“Weep, free maiden. Remember your pride and weep.”
Outlaw of Gor is the second novel in John Norman‘s cult classic Gorean Saga. After languishing on Earth for seven years, Tarl Cabot is finally returned to the Counter-Earth where he hopes to find his father and the woman he loves. Instead, he finds that things are not at all as he left them. After a bit of roaming, he winds up in a city he’s never been to before and gets tangled up in a battle of the sexes.
Tarl Cabot is a bit like Richard Rahl — effortlessly subduing evil, fighting oppression, and spreading nobility wherever he goes. He loves and serves his fellow man (“How could I be free when others are bound?”). He spends a lot of time talking about how he reveres women and hates those Gorean cultures which capture women and consider them useful only as pleasure slaves.
Yet, for all of Tarl’s assurances that he’s a feminist, it’s a bit hard to swallow when his only descriptions of the women he meets are their stunning beauty and how he admires their spirit. (Spirit is shown by a woman saying things like “No, never!” to men who want to subdue her.)
And the reader knows it’s just a matter of time before one of these beautiful and spirited women, with her dress ripped to shreds, will be on her knees with her arms raised and wrists crossed and begging Tarl to enslave her. Even women who were previously powerful are anxious to know if Tarl finds them beautiful and pleasing and when he insists that he doesn’t want to purchase them, they pout. He buys one of them as “an act of sentiment”! (There is no sex of any sort in these books so far, by the way.)
This is all fine for a little bit of fun and fantasy roleplay, but when Tarl suggests that women don’t really want freedom, but actually want to be men’s full-time pleasure slaves…. that’s a little much for me. One ruling woman says that slave girls have it better because their skimpy clothes are easier to walk around in. Okay, I’ll give her that point, but when she says that being chained is the only way that many women can learn to love…? And that she really would rather be a slave than to take up her former ruling position?… yeah, right.
Tarl goes on to explain why matriarchies don’t work: men lose their self-respect and then the women lose respect for the self-loathing men and “hating their men, they hate themselves.” This is a point I’m willing to consider, but he goes too far with his next point: “I have wondered sometimes if a man to be a man must not master a woman. And if a woman, to be a woman, must not know herself mastered.” Unfortunately, “mastered” seems to mean that men are free and ruling and women are collared, leashed, scantily clad, and serving and dancing for men. How can Tarl Cabot, the feminist, justify this? Easily: the women say they like it this way.
But for all of this, I must admit that I’ve got a strange fascination with this series and I plan to read the next book. However I think that it wouldn’t work for me if I was reading it in print instead of listening to it on audio. I believe that it’s the reader, Ralph Lister, who manages to “fix” what otherwise I’d read as just plain sexist masculine fantasy. Lister gives Tarl a voice that’s innocent and enthusiastic enough to deceive me into believing that he’s not really as shallow as he demonstrates that he is.