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The following article first appeared as the Introduction to the 1996 Masquerade edition of Priest-Kings of Gor. It was written by Michael Rowe, award-winning journalist and internationally acclaimed author, and is republished here with his kind permission.

Note: The inclusion of an introduction by another author in a book by John Norman does not necessarily mean that John Norman endorses that author, their writings or their views, including those expressed within the introduction. As a writer of both erotic and speculative fiction, it is a singular honor to be introducing this book, Priest-Kings of Gor by John Norman. In doing so, I am acknowledg?ing two debts. The first is a personal one. Long before the word "erotica" (or "sex-writing" ? the current P.G. appellation ? or "porn" that judgment-loaded term, so debated, and once again oddly fashionable among a younger generation of writ?ers) re-entered popular usage, I discovered a book by John Norman called Fighting Slave of Gor, obviously not the book you have in your hands.

I was sixteen years old, at prep school in Selkirk, Mani?toba, becoming a gentleman. I bought the book at the smoke shop in town. I found it on a dusty rack near the magazines, at a time when paperbacks could be purchased without a thought to expense, and it rocked my adolescent world, changing my view of sexuality forever.

Although I was publishing romantic verse in teen maga?zines in those years, poetry of the I love her/She loves me/The wind whispered in a tree variety (trying very hard to convince myself that I was writing about my attraction to, and love for, girls), I suspect that a pornographer was born that year on Norman's barbaric and sweaty Counter-Earth world of masters and slaves.

Although, like all of the Gor books, Fighting Slave was almost cartoonishly heterosexual, it stoked my adolescent libido with its portrayal of a man of earth, loaded down with all of the weaknesses and compromises of civilized society, transformed against his will into, first, a muscular and atten?tive object of pleasure and desire, then a gladiator, and finally, into a warrior who throws off the shackles of his own slavery and rides off into the sunset with a voluptuous slave-girl (his former Mistress, if I recall correctly) slung over his shoulder. The entire arc of character development, including his enslavement and de-civilizing, was liberating. His suffer?ing was exquisite. The fact that he was a slave to women was a bit of an impediment to my fantasies ? causing me briefly to consider the option of heterosexuality ? but common sense and an innate ability to transpose gender won out. Oddly enough, it occurred to me even at sixteen that this book was SM masquerading as heterosexual sci-fi, and I remember thinking, slyly, Well done, sir. While my school fellows were having their Playboy magazines confiscated right and left, my Gor books remained untouched. And my nights were full of the darkest dreams.

I felt privy to a secret, part of a clique, and indeed I was. I would later discover that many of my friends had also discovered Norman's books, and collected them assiduously. Many of these friends have moved on to lives and careers of impeccable respectability ? unlike mine, thank God.

Recently I was driving home after spending the evening with an old friend, Chris, one of the three men I call my brothers. On the way home, I mentioned to Chris that I was writing an introduction to this book. He remembered the book well, and became quite animated. Together we delightedly rehashed the plot of Priest-Kings as we remembered it, both of us miraculously sixteen years old again, recalling various plot points which had somehow been retained in our consciousness after nearly twenty years.

This has always been a part of the magic of John Norman's writing. The Counter-Earth world was already such a leap, and the embrace of Norman's storytelling so reassuring, that having gone this far out on a limb it was not unreasonable to simply, joyously, suspend further disbelief, and leap with him into the nebula.

Priest-Kings of Gor is the third book in Norman's series, and it has been a joy to go back to it and re-read it as an adult gay man, as a writer, and as an anti-censorship activist. I enjoyed the ride as much this time as I did years ago ? but re-visiting an old world after so many years was enlightening in newer ways.

The novel explores the further adventures of Tarl Cabot. This time, he enters the mountains of Sardar in search of the mysterious and all-powerful Priest-Kings who had destroyed his home city, Ko-ro-ba. Tarl Cabot penetrates Sardar in an attempt to ascertain whether or not his wife, Talena, is alive or dead. The discoveries he makes on this epic adventure have all the hallmarks of Norman's best work. Once again, the axes upon which the novel turns are strength, endurance, nobility, and honor. Cabot's heroic quest for Talena; his battles against the barbarism of the Priest-Kings; the Priest-Kings' indifference to all "inferior" species, especially their male and female slaves; Cabot's rescue of the haughty slave-girl, Vika, in the Tunnels of the Golden Beetle; the Priest-Kings' judgment upon mankind; and, ultimately, battle and redemption. This is the stuff of the best sword-and-sorcery/sci-fi fantasy.

For aficionados of SM or alternative sexuality, this novel is replete with ritual and fetish. The always-lush descrip?tions of the intricate dance of dominance and submission between the Gorean warlords and their Kajirae, or slave-girls, are present. But as a gay man, I am more delighted by the two male slaves, twins Mul-Al-Ka and Mul-Ba-Ta.

"Hardly had his delicate foot touched the button," recounts the dedicated heterosexual Tarl Cabot, clearly not unaware of the homoerotic potential of the male slave, "than a panel slid aside and two handsome men, of the most symmetrical form and features, with shaven heads and clad in the purple, plastic tunics of slaves, entered the room and prostrated themselves before the dais.

At a signal from Sarm they leaped to their feet and stood alertly beside the dais, their feet spread, their heads high, their arms folded.

"Behold these two," said Sarm.


The Priest-Kings are fetishistic about cleanliness, requir?ing their slaves to wash twelve times a day, keep their heads and bodies shaven, and be unfailingly subservient at all times.

And yet somehow the role-playing is not isolating for the reader. Part of the power of the best fantasy writing is its ability to create a safe space in the reader's mind, so that he, or she, can shift identification with the characters at will. In Norman's novels, one can choose the sword and battle-armor of the Gorean warrior, the robes of a "free woman of high caste," the silks of the slave-girl, or, in the case of Priest-Kings of Gor, the plastic loincloth and tunic of the mul, the Priest-Kings' slave. Their histories, roles, and adventures are only as far away as the book you are holding in your hands.

John Norman's work, in addition to being a damn good read, is reactionary and exciting. The Gor novels violate every tenet of good taste and political correctness, and are available to anyone for the price of a paperback. Though not necessarily intended as such, the novels are a forum for the exploration of self, for private fantasies, and for clandestine self-identification. They are violent, savage, and shockingly erotic. On Gor, there is value in shrugging off the hypocrisies and endless grinding codes of conduct by which we live, and experiencing life closer to our most physical natures. But then, it is not the fantasy-fiction writer's obligation to conform to anyone's idea of a sanitized, polite society.

Obviously, a world of violence and honor, slavery and ownership, barbarism and heroism, is best enjoyed in a fictional forum. But that is what fantasy is. Those who would criticize Norman's books for promoting "degradation" or "violence" need to ask themselves why they have such a tenuous hold on their own identities that they feel threat?ened by a book that is so clearly celebratory of grand, garish storytelling. John Norman is the forbear not only of a genera?tion of science fiction writers, but also of a generation of erotic writers, many of whom write with the imprint of his beautiful and barbaric world as clearly visible as a Gorean brand.

Until recently, the Gor books were available primarily at second-hand bookstores, or in the select catalogues of collec?tors. For those of us who know and love John Norman's books, and revel in the fact that they are being re-released into general circulation, the publication of Priest-Kings of Gor is an occasion for celebration.

Earlier, I mentioned that I am acknowledging two debts in this introduction.

As I said, the first is personal. The second debt is on behalf of my generation of readers and fans. The landscape of our dreams and fantasies has been richly enhanced by this man's boundless imagination. For those of us who know and love his writing, let us welcome him back.

For those of you about to discover the Counter-Earth, may the nightwind carry you on tarnback, far beyond the mountains of Sardar and into the endless realms of John Norman's ecstatic adventures.


Copyright ? 1996 Michael Rowe. All rights reserved.
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