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Philosopher of Gor

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 | Posted by Jackson Kuhl

This was the most family friendly cover I could find.io9 has an interview with the author of the Gor novels, John Norman — a.k.a. John Lange, PhD and professor of philosophy at Queens College CUNY. Who knew?

Lange responds at length on Nietzsche:

In Nietzsche, the expression is ‘Übermensch’, which might be translated variously. A common translation today would be ‘Overman’. It might also be understood as a higher person, a superior person, an ideal as to what a human being might be, a comprehensible ideal toward which a human being might aspire, and such.

I confess I’ve never read any of the Gor books, although I’m certainly aware of their notorious sexy-time reputation. And, even putting that aside, the interviewer’s statement that “people frequently describe Gor as a Nietzschean society” doesn’t entice me to read them anytime soon since Nietzsche is so clearly misunderstood in popular culture. Yet while I disagree slightly with Lange’s interpretation of the Ubermensch (the reason why “The word is always used in the singular, never as though there could be more than one,” is not because there can only be one Highlander, but because Nietzsche realized the transformation was an individual experience, not a collective one, similar to the Buddhist idea of enlightenment), I think he provides a fine explanation of Friedrich’s world-view, which had nothing to do with master races and rippling pecs but rather with internal epiphanies and ideals.

Sword-and-sorcery has always been a perfect vehicle for existentialist themes. Here’s hoping, to paraphrase the interviewer, that Nietzsche becomes more popular not only among young philosophers and post-modern theorists but among fantasy writers as well. Just with fewer whips and chains.

13 Comments »

  1. “Here’s hoping … that Nietzsche becomes more popular not only among young philosophers and post-modern theorists but among fantasy writers as well.”

    Also hoping they will be better writers.

    Comment by C - Foxessa - March 23, 2011 6:23 pm

  2. I read the first four or five GOR books as a kid, and the sexual innuendo and dom/sub aspect of it was lost on me. It wasn’t until years later in my mid-twenties that I returned to the books and realized “Hmmm…this stuff is actually pretty kinky.” To a 12-year-old, it’s just an adventure tale featuring a society where slavery is the norm. However, there is very little sex in the books! What’s there is a deep psychological exploration of some questionable male-female relationship theories. Norman (aka Lange) seems to genuinely believe that women enjoyu being dominated by men, and secretly crave it. However, his slave girls often end up “dominating” their masters because they gain emotional leverage over them. Many, many people have accused Norman of sexism and other scurrilous ideals, but it’s worth noting that there is at least one book in the series (I think it’s RAIDERS OF GOR?) where the “dominant male, subserviant female” paradigm is reversed! The main character is captured by a tribe of Amazonian warrior-women and enslaved by their leader. He becomes every bit the subservient personality that his former slave girls were. In that book, at least, Norman seems to be acknowledging that the whole dom/sub part of human sexuality is not actually tied to gender.

    However, most people write off the books as a cheap thrills and mysognistic fantasy.

    As a kid, what drew me in were the brilliant Boris Vallejo covers. They are still some of the best paperback covers ever to hit the market.

    After awhile though, the sexism of the Gorean culture does get rather old. I read one or two more novels as a twenty-something then lost interest.

    This interview is pretty stunning, though, because Norman obviously takes himself and his work WAY more seriously than anyone else does. Despite that, the GOR books do have their brutal charms.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - March 23, 2011 9:36 pm

  3. @John- I too was suckered in by the Boris covers. That and I love the idea of the “sword & planet” genre, but have yet to find an actual “sword & planet” book or series, that I really enjoyed. :(

    About 20+ years ago,I read something like the first 8-10 Gor books, almost trying to convince myself they are better than they really are. If Norman would’ve quit trying to push the sex-slave idea down everyone’s throat and concentrated more on the action/adventure they would’ve been so much better. I even read the first book in his Talnarian Histories, but it looked to be going right back to the slave thing again, this time with a Spartacus spin to it.

    Norman really does seem to have a thing for unconventional sex and domainance. And for some reason, he really seems to be fascinated with himself. He just seems so bizarre to me that he’s like a train-wreck I can’t help but stare at.

    Comment by kid_greg - March 24, 2011 9:51 am

  4. I’ve read some Gor tales…Not a fan…

    Norman, gets cred from me though for going balls-out on the imagined male dominated culture, that is not just some weird dark-glassed modern/post-modern taken on Ye Olde Dung Ages…( see Martin for that)…

    Norman, is just too focused on this male domination idea, it hijacks the whole world of Gor.

    A Fail, unless you are a True Believer, in his ideas…

    Comment by RadiantAbyss - March 24, 2011 12:30 pm

  5. ” … most people write off the books as a cheap thrills and mysognistic fantasy.”

    Why yes, most people who can read do do that. Funny!

    Comment by C - Foxessa - March 24, 2011 1:04 pm

  6. Foxessa –

    To be more balanced, this is not accurate.

    Gor is rather popular. The series is largely still in print.

    All 20-something books could still be in print…wouldn’t shock me, ’cause I know most are.

    Some one, a lot some one(s) is/are out there buying this.

    I’ve met them. Gor fans are not all kinky BDSM people, whom hate women, at least according to their own PoV.

    They may be at the Con near you.

    I feel Gor is misogynistic, in the way I feel that vintage-orthodox-freudianism is misogynistic.

    The real problem for me isn’t misogyny. It’s well, a whole lot of ‘basic writing stuff’…

    For simplicities sake I usually call Series Fail by; Author Appeal/Author Tract/Unfortunate Implications Asphyxia.
    ( See tvtropes.org for definitions ).

    One of my hobbies is Psychology. Not saying ‘paging Dr. Freud’, every time I see 2 guy smile at each other, or a woman hugs me, but hardcore, reading Jung in German, type of shit…

    Gor is fascinating from an abnormal psychology students PoV.

    As a ‘straight’ story? Gor is a Fail.

    Comment by RadiantAbyss - March 24, 2011 3:32 pm

  7. Psychology as a hobby isn’t what one can point to as fair and balanced resume for criticizing those who find a fellow’s life work as as creative all about women and slavery, particularly to scholars who have spent decades researching and publishing in the v, to be risible and horrible.

    Love, C.

    Comment by C - Foxessa - March 24, 2011 10:34 pm

  8. I met JN in the flesh very early in my life, upon the same occasion that I first met Isaac Asimov, btw. I shared the experience of so many young sf/f starting out writing women at that time of having IA trying to grope me. I was newly married, my husband was with me, and I had to stop him from decking IA — that’s the kind of world John Norman came out of in SF/F. It had already changed, but these guys didn’t know it.

    IA and JN, on the same panel — that’s what it was like then.

    Love, C.

    Comment by C - Foxessa - March 24, 2011 10:37 pm

  9. I like Norman’s works a lot.

    Compared to Howard, Lovecraft, CAS he’s “Lin Carter” level as a writer, but IMO that’s not a put-down. And, while it was a horny grade school/jr high male seeing the chained women on the covers, I liked his philosophy. Not so much the put women down stuff, but the MAN stuff. Like “How should a man live?” IMO Freas’s cover was the best art but this version has the coolest raw energy to it: http://jozie.net/Gor/infoimages/Marauders%20of%20Gor%20%289%29.jpg My first Gor book was “Asassin of Gor” ’cause it really aroused me the kinky cover, but I liked the story, the dark assassin making his way through that world on a secret mission. I loved the scene with the abacinated game player at the market. The otherwise obedient slave girl begging not to be ordered to bed the killer, etc. His world had a raw energy and life of it’s own.

    I’m thinking Prof Norman was way too kind to give iO9 an interview. And he handled it with his usual perfect control of his will, being polite and trying to get his views across as the interviewer attacks him and tries to debase the entire thing by focusing on one thing to try to twist it into something that can be used against him. Norman’s so used to the “You are a sexist rapist MALE pig!” attitude the interviewer focused on the “Overman” thing obviously trying to trap/discredit him as an anti-semite… Though restrained, the interviewer could have been a giant Spitting Cobra ala “Kobra Khan” from Masters of the Universe. (remember that character? A toy for kid’s who’s parents you don’t like!) And he regorgetated the interview onto a forum that’s so PC Extremist they just praised each other spitting on him, spending more time complementing a person cut and pasting a parody than discussing the work.

    I’ll say that I believe that Norman is indeed a victim of a PC agenda that’s forced on us by people controlling the media, who have enough $, government pay-outs and clout, they can slop one piece of PC SH-t on us after another. They don’t published based on what sells, they publish based on what they decide to provide for the public to perhaps buy, and if even major booksellers go bankrupt due to that, they don’t care. They don’t reward talent, they keep down any true, unique talent, pushing up controllable “Above Average” writers they know will perish instantly without their support.

    Norman’s novels, even as long/excessive as his series were, were still selling. He had a die-hard fanbase that kept coming back again and again and ensured any printing would make a nice profit. Then the head of DAW books died of a heart attack and before his body even cooled his daughter took over and canceled a ton of books, first was Norman’s Gor series. He’s been steadily blacklisted from the “Mass media” ever since, no ability to be published save from recently due to ongoing die hard support of fans and the growing (he’s wary of) “Bondage” fanbase that turned his books into “Collector’s Items”. I, working in a used bookstore for a time during college, saw the period where even water damaged ones sold for $18 a piece!

    I agree with him that they’ve literally set him up as an example to scare other writers into submission. It has to be fitting into the “PC Agenda” or be crushed, the “Monoculture” being forced on America, Europe and gradually the rest of the world by a shared media that helps governments controlled by big corporations and rich elite rule with their agenda. Soon, if they have their way, you won’t be able to even have a web page seen by other people unless some elite approves of it. Really, it’s right out of 1984.

    Something that truly challenges is their enemy. They don’t want to admit a “Nice” except in S-xual perversions and of course those only in ‘approved’ ones. They don’t want it known it’s possible (if there was a free market) that you could have someone not popular with the mass-groupthink, but still have a profound lesser impact. That’s kind of like what the “Good Christians” see as their special “I’m oppressed and non-pc” but of course the only ones on TV and in the bookstore swallow and vomit the approved “Monoculture” line edited to them and it was a real laugh ’cause in a Hastings today I saw lots of “Cool Hipster” style Christ merchandise – neat little cross pendants and such, all made in CHINA – a Communist, Atheist country that oppresses Christians during it’s free time…

    Comment by GreenGestalt - March 25, 2011 1:48 am

  10. Foxessa –

    …If you say so…Who are you by the way?

    Who are these ‘scholars’ I have insulted?

    I would like some examples. I need more than vapid generalities about my sin…lack of respect for some shadowy cadre of writers/researchers, I gather…

    Comment by RadiantAbyss - March 25, 2011 10:23 am

  11. GreenGestalt- You’re joking right?
    Sentimental affections for books from youth aside, if Norman is not a nut-case, he is sure making an effort to come across as one.
    And how was the interviewer at iO9 attacking him?
    I admit I could have missed something because his answers were like pointless meanderings that rambled on forever, making it very difficult to read. The only thing I came away with from his answers, is that he (Norman), is pretty taken with himself. He definitely thinks that he is a genius if no one else does or at least he came across that way.
    I agree that there are many good books, music, movies, etc.., that do fall victim to the rampant political correctness being forced down our throats, but there are also many that claim to be victims of PC when in reality their work just sucks, plain and simple.

    Comment by kid_greg - March 25, 2011 10:59 am

  12. kid_greg,

    Really, I almost went emo, but really, are you just from iO9…? This board ain’t “PC” and mod down/ban anyone not.

    My reading of this interview, I was amazed at how well Norman’s head is screwed on. Really, just alone look at his attitude compared to his novels being made into “Movies”… Most authors go “I’ll SUE!” at a fraction of the debasement. Look at Last Unicorn, Neverending Story, Clan of the Cave Bear. Instant lawsuit/freakout and not 1/10th as butchered as GOR. Norman just realized that, outside of a “Ten Commandments” budget to make something that would then be received with less respect than if Guccione had made “Caligula II” there was no way, technology alone, to make Gor 100%. Norman just realized, a sentiment later echoed separately by Andrew Vachss that even a crude B movie gets more viewers than almost any book gets readers, so even a mediocre movie could attract more fans to the movie and make him some $ over time if he doesn’t waste it suing the producer. So, Norman just turned off the “Serious” part of his brain, enjoyed the lighthearted 1% Gor movies, and saved his advance and btw the movie still gets him royalty checks, some laughingly small, some not, even to this day!

    I truly hope that if I get that opportunity I can be that controlled with my own thoughts, speech and actions… ’cause I’ll be a LOT more “Non-PC”, extreme and opinionated…I fear a meltdown…

    —Me, almost ready to jump on and strangle a Hollywood Director…

    “NO! The VENGEANCE SQUAD doesn’t just SCARE the pig that sent jobs overseas and laid off Americans! They break into his house and with hot pliers MUTILATE him and his FAMILY in front of him! Really, can’t that 8 year old “actress” brat playing his daughter tolerate some fake blood and spirit gum as fake torn skin? She sure screams loud enough when they don’t bring her the right gourmet entre from some cafe I can’t pronounce the name of…”

    —director—
    “uh, look, GG, we are making this movie to capitalize off your ‘magazine’s bizzare and scary popularity, giving a heavy share to you with minimal loss of creative control, but one of the producers perhaps intendedly resembles these ‘heroes of the people’s’ victims and he’s freaking out at me on the phone every day… He says he’s been tricked into paying for incitement to his own murder! Look, even if we tone it down, it’ll advertise your magazine and increase it’s sales and as you’ve let yourself get arrested enough for content you should be fine… Please, you are a nice guy deep down despite this ‘unleashed ID’ you inflict on the world, and he’s scared. Let him be SCARED into sending jobs back home, as they are starting to get in RL… Really, he SAID he’d move that toy factory back to the USA specifically if you let us have him be scared into redeeming him with minimal beat up…guilt versus skin being ripped with pliers…”

    I don’t consider Norman a great writer, but a good one, and a man with amazing character. If I was wrong my conspiracy theory on the media, he’d have not had his books yanked. While, heh, “Controversial” his books sold quite well. Also, Norman was a “Publisher’s Dream”… He was polite, very normal in appearance and behavior and dependable. Every year on at worst the 11th month he’d come in with his new manuscript, drop it off with the secretary and with a polite message to the publisher leave. His manuscript would be readable, have virtually no spelling/grammar errors and be ready to start the typesetting process. As he didn’t quit his “Day Job” he wasn’t asking for advances/freaking out over “Royalties”. While controversial, that helped him sell books and he had a loyal fan base that could have supported printing plus profit alone.

    In short, he was the guy they could rely on while perhaps more brilliant writers quickly emulated major celebrities, quickly spending their royalties, getting “Advances” worthy of the next books royalties if it did good the stammered into the office 1 month to one year late freaked out on cocaine with an outline of a manuscript less coherent. YES, I mean THAT GUY among quite a number of them if any number of rumors is true, not that I don’t like his works either. But, yes, THAT guy freaked through his major foundation works even by his own admission high as a kite on cocaine… Really, just as Burroughs did his “Interzone” in a heroin induced daze, the imagery of the lone/last gunslinger going across a harsh whitewashed desert chasing some enemy, that’s PURE cocaine… But, scary undead cats, spunky little pyrokenetic girls and all that, he was quite “Politically Correct” while Norman was NOT….

    A sane “Free Market” Norman would have just been able to hammer out his yearly “Philosophy masked in sword and planet” in his nice little niche as long as he had enough fans to support it. He’d not have been instantly banned and blacklisted.

    Comment by GreenGestalt - March 26, 2011 3:15 am

  13. GG-
    No I’m not with iO9 and sorry I have no idea what “emo” means. (Googled it an all that immediately popped-up was a type of music)
    You obviously have a lot of passion about Norman, which I really don’t understand since you admit he is only a good writer, and I don’t dispute that. Too be honest it’s been so long since I read any of his books, I can’t really remember. The only thing that stands-out in memory as being all that unique was the whole slavery with odd sexual over tones thing.
    And I’m with you on the whole “political correctness movement”. I shake my head in disgust every time I see “Merry Christmas” have to give way to a forced “Happy Holidays”. What about the whole censored version of Huckleberry Finn that just recently came out? Political Correctness does more harm than it ever does good.
    But I still don’t see where the interviewer ever iO9 interviewer ever attacked Norman as you stated. She asked questions I couldn’t help but be curious about myself in regards to what he thought about the GOR movies and what about the GOR fans among the BDSM. Personally one of the reason that I stopped reading the Gor books was soft erotica seemed like it was taking over the story and it just got old. It always made me question if Norman was a little perverted. How anyone could read Gor and is old enough to understand the sexual innuendos, not wonder about that, at least a little bit?
    And the whole Overman thing? Maybe you have something there but you could also be reading more into it than is there too. That’s easy to do when you’re really passionate about something.
    But “scare other writers into submission”, Dude, give me a break. Norman is a mediocre to good writer at best, with a cult following. A lot of today’s avid sci-fi/fantasy readers don’t even know who he is. I’d think the “enemy” could find a more well-known author to target. And the “enemy” has failed to sub-due writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, who came from an era where blatant racial prejudices where generally accepted as fact by the masses. I would think that would be more of an agenda than shunning someone like Norman.
    I’m staunchly against PC too, but it gets very tiresome to me when some artist cries conspiracy, when in reality nobody cares about what he or she has to say.
    If PC is making head-way in today’s books, I really don’t see it in what I’m reading (Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, etc..). Maybe in YA, but, baring the classics like the mentioned Huck Finn, as a father I kinda hope that things are kinda voluntarily toned-down there.

    Comment by kid_greg - March 26, 2011 3:14 pm


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