The Triumph of John Norman

The Triumph of John Norman

Although it’s more than a little gauche in SF/F-writing circles to say it, I rather liked John Norman’s Gor series. Despite their overt sensuality and “sexism” that was so often decried by male and female authors alike, I always found the Gor novels to be far more societally and historically sophisticated than REH’s books, even if the repetitive theme of uptight girl meets boy, boy enslaves girl, girl loosens up and discovers orgasmic ecstasy in boy’s chains does tend to get a bit old.  Perhaps the physics of the Counter Earth were less than accurate, but that’s why Gor was rightly characterized as sword-and-planet fantasy, not science fiction.  But the deeply ironic thing about Norman’s much-despised works was that they were known to have a VERY enthusiastic female following, which tended to fly directly in the face of the theory that the Gor novels were deeply offensive to all women and of little appeal to anyone who wasn’t an overheated adolescent boy with no actual experience of women.

However, a recent article on ITWorld highlighted the interesting fact that ebook purchases are currently being driven by erotic fantasy purchased by female readers. In fact, “of the top 10 bestsellers under the “Multiformat” category, nine are tagged “erotica” amd the last is “dark fantasy”.” Best-selling titles include The Demon’s Librarian, Mastering Chaos, and Submission.

So, it seems John Norman may have had it right after all. Not only does she look beautiful in chains, but she likes it. A lot.

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karen wester newton

I think it would be more accurate to say that many women enjoy the FANTASY of submission and see fiction as a safe outlet for that enjoyment. Romance novels are full of guys who carry women off against their will but that doesn’t mean the women who read them want to get carjacked. I read a few Gor novels back in the day, when I was MUCH younger, and even then they made me a little squeamish.

John R. Fultz

Good point, Karen! And let us not forget that there was at least ONE “Gor” novel–I believe it was “Raiders of Gor”–where the male/female dynamic was reversed. The main series hero, Tarl Cabot, was captured and enslaved by Amazon-style female warriors. He did he react? He took right to his submission in the same way all those female slaves did in the earlier books.
So, I don’t think Norman was really a “sexist.” I think he was simply exploring some hard truths about human sexuality and domination/submission pyschology.
The fact is these were adventure books that delivered fantastic thrills and explored an alien culture to the utmost level. Norman didn’t worry about offending his readers…in fact, when I was first reading “Tarnsman of Gor” and “Outlaw of Gor” as an 11-year-old all the sexual symbolism of the books (as it were) was completely lost on me.
I don’t think men were reading these books to share in a dominaton fantasy against women. They were reading them for the sense of sheer fantasy-adventure and a trip through a savage world that resembled our own dim earth past in many ways.
Oh, an those giant war-birds were REALLY COOL. (Tarns, I believe.)
I still say John Norman gets a bad rap. At least he was doing something original with the whole heroic fantasy/sword-n-planet genre.
And who could ever forget those gorgeous Boris Vallejo covers?


I loved the first books for the flying Tarns, etc. and I had no problem with the sexuality. But as the series went on, the whole submission stuff took over the series and became boring, predictable, and tedious. They took up sround 3/4 of the later books. The first few were really good planetary fantasies though.

John R. Fultz

I lost interest around book seven or so…I think it was the one after “Raiders of Gor.” Definitely the first three books are the best:
Tarnsman of Gor
Outlaw of Gor
Priest-Kings of Gor

Like most ongoing series, it gets played out after awhile…

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