This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

John Norman's Gor Books

Whilst poking around in a second hand bookshop the other day, I stumbled across a shrink-wrapped collection of the first four Gor books by John Norman. I've heard a lot about these books but have never read them until now. They have something of a saucy reputation and are often spoken of in connection with cults that involve BDSM. Naturally, I was intrigued...



I've read a couple of the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Gor books really take their cue from there. Beginning in 1967, Chicago-born philosophy professor John Norman has written them steadily ever since and now the series numbers around 28 volumes. The books chronicle the adventures of history professor Tarl Cabot on the exotic 'counter-world' of Gor, a world ruled by the mysterious 'Priest-Kings' who regulate the advancement of technology and keep the human population in a state of barbarity. Gor is a world of rigid caste systems where Social Darwinism is brutally apparent and women exist merely as slaves and sex trophies. Not exactly the books to introduce to any staunch feminist girlfriends fellas!

Tarnsman of Gor's (1967) general plot is remarkably similar to Burroughs' Princess of Mars. During a ramble in the hills, Tarl Cabot is whisked away to an alien planet with no explanation given other than a cryptic letter from his father (who he never knew). Here, Cabot meets his long-absent father (who has been living on Gor for many years) and begins his training as a rider of the 'Tarns' - giant hawk-like birds. Cabot is given the mission of stealing the home stone of the rival city of Ar and falls in with Talena, the beautiful (and very bitchy) Princess of Ar.

Outlaw of Gor (1967) sees Tarl Cabot return to Gor after spending seven years back on Earth. Dismayed to find his home city of Ko-ro-ba razed to the ground and all of his former friends scattered across Gor, Cabot sets out for the Sadar Mountains where the Priest-Kings dwell but soon gets involved with Lara, the Tatrix of the city of Tharna and a conspiracy to usurp her throne.

Priest-Kings of Gor (1968) sees Tarl Cabot continue his quest into the Sadar Mountains. Here he enters the nest of the insectoid Priest-Kings who keep many humans as slaves. Treated with respect by his hosts, Tarl gets caught up in a civil war between two factions; that of Sarm and Misk - two rivals who want different things for the future of the nest.

Nomads of Gor (1969) follows Tarl Cabot in his search for the ferocious Wagon People who hold the last egg of the Priest-Kings and with it their last hope for survival. Infiltrating their violent culture, Cabot meets a prisoner called Elizabeth who is a fellow abductee from Earth.



The books are little more than pulpy fun but Norman does sometimes go off on a tangent in his descriptions of Gorean culture, and being a philosophy professor, he's pretty good at the old 'world building'. The books are also outrageously sexist (more so than normal in this genre) in that Norman's views on the role of women in society are less than appealing in this day and age. Tarl Cabot is an Earthman who encounters a world where a woman's role is completely subservient to that of a man. Rather than pronounce his disgust of such a society (as the reader might expect), Cabot in fact rather embraces it and likens the marriage traditions of his home planet to the rather more brutal ones of Gor (carrying a bride across the threshold = dragging a woman home against her will, wedding bands = slave manacles etc).

Everybody goes on about the BDSM connections when talking about these books, but honestly, I was surprised at the tameness of these four. I understand that Norman really played up the sex element in later books, but any kinky business in these ones is pretty low-key. But I suppose that the whole 'sex-cult' thing should be addressed. Now, knowing nothing about such things (ahem!) I had to do a little digging. Here's what Wikipedia has to say;

"As applied to non-fictional individuals, the word Gorean means an adherent of the philosophies espoused in Norman's writings, especially someone who lives a lifestyle based on this philosophy. While the most conspicuous Gorean departure from mainstream modern norms is that Goreans allow and indeed promote sexual master-slave relationships, many who take the Gorean worldview seriously would insist that being Gorean is not necessarily about either sex or slavery, but about the general Gorean philosophy (so that one would not have to participate in a master-slave lifestyle or relationship in order to be Gorean). Some of this philosophy is concerned with "natural order" and the relations between men and women, which may or may not take the form of a master-and-slave dynamic. Where there is a master-slave relationship, the level at which adherents follow the books varies."


These books were written at the height of the feminist movement, and John Norman apparently disagreed with such ideas, believing that women are naturally submissive (not inferior, mind). 'Goreans' just seem to adhere to this world view, regardless of sexual fun and games.


Also worth mentioning, are the two awful films based on Tarnsman and Outlaw of Gor. Produced by the infamous Cannon Productions (responsible for such classics as 1987's Masters of the Universe and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) and starring Oliver Reed and Jack Palance, the films bear little relation to the books other than a few names and ideas. I haven't seen either, but if I ever get the chance, I shall certainly be reviewing them on this blog.

Gor (1987) and Outlaw of Gor (1989)

8 comments:

SpinyNorman114 said...

I read the first 6 or so when I was a teenager, loved them, but time and tide and university and motorbikes got in the way.

But that was 40 years ago.

However, for no apparent reason I read one of the paperbacks, and decided (having subsequently read some of the comments online) that I would try them again (on Kindle). The whole lot. It's a penance I suppose.

Well my memory was right - of their time, the first 6 are not bad (Raiders and Nomads were my particular favourites) however by the time you get past the first 12 or so, things start to go downhill rapidly, until by the time you get into the 20's (Magicians for example) all that is left is a good short story, wrapped around vast tracts of puerile badly thought through BDSM fetish drivel. You just get the feeling that, underneath it all, there might still be the germ of a great idea. But only if you liked them in the past.

If you have never read them, don't go beyond the first half dozen.

I will carry on my penance, and will post back when complete. Just thank god for speed reading and fast forward.

SpinyNorman114 said...

I finished the lot.

Had to go for a long walk to clear my head. It doesn't get better - such a shame as there some moderately decent stories hidden amongst layers of sub/dom fetish rubbish.

So, in summary (and to repeat) - read the first 6-8, ignore the rest.

Agent Triple P said...

I read them over thirty years ago and agree the early ones were pretty decent fantasy fiction but they got more and more unreadable. I never got to the end as they stopped publishing them in the UK. I think explorers of Gor (basically an African exploration story) was the last OK one and that was number 13 out of 33. Amazed to see they are still being churned out.

I must dig one out the loft, if only to bring back memories of my girlfriend of the time!

SpinyNorman114 said...

After 31 of them, I needed a good piece of highbrow fiction to get back on an even keel ..... Thunder all by Fleming was sufficient ...

'77 - '80 Collector said...

Reading the whole lot is an impressive feat! I enjoyed the first four but really feel like I've spent enough time on Gor now. There's too many other great books and series to get stuck into. I may pick up one of the later books just for a laugh and to see how it compares with the early installments.

SpinyNorman114 said...

Nooooo, don't do it, run, run away and save yourself ......

Robert Kruck said...

Professor Norman has been harassed at science fiction conventions and on at least one occasion "disinvited" from a convention. His contract was dropped by one of his publishers. His readers and fans are harassed and insulted by the politically correct. All this shows that liberals have nothing but contempt for free speech, free thought, and the Bill of Rights. What makes this even more unbearable is that the politically correct thought police dare to pose as defenders of tolerance.

Robert Kruck said...

Professor Norman has been harassed at science fiction conventions and on at least one occasion "disinvited" from a convention. His contract was dropped by one of his publishers. His readers and fans are harassed and insulted by the politically correct. All this shows that liberals have nothing but contempt for free speech, free thought, and the Bill of Rights. What makes this even more unbearable is that the politically correct thought police dare to pose as defenders of tolerance.