I have been wanting to write about Professor MAR Barker for about five years but for one reason or another this post slipped through the cracks until now. I first came across the work of M A R Barker around 2006. He has been described by the German Magazine Der Spiegel as the Lost Tolkien. Professor Barker was also a friend of Gary Gygax, the creator of the legendary Dungeons and Dragons. Around 2012 I discovered that he also lived in Minneapolis and I started to connect to people who could get me in contact with Professor Barker. However it was not meant to be as during my search I discovered that Professor Barker had passed away. In the end I went to Professor Barker’s memorial service and hear what his friends and family had to say about the man and the legend. In a 1976 edition of the Empire magazine Tim Kask predicted that one day M A R Barker would be as famous as Tolkein.
What a lot of people do not know about Professor M A R Barker is that the MAR in his name stands for Muhammad Abdul Rehman. Professor Barker converted to Islam while on a trip to India, his inspiration was two fold: He found the religion to his rational taste and a profound spiritual experience really moved him when he heard someone recite the 99 names of God at the Taj Mahal. In many ways he was way ahead of his time. While most epic fantasies of the time drew their inspiration from European mythologies including the work of Tolkien, Professor Barker’s fantasy world was inspired by Indian, Middle Eastern, Egyptian and Meso-American mythologies.
Professor Barker was an accomplished scholar. He knew dozens of languages and is known to be an authority on the language of the Klamath Indians of southwestern Oregon. His fantasy works are set in the world of Tékumel which is inhabited by humans and other alien species. The fantasy world was created and elaborated upon by Professor Barker over the course of many decades and is considered to be one of the most richly detailed constructed world in Fantasy literature: There are thousands of pages of history, descriptions of fashions from different cultures, legal codes, not one but multiple constructed languages including recordings of their pronunciations, descriptions of weaponry etc. The fictional history of this world spans tens of thousands of years and was settled by different technologically species who were later thrust into a pocket dimension where magic works. The world is ruled by several human empires with their alien allies with medieval technology. There are also numerous religions and gods with extraordinary powers. Professor Barker also invented the Tsolyáni language for the world of Tekumel. The language was inspired by South Asian and Meso-American languages especially Baluchi, Punjabi Urdu, Pashto and the Mayan languages. Professor Barker however went farther than Tolkien, not only did he invent a new language for his fantasy world but he unlike Middle Earth his language had multiple dialects. He even invented religions for his new world. Professor Barker wrote five novels that were set in the world of Tekumel.
The Tekumel Foundation carries on legacy by publishing his work. There is also a small but dedicated fanbase around the fantasy RPG that he created – Empire of the Petal Throne. This was in fact the second Role Playing Game ever published which was just six weeks after the first one – Dungeons and Dragons.
Here is the cover of the Empire of the Petal Throne Rulebook from the Tekumel Collecting website.