Literary Flaws of the Gor Books

How does a First Amendment absolutist deal with the notoriety of John Norman's Gor books?

Many people have objected to the Gor books on philosophical grounds, finding the sexual attitudes in them to be politically incorrect and unacceptable, and have been glad to see them dropped by mainstream publishers. In response others have raised cries of censorship, and even have lauded Mr Norman's moving them to a small press that distributes primarily online..

In considering the matter, one must between censorship and selection. A publisher is not legally obligated to print everything that comes in. Publishing houses can only afford to put out a limited number of titles per year, making the space in a book a scarce good. Thus they hire editors to determine which works will be given that scarce page space.

Ideally, editors will choose books based upon literary merit, choosing the best and rejecting those that fall short of the mark. Therefore one may rightly consider whether the Gor books have literary flaws apart from the philosophy of sexuality which so many readers find objectionable.

A number of major literary flaws can be enumerated.

  1. The excessive amount of lecturing, sometimes extending over multiple pages, in which the narrator tells the reader how various items, such as a Gorean lock or a Gorean saddle, are constructed.
  2. The repeated violations of the rule of "show, don't tell."
  3. The large amount of extraneous material which does not advance the plot.
  4. The sex and domination scenes are not integral to the plot, but rather the plot (such as it is) serves to carry the characters from one scene of domination and submission to the next.
  5. The repeated abuses of the English language to create pseudo-medieval language.
  6. The wooden characterization of the various characters, many of whom are little more than mouthpieces for the author's opinions.

Other people have had similar comments on the flaws in the Gor books.

However, this does not mean that John Norman is totally without any skill whatsoever as a writer. For one thing, he does have an excellent ear for the naming of things. "Sleen" strikes the reader as being the perfect name for the slender, six-legged forest predator that appears so many times in the Gor novels, often as a threat to various characters. The names of other animals, plants and things have a similar "fit" to the things that they describe.

Also many people who are interested in exploring sexual alternatives, particularly BDSM (bondage and discipline, sado-masochism), have used the stories in the Gor books for developing scenarios.

If one considers the Gor books to be scenarios for exploring BDSM sexuality, the biggest complaint to be levelled against them would be the fact that DAW was publishing them and thus they were on the open bookstore shelves, right alongside such squeaky-clean materials as the Barsoom series of ERB, where young people could get them and read them before their sexuality was developed.

Also the books contained no notes or other indications whatsoever that this was their intended purpose, or of safety precautions to take in setting up BDSM scenarios so that no one involved would actually get hurt.

All the same, the Gor books developed quite a following in the sexual underground. Recently a number of Gor-based webpages have appeared, all created by people exploring BDSM-type sexualities. Some of these are tied to IRC channels in which people explore domination and submission through electronic connections.

Last updated October 12, 2012