by Edgar Rice Burroughs, an established novelist of the early 1900s.

Martian Thoat (Barsoom) by Chaim-Garcia.

Martian Thoat (well, Barsoom) by Chaim-Garcia. The thoat is first mentioned in the opening book of the Barsoom series, A Princess of Mars. It was introduced as a common mode of transportation for the native Martians and plays a prominent role in the story as John Carter, the main protagonist, rides one to escape from the city of Zodanga and rescue the titular princess, Dejah Thoris.


The series contains 11 other books. The first book was published in 1912, and the last in 1964. The very last book was released after Burroughs’ untimely death, as the beloved author died of a heart attack in 1950. 

In Burroughs’ milieu, Barsoom (Mars) is a dry, and dying planet. It is covered head to toe in yellow moss and is home to many intelligent races and assorted alien creatures — creatures like the thoat. Among the many races of Barsoom, the most common are the Red Men and Green Men. Both species domesticate thoats.

The fictional planet Barsoom is revealed to be Mars in the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The “Barsoom” series, also known as the “John Carter of Mars” series, which is a collection of science fiction novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The series is sometimes referred to as “Sword and Planet” because it features elements of both sword-and-sorcery and planetary romance. The series began with the novel “A Princess of Mars,” which was first published in 1912, and includes a total of 11 books. The stories are set on the fictional planet Barsoom, which is later revealed to be Mars and are centered around the adventures of John Carter, a Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to Mars.


The storyline follows John Carter, a civil war veteran who finds himself on Mars inexplicably. He soon becomes entangled in the quarrels of the different Martian civilizations. Thoats come into play on several occasions in order to help him traverse the vast martian landscape.

Now that you know where the thoat came from, you need to know what a thoat is.


“The animal, a huge, shaggy-haired thing, stood fully fifteen hands at the shoulder, and when it lowered its head I could see the glistening of its two fierce tusks, fully a foot in length, protruding from its lower jaw. Its nose was broad, its lips thin, its ears small and close-set. Its eyes were very large and round and prominent, and its neck, long and slender, was raised at an angle which gave it the appearance of looking down upon one. It was a fierce and formidable beast, and I could not but admire it.” John Carter, A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs)


The Thoat 


Thoats are epitomized as beastly and horse-like, although they stand on eight legs. They are sleek animals and lack hair, making them appear even more alien than their massive, octapedal bodies. Thoats have extremely wide mouths, mouths that nearly split their heads in half from their noses to their necks. Canonically, thoats are typically slate in color, a color that fades into yellow at the feet. They have white stomachs and glossy skin.  

There are two primary breeds of the thoat: The smaller breed (Lesser Thoat), which is similar to the size of a horse, and the larger (Greater Thoat), which is closer to the size of an Earth-born terrestrial elephant. The larger breeds are also more antagonistic. Aside from size, both breeds are relatively identical in appearance. They are tremendously intelligent, effortlessly following the commands of their masters. 

While the smaller breed is mainly used for riding, they can occasionally serve as a healthy food option for the Martians. However, this isn’t typical. As for what the thoats eat, they rarely eat anything other than yellow moss. The moss provides them with plenty of moisture, enough so that the thoat’s can survive months at a time without drinking any water.

Thoats are used by the native Martians, serving primarily as horses. Although, the thoat’s also serve as pack animals. They are impressively strong and fast, making them the perfect candidates for a means of transportation. Because of their aggressiveness, thoats are also regularly used in battle (and gladiatorial contests). Only the Red and Green Men of Mars have tamed the thoats.

The Banth of Barsoom, by Android Arts.

The Banth of Barsoom, by Android Arts. The banth is a large, lion-like predator of Barsoom.                                              Other Martian creatures include:
• The calot: A large, dog-like creature that is used for hunting and as a guard animal
• The white ape: A large, gorilla-like creature that is intelligent and can speak
• The sith: A dragon-like creature with multiple eyes and a venomous bite
• The apt: A large, intelligent, and flightless bird that is used for transportation
• The zitidar: A large, elephant-like creature that is used for heavy labor.


Thoats are, as mentioned, the very epitome of fierce. This makes them very difficult to tame. However, the Martians figured out a simple way to tame them. By raising the thoats from a very young age, they could domesticate the large beasts. This, and the use of a device called the “[deadly] radium bullet.” This device helped to pacify the beasts when they were adults.


“The process of taming a wild thoat is a very simple and straightforward one. If you succeed in breaking the animal’s spirit, it will forever thereafter be the humblest, most docile of creatures; but should you fail to do this, the thoat will live out its life in the wild, unapproachable state in which nature created it.” John Carter, A Princess of Mars (Burroughs)


Thoats may be fictional, but they read as great animals. They are strong, sturdy, effective in battle, and loyal to their riders. We’d never have had the thoat without Edgar Rice Burroughs; in fact, without Burroughs’ influence, we wouldn’t have many of the amazing science fiction novels we know and love today. 

His stories inspired (and continue to inspire) many people all around the world. The series even got a movie adaptation called “John Carter” if you wish to watch it. It has excellent special effects and a great cast, including Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Colins, Mark Strong, and other notable actors. 

However, like with any movie adaptation, I advise you to read the books first. You can find the books online and at your local bookstore.

I strongly recommend you give the books a try. I can’t guarantee you’ll love them, but I’ll bet you do. 



Sword and Planet

Appendix I

“Sword and Planet” is a fusion of fantasy and science fiction. It is a science fiction subgenre that combines sword-and-sorcery fantasy elements with planetary romance. Tales of adventure, chivalry, and romance set on other planets or in other worlds characterize the genre.

What is Sword and Planet?

Sword and Planet originated in the early 20th century, with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Barsoom” series (also known as “John Carter of Mars”) as one of the earliest examples. The stories feature a noble hero, typically a human, who is transported to an alien world and must navigate unfamiliar cultures and politics while battling monsters and rescuing princesses.

Sword and Planet stories often feature advanced technology and ancient, lost civilizations, including themes of imperialism and the collision of different cultures. The genre is known for its emphasis on action, adventure, and romance, and for its imaginative and colorful world-building.

Some other examples of Sword and Planet novels are: “The Dying Earth” by Jack Vance, “The Chronicles of Cugel” by Jack Vance, “The City and the Stars” by Arthur C. Clarke, and “The Faded Sun: Kesrith” by C. J. Cherryh. The genre has also influenced many other works of science fiction and fantasy, and is enjoyed by readers of all ages.”



Appendix II

Barsoom is the fictional planet setting for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series. The planet is dying, with a thin atmosphere, dry, barren landscapes, and a dwindling population. Despite its harsh conditions, it is home to a diverse array of intelligent and often warring nations, cultures and creatures.

The stories of the “Barsoom” series follow the adventures of John Carter, a Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to the planet and embroiled in the various nations’ conflicts and politics. Along the way, he also encounters and falls in love with the Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium, who becomes a central figure in the series.

The series is known for its action-adventure stories and for its detailed and imaginative world-building, featuring a wide variety of creatures such as Thoats, Banths, White Apes and many others. The series also deals with themes of imperialism, racial and cultural conflict, and the clash of technological and societal progress.





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Sarah Cunningham

Sarah Cunningham

About the Author

Sarah Cunningham is a second-generation part of the Tribe. A full-time student, she's a musician, Harry Potter nerd, burgeoning writer, and future editoriatrix.


  1. Eric

    Thanks for the referral. Just downloaded the audible. Awesome so far!!!

  2. Mike Tindal

    If you’re a fan of the original series, Doc Spears has a new series, Warlord of Mars, that is the best homage you could possibly imagine. Three books so far and they are amazing. The spec ops angle he chose for the series was inspired.


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