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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman

Tarnsman of Gor (The Chronicles of Counter-Earth #1) - John Norman

The reputation of the John Norman Gor books, as put by The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: "extremely sexist, sadomasochistic pornography involving the ritual humiliation of women." Pretty serious stuff.

This reputation, however, derives from the "later volumes." Tarnsman of Gor is the very first novel in the series, published in 1966.

The series -- so far -- consists of 33 books. At what point, in such a lengthy string, do the "later" volumes begin?

I wonder because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, but when I picked up Tarnsman, all I knew was the reputation. I assumed it applied equally to all. Nor did I know just how many of these books there are.

Tarnsman, as it happens, is a pretty decent fantasy adventure set on a world in which technological progress is controlled by unseen entities known as Priest-Kings. The Priest-Kings evidently enjoy close combat, so in terms of weaponry the inhabitants of Gor must make do with swords, knives, and, for grander campaigns, catapults and ballistae. But they aren't confined to land and sea. Men with sufficient strength and skill can ride tarns, huge birds specially trained for war. Thus, our hero: Tarl Cabot, a man with the requisite abilities, who, after being abducted from Earth and taken to Gor, becomes a Tarnsman -- just as hostilities break out between his city and that of another warlord. That isn't the story, though. The war is merely the device that brings Cabot in contact with Talena, the warlord's daughter, with whom, of course, he falls in love. And it is what ultimately separates them, forcing Cabot into action.

Gor is, in many ways, a primitive world, and slaves are ubiquitous, particularly female slaves. Running counter to the reputation, Cabot doesn't derive any pleasure from this; in fact, if it were up to him, he'd free the slaves and, for the most part, emancipate the women. I guess Norman eventually realized that teenage boys are less interested in equality than power and easy sex.

But here, in Book One, power is something to be distrusted. One of the unfortunate aspects of the novel, to my way of thinking, is Cabot's distaste for the Priest-Kings, who substitute for Earth's religions. Cabot takes an immediate dislike to the Priest-Kings. In context, it makes sense: they are puppet-masters and he and everyone else on Gor are their puppets. Taking the larger view, Norman (or John Lange, as he signs his checks, the professor of philosophy) clearly opts for the now-tired view of religion as inherently evil. Yet this is a tiny portion of the book, though one obviously designed to take center stage at some point, perhaps by Book Three, titled Priest-Kings of Gor.

As for the sexist porn? Book Eleven is titled Slave Girl of Gor. That sounds promising.