Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Non-Comic: Personal Reminiscence on Gor and Adolescence

So Dark Horse is reprinting some Gor novels. Dorian, Tamora Pierce, and Occasional Superheroine have all posted about it and got me thinking, so I figured I'd post my opinion on the whole deal.

Okay, to this date, I have read a grand total of one Gor novel. I read it at around the age of 12 and to be honest, I don't really remember how the story actually went.

I do remember there was a lot of sex. As a 12 year old, I rather paid attention to that.

I remember that I'd dug it out of my dad's bargain-books-to-be-read pile. My family and I like to read a lot, so there's always a huge pile of books in the house. My dad tended to sell his books back to the used bookstore (I keep mine for rereading), so it was always a coup to sneak in there and grab a few books to keep. (It was all fair, my dad would later swipe the book back from me, with the understanding that it was Not To Be Sold Back.)

I'd grabbed the Gor book for two reasons, the first being it actually starred a female protagonist. The second being, the last time I looked at it with my dad in the room, he nearly burst a blood vessel and yelped "Don't read that one!"

Naturally, this meant it was the next book I swiped. I'm like that.

Like I said, I don't actually remember much of the book. I know the main character's name was Elizabeth. She was from Earth. She got kidnapped. And she ended up having lots of sex with varying levels of consent. I think it was Slave Girl of Gor, but I might be mistaken.

While I was disappointed by the plot/character growth, I don't remember being terribly traumatized by the book. This might be because a few weeks before, I'd swiped Sharon Green's Crystals of Mida and Oath to Mida. Those two made quite a bit of an impression, shall we say. What with the girl enslaving the guy and the guy enslaving the girl. The focus tended to be on the girl-as-slave, which I remembered finding rather annoying. Crystals did have an intriguing ending, in which they made contact with a star-faring colonial empire that they'd presumably split off from. The star-faring peoples were advanced technologically and egalitarian. I thought the culture clash sounded interesting, but sadly there were no sign of them in Oath to Mida, and they were believed to be false. Then there was more dubiously consentual sex, even with demi-gods! I've always wondered if I'd missed a book, but honestly was too disappointed by the resolution to ever find out.

But then I digress.

Anyway, I don't remember really seeing the Gor book in much different a light than the other. I remember thinking the main character was a moron, but then, I'd thought much the same of the other lead character. I also remember basically mentally putting it in the same category as the erotic romance novels (I think by Beatrice Smalls, though I could be wrong) that my best friend liked. Lots of sex. Lots of partners. Lots of rape.

To be fair, I'm not sure how much of the actual situation I'd really understood. I was twelve and at the stage when pretty much ALL graphic descriptions of sex had me snickering. (My friends and I used to read sex scenes aloud at the lunch table and laugh at them. On a tangent note: the scene that got the record most derisive laughter was actually in Mercedes Lackey's By the Sword. I submitted that one.) I'd like to say we didn't laugh at the rape scenes, but given that our fare were horrific romance and fantasy/sci-fi novels, we really did. We were very fond of mocking the "No! No! Yeeees!" sorts of scenes.

On reflection, we really were monstrous children.

At any rate, the Gor novel never really stood out from the rest. It was part of a trope, a trope which, don't get me wrong, disgusts me as an adult. I do think sci-fi and fantasy has come a long way from those sorts of novels. Which relieves me. To each their own, but I've long since grown bored with that sort of thing.

I do remember being very surprised by the existance of Gor lifestylists, or whatever they're called. But then, I don't really know how much of that can really be blamed on the source material, regardless of whether or not John Norman himself bought into the whole thing. (I've never seen anything that said one way or another.) I think there will always be some people who seek anything to legitimize their sexual kinks and that the appeal of Gor probably wasn't quality so much as quantity. After the umpteen million books, there's a very vivid world/culture to ape, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. If everyone's consenting and no one's getting hurt, who am I to judge?

I also tend to think people who hurt other people are always going to find something to inspire/justify themselves. Gor. Or something else.

I'm not bothered Dark Horse reprinting the Gor novels, or even if they decided to make a comic from them. I figure it's a lot different from superhero comics sexism/objectification, because really, superhero comics have no inherent need of that sort of sexism/objectification in order to tell good stories or give (most) comic book fans what they love. There are characters and properties that are important to a lot of people, generations of people, and there's a lot of room for improvement and a drive for improvement and growth. Gor, well, what you see is what you get.

I won't rant about Gor for the same reason I don't rant about comics like Tarot, (though I would never for a moment equate the two content-wise). They're niche market products that advertise exactly what you're getting. One creator's clear vision, which, to be honest, is pretty easy to avoid in one's search for comics that suit one's tastes.

I do wonder though, if Gor will really sell very well nowadays. Even as a dirty-minded twelve-year-old in 1995, I remember thinking the book felt dated. For an adult in the 2000s, I think it'd be pretty unmistakable. Admittedly, people will always like kinky sex stories, but there's a lot more mainstream-available BDSM type material now I think. They don't have to dig through a bunch of old school sci-fi novels to find something that suits their kink. And the lifestylists probably already have copies. First editions, even. I might be wrong, but I simply don't see what this sort of thing will offer a newer fanbase.

I definitely sympathize with people who are upset by this, but in this case, I'm personally unbothered. I'm actually kind of interested in seeing how this will turn out.

After all, if Gor succeeds, maybe we'll see reprints of more old-school fantasy/sci-fi novels. Maybe some that are even good!


  • At July 19, 2007 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for writing a fair and reasoned resposne to this mess so I didn't have to.

    Shame I already did... but what's writ is writ. :)

  • At July 19, 2007 8:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actually, there's been something of a resurgence of old pulp scifi/fantasy/adventure stories of late. The Spider, Doc Savage, Lensmen, the Shadow...they're dated, sure, but it's still nice to see them on the shelf at B&N and the like.

    Now Gor...Gor I could do without. But as you said, they're pretty up-front about what they are, and easy to avoid.

  • At July 19, 2007 8:13 PM, Blogger Marionette said…

    They're niche market products that advertise exactly what you're getting.

    To quote the solicitation for the forthcoming publication:

    a global audience that reaches across all age groups and demographics.

    It's being solicited as regular sword'n'sorcery and it not only fails to mention any of the more dodgy aspects of the series, it's promoting it as an all age groups publication. So no, it doesn't get a pass for being niche marketed because it isn't.

  • At July 19, 2007 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, the first three Gor books actually were generic fantasy on par with your average Conan pastiche.

    Yes, you did have women getting their clothes ripped off as the big strong warrior takes command, but the actual sex was kept strictly off camera. It wasn't until about book 6 or so in the series that all Hell broke loose.

    Not that it really matters much if it's getting John Norman a paycheck... but at least they aren't reprinting some of the truly awful dreck like Dance of Gor.

    Cold comfort, right?

  • At July 19, 2007 8:29 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Personally, I'd still consider "old-school pulp sword and sorcery novels reprinted by a comic book company" to be niche market.

    Your mileage may vary, naturally.

  • At July 19, 2007 8:39 PM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    My understanding is that the early books don't go quite so much into the male-domination-bondage-lifestyle thing, they were closer to generic fantasy.

    Then the Brain Eater set in.

  • At July 20, 2007 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I read the first... two? And as has been said, they were on par with Burrough's Mars novels (which featured a lot of nudity), except I kind of enjoyed the Mars novels and Gor didn't do much for me. Liked the talking spider but the women were nonentities and the males pompous nonentities. Fairly standard bad pulp.

    Sharon Green, however, gave me nightmares. Don't think it was the same series you read, though, or at least what I've heard about that series doesn't sound like the book I remember. Definitely no guy as slave; it was all about him breaking her down and half the things the character reported made her squirm with sexual pleasure made me squirm in imagined pain.

    Which is odd, actually; read romances pretty seriously for a couple of years and plenty of stuff in romances sounds pretty nasty if I step back and think about it, but works when I read it first time through. Green's stuff struck me as very dark and grim, while Norman's did not.

    Elizabeth was in Nomads of Gor, for whatever that's worth. I would like to read Slave Girl of Gor just because it sounds so over the top. I have a weakness for badfic.

  • At July 20, 2007 1:16 AM, Blogger Marionette said…

    Kali, you may consider it to be a niche market; I consider it a niche market; but Dark Horse are promoting it as all ages/demographics. That's not a matter of opinion, it's in the solicitations.

  • At July 21, 2007 9:23 AM, Blogger Erich said…

    I never read any of the Gor novels, but this discussion made me think of this parody (at least, I hope it's a parody...never actually read this one, either):

    Chauvinisto by Sam Merwin Jr.

    Wow, what a remarkably honest title!

  • At July 30, 2007 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The best Gor I ever read was Houseplants of Gor and Gay, Bejeweled, Nazi Bikers of Gor. They're even funny if you haven't read any of the actual Gor books.

  • At August 20, 2012 6:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I can't help it, i just adore the Gor stuff. Every sentence makes me feel like John Norman knows all about me and how i used to want so badly to spank a Gorean slavegirl's bare bottom. But now i wish i was a 19 year old hot sexslave myself (i'm male, but i dream of being a sexslave of either sex)naked, handcuffed on my owner's dogleash, on the streets of Koroba or Ar. I am certainly John Norman's lowest common denominator.


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