|Life on Gor (Page 2 of 6)|
by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  19 Jun 2008
For all his influence, few have accused Norman of being a good writer. His dialogue is often stilted. His descriptions are often hard to visualize. He’s also given to awkward, sometimes faux-antiquated usages. His philosophy, which is what most people take away, is repetitive and simplistic. All that said, some of his passages retain a certain poetry, and there is sometimes a charm to his more direct passages.
Norman began his series with 1967’s Tarnsman of Gor. He added one or two a year (all the titles end in “of Gor”) through 1988’s Magicians of Gor – a total of 25 books. In the 1970s and 1980s, the series sold millions of copies. In the 1980s, feminists and other groups attacked the series, spurring its removal from stores and even some libraries. Sales declined around the same time, spurring the cancellation of the series.
The series evolved along the way. Initial protagonist Tarl Cabot gradually came to accept Gorean society, leading later books to be filled with lengthy and repetitive philosophical digressions – which may have contributed to the books’ failure. Meanwhile, the city of Ar, a Rome analogue, gradually conquers the surrounding area.
For those who think the series misogynistic, it’s important to note that it diverged into other narrators. For the seventh book, 1972’s Captive of Gor, Norman offered a story narrated by a woman abducted by Earth, transplanted into Gorean society, and made a slave. Norman returned to the same idea for the eleventh book, 1977’s Slave Girl of Gor, and two other entries in the 1980s. While these girls came to find enjoyment in being sexual chattel, in accordance with Norman’s theories on gender, at least they got a voice.
Another recurring male narrator, one John Marshall, got three successive books beginning with 1980’s Fighting Slave of Gor. As the title suggests, he was initially made a slave – while most Gorean slaves are women, some are indeed male. Giving one such a prominent place certainly upset simplifications of the series as equivalent to female slave fantasies.
In 1988, the same year the novels ended, a low-budget cinematic adaptation of the first Gor novel, now simply entitled Gor, appeared. A sequel, adapting the second novel, Outlaw of Gor, appeared the following year. Both are seen as almost parodies of themselves, injecting a little humor into the novels, and skimping on the novel’s descriptions and characterization. The sequel even appeared on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
In addition of the 25 Gor books, Norman also authored a few others. The most important of these may well have been 1974’s Imaginative Sex, a non-fiction book containing several scenarios of bondage and domination. The book focuses, naturally, on submissive females and dominant males. Most revolutionary, the book advised couples on using the scenarios to expand their own sexuality and sexual pleasure. While filled with Norman’s philosophy about male and female natures, the book encouraged couples to merely simulate the whipping scenes of the Gor novels by having the man clap and the woman react as if being whipped. Such sexual role-playing, in a consensual heterosexual relationship, was not only at odds with the Gor series but years ahead of its time. Before the advent of the BDSM movement (for Bondage, Domination and SadoMasochism) and its accompanying terminology, Norman offered a non-fiction book exploring the idea in a positive way. Precisely for this reason, celebrated BDSM author (and bisexual transsexual) Pat Califia praised the book in his foreword to its 1997 reissue.
In 1975, Norman offered Time Slave, in which a woman is transported about 20,000 years into the past. This allows the novel to explore, in a more direct fashion, how Earth lost its natural evolutionary gender fitness. The novel connects dominant male and submissive female nature to hunter / gatherer societies, and it laments that the rise of agriculture came with a corresponding lessening of sexual differentiation.
Another novel, 1979’s Ghost Dance, is a work of historical fiction in which a Sioux man meets a white woman, leading to the conflict of their two societies as the massacre at Wounded Knee approaches.
From 1991 to 1993, after the cancellation of the Gor series, Norman offered a trilogy known as The Telnarian Histories, at the rate of one book a year. Set in the future during the decline of a space empire parallel to Rome, the books’ obvious classical references were seen as distracting from their futuristic setting. Nonetheless, they express a philosophy of gender parallel to the Gor series.
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