The letter (or essay as John Norman calls it) that follows was written in response to some questions put to him on our behalf by Lemuel, at I-CON 26 on March 24th, 2007.
I understand that the Gorean world has generated a considerable amount of interest. Naturally I am pleased by this, but am also surprised. The books, you see, are not, and never have been, written for a mass audience, the gigantic, undifferentiated, grossly uniform lump, politically and socially, which seems to constitute the average editor's rather superior, compassionate notion of the science-fiction audience. In any event that benighted literary proletariat, if it exists, which I doubt, is not the target of my work. Indeed, I am not sure that my work has a target, unless it be the truth. Whereas it would be my hope that my work might please an audience, a particular audience which I would value, it has never been written with the idea in mind of pleasing an audience. I leave that to those who trim their sails to prevailing winds, check sales figures, calculate markets, mentally poll editors, and such. I have always written to tell the truth, and love the world, and as it is, in all its depth and complexity, a depth and complexity often vehemently denied. I do not object to those who do consider odds and place their bets accordingly, as that is doubtless the way to win, but not all games are worth winning. Some things are more important. Perhaps integrity, perhaps self-respect, perhaps truth to a vision, such things. It is not that I regard political craftiness as reprehensible, or unreasonably or objectionably prostitutional. It is more in the nature of wise business practice. But, for better or for worse, I would make a poor businessman, and would rather frequent unusual forests, sift the sands of new deserts, and climb hitherto unclimbed mountains. If one looks with attention one may glimpse new vistas and expanses; if one listens carefully one may hear the pipes of Pan. Have his forests been forgotten? They still exist. In any event, the Gorean books are different. They are surely not assembly-line science fiction. Or, if you like, adventure fantasy, or such. That is one of the problems, you see, namely, that the Gorean works do not label well, nor easily occupy the currently provided, taken-for-granted, prefabricated containers. Too, they are not "pushing the envelope" or "escaping the envelope," or engaging in any of those exciting projects in which manufactured novelties compete for attention, and awards. Rather, they are unaware of envelopes. They are on their own shelf, so to speak. And, being different, they must accept the perils of difference, which, I have learned, are often considerable.
I have been offered the opportunity to respond to several questions which, it seems, have aroused the curiosity of one or more readers, these questions having to do, naturally, with the Gorean world. Indeed, that opportunity is the occasion of this small essay. Naturally, I am sensitive to the concerns of these readers, as to those of other readers, now, and in the past. On the other hand, I trust that these readers, as well as those in the past, are sensitive, as well, to the problematicities and difficulties besetting an author in such a situation. One is reluctant to say A, when B, C, D, and so on, are often involved. And when one may later, to one's dismay, recall, E, F, G, H, and so on. What is a cause? How did it come about? Does it go back, vertically, to the gas molecules in the primeval nebula? Or only to the second grade, and so on. And isn't any event or occurrence, horizontally, the product of an unascertainable, subtle, circumambient confluence of an indefinite plethora of affecting conditions, and such? In any event, interviews are perilous. Certainly, responses must be limited, and might vary from time to time, and memory to memory, and, in any event, how is one to distinguish between what one remembers and what one thinks one remembers, or hopes he remembers? Responses, in short, are likely to be less a current of certifiable reportage that would impress even the Logos, than, I fear, a hastily contrived assemblage of well-intentioned fiction. I know enough psychology to be aware of the dangers involved, and, accordingly, I commonly prefer to repair to the bushes and await the coming of darkness.
There is a famous line in a poem, Ars Poetica, by Archibald MacLeish. It goes like this:
A poem should not mean
I am not an English professor, and I tread warily on so unfamiliar and hazardous a turf, but I hope that at least part of what MacLeish had in mind here (dare we say 'meant here'?) was that one should not try to reduce a poem to something which the poem is not, say, a paraphrase in prose, or such. If the poem were synonymous, cognitively and emotively, to something in prose, the poem would be dispensable. Similarly, presumably, the poem is rich with triggers, penumbras, and births varying from individual to individual, which may ramify and drift to a thousand horizons, and that will not fit in your typical test tube or tomato can. To be sure, a poem that you cannot at least approach in prose is likely to be gibberish. If MacLeish were wholly correct here, it seems that University Administrations should move quickly to close down English departments, and divert their funding to, say, philosophy.
In a sense, I suppose the Gorean experience might be analogized to an epic poem. It is not an epic poem, of course, but it is indisputably epic in its proportions and poetic, it seems, in its vision. It is, at any rate, as far as I know, the longest, most complex, most carefully worked out single-world series in science fiction, or, if you prefer, adventure fantasy, or, if you prefer, in its own genre, the Gorean genre, in which it seems to be the only inhabitant. One supposes one could have a genre of one, rather as one could have a unit set, a set consisting of one member. If that is the case, it seems the Gorean series would have the surprising property of being both the longest and shortest occupant in its set, or genre. And seldom would such a surprising distinction be so readily achieved.
In any event, let us recall MacLeish's implicit counsel, if we are right about it, and we may not be, mainly that prose is not to be substituted for poetry, and suppose that he is advising against graying, shrinking, and flattening a poem into an unpoem. It would be hard to argue about that. To be sure, if we took him literally, poetry, including his own, should be meaningless, and it seems it might be easy to argue about that. For example, most of what we think of as great poetry seems to be quite meaningful, and thus either MacLeish is mistaken or what we thought was great poetry isn't even poetry, after all, or, perhaps better, shouldn't be poetry, after all. I suppose the world could be in error here, but it saves time to suppose that the mistake is more likely to be on the part of Mr. MacLeish. Too, his own declaration would seem to be paradoxical, and even a bit arrogant. After all, who is he to tell poems how to be poems? If you were a poem, would you listen to him? Paradoxically, if his poem is meaningless, then we can't understand it, and if we can understand it, then it is not meaningless, etc. There are a number of interesting logical and semantic issues here, but, given our present concerns and the current state of the galaxy, they are well worth forgetting about.
The point of all this, of course, is to dodge the reductive fallacy. The Gorean books are exactly what they are, and that is that. Anything that might be said about them, accordingly, as in trying to "explain" a poem, might do more harm than good. I worry about that sort of thing, and that is one reason to lurk in the bushes, hope for an early dusk, and so on. It is hard to say something inadequate, incomplete, or wrong if one says nothing, so usually I say nothing. Beware of folks who tell you that A is B, because it is really A, and not something else. Ayn Rand used to insist that A was A, which amused some folks, who took her to be uttering a tautology, e.g., a circle is a circle, which would be without empirical content. On the other hand, considering her remarkable intelligence, and such, I think we might try to understand, instead, what she presumably meant, namely, try to see what things are, in their fullness, and reality. One supposes Gertrude Stein, with her notion that a rose is a rose is a rose, and so on, had something similar in mind. So I am not enthusiastic about trying to diminish the reality of the Gorean series by telling you it is this or that, and means this or that, because it is large and complex, and means a great deal more than a description can encompass. What does a loved one mean to you? Try putting that into words.
I will attempt, however, to respond to a few of the questions in the large list put at my disposal.
I suppose this will not be all that satisfactory, and I apologize for that, but the world is as it is, and we must all, to one extent or another, put up with it.
Prize of Gor is the last book published in the Gorean series. It is not the last book in the series. The next book in the series is a very unusual book, which takes place largely on a Steel World, one of those concealed amongst the debris of the Asteroid Belt, and is narrated by an unidentified Kur. In that book Tarl Cabot returns to centrality. In this book one has an opportunity to better explore a Kur ethos and culture.
Prize of Gor is a Kajira novel. The notion of "prize" is quite Gorean, given the typical Gorean celebration of the intelligence and beauty of the human female, a form of life so remarkable, fascinating, exciting, and desirable to the Gorean male that he is typically content with nothing less than its possession. What man, in his deepest heart, does not want to own a female, to have her for his own, utterly, as a devoted, passionate, vulnerable, mastered slave, and what woman, in her deepest heart, does not want to be so intensely desired, so unqualifiedly and fiercely desired, that nothing less than her absolute ownership will satisfy a male, her master? Too, many women wish in their deepest heart to be owned, to belong, utterly, as a mere property, to a male, to belong to him, literally, as his yielding beast, to kneel before him, to kiss his feet, to love him and serve him, to be his, wholly, his slave. But perhaps some people cannot even understand such things, such desire, such passion. Let them then cling to their tepidities. Gor is for those who do understand such things.
In any event, readers are familiar with the stabilization serums, which, when successful, stabilize pattern while permitting metabolic exchange. By means of such serums aging can be arrested, the inoculations usually taking place in young adulthood. In Prize of Gor it is learned that certain members of the caste of Physicians have developed a variation of the stabilization serums which permits, all physical processes being in theory reversible, rejuvenation. The protagonist of Prize of Gor is an elderly woman, a college professor specializing in Feminist Studies, and such, whom life, largely due to the constraints of her ideology, self-image, and such, has largely passed by. She has never known love, for instance. Her life is closing, darkening about the edges, a life, as she now suspects, largely misguided, worthless, and wasted. In her youth, however, she was incredibly beautiful, and was so even in her first teaching years. Have we not all seen photos of elderly women as they were in their youth, and marveled at their beauty? As we learn, a former male student of hers, who had journeyed to Gor, received the serums, and entrained with Slavers, had never forgotten her. She is to be taken to Gor and rejuvenated. To be sure, he has little more in mind here, given his experiences of several years ago, than humiliating and selling her. Let us see how her theories hold up, once she is at a man's feet, young, beautiful, and collared. She will learn the ways of Gor, and, in doing so, will learn her lost womanhood and its hitherto neglected possibilities, glories, and riches. She will then find herself, to her astonishment, on this incredible and vibrant world, a prize, one to become no more than a domestic animal which, at the merest word of a male, must kneel, press her lips to a whip, and hope to be found pleasing.
Let us consider another question, or concern, or two.
It is my conjecture, based on the Cabot manuscripts, that the "man with gray skin and eyes like glass" is most likely Pa-Kur, once the master of the Caste of Assassins. In Witness of Gor, we gather that Dorna, after the revolution in Tharna, and her escape from the city, fell slave. This would not be an unlikely fate for such a fugitive, particularly if strikingly beautiful and intently sought by a master swordsman, one fully capable of bringing her into his collar. It seems clear that her master could not have been Cabot. At least we have no documentation to that effect. Too, although Cabot might be a master to be feared if a slave were in the least bit displeasing, I suspect that a slave would have little to fear at his hands, or, indeed, at those of most men, if she did her best to serve with perfection, and did her best to be fully pleasing to her master, in all ways. Similarly, there seems little likelihood that Marlenus would be involved in these matters, being thousands of pasangs away, and ruling in Ar, until his accident and capture in the Voltai. Ha-Keel, also, I would suppose, would be an unlikely first master for the beautiful Dorna. That leaves Pa-Kur a possibility. The Cabot manuscripts are silent on the matter, however, and so we are limited to conjecture. He is, of course, a master swordsman, and perhaps one of the finest on Gor; secondly, it seems possible he might be a master to be feared, more so than most masters. There may be undisclosed darknesses here, of course, things perhaps only hinted at, which might have motivated Dorna's fears. Sadism on Gor is either nonexistent, or very rare. That is because there are, on the whole, few border crossings between the countries of Yin and Yang, so to speak. Complementarities tend to be respected. Where nature is revered, understood, and attended to, where differences are recognized and welcomed, even celebrated, humans, statistically, are happy, contented, and fulfilled. Accordingly, in such a world, there is little motivation for intersexual cruelty, envy, resentment, hatred, jealousy, and such. As Gor is a natural world, balances are maintained. On Gor, humans flourish. This is not the case, statistically, with at least one world I can think of. Perhaps you can think of such a world, as well.
I think this essay is too long.
I think it possible we may hear more of the ship of Tersites.
I wish you well,
Copyright © 2007 John Norman. All rights reserved.