Friday, 14 August 2009

The Gor Saga by John Norman

The Gor Saga was a fantasy series that ran mainly through the 1970s and 80s and which related the adventures of Tarl Cabot.

Tarl was brought up on earth, but one day he found himself transported to the fabulous world of Gor. This planet was located, for no important reason, on the other side of the sun in a position where it was invisible from earth.

Gor was a fantasy world of endless possibilities, filled with kingdoms to be defended, warring factions, dark dungeons, princesses that needed rescuing from towers and mighty dragons. Unfortunately, Cabot had no interest in these wonders as he was more interested in skulking around in his dirty raincoat and flashing passers-by.

Actually that's a bit unfair as when the series started it was one of the best sword and sorcery fantasy series around. In each of the early books Tarl Cabot devoted himself to a round of derring-do. He faced mighty beasts and survived. He challenged champion gladiators and won. He was thrown into bottomless dungeons from which no man has ever escaped, and he escaped.

This was all good stuff. As the books progressed, Cabot became involved with the slave trade. Initially he freed slaves, but later his loyalties changed and he helped traders to defend their cargo against marauders. This culminated in a great moment in book 6 where Tarl became bored with being a hero and decided he could have more fun batting for the other side. He changed his name and sought out new worlds to conquer. He didn't have to look far to discover the kind of fun a big bloke can have in a world filled with slaves, or more particularly slave-girls, or even more particularly very obliging slave-girls...

The big problem came with the 8th book called The Heavy Breather of Gor. In this epic tale Cabot decided to track down the most prized slave-girls in all the land, the fabled Amazon women from somewhere or other with a long name. He tracked them down, rounded them up, and chained them together. Lengthy descriptions followed of how he tied them up and what it felt like to be tied up and humiliated.

Later, the Amazon women escaped and they turned the tables on Cabot. They tied him up then had their revenge by taunting and humiliating him. Again, lots of description of the chaining up process and the humiliation he felt followed. A further plot twist came when he escaped and re-captured the Amazon women and chained them up again and had his revenge by humiliating them.

I kept on reading in the hope that the fantasy tale would get back on track (honest!), but it didn't. The final straw for me came when Cabot realized that he enjoyed being tied up and so he decided to take turns with the Amazon woman in playing being the victim. At this point, a flick through the remainder of the book revealed that the rest of the story was devoted to more chains, humiliation and tying up.

And so a promising fantasy saga had died because having got the books on the bookshelves and built up a fanbase, the author decided to unleash his secret cunning plan on the unsuspecting bookworld. Basically that plan involved getting mucky books published as fantasy to allow devotees of this kind of thing to buy such stories from recognised high street bookstores. If the Gor saga had been marketed as what it actually was, someone would have got uptight about it and the books would have been banned. So it made good marketing sense to get a few genuine fantasy books published and then pretend the rest of the books in the series were fantasy too and hope nobody noticed. And for quite a while nobody did!

After I gave up on them, the books continued to be published for another fifteen or so novels, and I gather they were full of more bondage, chains, whipping, domination and submission etc before someone somewhere must have noticed and very quickly they were driven into oblivion.

If this sounds a bit prudish, perhaps it is, but this series really annoyed me because the first few books were a lot of fun and they hooked in many readers before it all got weird. Some even carried on reading in the increasingly forlorn hope that the sword and sorcery plot would come back. It didn't.

Worse, I've just discovered that the series has recently had something of a rediscovery and the author is writing new books. Be afraid, be very afraid!

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