First published in 1966, Tarnsman of Gor is shown here with 1976 artwork by Boris Vallejo.
|Genre||Sword and planet, science fantasy|
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|No. of books||33|
Gor // is the parallel universe Counter-Earth setting for John Norman's extended series of sword and planet novels. The series is inspired particularly by the Barsoom series and Almuric, but is also known for its content combining philosophy, erotica, and science fantasy. The series has been variably referred to by publishers with several names including The Chronicles of Counter-Earth (Ballantine Books), The Saga of Tarl Cabot (DAW Books), Gorean Cycle (Tandem Books), Gorean Chronicles (Masquerade Books), Gorean Saga (Open Road Media), and The Counter-Earth Saga (DAW Books, for novels with a protagonist other than Tarl Cabot). Among some members of the Gorean subculture they are often known as The Scrolls. The customs, terminology and imagery depicted in these books inspired a Gorean subculture, with lifestyle adherents online and off. The science fiction-inspired books have taken in influences from other genres, such as fantasy novels and other works.
"The Counter-Earth, or Antichthon, is from Greek cosmology. Speculation on such a world, you see, is ancient. One of the premises of the Gorean series is that a race of aliens, whom we might speak of as the Priest-Kings, have a technology at their disposal compared to which ours would be something like that in the Bronze Age."  
"I think, pretty clearly, the three major influences on my work are Homer, Freud, and Nietzsche. Interestingly, however obvious this influence might be, few, if any, critics, commentators, or such, have called attention to it."
In the same interview, he said "one of the pleasures of writing science fiction is the development of, and characterization of, alien life forms".
Gor is described as a habitable planet in the Solar System that shares the same orbit as Earth, but it is linearly opposed to Earth and consequently always hidden by the Sun, making direct observation of it from Earth impossible. The flora, fauna, and customs of Gor are intricately detailed. John Norman—the pseudonym of Dr. John Lange, a professor of philosophy and a classical scholar—often delights in ethnography, populating his planet with the equivalents of Roman, Greek, Native American, Viking, and other cultures. In the novels, these various population groups are transplants from Earth brought there by space-craft through the behind-the-scenes rulers of Gor, the Priest-Kings, an extraterrestrial species of insectoid appearance. The Gorean humans are permitted advanced architectural, agricultural and medical skills (including life extension), but are forced to remain primitive in the fields of transportation, communication and weaponry (at approximately the level of Classical Mediterranean civilization) due to restrictions on technology imposed by the Priest-Kings. This limitation is imposed to ensure the safety of both the Priest-Kings, as well as the other indigenous and transplanted beings on Gor, who would otherwise possibly come to harm due to humans' belligerent tendencies.
The planet Gor has lower gravity than the Earth (which allows for the existence of large flying creatures, and tall towers connected by aerial bridges in the cities), and would have an even lower gravity if not for the technology of the Priest-Kings. The known geography of Gor consists mainly of the western seaboard of a continent that runs from the Arctic in the north to south of the equator, with the Thassa ocean to the west, and the Voltai mountain range forming an eastern boundary at many latitudes. There are also offshore islands in the ocean, and some relatively sparsely settled plains to the east of the Voltai. The word "Gor" itself means "home stone" in the Gorean language (the native language of the "northern civilized cities of known Gor", and a widely spoken lingua franca in many other areas).
Most of the novels in the series are action and sexual adventures, with many of the military engagements borrowing liberally from historic ones, such as the trireme battles of ancient Greece and the castle sieges of medieval Europe. Ar, the largest city in known Gor, has resemblances to the ancient city of Rome, and its land empire is opposed by the sea-power of the island of Cos.
The series is an overlapping of planetary romance and sword and planet. The first book, Tarnsman of Gor, opens with scenes reminiscent of scenes in the first book of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs; both feature the protagonist narrating his adventures after being transported to another world. These parallels end after the first few books, when the stories of the books begin to be structured along a loose plot arc involving the struggles of the city-state of Ar and the island of Cos to control the Vosk river area, as well as the struggles at a higher level between the non-human Priest-Kings and Kurii (another alien race) to control the solar system.
Most of the books are narrated by transplanted British professor Tarl Cabot, master swordsman, as he engages in adventures involving Priest-Kings, Kurii, and humans. Books 7, 11, 19, 22, 26, 27, 31 and parts of 32 are narrated by abducted Earth women who are made slaves. Books 14, 15, and 16 are narrated by male abductee Jason Marshall. Book 28 is narrated by an unknown Kur, but features Tarl Cabot. Book 30 and parts of 32 are narrated by three Gorean men: a mariner, a scribe and a merchant/slaver.
The series features several sentient alien races. The most important to the books are the insectoid Priest-Kings and the huge sharp-clawed predatory Kurii, both space-farers from foreign star systems. The Priest-Kings rule Gor as disinterested custodians, leaving humans to their own affairs as long as they abide by certain restrictions on technology. The Kurii are an aggressive, invasive race with advanced technology (but less so than that of the Priest-Kings) who wish to colonize Gor and Earth. The power of the Priest-Kings is diminished after the "Nest War" described in the third book, and the Priest-Kings and Kurii struggle against each other via their respective human agents and spies.
Early entries in the series were plot-driven space opera adventures, but later entries grew more philosophical and sexual. Many sub-plots run the course of several books and tie back to the main plot in later books. Some of these plots begin in the first book, but most are underway in the first ten books.
Many historical cultures of Earth are reflected in the novels of Gor. Although the Greco-Roman is the most often noted of these, this is not the only society presented in some fashion on Gor. There are many similarities to real-life historical civilizations in various regions of Gor (explained in the books by early "voyages of acquisition" the Priest-Kings undertook to populate Gor with humans from different parts of Earth).
The majority of the area of the "northern civilized cities", as the Vosk river region in the temperate north of the continent is referred to, is reminiscent of ancient Greco-Roman city-states in many respects (aside from the delta city of Port Kar, which is a more anarchic and piratical version of Venice). The most common dating system is Contasta Ar, or years since the founding of Ar (similar to the Roman dating system known as ab urbe condita), and the Viktel Aria road leading to Ar is analogous to the Appian way. To the north lies the Northern Forest, inhabited by Panther Girls who are based on Scythian Amazons of the Grecian antiquity. On the other hand, Ar's maritime rival Cos is inspired by the Minoan civilisation. Whereas its conflict with Ar is purportedly styled after the Punic Wars, the city similar in some ways to Ancient Carthage is Tharna.
Some of the populations of the non-civilized regions of Gor and their putative inspirations with the book they are introduced are as follows:
- "Wagon Peoples" of the Plains of Turia: Mongols and Central Asian nomads with elements from the Gaucho culture. (Nomads of Gor, 1969)
- Torvaldslanders: Vikings. (Hunters of Gor, 1974)
- Tahari desert peoples: Saharan and Arabian nomads. (Tribesmen of Gor, 1976)
- Innuit or "Red Hunters" of the north: Inuit. (Beasts of Gor, 1978)
- Schendi jungle peoples: Congo River valley populations. More specifically, Mamboka are based on the Bantu and "the small men" are based on pygmies. On the other hand, Taluna are purportedly inspired by the Amazonian female warriors depicted by Francisco de Orellana. (Explorers of Gor, 1979)
- "Red Savages" of the Barrens: Plains Indians, three tribes being specifically based on Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota. Waniyanpi, a sect of pacifist colonialists enslaved by the "Red Savages" are inspired by Shakers. (Savages of Gor, 1982)
- Alars: Migration Period barbarians, particularly Alans and Vandals. (Mercenaries of Gor, 1985)
- Pani: Feudal Japanese. (Swordsmen of Gor, 2010)
Non-civilized regions of Gor also host centers of commerce that act as links to the civilized parts of Gor. They include:
- The merchant town Turia neighboring the "Wagon Peoples", most likely based on Robert E. Howard's interpretation of Turan.
- The merchant town of Kailiauk near the Barrens, based on American frontier towns.
- The free port of Helmutsport in Torvaldsland, reminiscent of the Hanseatic cities.
- The free port of Schendi, based on hubs of the overseas African slave trade, particularly Zanzibar.
DAW Books, which published the Gor series from the 8th volume (Hunters of Gor) through the 25th volume (Magicians of Gor), subsequently decided to cease publication of the books, citing low sales; Norman attributes the decision to feminist influences, saying in 1996:
Tarnsman of Gor was published in late 1966. It has been reprinted 22 times... I have recently signed contracts for fresh French and German sales, and have recently been published for the first time in Czechoslovakia. There have been recent Spanish and Italian sales. There's no evidence that my books no longer sell... After DAW refused to buy any more Gor books, I sold a three-part Telnarian series to Brian Thomsen of Warner Books. The first book, The Chieftain, had a 67 percent sell-through. The second, The Captain, had a 91 percent sell-through, which is the sort of thing that would make Stephen King rush over to shake your hand... Brian Thomsen, my Warner editor for the Telnarian series... was replaced by an editor from one of the blacklisting presses, one that explicitly informed my agent they would not consider anything by John Norman. That new editor canceled the series despite its success and without waiting to see how the third book, The King, would do. That way things are made nicely clear...
"Unfortunately for me, only about seven or eight publishing houses maintain a mass-market paperback line in science fiction and fantasy; this small, closely-knit group effectively controls the market. With such a group, a blacklist need not be an explicit, formal written or oral agreement subscribed to by a gathered cabal pledged to secrecy. It is an understanding that a certain individual is to be ostracized, excluded, methodologically overlooked or such."
A list of Gor books' first editions. Narrators other than Tarl Cabot in italics.
- Tarnsman of Gor (1966), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-27583-7
- Outlaw of Gor (1967), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-27136-X
- Priest-Kings of Gor (1968), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-7592-0036-X
- Nomads of Gor (1969), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-7592-5445-1
- Assassin of Gor (1970), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-7592-0091-2
- Raiders of Gor (1971), Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-7592-0153-6
- Captive of Gor (1972), DAW Books, Elinor Brinton ISBN 0-7592-0105-6
- Hunters of Gor (1974), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-0130-7
- Marauders of Gor (1975), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-0141-2
- Tribesmen of Gor (1976), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-5446-X
- Slave Girl of Gor (1977), DAW Books, Judy Thornton ISBN 0-7592-0454-3
- Beasts of Gor (1978), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1125-6
- Explorers of Gor (1979), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1167-1
- Fighting Slave of Gor (1980), DAW Books, Jason Marshall ISBN 0-7592-1173-6
- Rogue of Gor (1981), DAW Books, Jason Marshall ISBN 0-7592-1179-5
- Guardsman of Gor (1981), DAW Books, Jason Marshall ISBN 0-7592-1368-2
- Savages of Gor (1982), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1374-7
- Blood Brothers of Gor (1982), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1380-1
- Kajira of Gor (1983), DAW Books, Tiffany Collins ISBN 0-7592-1926-5
- Players of Gor (1984), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1932-X
- Mercenaries of Gor (1985), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1944-3
- Dancer of Gor (1985), DAW Books, Doreen Williamson ISBN 0-7592-1950-8
- Renegades of Gor (1986), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1956-7
- Vagabonds of Gor (1987), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1980-X
- Magicians of Gor (1988), DAW Books, ISBN 0-7592-1986-9
- Witness of Gor (2001), E-Reads, Janice ISBN 0-7592-4235-6
- Prize of Gor (2008), E-Reads, Ellen ISBN 0-7592-4580-0
- Kur of Gor (2009), E-Reads, The Kur ISBN 0-7592-9782-7
- Swordsmen of Gor (2010), E-Reads, ISBN 1-6175-6040-5
- Mariners of Gor (2011), E-Reads, The Mariner ISBN 0-7592-9989-7
- Conspirators of Gor (2012), E-Reads, Allison Ashton-Baker ISBN 1-6175-6731-0
- Smugglers of Gor (2012), E-Reads, Margaret Alyssa Cameron, The Scribe and The Merchant ISBN 1-6175-6865-1
- Rebels of Gor (2013), E-Reads, ISBN 1-6175-6123-1
- Plunder of Gor (August 2016), E-Reads, ISBN 1-5040-3406-6
During the mid-1990s, an attempt was made to publish an authorized graphic novel adaptation of the Gor series under Vision Entertainment. The project collapsed under a combination of financial issues and the nature of the imagery, which violated Canadian law, where the printer was located.
The Gor novels have been criticized for their focus on relationships between dominant men and submissive women, the latter often in positions of slavery. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy says, "later volumes degenerate into extremely sexist, sadomasochistic pornography involving the ritual humiliation of women, and as a result have caused widespread offence". Science fiction/fantasy author Michael Moorcock has suggested that the Gor novels should be placed on the top shelves of bookstores, saying, "I’m not for censorship but I am for strategies which marginalize stuff that works to objectify women and suggests women enjoy being beaten."
- Polygraff Staff (2010). "An Exclusive Interview With John Norman, Author of the Gor Series of Novels.". Polygraff. 1 (2). Montreal: Polymancer Studios, Inc. pp. 47–53. ISSN 1918-655X. Retrieved 2010-12-15
- Anders, Charlie Jane. "John Norman, the philosophy professor who created the barbaric world of Gor". 2011-3-22.
- "Cultures". World of Gor. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
- "Places". World of Gor. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
- "The Annals of Gor". Moonproductions.com. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
- Cities of Gor
- Gender roles in Second Life Gor [Background info]
- Langford, David (1998). "The Kink in Space". SFX. Future Publishing (39). Retrieved January 17, 2011.
- "No More Gor: A Conversation with John Norman", David Alexander Smith, The New York Review of Science Fiction, #92, April, 1996
- "Are John Norman's Gors "Boy-Books"?". E-Reads. Retrieved 2013-01-26.
- Gor (1987) at the Internet Movie Database
- Outlaw of Gor (1989) at the Internet Movie Database
- Minerva no kenshi (1994) (V) at the Internet Movie Database
- Marrus (2009). Lightsurfing: Living Life in the Front of My Mouth 1992–2003. Kissena Park Press. pp. 51–55, 67–70. ISBN 978-0-9768508-2-3.
- Clute, John; Grant, John (1999). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 693. ISBN 0-312-19869-8.
- Killjoy, Margaret. Mythmakers & Lawbreakers. AK Press, 2009.