Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some thoughts on the Gorean Scandal...

Since I'm stuck on the desk tonight and things are slow, I decided to check the blogsphere and see what is shaking.

Seems the natives are in a tizzy because Dark Horse Comics is getting ready to reprint an omnibus edition of the first three novels of John Norman's Gor series.

Now, for those who aren't familiar with it - Gor is the name of a planet, a counter-Earth that is kept in perpetual medieval times by a group of manipulative aliens. It is a harsh world where warriors ride giant killer birds, city states vie for control of the few resources and, oh yes, 90% of the female population are slavegirls.

Imagine a hybrid of John Carter and Conan punctuated with tedious lectures about how all women want a strong man to own them and some of the most laughable sex scenes this side of your grandmother's romance novel collection... and that's a pretty fair summary of your average Gor story after about Book Six of the series.

How do I know? Well, let me explain how I inadvertently became an expert of sorts on Gor.

I first got exposed to Gor, like I think most children of the 90s were, through Mystery Science Theater 3000 airing Outlaw of Gor - a movie that was based on the second Gor book of the same name in much the same way that Village of the Giants was based on HG Wells' Food of the Gods.

(Ironic Tangent: Apparently the Gor purists HATE the movies - not because they were cheap, badly dubbed Golan/Globus films with no special effects to speak of - but because Tarl Cabot, manliest of warriors, is fighting to end slavery instead of upholding the system.)

Since I was just getting interested in fantasy/sci-fi at the age of 14 and I saw that the movie was based on a book, I figured I'd track down some of this John Norman guy's books and see how badly the movie mangled his source material. I found a copy of Magicians of Gor at the local Bookstop and dug in.

Even at the age of 14 and with the libido I possessed then, I knew it was crap. That didn't stop me, years later, when I stumbled across a few of his earlier books, from checking them out to see if maybe, like the Xanth books, the first few were okay but became repetitive and stupid as time went on.

Well, Tarnsman of Gor and Outlaw of Gor weren't all that bad. And all the slavery stuff was about on Par with your average Conan pastiche... beautiful woman protesting she doesn't need a man only to be won over by the charisma of the savage warrior. Not all that bad but not that great either.

And then, years later, my girlfriend told me of the on-line Gorean culture. And gave me the link to a page where someone had illegally put up the full text of all the books. She said they were the funniest things she had ever read.

And this was where I read Slave Girl of Gor and Dancer of Gor. And I suddenly understood what all those angry discussions I heard about Gor were about. The same sort of angry discussion I'm hearing now about how Dark Horse is reprinting the first three Gor books in an omnibus collection.

Sadly, I can't get too worked up about this. Even with all the reports of real-life Gor life stylists getting too into it and nearly killing their "slave girls", I cannot take this as a sign of the end-times nor that Dark Horse has signed on with the Female Oppression Council in their never-ending efforts to keep women who read fantasy/sci-fi/comic books down.

Why? Well, I'll give you five good reasons.

1.) Gor is a stupid, poorly written series that has only maintained the mystique that is has had for so long because the books went out of print and they somehow got a following in the niche, niche market of BDSM lovers with the mentality of LARPers. If the books were more widely available, I doubt they'd have nearly as much following as they do. Basic Human Nature: Something becomes more attractive the more forbidden it is. Nobody would press the red button if it weren't for the sign that says "DO NOT EVER PRESS".

2.) They are only reprinting the first three books. They didn't become truly misogynistic until book 7.

3.) Apparently there was an effort a few years ago to get Gor published again and in mainstream bookstores. Judging by the fact that only one of these books is still available on, I'd say that the effort was a complete bust. As such, I can't imagine that this effort at a reprint - aimed at the smaller market of comic book shops - will do any better.

4.) Despite the reports of Gor inspiring kidnapping, abuse and an actual honest to goodness underground white slave ring, I can't believe that even if this IS true that it represents a substantial amount of all the female abuse, kidnapping and slavery in the world or that stopping the publication of this series will deal a blow against these crimes.

5.) Ranting about how these books inspire deviant behavior makes you look just as bad as the same people who argue that Harry Potter, video games, D&D, gothic style, heavy metal, rock and roll, hula hoops, playing cards and pool tables are corrupting American's youth.

Seriously, a boycott won't do anything except give attention to a series that has already been forgotten by most of the world and who most of us STILL don't care about.

I await your flame mail.


  1. Never heard of #4 before, where did you get these reports?

  2. There's quite a few cross-indexed off the comments at the Tamora Pierce article above. The biggest one I could find (i.e. the BBC reported on it instead of someone's blog) is now linked above.
    Knew I forgot something when I was posting this.

  3. >>2.) They are only reprinting the first three books.<<
    Just a note: they're labeling it "Gor Omnibus Vol. 1." I think you could bet good money on the publication of, at the very least, a second volume.

  4. Well, by that logic.. I can't wait for Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part Two.

  5. Mel Brooks' "History of the World: Part One," as I assume you are aware, was a parody (just as his commentary on "Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money"). The volume number in both situations being part of the joke. They didn't have anything filmed, or future plans to film them.
    In this case, the volume number is part of the title of an omnibus that collects the first three volumes of a 26 novel series (with two additional novels waiting in the wings). This is a publishing house. It doesn't take rocket science to assume that, unless the initial print run is a tremendous flop, they will continue to print an already prepared series with little overhead (beyond paying an author who has been out of print for years).

  6. Actually, having just read Mel Brooks' biography, I can say that while he never had formal plans for History of the World: Part Two, while making Part One he was considering a Part Two if the first one was a success.
    It wasn't. So he didn't.
    And as for planning a regular series of Trade Paperbacks with little overhead and only a tremendous flop changing those plans... well, that's what happened to Wildside Press a few years ago.
    Check their website and try to figure out why, if their attempts to reprint Gor a few years ago were so successful and there's a big waiting market for this, why they only have one book still in print and it's the very first one?

  7. Totally off topic but the mention of Dark Horse jogged my memory...
    Did you see that the big fathead from Lone Star is one of this month's Dark Horse Heroes? I was nearly ill.

  8. No, I hadn't.
    I may have to reconsider joining this boycott of Dark Horse, then.

  9. Well, being the Star Wars nerd that I am, I came across it in Dark Times. But I couldn't help but think to myself... "This is the same guy who couldn't talk to me without being five inches away from my face and was a frickin' mouth breather."

  10. Well, I'm pretty sure that they base the Heroes thing off of who does the most to help them promote Dark Horse Products.
    Given that SWA got a new display for the first time in years in order to promote Dark Horse's Manga line...
    Well, you do the math.

  11. No, I suspect that oral was exchanged somewhere along the way.

  12. Re: You are wrong, sir.
    If you don't think this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this,
    this, this, or this is, quote, truly misogynist, then you're a male chauvinist pig of the oldest school.

    You obviously haven't read any of my other writing if you believe that to be true. Calling me a male chauvinist pig of the oldest school is on par with calling Rush Limbaugh a cute little girl. There is too much evidence against both statements.
    I suppose, in fairness, it would have been more accurate for me to have said They (the Gor books) didn't become truly misogynistic to the point of abandoning all efforts at plot, character development and world-building in favor of soft-core pornography until book 7." But honestly - I didn't think they were worth going through that much effort of characterizing given everything else I said in the article about why they were bad literature.
    Do you really think none of us criticizing it have ever read Conan? (or Fafhrd, or Barsoom, or any other sword-and-sandal/sorcery/spaceship pulps?)
    None? No. Some? Yes. And in case you haven't noticed or only bothered to read my bullet points as to why I don't think this isn't as big a disaster as others - I am one of the people critizing Gor.
    While I don't like the series and agree the books are bad literature, I just don't think that an ominbus of the first three books is going to suddenly lead to a number of fanboys showing up at San Diego ComicCon, shouting Tal at one another, complaining about the Slave Leia's being clothed and then going off to talk about their manliness over wine-coolers in the hotel bar.
    It's also very obviously rampantly-selfhating closeted gladiator-movie fan, shall we say - which is pretty funny, in a sick sort of way.
    What's wrong with liking gladiator movies? Well, apart from Naked Warriors of course.

  13. Linkage
    Thought you might like to see this