Tarnsman of Gor: Quintessential male-oriented sword & sorcery

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews John Norman Tarnsman of GorTarnsman of Gor by John Norman

“Slavery apparently agrees with her”

While walking in a New Hampshire forest, college professor Tarl Cabot unexpectedly receives a strange communication from his long-lost father. Suddenly he is whisked away by spaceship to Gor, the Counter-Earth, a planet which we never see because it lives on the other side of the sun. Its powerful priest-kings have been able to shield it from even our theoretical view and, though the society seems primitive, its aloof rulers seem to be hoarding and selectively doling out secret knowledge and technological advances (such as spaceships and advanced medical and communication techniques).

After Tarl Cabot meets his father, he is thoroughly educated in the Gorean language, history, and customs, and trained as a Tarnsman (a warrior who rides the huge carnivorous flying Tarns). Gor’s caste system doesn’t sit well with Professor Cabot’s 20th century Earth ideas and, at least at first, he’s especially appalled that Goreans keep slaves and even have them branded, collared, and leashed. Though not prevalent in this first book, there is a caste of pleasure slaves whose prominence in future books have given the Gorean Saga its reputation and made it a cult classic. But when Tarl is given a dangerous mission, he finds out that not all women on Gor are weak and submissive!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTarnsman of Gor(originally published in 1967) is quintessential male-oriented sword & sorcery fantasy: intelligent but modest Earth man goes to another planet where he’s suddenly courageous, powerful, and important and he whoops up on all male challengers. He meets women who are a lot more exotic and exciting than any Earth women he knows and they may be wearing collars and leashes and it’s acceptable to drag them around by their hair. I couldn’t help but chuckle when one feisty woman who was wearing a veil and heavy voluminous robes gets muddy and ends up stripped to her silk slip which has to have a couple of inches removed at the bottom when a bandage is needed. Oh, yeah, and against his original ethics, Tarl occasionally has to tie her up (but she definitely deserves it, and maybe she even likes it).

So far (I have not read further in this series yet), I find John Norman’s treatment of the male-master/ female-slave theme much more palatable than that which I recently encountered in Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince. Norman’s women (so far) are not only beautiful, but intelligent, strong, and brave. Some of them are forced to be slaves because of their circumstances and their society. That is, they wouldn’t actually choose to be submissive unless it were temporary and on their terms which, of course, doesn’t really make sense (that we can choose when to be slaves), but is how we want it nonetheless.

I listened to Tarnsman of Gor on audio, narrated by the very pleasant Ralph Lister who has a lively energetic tone appropriate for this action-packed novel. The story is told in first person by Tarl Cabot as if he’s relating his adventure to his friends at the dinner table. So we only know he’s astounded, afraid, enraged, in love, etc. because he tells us he’s astounded, afraid, enraged, in love, etc. We don’t really feel it. Thus, there’s not much emotional depth (or any other kind of depth) to Tarnsman of Gor, but it’s fast and fun and most likely appealing to young men and to women who find it amusing to discover what entertains (or what we assume entertains) young men.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Wow!!! Kat- It blows my mind that this series is available on audio. I read up several of the books in this series a long, long, time ago. It reminded me of the Sword & Sorcery sci-fi stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars, or Carson of Venus), plus the editions I had, sported Boris covers. If I remember right, the later books really started pushing the envelope to be almost Erotica; it really just got wacky overall from what I recall, which is why I stopped reading them.
    If I remember right, the author is a professor of philosophy or something, and had some really “out there” theories.

  2. You’re right on all accounts, Greg. And Brilliance Audio will only be doing the first 6 books. I think it gets too weird after that.

  3. I love how it’s less sexist than Feehan’s book. It makes me want to read both and see for myself.

  4. I know, Kelly. I hated Feehan’s wimpy female lead. She’s supposedly smart and independent, but she let’s a stranger walk all over her for no reason.

    In contrast, John Norman’s female lead was strong and she had reasons to be submissive. His story made sense in context. Feehan’s didn’t.

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