The first book of the series, Tarnsman of Gor is a fairly conventional, and somewhat tentative work. The D/s element is more evident than in most sci-fi fantasy books, but less developed than later. Tarl Cabots arrival on Gor and his departure at the end of the book happens by some mystical means reminiscent of Burroughs' Mars books. There is a giant spider which seems more appropriate to the world of Conan the Barbarian than to Gor. Also, the high towers of the cities with their connecting bridges are introduced, an element that seldom seems clearly integrated into Gorean city-scapes, and seems largely forgotten in some later books.
In the second book, Outlaw of Gor, Tarl Cabot returns to Gor by the same mysterious way he had left it at the end of the first, to find his city Ko-ro-ba destroyed. He visits a woman-dominated city, but of course it doesn't stay that way. This book is very much a continuation of the first, and very similar in feel. It adds little new.
Gor: Page 2
Cover picture by Gino D'Achille for Captive of Gor, 1972. This book marks a turning point in the Gor books. Book six had ended with the promise of a story of exploration in Gor's western ocean, a story which was never written. Instead we get Captive, the first book with a hero other than Tarl Cabot. With this departure there is no longer even the pretense that these are primarily action/ adventure stories rather than sexually oriented stories of dominance and submission.
Panther girls with female captive: Cover picture by Boris for Captive of Gor. These are among the few strong, independant women we hear about on Gor, but even they generally fall captive themselves sooner or later and are tamed.
Book nine, Mauraders of Gor is set in the north in a Viking society. This is the third significant subgroup after the Tuchucks and other plains nomads and the panther girls that numbers of readers have identified with. The story is energetic and the society well realized, though its presentation seems to have been influenced less by Snorri or Saxo Grammaticus, or whatever other primary sources Mr. Norman used than by a '50's action/adventure movie, The Vikings with Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas. The Norse religion survives to a degree in this society, and is not only given some respect by the author, especially in comparison to the travesty of religion represented by the initiates, but there are even hints of validity. All of this is fine with me, of course; my wife and I are followers of the Northern religion (Asatru), ourselves. This is one of my favorites among the books.
Books twenty-three, twenty-four, and twenty-five, Renegades of Gor, Vagabonds of Gor, and Magicians of Gor are all sizable books that continue the struggle between Ar and Cos. They have good moments, but thin plots and far too many essays on the virtue and naturalness of male dominance. Some of the earlier books had as many as four different covers for different editions; none of these more than two. Vagabonds suffers a particularly cruel indignity in that the later cover given it is from Sharon Greene's The Warrior Within. Anyone who has read Greene's book can have no doubt which book the cover was made for. To see this cover, go to the "Sword & Sorcery: Modern" on this website. Obviously the series was losing favor well before the final termination. The series seems very tired during the last books. They have their defenders, but I suspect that is more on the basis of the larger D/s element in these books. There has been a rest now, and more time to think a book through; I am hopeful that the long awaited Witness of Gor will be better than the books that immediately preceeded it.
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In Book twenty-one, Mercenaries of Gor, Tarl Cabot is driven from Port Kar and becomes involved in the growing war between the cities of Ar and Cos. This is a good sized book, but does not seem to carry the action forward very far. At the end little is settled.
Book twenty-two, Dancer of Gor, returns to a female lead, this time a shy librarian kidnapped from Earth. This is an energetic story, and has been one of the more popular of the later novels. It was this that Visions Entertainment was turning into a graphic novel until the project was dropped. Quite a bit of work had been done on it, and I can only wonder what will be done with it. The book adds nothing new in situation or habitat, but tells a good story.
Books seventeen and eighteen, Savages of Gor and Blood Brothers of Gor deal with the inhabitants of the barrens, people like American plains Indians. These were among my lest favorite of the books. The story lines were only so so, and the social pattern was to primative to make the D/s element interesting.
I tried Savages again recently. The opening in Port Kar was not bad, though echoed scenes done better in earlier books. The scenes on the barrens were dull. The setting was not deeply imagined, and there was a lot of the repititious sermonizing that mars the later books.
Book nineteen, Kajira of Gor again returns to a female lead, a young woman brought to Gor to be a tatrix (queen), though she has no idea why. She is not a very interesting or sympathetic character, and the story lags.
Book twenty, Players of Gor, one might suppose from the cover showing two men at a board game is about players of Gor's equivalent to chess. It is, in fact, about Tarl Cabot joining a troupe of travelling players who perform Comedia del arte style dramas, his cover while working to foil the increasingly aggressive schemes of the Kurii, the huge, bestial enemies of men and Priest Kings. It adds little new or interesting, but is not a bad story.
Books fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, Fighting Slave of Gor, Rogue of Gor, and Guardsman of Gor desert Tarl Cabot for the story of Jason Marshall, an earthman who interferes in the abduction of his date by Gorean slavers, and is carried off and enslaved as well. Eventually he wins his freedom and develops into a real man, but it takes a while. I've met one person who really liked these books, but personally I didn't. Jason, though strong, seems to me plodding and dim, dim even by standards of the Gor books which have few characters that seem very intelligent. Even the small river city he lives in seems particularly drab and unexotic. He manages to free the woman captured with him, but then ignores her. She really wants him to enslave her for himself, and makes his life miserable until he does. There is a rumor that these were not written by John Norman, but in most respects they are very typical of the series. I suppose the rumor results from the fact that a new hero is introduced who only appears in these books.
Book twelve, Beasts of Gor, moves to the polar regions and further struggles with the Kur, the ferocious enemies of men and Priest Kings. I was destined not to like this book--polar and sexy just don't go together in my imagination. It does not seem to me particularly well structured or effective otherwise, however, and it is not one of the works I often see reference to.
Book thirteen, Explorers of Gor, moves to the southern jungles. Here most of the population is black, but not distinctive otherwise. The story is centered on a journey of exploration up an Amazon-like river. I liked this better than Beasts, but not a lot. It seems thin textured and weakly plotted. Shendi was less vividly pictured than the reader might hope.
Book eleven, Slave Girl of Gor, returns to the female point of view. This story begins with a mystery--the heroine wakes to find herself in the open, naked, and chained to a large stone. She learns soon enough that she is on Gor, and that her life and status are now radically different, though how she came to be there, and why remains a mystery through most of the book. There's not a lot new here, but a well told story. We do, however, get a closer look at life among the peasants than we had had previously, a society that proves too demanding for the small, not very muscular heroine. Fortunately, she does not remain there long. And even though the author had already done something similar with Captive, he manages to make this a new story. The opening is especially good--dramatic, simple, and uncluttered.
In book eight, Hunters of Gor, Tarl Cabot visits the norther forests looking for his first love, Talena, princess of Ar. He meets Vella, now a tavern slave, but leaves her there, though he had declared his love for her at the end of book five. He had meant to return her to Earth earlier, thinking it best in spite of her objections, and she had fled with his tarn, a large, eagle-like bird able to carry riders. I did not remember where this scene was, and had a time finding it. As it turns out, it is a mere flashback near the middle of book six. Later he does own Vella again, but her strength and individuality seem considerably degenerated. In this book we hear much about the panther girls, the free outlaw women of Gor, the second popular Gorean sub-group. As a whole, however, this is not one of the stronger books.
Book seven, Captive of Gor, abandons Tarl Cabot as hero, and tells the story of a spoiled, but beautiful Earth girl taken as captive to Gor. The other main character is a ruthless raider, Rask of Treve who eventually captures her heart as well as her body. Many women have praised this book, and Norman's understanding of female sexuality, though Elinor Brinton, the heroine, is a fairly flat character with little noticible inner life. The psychology in question, however, is no doubt of general female nature, rather than that of any one individual. It is a lively and sexy book.
In book six, Raiders of Gor, the hero changes his identity from Tarl, a warrior of Ko-ro-ba to Bosk, a merchant of the ill-famed city of Port Kar. We learn of the coastal and island cities of Gor and of war by sea, as well as of the rencers who live in a vast delta marsh on floating islands made of reeds. The latter are based on the marsh dwellers in the lower Tigres-Euphrates valley. This too is a lively adventure story. Norman's idea of the hero has been evolving from the more conventional, idealistic hero to a harder, more ruthless, more self-serving type, and Tarl's shift of identity signifies that.
Book four, Nomads of Gor, moves the action to the steppes, and the bosk- herding nomads, including the Tuchucks, who have become so well-known at SCA events, and who are the first popular Gorean subgroup. This book also introduces a brave and intelligent female character, Elizabeth Cardwell, who Norman later sacrifices to his war with the feminists. This is a vividly imagined and well told story, and one of the most popular of the books.
In book five, Assassin of Gor, Tarl Cabot, accompanied by Elizabeth playing the role of the slavegirl Vella, goes on a spy mission in the great city of Ar in the house of its richest slaver. This is a good, tightly-structured story.
Book three, Priest Kings of Gor, is an imaginatively ambitious book. We are introduced to the Priest Kings, the gods of Gor, who are actually large, benign insects belonging to an advanced civilization from elsewhere in the cosmos. Their worship is controlled by the initiates, a pedantic, power-hungry, greedy, and narrow-minded priesthood who in actuality know nothing about the "gods" for which they claim to speak. This seems to me a very cynical and narrow treatment of one of the most basic of human experiences. Tarl Cabot enters the hive, learns how it operates, and makes friends with one of the leaders. A lot of thought must have gone into this book, but for all that it is no great favorite--bugs, even very intelligent ones, are a hard sell.
Book ten, Tribesmen of Gor takes the action to the Tahari, Gor's hot southern desert. This is an energetic and effectively told story with some effective drama not involving slave girls. It is surprising that Norman did not think of this local earlier, since for all the 19th century the Arab Near East was the center of Western sexual fantasies, a tradition not quite dead yet. The picture to the right by Gerome is a good 19th century example that could as well be an illustration for this book. We meet Elizabeth Cardwell again, but now as Vella, a spiteful slave.