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The following article first appeared as the Introduction to the 1996 Masquerade edition of Outlaw of Gor. It was written by Steven Saylor, best known for his Roma Sub Rosa series of historical novels set in ancient Rome, 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. We traditionally think of novels as complex, organic creations, in which authors tell stories that are drawn, ultimately, from their own memories and fantasies, as well as from their conscious psychological dilemmas and subconscious conflicts. The most subtle writers transmute these materials in the most subtle ways, and thus what they write may be subject to various interpretations; the result may be thematically ambiguous ? perhaps difficult, perhaps disturbing ? but this makes it all the more fascinating. The whole is somehow more than the sum of the parts, and therein lies the endless mystery of the art.

And then there are novelists like John Norman.

Norman is of a very different school of writing. We might call it wearing one's psyche on one's sleeve. The result is not so much fantasy (in true fantasy, nothing is ever quite what it seems at first) as allegory (in which actions and characters are weighted with quite obvious symbolic values, from which they do not stray).

In the Gor novels, John Norman created his own alternate world, with intricate rules of behavior, caste systems, and hierarchies of power. But the aspects of Counter-Earth which most struck readers in 1967 (when Outlaw of Gor, the second book in the series, was first published) were the sex roles of men and women and the sexual mores of Gor. Men seek power and control; they are warriors, outlaws, masters, Priest-Kings. Women, on the other hand, are ideally slaves ? and though they may have their own kind of fierce pride, their behavior, by and large, is exactly what one might expect from creatures who are the logical result of unbridled male objectification.

To some readers, this is catnip. To others, it's arsenic. Back in the Sixties and Seventies, Gor created a great upheaval in science fiction circles, with readers and writers taking sides as to whether Norman should be toasted and feted, or tarred and feathered. I suspect that reactions from readers encountering Gor for the first time in these editions will be just as sharp today.

Norman's writing is not as sexually explicit as much of what we've grown used to, but it was definitely informed by the atmosphere of the late Sixties, with its various counter-cultures and new legal freedoms to publish pornography. The Gor novels could not have been written in the Fifties, and fell precipitously out of fashion in the Eighties.

Norman allowed his imagination free rein, but in many ways, as a science fiction writer, he's a tinkerer of the Robert A. Heinlein school. He wants to show us how everything works, how his society is structured and organized; he likes to demonstrate all of the bells and whistles of the contraption he's built. As a result, Gor is not as much funs as it could be had it been the creation of a less sincere, more cynical and manipulative writer, who was simply out to push our buttons and cause a bit of scandal. No, Norman believes in Gor, and as always in such cases, there is at times an almost embarrassing note of earnestness as the author very nakedly exposes the kinds of private fascinations that are normally left unstated or else stated very indirectly. It's like being asked to look at someone's stamp collection, or an appendix scar. This self-exposure may be construed as an act of bravery, or foolhardiness, but in most cases, I don't think the author can really help it. Some writers, by nature, wear their psyches on their sleeves, especially if they find readers who sympathize immediately and deeply with their points of view.

Other types of writers, dealing with the world on its own terms, may still produce fantasy, escapism, and erotica, but there will always be a friction at the core of their work, as the author constantly deals with the irony of what he or she desires as opposed to what is. In science fiction, Samuel R. Delany comes to mind. In the realm of politics, Doris Lessing. In the field of erotica, Lars Eighner.

But the work of a writer like John Norman is highly schematic. The point is not to stage a confrontation (or reconciliation) between the world and himself, but to leave the world, with all its disappointments, complexities and ambiguities, behind and to shape his own world, in which his own psychodramas may be played out according to his own internal rules of logic. All inhabitants of this world will be bent to his will. Destiny will be what he decrees.

This schematic kind of writing can be done in the realm of politics; Ayn Rand is a prime example. In erotica, consider the A.N. Roquelaure novels of Anne Rice, with all their convoluted role-playing, or in the later works of John Preston. (Preston, it seems to me, began as the other sort of writer, dealing very realistically yet very erotically with gay sexuality, and then became more and more schematized, beginning with the only partly-idealized Mr. Benson, and then, under the influence of Rice, producing works like The Heir, which are totally internalized and schematic.)

Is one kind of writing better than the other? Certainly, the more subtle sort of writing practiced by Delany, Lessing and Eighner, is generally deemed to be higher art, but there is something to be said for the powerful spell that writers like Rand, Rice, Preston, and yes, John Norman, cast over their fans. Reading satisfies us on many different levels, and the world would be a poorer place without any of the above, including John Norman and Gor.

Sadly, when the movies finally got around to Gor, it was in the form of a couple of low-budget Euro-trash productions. That old blowhard John Milius might have made a decent stab at bringing Tarl Cabot to the screen (as he did with Cabot's literary predecessor, Robert E. Howard's Conan), but the best-forgotten directors of Gor (1988) and Outlaw of Gor (1989) had no idea what they were doing. (Leonard Maltin: "Lots of swords, no sorcery.") They didn't even have the good sense to play up the erotic elements, though there is something to be said for the charming Urbano Barbarini as Tarl Cabot.

Almost always, creations as idiosyncratic as the Gor novels should be left as novels, where their select audience may find them in silence, devour them in secret, and play out the dreams and fantasies they inspire as they see fit.

Copyright ? 1996 Steven Saylor. All rights reserved.
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