Literature / Gor
The Chronicles of Gor
is a Science Fantasy
novel series (one of those that blur the lines between the Science Fiction
), written by John Norman (real name Dr. John Frederick Lange, Jr., a professor of philosophy). The Chronicles of Gor starts out as a Planetary Romance
before moving on to a sex-slave culture
where most of the female main characters are legally property
. The planet Gor is a Counter-Earth, a hypothetical planet in Earth's orbit on the other side of the sun, always blocked from view note
. On Gor, some Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
decided to take humans from various eras in human history
and dump them together and see what happens, after removing any type of firearm
and burning anyone who tries to violate said ban
For a complete list of the books, see that other Wiki
A complete subculture has been spawned by these books, taking the philosophy of these books and applying them to their daily lives. This philosophy, known as the Gorean lifestyle
, does not revolve around the master/slave relationship, although it certainly can incorporate it. There is some debate between practitioners of traditional BDSM and Gorean S&M about the validity and safety of the other's practices, most of it revolving around the fact that safewords are not mandatory.
Two films based on the Gor
series were adapted into sword & sorcery films in the late Eighties, Gor
(1987) and Outlaw of Gor
(1989). Loosely adapted from the first two books, the films depict professor Tarl Cabot's adventures after being magically transported to Gor. For better or worse, the films Bowdlerized
the sex-slavery aspect. This is by no means the only instance of a movie bearing no resemblance (save a few names) to the book that supposedly inspired it, but it is a particularly egregious example from the word "sorcery" onwards.
For the Mystery Science Theater 3000
featuring the film Outlaw of Gor
, please go to the episode recap page
Setting contains examples of the following tropes:
- Abusively Sexy: Most civilizations on the world of Gor seem to be built with this as one of their basic premises.
- Alternative Number System: The Kurii use base-12, presumably because they have 12 digits on their "hands."
- Anachronism Stew: Romans coexist with Native Americans. Justified in the backstory.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause:
- Inverted by the Priest Kings, an alien race worshiped as gods who have artificially cultivated and vigilantly constrain Gorean culture and technology. The clearer this becomes, the more arguments about 'the natural order' and the Masters' role in Gor go out the window, but because none of them know the true nature of the Priest Kings they're never exposed to the Fridge Logic. The Free of Gor are themselves pawns in a secret war.
- The Priest-Kings apparently act as the only barrier between humanity and a particularly brutal alien race called the Kurii, but asking yourself how the world they created in the books helps either their cause or the humans' only makes your head hurt. Still, some of this is gone into in the series: the Priest-Kings, who are hyper-intelligent, have projected that Earth society will collapse catastrophically within a century or two, not least because Man's weaponry has outgrown his rationality and common sense. Therefore, if there is to be hope for the species, some members of it must be preserved off-world with artificial restrictions on their firepower, at least. It is better for mankind, the Priest-Kings reason, if men prevail through their strength, courage and wits, and not through technological advantages, hence the restrictions both on weaponry and on any personal protection bar a shield and helmet. If this results in a society in which a minority of women are slaves (and also many men, though mainly as labourers treated far more harshly than the female pleasure slaves), that is no concern of the Priest-Kings, most of whom are sexless themselves. Then, industrialization and rampant consumerism on Earth has led to massive environmental damage which the Priest-Kings do not want to see repeated in their own backyard - and, as the narrator ponders, has led to a society in which interchangeable sexless labour units exist to service the machine, in a flagrant betrayal of their own origins and biological truths. Finally, it is clearly in the Priest-Kings' own interests that the dangerous and unpredictable humans sharing their planet never be in a position to threaten the Priest-Kings' safety; and, since they are also the protectors of Earth humanity, the occasional death of an ambitious would-be gunsmith seems a small price to pay.
- As You Know: Explorers of Gor opens with Tarl Cabot and Samos telling each other several pages of stuff they both already know but the reader does not. There are other examples too.
- Author Tract: Maybe, maybe not. It is probably the case that Norman is just indulging his fetishes rather than arguing that "maledom is morally imperative." Norman wrote a non-fiction book called "Imaginative Sex" which included both maledom/femsub and femdom/malesub scenarios (albeit more of the latter than the former).
- Bizarre Alien Senses: The Priest-Kings are an alien insectoid race which "talk," "hear," and mostly "see" by scent, which they perceive via their antennae.
- Boarding Party: The ships of Ar's Station subvert their boarders by boarding back with hundreds of infantrymen hidden in their holds. (Ar is a landlocked city-state, so their not-quite-colony Ar's Station on the Vosk River is not considered a sea power. They use their superior infantry to wage a land war on the river and take their enemies' better ships.)
- Bow and Sword, in Accord: Tarl Cabot is an expert fencer, but is teased about his use of the humble peasant's bow. However, whenever Cabot actually uses the weapon he gets the last laugh in no uncertain fashion.
- Burn the Witch!: More of "burn the gunslingers and demolitions experts", but it gets the same effect.
- Captain Colorbeard: Marauders of Gor has Ivar Forkbeard, who is a Viking outlaw pirate.
- Clip Its Wings: In one of the books Tarl is riding on his tarn (a giant bird used in the military as a Horse of a Different Color) when he's attacked by a wild Ul, a fearsome flying creature somewhat akin to a pterodactyl. In the fight Tarl slashes the membrane of the Ul's wing and it retreats, flying down towards land in a spiral so as to favor the uninjured wing.
- Commedia dell'Arte: In book 20, Players of Gor, Cabot hooks up with a touring Commedia troupe. The leader Boots Tarsk-Bit appears in book 25, Magicians of Gor. (Gor has no real magicians, but it does have stage illusionists.) Characters in the troupe are named Bina (from Columbina - on Gor, "Bina" means "Slave Beads"), Brigella, Chino, Lecchio (cf Lecchino) and other less obvious correspondences.
- Chariot Race: Assassins of Gor has Tarn races - basically the same thing, except with giant birds people ride.
- Color-Coded Multiplayer: Assassin of Gor shows us the tarn racers of Ar, identical in pretty much all respects to the chariot racers of Rome, including the various factions being designated solely by their colours. In the story, the emergence of a new faction called "Steel" is key to the plot.
- Contemptible Cover: The cover of the latest edition may be Exactly What It Says on the Tin, but still, look at it. Preferably at home. If anything, it may be less suggestive than the original cover.◊ Vallejo's cover art does (fancifully) depict a scene from the book. Standing: Tarl Cabot (somewhat less dressed than the story would have had it). Kneeling: Talena (technically Tarl's slave, in practice an honourably-treated captive, pretending to be more thoroughly subjugated to impress). In the howdah: Mintar the Merchant, a slave-trader. Astride, in the background: Kazrak of Port Kar, one of Mintar's caravan guards. The more recent art, though, suggests that female bondage is the major focus of Tarnsman, which is not at all the case.
- Creepy Souvenir: The Red Savages regularly scalp enemies.
- Department of Redundancy Department: Editors apparently refuse to touch these books, because the author repeatedly repeats himself repeatedly. Rumor is that when the books moved to DAW (around book #8), part of the contract was a no-edit clause.
- Dig Attack: Discussed in one of the books, where the tactics of mining under a city's walls, and counter-mining are talked about in a digression by the narrator.
- Draw Aggro: In Priest-Kings of Gor Parp, Vika (his daughter) and Tarl are trying to escape the Collapsing Lair of the Priest-Kings, only to be met by two larls (basically, tigers the size of a small elephant). Parp flames one with his pipe-lighter, using up all its energy in one go, then asks Tarl to confirm that he can kill a larl with his sword if he is given a free shot at it. Tarl agrees that it's possible - and Parp gives him that free shot by flinging himself into the monster's jaws.
- Endless Daytime: Beasts of Gor takes place in the far northern region of the planet, which has long times of sun and no sun respectively.
- Extra Parent Conception: The Kurii have four genders for reproduction.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Semi-Justified, as these are the real Earth cultures transported to another planet.
- Fantasy Gun Control: The Priest-Kings make damn sure there is no type of explosive weapon on Gor.
- Flanderization: Chiefly of its own subject matter. Norman clearly packs the fictional universe with a heavy amount of detail. Anthropological detail regarding all the various cultures, etc. etc. But over time, the focus gets progressively more and more concentrated upon the Fetish Fuel.
- Gambit Pileup: The plot of Assassin of Gor. Cabot and his female lover infiltrate a slave house that is smuggling in Earth women and guns. The girl allows herself to be captured and trained as a slave in order to receive access to the house. The slave owner, Cernus, sees right through this, but allows her to go through the training (and allows Cabot to stay in his palace) only to reveal his plan right after she is sold to the most brutal slaver on Gor. Then it is revealed that the Priest Kings saw right through both plans, and sent the second slaver who is in fact one of their most trusted agents, his well-deserved reputation notwithstanding to buy the girl from Cernus. Meanwhile, the supposed city idiot the most trusted agent of Marlenus, who is preparing to return to Ar has been overseeing Cernus's crushing downfall and everything goes wrong just as Cernus is celebrating his own crowning as Ubar of Ar.
- General Badass: Marlenus, Ubar of Ar, is not only a brilliant war general and inspirational city leader, but personally one of the most dangerous men on all Gor.
- Giant Spider: The Spider People do not hurt other sapients, so apparently they're a lot more civilized than the humans. Even the Priest-Kings consider the Spider People unduly pacifistic.
- Graffiti of the Resistance: In Magicians of Gor, Tarl and Marcus scratch deltas in public places to make it look like there's a "Delta Brigade" going around causing trouble, in reference to a recent military loss in a delta. Then they start to find deltas scratched where they didn't do it...
- Happiness in Slavery: One of the central premises of the series, at least for the women; for the most part, no-one cares two hoots whether the male slaves enjoy their lot, which is generally nasty, brutish and short whether in the mines or the galleys.
- Heavyworlder: Inverted. Gor has less gravity than Earth, but it is the Goreans who are described as much more physically strong mainly because they work physically a lot of the time, having no mechanised industry; much like a modern Englishman could not pull an Agincourt-era longbow. However, Earth-raised Tarl Cabot does reap the benefit of his Earth muscles once he has had some warrior training, and Jason Marshall doesn't do too badly either.
- Homeworld Evacuation: In the backstory, the Kurii destroyed their homeworld in intercine battles, so they went looking for a new home and found Earth & Gor. The Priest-Kings have waged a war against the Kurii to keep them out for millenia, all unseen by most humans.
- Icon of Rebellion: Tarl and his friend Marcus start a rebellion in Ar by claiming to have heard of the "Delta Brigade" (named after the events in a previous book where the forces of Ar were defeated in a delta) and scratch deltas everywhere. There later becomes an actual Delta Brigade which they have nothing to do with. It's like al-Qaeda - no one group has any interaction with any other group, they just call themselves that and engage in uncivil disobedience.
- Indentured Servitude: In Renegades of Gor the protagonist meets a free woman caught in indenture after she ran up a large bill at an inn and couldn't pay. Her actual plan was an Exploited Trope: She would attempt to dine 'n dash but let herself get caught by the manager and be chained up outside, where she would beg passersby to redeem her debts, promising to pay them back later. She would then run off and do the same thing all over again. Such women are dubbed "debtor sluts" and it's usually a workable scam, but at the moment there's a major war going on and nobody was interested in buying her out, so she's stuck.
- Inertial Impalement:
- In Blood Brothers of Gor a war between two tribes uses this. The "good" tribe sets up a series of battlements, each taller than the last but none of them too terribly impregnable. The "bad" tribe jumps over them on their horses, only to fall into a pit of sharpened sticks where they're impaled.
- In another book, Tarl kills a Larl by getting it to charge at him while he's holding a spear with the butt firmly stuck in the ground.
- Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: At the end of Marauders of Gor, Tarl feels the paralysing poison begin to reassert itself. Sarus of Tyros, who was the captain of the other side in the battle where Tarl got poisoned in the first place, turns up with a story and what he says is an antidote. There is not enough of it for Sarus to sample it and prove it harmless, so Tarl quaffs it with a smile on his face and orders to let Sarus go whatever happens.
- Knockout Gas: In Fighting Slave of Gor Jason Marshall and his date Beverly are taken out by knockout gas in the backseat of a specially-prepared taxi. They were only after her, but he forced his way into the cab when she was trying to end the date.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: Outlaw of Gor (the book) establishes how John Norman got the manuscript for Tarnsman and Outlaw. A short note precedes Priest-Kings (book 3). Dropped after that, but POV characters in several of the books where Cabot isn't the main character mention having read Gor books.
- Long-Running Book Series: The first Gor book, Tarnsman of Gor, was published in 1966, the most recent one (Rebels of Gor) in 2013. As of October 2015, there are 33 novels, 3 omnibus editions, and 3 short works (a short story, a novella, and a novelette).
- Longevity Treatment: The Caste of Physicians developed a treatment called the Stabilization Serums, which allowed the recipient to live for hundreds of years. The Priest-Kings, the Physical Gods of the setting, have a similar treatment, the oldest being about 5,000,000 years old.
- Micro Monarchy: Ukungu from Explorers of Gor ends up as an independent kingdom surrounded by the empire of Bila Huruma.
- Mutual Kill: Two unnamed men brought the last egg of the Priest-Kings to the Wagon Peoples, then went back to their respective cities. The cities later went to war with each other, and the men slew each other on the field of battle.
- Native Guide: Starting with the fourth book, the novels include several instances of Tarl going to a new and different culture on Gor where he meets up with and befriends a local, who then serves as a tour guide and cultural (if not verbal) translator. Examples include Kamchak the Tuchuk of the nomadic Wagon Peoples in Nomads of Gor, Torvaldslandean pirate captain Ivar Forkbeard in Marauders of Gor, desert bandit Hassan in Tribesmen of Gor, and Imnak, a Red Hunter (aka Eskimo), in Beasts of Gor.
- Never Found the Body: After Tarl defeats Pa-Kur the Master Assassin in Tarsman Pa-Kur leaps off a tall building, but they don't find the body. Tarl assumes the crowds tore it to pieces. A Chekhov's Gun which as yet to pay off, although it's been mentioned in several other books.
- No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: In Assassins of Gor a young chess prodigy is forced by the ruler to play a game of chess against a foolish simpleton. The prodigy at first refuses, saying it would be an insult to the Game, until he's threatened with death.
- Nudity Equals Honesty: One of the many excuses used to strip slave girls naked in the Gor novels. There's an occasional narrative explanation to the effect that nudity both makes it more difficult for a slave to conceal physical objects and also makes it more difficult for a slave to lie. In a variant, it's also frequently pointed out that slave girls are customarily sold naked in order to enforce the honesty of the dealer.
- Only the Chosen May Ride: Early in the series it is established that only natural tarnsmen are able to ride war tarns (giant birds used as cavalry), and even then if a tarn doesn't like a particular tarnsman it could just as easily rip him to shreds. In later stories the craft of tarn domestication is further advanced such that any trained rider can ride any tarn.
- Outscare the Enemy: In Marauders of Gor, the alien Kurii have commandeered the Beautiful Slave Girls of the Torvalslanders along with other livestock. The slave girls are terrified of the Kurii, but are given orders by their masters, which they obey.
We would soon see if such feared sleen and Kurii more, or Gorean males, their masters. If they did not obey, they would be slain. As slaves, they were commanded; as slaves, did they fail to comply, they would be put to death. They had no choice. They would obey.
- Papa Bear: Towards the end of Priest-Kings of Gor, Tarl is escaping from the ruined Nest with his girl of the moment, Vika of Treve, and her silly little father, Parp the fake Priest-King. Their way is barred by two fierce larls - lion-like creatures about half the size of an elephant. Parp flames one with his pipe-lighter, using up all its energy in one go, then asks Tarl to confirm that he can kill a larl with his sword if he is given a free shot at it. Tarl agrees that it's possible - and Parp gives him that free shot by flinging himself into the monster's jaws.
- Planet of Hats: In all the different cultures on Gor, from the equatorial jungles and deserts to the ice-cap itself, worshipers of Priest-Kings or Aesir or animal spirits alike all agree on the enslavement of women. Where exceptions briefly appear, they are blatantly unstable minority views even if not attended by actual barking madness.
- Planet Spaceship:
- The planet Gor itself can be considered an example, since the Priest-Kings (the Physical Gods of the planet) moved it to its current location 5 million years ago.
- The Kurii live in "Steel Worlds" in the asteroid belt; from there they plot their plans to destroy the Priest-Kings and take over Gor & Earth for themselves. The Steel Worlds have artificial weather & daytime/nighttime and rotate to simulate gravity, with beings living on the inside circumference of the ships. They used to have a planet of their own but they destroyed it making war with each other.
- Please Keep Your Hat On: In Savages of Gor, Cabot meets a man who never takes his hat off. In Blood Brothers of Gor, we learn why: He had been scalped as a young adult.
- Public Execution: In Assassin of Gor, Tarl is put into a gladiatorial combat situation where everyone is supposed to be blindfolded, but in reality everyone else in the "tournament" can see through their blindfolds. Note that at that time in the series it was still heavily influenced by the Barsoom series.
- Puppet State: In Tribesmen of Gor most of the desert tribes are vassals of either the Aretai or Kavar tribe. So when outsiders stir up trouble between those two tribes the entire desert is preparing for war with each other.
- Purple Prose: Even when it's Beige. This continues from the influencing series, John Carter of Mars.
- Rated M for Manly: Cabot (and all the other "proper" Gorean men) consciously try to epitomize the principle of pounding things and people into submission with one's manhood.
- The Right of a Superior Species: In Priest Kings of Gor, Sarm justifies the Priest-King practice of smiting humans who experiment with firearm technology by claiming that Priest-Kings are superior to humans in the same way that humans are superior to the animals they kill for food.
- Schizo Tech: Advanced medical technology that includes life extension coexists with medieval weaponry. Justified by the Priest-Kings' constant intervention to keep military technology very limited, but nothing else. Off the battlefield, Gorean tech is at least equal to anything on Earth, if Earth had no large-scale power transmission nor much use of fossil fuels, no motive power bar wind or muscle and no mass communications to name but three differences. Although "energy bulbs" are sometimes used for lighting, most Goreans prefer animal-oil lamps.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism:
- Tarl's mysterious message in Book One is destroyed after he has read it (and after he has foolishly ignored the instruction to throw it away, which costs him his camping gear).
- In Priest-Kings of Gor Sarm destroys the power plant in the Nest which very nearly blows Gor to shreds as a result.
- In Beasts of Gor Zarendargar "Half-Ear" blows up the Kur outpost in the high arctic (but, in deference to his responsibility to his underlings, allows them time to escape first, for which Tarl calls him "a good officer").
- The first book, Tarnsman of Gor, opens up with a scene inspired by the Barsoom series.
- Also Gor appears to be based on Plato's The Republic.
- Siege Engines: Battles between city-states of Gor regularly employ siege weapons.
- Slut-Shaming: Slaves taunt each other with this when they're not taunting each other with frigidity.
- Smart People Play Chess:
- Marlenus, the ultra-alpha Ubar of Ar, plays Kaissa superbly well, crushing Tarl Cabot into the dirt every single time they play. But Samos of Port Kar prefers to play his Kaissa with real people and real lives. Just as well he really is on the side of the angels.
- A genuine chessmaster appears as a supporting character in Players of Gor, making the name of the book a neat pun since a Player, in Gorean, is in fact a chessmaster, not a theatrical performer. (The Star Books cover art is themed on the red and yellow Kaissa board.) He gets a story arc of his own: disgraced by a highly public defeat in an earlier book, he has voluntarily exiled himself and regains his self-respect late in the story when he is challenged to play chess for ownership of the only slave he has ever been interested in. Needless to say, he too curb stomps Tarl in every single game they play.
- The Stateless: In Outlaw of Gor, Tarl Cabot is returned to Gor and discovers that his city-state Ko-ro-ba has been destroyed by the Physical Gods of the world and no person from Ko-ro-ba may associate with any other; hence he is literally an outlaw, someone outside the law of any city-state. This situation remains until the end of the third book, at which point Korobans are allowed to rebuild their city.
- Stay in the Kitchen: And naked and on your knees. Except for the Panther women. And the >97% of Gorean women who are not slaves.
- Straw Feminist: In Assassin of Gor, one of these is brought over and put through slave training. Of course her silly ideas about equality are played for laughs, as only a foolish woman could ever believe it. And also of course, she is deliberately put up against an expert in debating who has argued the same points a thousand times before, and the narrator himself opines that the truth lies somewhere in between. Nearly every free woman comes across as having aspects of this, especially the ones with power. Until Tarl Cabot comes by and puts them in their place, much to their pleasure once they submit.
- Thank Your Prey: Red Hunters (Inuit) routinely ask a sea sleen's permission to kill it for its much-needed meat and fur.
- Thieves' Guild: But only in Port Kar. Elsewhere, thieves get very short shrift indeed.
- This Page Will Self-Destruct: In the first book Tarl (on Earth) gets a letter from his father (on Gor), which says that it will burn up a few minutes after he opens it. Tarl puts it in his backpack and sure enough, his pack burst into flames.
- Torture Is Ineffective: In Raiders the city-state of Port Kar is attacked. They capture some of the attackers and torture them for information, as is common on Gor. After interviewing one captive, who "confesses" that a whole series of other city-states are in on it, it's explicitly stated by the protagonist that the torturees will say anything the torturers want in order for the torture to stop.
- Translation By Volume: In Savages of Gor, where a Red Savage (Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Native American) of the Dust Leg tribe talks slowly and loudly in his native language to a Beautiful Slave Girl who only speaks Gorean.
He was speaking to her in Dust Leg, slowly and clearly. "Yes, Master," she whimpered, in Gorean. "Yes, Master." It amused me that the youth, like so many individuals to whom only one language is familiar, so familiar that it seems that all humans must, in one way or another, be conversant with it, seemed to think that the girl must surely understand him if only he would speak slowly enough and with sufficient distinctness.
- Unstoppable Rage:
- In Raiders of Gor after Tarl was captured and enslaved by the Rence Growers in the Vosk marshes. It seemed as though he had just about tired of slavery and was about to bite the bullet when slavers from Port Kar attacked the Rencers and killed a small boy who had been kind to him. Tarl spends the next few days trailing the slow-moving slave barge and mercilessly picking off the slavers one by one with his bow.
- In Hunters of Gor Tarl, after delivering a speech about how he lost his honour in the marshes, and cannot regain it, nevertheless sometimes recollects it, takes on fifty armed men single-handed.
- In Marauders of Gor Tarl begins the story crippled by a paralysing poison for which there is no known cure, until the news reaches him that his amour du jour Telima has been carried off by the Kurii. The ensuing rage sustains him through several months of adventure - at the climax of which, all the fighting men of Torvaldsland unleash an Unstoppable Rage of their own.
- Vehicular Turnabout: Naval fights, being of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men type, often use this. Specifically, in Renegades of Gor the river town of Ar's Station use this to supplement their navy. Ar is a land superpower but doesn't have much of a navy, so they fill their holds with infantrymen and swarm their enemy's ships when they get boarded, capturing the ship and then using it against the enemy's other vessels.
- Water Source Tampering: In Tribesmen of Gor, an outside party causes unrest by masquerading as one of two opposing tribes and attacking the others' oases. At one point they destroy a well, which tells Tarl's best friend of the book that they aren't really tribesmen because no tribesman, no matter how evil, would destroy a well.
- Wham Episode: In the first five books, Tarl has faced all manner of certain death. In book six, Raiders of Gor, he falls into the hands of the Rence Growers, who sentence him to death by being thrown to the crocodiles (swamp tharlarion, if you're particular) tied hand and foot, and the only choice they offer is whether to kill him mercifully first. Defying the trend established repeatedly in all the previous volumes, Tarl can find no way out except begging for shameful slavery, and he will never again be the same man as he was before.
- William Telling: The Wagon Peoples had a similar thing as a contest of skill - a Slave Girl would stand in profile holding a piece of fruit in her teeth and a warrior would lance it while galloping by on the local equivalant of a horse.
- Worthy Opponent: Almost more remarkable in the breach than the observance. Often crosses species boundaries; for instance, the Kurii, in the climactic battle at the end of Explorers of Gor, pointedly roar a salute to the brave but outmatched humans (flimsy Zulu-style shields and spears are not very useful against iron weapons too heavy for a man to lift).
Outlaw (of Gor) and the Gor movie series contain examples of: