Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

I haven’t read any of John Norman’s Gor novels, but I’m aware of them because of their notoriety for what they evolved into over the course of the 29-book series.

The first few books start off as planetary romance adventure novels, in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars stories: British professor Tarl Cabot finds himself transported to the lower-gravity world of Gor, where he becomes a superheroic swordsman.

Over time though, the series grew more philosophical — which makes sense when you realize that author John Norman is actually Queens College CUNY philosophy professor John Lange — and more sexual, with an emphasis on the natural hierarchy that places men above women — which, I suppose, makes “sense” when you realize that Lange is also a classical scholar.

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 interviews Lange about his influences:

I think, pretty clearly, the three major influences on my work are Homer, Freud, and Nietzsche. Interestingly, however obvious this influence might be, few, if any, critics, commentators, or such, have called attention to it. Perhaps it is so obvious that it is simply taken for granted. In Homer you have the primitive, hardy, aristocratic warrior ethos; in Nietzsche you have the rank, distance, and hierarchy, concern with the etiology of belief, the trenchant culture criticism, and such; and, in Freud, of course, you have the depth psychology, and a sense of the radical centrality of sex to the human condition.

Apparently the parody, Houseplants of Gor, matches the tone of the later stories:

The spider plant cringed as its owner brought forth the watering can. “I am a spider plant!” it cried indignantly. “How dare you water me before my time! Guards!” it called. “Guards!”

Borin, its owner, placed the watering can on the table and looked at it. “You will be watered,” he said.

“You do not dare to water me!” laughed the plant.

“You will be watered,” said Borin.

“Do not water me!” wept the plant.

“You will be watered,” said Borin.

I watched this exchange. Truly, I believed the plant would be watered. It was plant, and on Gor it had no rights. Perhaps on Earth, in its permissive society, which distorts the true roles of all beings, which forces both plant and waterer to go unh appy and constrained, which forbids the fulfillment of owner and houseplant, such might not happen. Perhaps there, it would not be watered. But it was on Gor now, and would undoubtedly feel its true place, that of houseplant. It was plant. It would be watered at will. Such is the way with plants.

Borin picked up the watering can, and muchly watered the plant. The plant cried out. “No, Master! Do not water me!” The master continued to water the plant. “Please, Master,” begged the plant, “do not water me!” The master continued to water the plant. It was plant. It could be watered at will.

The plant sobbed muchly as Borin laid down the watering can. It was not pleased. Too, it was wet. But this did not matter. It was plant.

“You have been well watered,” said Borin.

“Yes,” said the plant, “I have been well watered.” Of course, it could be watered by its master at will.

“I have watered you well,” said Borin.

“Yes, master,” said the plant. “You have watered your plant well. I am plant, and as such I should be watered by my master.”


  1. Borepatch says:

    I laughed until I cried.

    Back in College, I read a few of his books, until the “John Carter of Mars” aspect got overwhelmed by the weirdness.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I considered picking up the first few novels in the series for some John Carter-style adventure, but the current editions are marketed as not-so-planetary romance — more softcore, really.

Leave a Reply