Early in the fall of 2011 E-Reads was contacted by a representative of Mystic Radio requesting a phone interview with John Norman. Mystic describes itself as "a small nonprofit radio station whose listeners either follow the Gor books or BDSM lifestyle." E-Reads regretted that Mr. Norman doesnÆt give live interviews but told Mystic that he might respond to written questions. Below are those questions and the authorÆs answers. They were published on the E-Reads website on Wednesday, October 12, 2012.
The following Question Overview and the individual question headings were added specifically for this online reproduction of the interview. Due to the differences in medium, I also added some extra indentation.
Mystic: You have the longest running Sci Fi series; youÆre a well-known writer; yet in the late 80Æs you were blacklisted. Did you anticipate this? What were your feelings?
John Norman: I think that there was, and may still be, a German science-fiction series, the Perry Rhodan series, or such, which might be longer, and so on. I am not sure of this. As far as I know, however, the Gorean series is the longest, most complex, and most carefully worked out single-world science-fiction series written to date. The German series mentioned, I think, may have been a multiple-world series. I believe Wendayne Ackerman, the wife of Forry Ackerman, translated several of the German books into English. I mention this in part because I think Forry Ackerman, "Mr. Science Fiction," literally coined the expression you used above, namely æSci FiÆ. He was a wonderful human being, and a dear friend. Incidentally, I think the German series mentioned may have had several authors, over the years, as opposed to being written by a single individual. The important thing, of course, is not so much the length of a series, but its quality, its popularity, its difference, its originality, its power, its courage, its importance, and so on.
I did not anticipate the blacklisting, which probably bespeaks political naivety, and, I suppose, a misplaced conviction that America was still a free country, that free speech was acceptable, that the possibilities, the glories, the potential wonderful multitudes of positions and views possible in science fiction, its myriad imaginative worlds, the joys of creativity, proposal, and vision, were literarily, intellectually, and morally legitimate. I did not anticipate a one-restaurant town, with only one item on the menu. I have never felt that art should be limited by, or prostituted to, an ideology. But then I never lived in Nazi Germany, MussoliniÆs Italy, or StalinÆs Russia.
With respect to my feelings, as I am a writer, and, in a way, an artist, or something in that direction, I was naturally disappointed to learn of the blacklisting, not so much personally, as morally, and culturally, this having to do with its effects beyond myself, effects having to do with the chill message it transmits to other writers, who might like to write freely and honestly. For example, if an individual with a track record of millions of books sold can be blacklisted, and such, the rest of you folks had better look out. Obviously, in such a case, the market is not economically driven, nor is it freedom- or tolerance-driven. It is politically or ideologically driven. Accordingly, if you want to publish, write what the small, politically uniform minority which controls science fiction, which determines what you will and will not be permitted to read, wants written. Take into consideration in your work the obtaining ideological filters, and strive to celebrate the current orthodoxy. It may be different tomorrow. Choose prescribed ruts and trim your sails to prevailing winds. Do what you are told. It is not so hard to catch on to what is wanted, so do that. Writers of the world, unite, in the way they tell you. You have nothing to lose but your integrity. Science fiction has nothing to lose but its future.
I do not think a free, honest literature is evil, but the censors, the thought police, the ax grinders, the promoters of agendas, might well disagree. We should recognize this sort of thing and respect their views, just as we should respect other views which are similarly narrow, smug, bigoted, uninformed, and stupid.
I personally favor natural liberty, private property, a free market, a free press, limited government, and such, so I gather I am about as politically incorrect as possible. I do not try to be that way. I just manage it. So, say bad things about me, and pretend you do not know me. Big Sister is listening.
Mystic: Why do the books have such a drastic change in characters? In some Tarl isnÆt even mentioned.
John Norman: This question is probably best addressed to the books, since they pretty much write themselves. I am grateful that they show up.
In retrospect, it seems to me a good idea to have a variety of protagonists, backgrounds, and situations. I suspect that the hero of the books, so to speak, if one were to look for one, is, at least in part, the Gorean world and its ethos. Too, it seems to me that different central characters might add a freshness and diversity to the series. On the other hand, as I suggested, the books pretty much write themselves. They do what they want. Who am I to object? Sometimes I am surprised, and, as mentioned, grateful. As the Eskimo saying has it, "Who knows from whence songs come?"
Mystic: There have been books written about, or involving, warriors, Priest-Kings, slaves, Kurii, and such. Does the future hold a book about the Free Women of Gor?
John Norman: The most recent book, Mariners of Gor, deals substantially with Flavia of Ar, who would be about as free as one could get, as she was the confidante of Talena, during her reign as Ubara of Ar, under the hegemony of the occupational forces, after ArÆs defeat. On the other hand, to be sure, she does not remain free very long. After fleeing Ar, to escape impalement, following the restoration of Marlenus, she is captured and enslaved, and finds herself on the ship of Tersites, as it undertakes its long, hazardous journey across Thassa, to the WorldÆs End. To be sure, the narrator, so to speak, and leading character, is Callias, a Cosian oarsman.
In general, I think that something like 99.9 percent of writers are currently busy writing about free women, as they had better do, if they wish to get through the political obstacle course currently in place. Conform, or forget it. Accordingly I do not think John Norman needs to attend to such matters. Everybody else is doing it. That job does not need John Norman. It is being done very nicely, by about everybody else, those who know the score, the ideological requirements, the way the wind is blowing, and so on.
Mystic: Why did you feel a need to change things, like money, and such, in some of the later books.
John Norman: Following Earth likelihoods, given EarthÆs obvious cultural influence on Gorean civilization, gold is regarded as the most valuable metal, moneywise, followed by silver, and copper. I think there are two things to take into consideration here. First, Gor is extremely decentralized, without gigantic nation states, or international currency commissions, concerned with standardizations, and such. Accordingly, most money exchanges, between different currencies, would be likely to be done by scale, by weighing coins, and such. A silver tarsk of Market of Semris might not have as much silver in it as one from Venna, or Harfax, or Jad, for example. In short, there is something of a mix, or chaos, amongst cities, but not, presumably, within cities. Also coins might be shaved, currencies debased, and such. Accordingly, one should expect a variety of coinages, and values, in such a situation. Second, as one would expect, given the preceding, differences such as that the number of tarsk-bits in a copper tarsk might vary, depending on the conveniences of exchange. For example, in a major port such as Brundisium, small change might be locally very useful, for example, one hundred tarsk-bits to a copper tarsk, the bits tiny, like drops, perhaps, whereas in many cities there might be eight tarsk-bits, larger, triangular coins resulting from the division of a single copper tarsk, to a copper tarsk. In such a situation, as in others, one supposes money changers might equate, say, two tarsk-bits of one city to, say, fifty tarsk-bits of another. Also, coins may differ from city to city. For example, in Brundisium, "staters" are mentioned, but we do not hear of them in, say, Ar. In passing, one might also mention something which may not be clear to some readers, which is that coins, on Gor, tend to be valuable. Indeed, much exchange, and such, undoubtedly takes place by barter, particularly in the open country; similarly, local gardens would be likely to supply more produce per family than would be expected in a modern urban environment. For example, some slaves might be sold for as little as fifty copper tarsks, or such.
Mystic: Do you specifically have a map of Gor and / or pictures of some of the items and animals that are in the books that are not of earth that were done by an artist according to your specifications?
John Norman: There are several wonderful maps of Gor available on the internet, here and there. They are speculative, of course. All, I think, represent intelligent conjectures. Each is, as far as I am aware, compatible with descriptions in the books. I welcome them all. I appreciate them all. With respect to animals, there have been animals on various covers, in independent art works, and so on. I think all that is available, here and there. There was once a project to produce a graphic novel based on a Gorean book, which project, unfortunately, failed of fruition. A number of fine drawings were worked out there, based on descriptions in the books. I would suppose the rights to those drawings would belong either to the artists, or to the individual, or company, which was undertaking the project. I would guess that a graphic novel based on one or more of the Gorean books might be an interesting and remarkable project. There is, however, nothing in the works along those lines at present.
Mystic: You had originally started writing as John Lange, and then changed to John Norman. Since Lange was already known, why the switch to Norman?
John Norman: I think there may be a mistake in the assumption behind the question here. It is an easy mistake to understand, and a very natural one. The first three Gorean books were all written by "John Norman," but the first three were copyrighted under the name "John Lange." After the first three, they were copyrighted under the name "John Norman." I do not know why the change was made, as I had nothing to do with it, but it does seem a good idea to copyright the books under the name "John Norman," as that is the name under which the books are written. There are, incidentally, various reasons for using the "John Norman" name. Most obviously, it separates fiction from nonfiction, from, say, scholarly books, articles, and such. As considerable differences between these sorts of writing are involved, that seems a good idea. Pretty clearly science-fiction writing, or adventure-fantasy writing, is one thing, and academic writing is another. The worlds are quite different, at least allegedly. A minor reason is that it seems very few people can pronounce "Lange," but almost everyone I have met is really good at pronouncing "Norman."
Mystic: Why is there a new money measurement/calendar system, and other alterations, in the later books that differs from the first ten?
John Norman: This question seems to overlap somewhat with question 4, above. I understand that that is the case because the questions are proposed, at least to some extent, by different individuals. At any rate, one might refer back to question 4, dealt with above. With respect to the calendar, if one means by the "calendar" the Gorean year, its divisions, and such, that is the same throughout the books, with the possible exception of mentioning a holiday, or such, here or there, not mentioned in the earlier books. If by the "calendar" is meant Gorean chronology, one should note that Gorean chronology, like that of the ancient world, is diverse. For example, ArÆs chronology is based on years "Contasta Ar," or "from the founding of Ar," rather as Roman chronology is on years "Ab Urbe Condita," or "from the founding of the city." On the other hand, in Port Kar, years are reckoned, following the establishment of the Council of Captains, rather as, in year such-and-such of the Council of Captains. Other polities might reckon time in terms of Archon Lists, years of a UbarÆs Reign, and so on. For example, one would not expect Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and so on, to reckon time in the same way. Even in the modern world there are diverse calendars. There are, of course, "alterations" in a series, as it progresses. One may hear of a new city, a new river, and so on.
Mystic: In the 70Æs, the books started to gain followers and people started living according to your books, calling themselves Goreans, some even believing there is a Gor out there. It was either the sci-fi group went to Trekies or Goreans. What was your first reaction to this and what are your current feelings? What are your feelings toward individuals who have chosen to follow the life of Gor as a lifestyle? How is it that you wrote about such things and in a time when it was more shunned than accepted? Were you worried about the erotica side and how it would sell? How to you feel about the way many have embraced the books as a way of life? Did you anticipate there would be such a following when starting to write the series so long ago?
John Norman: This seems to be a "suitcase question," namely, a question which, actually, contains several questions. I will try to answer a couple of them. I think that is about all one has a right to expect. Hopefully the answer to all, or most, of the preceding questions is at least implicit in what follows.
1. The Gorean books are fiction, and are meant to be read and enjoyed as such.
2. One does not know if a "Gor," as an astronomical world, exists, or not. Given that there are billions of stars in a galaxy, and that there seem to be billions of galaxies beyond these, stretching on, far out of sight, and so on, and that extrasolar planets are common, between six and seven hundred having been detected to date, it seems possible that a Gor exists somewhere. There are many fascinating issues involved in these matters. Much depends on whether life is abundant or rare in the universe. My bet is that we are "not alone." Simulations of primeval environments have resulted in the abundant, natural formation of organic molecules, but, so far, no cells, no civilizations. Perhaps one should give such experiments a billion years or so.
3. I think the Gorean phenomenon is largely independent of what would normally be taken as "science-fiction fandom." With all due respect to "typical science-fiction fandom," which I very much respect, and toward which I have very positive feelings, the Gorean books are not written for "typical science-fiction fans." Indeed I am not sure they would understand them. Some science-fiction writers apparently donÆt. They are written for adults, highly intelligent, highly sexed adults, of both sexes. Similarly, the Gorean books are not simply adventure fantasy, but intellectual, philosophical, and psychological novels. Also, some of them certainly have elements of sensuous romance. The Gorean books are their own country, their own world, not a part of someone elseÆs country, or someone elseÆs world. They are not out, for example, to think up the 673rd variation off genetic engineering, denounce capitalism, woo antimenite editrices, or such.
4. Interestingly, I know very little about the "Gorean phenomenon," other than the fact that it apparently exists.
5. Interestingly, also, I do not regard the Gorean books as "controversial," as they are based, for the most part, on history, anthropology, biology, psychology, and such. It is true, of course, that certain ideologies, and certain competitive ambitions, are more likely to prosper if certain facts are overlooked, ignored, or denied. I think one should accept human nature, and the profound, wonderful differences amongst human beings, sexual and otherwise, for what they are, and then worry about putting together a world in which humanity might flourish, rather than be lied to, threatened, coerced, sickened, and stunted. To be sure, this is a value judgment. Some people doubtless prefer a culture that is a penitentiary, assuming they are, or expect to be, the guards and wardens.
6. Presumably one either writes for a market or one writes what one feels like writing, and hopes for the best. I went at things the latter way. There is money in flattery, sycophancy, and hypocrisy. But I would rather make money, if I make it, another way, honestly, so to speak.
7. Sex, and sexual needs, and sexual natures are part of life. These things have been selected for, in diverse species, in thousands of generations. It is hard to believe, for example, that the human species has been wrong up to now. I suppose that a fifty-thousand-year mistake is possible, but it seems unlikely. Perhaps raccoons and giraffes have been wrong up to now.
8. I am in favor of people being safe, healthy, happy, fulfilled, and so on. What makes people safe, healthy, happy, and fulfilled? That probably depends on the individuals involved. I think the test of "life consequences" is important here. I have no objection to individuals involving themselves in safe, healthy, happy, fulfilling Gorean relationships. Master/Slave sex, for example, can be emotionally and physically rewarding for both partners. I am not in favor of cruelty, to a slave no more than to any other animal. The slave is to be cherished, and know herself the belonging of her master. She exists to love and serve her master. She is not to be abused, but enjoyed. In the collar there are many rewards. The Gorean relation has nothing to do with hurting people. If it is not beautiful, it is not Gorean.
9. I did not anticipate the success of the Gorean world, its popularity, and so on. I did not even anticipate the blacklisting, for example, and it still seems surprising to me, as I am not clear, really, that there is anything there to be blacklisted about. I am naive, I guess. Also, I did not anticipate the extent of antimenite power in publishing. That, too, was naive. It did not occur to me that women might exist who have serious reservations about half of the human race. Interestingly, the Gorean books have a large, grateful, warm female readership. Indeed, supposedly some sixty percent of the Gorean readers are women. That did come as a surprise to me. So I gather that not every woman is turned on by, or thrilled by, antimenite-approved males, when they recommend males.
Mystic: The womenÆs movement really didnÆt come fully into effect until the late 70Æs. Prior to that, many individuals were raised to believe women should be submissive to the male. They were to care for the man and meet his needs. You grew up in a time when this was so, and were an adult as the change occurred. Was the Gorean life of women submissive to men your belief or fantasy.
John Norman: There is no WomanÆs Movement. There are several womenÆs movements, historically, and presently. For example, when a woman provides the unsolicited and not particularly interesting information that she is a feminist, she is not likely to be doing much more than proclaiming her alleged political correctness, and that she is to be immediately and uncritically approved. What is she telling us? Not much, I am afraid. Is she an Equity Feminist or a Gender Feminist, a Difference Feminist, or an Identity Feminist, or some other kind of Feminist, or some combination of these, and other sorts, or what? Feminists range from loving wives and devoted mothers to man-hating lunatics. Some major divisions seem visible, the Votes-for-Women movement, ending in the Nineteenth Amendment; the glamour-jobs-for-middle-class-white-women movement, the affirmative-action-special-privileges-based-on-gender sort of thing; and the far-left agenda of some portions of contemporary Feminism. (It is interesting that when the media interviews a woman for the "womanÆs view," they always select, or so it seems, a woman from one of the leftist movements, a radical, so to speak, and not a representative sample of the other 99.9 percent or so of the female sex.)
I was never, personally, raised to believe that women should be submissive to men, nor, as far as I know, were many others of my generation. If one is a Christian, and takes St. Paul seriously, on the other hand, one might. I think he said that wives should submit themselves to their husbands. In that sense, there might have been religious views along these lines. The three possibilities seem to be that wives should yield to husbands, or husbands to wives, or there should be a fight, as in a democracy of two. I think the usual situation is that the wife submits to the husband in some things, and the husband to the wife in others. That seems to work pretty well. After all, husbands usually know more about some things than wives, and wives usually know more about some things than husbands. I do not think it would be a bad idea, personally, if wives submitted themselves to their husbands. I think that is a good idea. Perhaps I will call it to the attention of my wife. On the other hand, I was never taught that sort of thing.
The Gorean books are obviously fantasy. On the other hand, their popularity, and their impact, is largely a function of fantasy mirroring reality. Without this they would not have the power, the impact, the reality they do.
What is crucial here, given our present context, the Gorean books, and such, is biology, and what is fulfilling and what is not fulfilling. To many women, it is sexually thrilling to be collared, stripped, chained, and knelt, to be subjected to indisputable male dominance, and many, in their hearts, feel something profoundly right and beautiful in being owned by, and handled by, a strong, possessive, uncompromising master. What is important here, again, is the test of life consequences. I do not presume to impose my views on others, and I would prefer that they do not attempt to impose their views on me, and everybody else.
Mystic: One of your readers wanted to know what the 12 slave kisses were. They were mentioned, but not explained.
John Norman: I do not think they had better be explained. Would you explain them? Some would seem obvious. This matter, I conjecture, is best left to the imagination. Needless, to say, as a portion of the training of a slave girl, they would most likely have to do with a variety of ways of pleasing a Master.
Mystic: What would your ideal kajira be? You write of various personalities. Do you have a favorite kajira?
John Norman: I do not think I have a concept of a single ideal kajira. Women are wonderful, different, and unique. I think rather than a single ideal there would be a thousand ideals, and, perhaps, one for each woman. I see no reason why MargaretÆs kajira and AllisonÆs kajira might not both, in their own way, be ideal. Might we not bid heatedly on either one?
I am fond of almost all the kajirae in the books. I am not sure I have a favorite. Let each male conjecture his favorite kajira, and let each female conjecture her ideal Master.
Mystic: Many times we write from personalities that we have met in our life. Are any of your characters made from individuals met within your life, over the years.
John Norman: I think this question cannot well be answered. I would suppose that the individuals one has met, and the individuals that one has read about, and so on, might influence one. That might well be the case. Indeed, one might take one aspect from A and another from B, and so on. I think the character of Torm, the Scribe, might be based on the Dutch Humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam,. On the other hand, I think the safest general answer to this question is either "No," or "Not to my knowledge." Sorry.
Mystic: Where do you see Ar going, once Cos, Tyros, and the other occupational forces have been driven from her walls?
John Norman: I prefer not to publicly speculate on these matters. I think it is much better to wait and see where the books go, and what they do. To be sure, in Mariners of Gor, we discover the series risking the vastness and turbulence of Thassa, the sea, as the ship of Tersites essays its perilous voyage to the WorldÆs End. At this time, Marlenus is restored to power in Ar, and Talena, who served as a puppet Ubara during the occupation, has become a fugitive.
Mystic: There are a number of lengthy plot arcs within the books. How far in advance did you plan them? Did you take it a book at a time, or did you have some grand vision from the start? How far back were you thinking about the fall of Ar, for instance?
John Norman: The series is constructed in a rather Ptolemaic manner, namely, in terms of a great cycle associated with its epicycles. In short, each book, though complete within itself, should advance the series as a whole. For example, the "others," "those who are not Priest-Kings," the Kurii, did not emerge immediately in the series. It did seem appropriate to balance the power of the Priest-Kings, which otherwise would not seem challenged, by a counterpower, one vast enough, and of sufficient sophistication, to threaten them. The Gorean humans would seem caught between these two dangerous, titanic forces. They seem scattered, small, and weak, but even a mighty scale, suitably poised, weighing worlds, might be tipped by so little as a grain of sand. Both Priest-Kings and Kurii, of course, enlist humans as allies, when it is thought to their advantage.
I do not know what will happen in the series.
The books have not yet told me.
Mystic: There are rumors, due to the change in style of writing in some of the later novels, that you have been getting help and/or others, such as your sons and students, are writing them. What is your response to individuals who are stating this?
John Norman: I am not personally aware of any changes in a style of writing, or such, in the series. On the other hand, Tarnsman of Gor was first published in 1966. So it is quite possible that changes, in one thing or another, or of one sort or another, may have taken place. As far as I know, however, things are pretty much the same.
In any event, I am, and remain, at least to date, the only author of the series.
I wish you well,