io9.com has published a rare (and lengthy) email interview with John Norman (aka philosophy professor John Lange), creator of the Gor series.
Norman comes across largely as you would expect from his prose: long-winded, a bit pompous, and preferring monologue to dialogue. This is a guy who would interrupt one of the innumerable scenes of a woman being enslaved to spend a half-page discussing the etymology of her name and how to pronounce it.
The fiction writer Norman speaks most highly of is Edgar Rice Burroughs, which makes sense. Gor is a late entry into the “planetary romance” genre Burroughs wrote in, which is basically 19th century adventure stories set in the “primitive world” of Africa or Asia, transplanted to their idea of Mars or Venus. Take that, distill out the Victorian prudery, add a lot of 1960s anti-modernism, and wrap it in a Boris Vallejo or Frank Frazetta cover and you’ve got Gor.
I will admit I laughed when he talked about the two Gor feature films made in the 1980s. He said he was glad they were made, and it would have been even better if they had anything to do with his work.
Norman is strangely coy when discussing BDSM and particularly the Gorean sub-sub-culture.
I know nothing about “real-life Gorean slavery among some people in the BDSM community.” The “BDSM” reference worries me. I dissociate myself from BDSM, at least as I understand it. I may, of course, misunderstand it. I wonder if one would settle merely for “real-life Gorean slavery,” because, as I understand it, BDSM is not Gorean. If something is not beautiful, it is not Gorean. In any event, I am assuming that what is involved here, in any case, is consensual. If a woman chooses to submit herself, voluntarily, to a master, it seems to me that is her business, and his business. She would then, of course, be a slave, and would be treated as a slave. One supposes remarkable fulfillments may occur in such an arrangement. It is, of course, important to treat the slave, however uncompromisingly strict you are with her, however much she might fear you, in a humane way, as one would any other animal. Some men, I gather, dislike women, and enjoy hurting them. That makes no sense to me. Women are wonderful, and precious. It is a delight to own one; why would one hurt her? What would be the point of that, mere sadistic pleasure? I think we might distinguish between, say, S/M sex, or sadomasochistic sex, and M/S sex, or Master/Slave Sex. In a sense they seem opposite. Love is important. It is not to be confused with cruelty. Gratuitous cruelty seems to me uncalled for, and ugly, morally and aesthetically. Too, it seems unworthy of a true master. The point is loving and serving, and owning and mastering, not hurting. To be sure, the slave must understand that if she is not pleasing, she is subject to discipline. She is not to be left in doubt that she is a slave. It is easy to avoid discipline; she need only be obedient, submissive, and found pleasing, wholly, and in all ways. Sometimes a slave may desire to be reassured of her bondage. There are many ways in which the master, if he wishes, may see to this. I have written an entire book, the Imaginative Sex book, in which my views on such matters should be reasonably clear.
My problem with Gor is not so much the books themselves as the cult that has grown up around them. Certain people in the Scene crave a highly formalized system of etiquette in their interactions with other people, and they often encounter the Gor books and imprint on them. This is The Way to do it, they think. This is not unique to Gor; I gather that a similar phenomenon occurred among leathermen. I once heard a leatherman joke that there is “The Old Guard Book” of protocols and procedures but, “There’s only one copy, I keep it under my bed, and i don’t let anybody else read it.”
I’m extremely glad that since about 10-15 years ago, there are lots of other fiction books sold in mainstream venues out there where people can get their first exposure to BDSM ideas. It used to be that the Gor books and The Story of O were about it. Now there’s the works of Anne Rice, Jacqueline Carey, Laura Antoniou and many, many others, all of whom are not so narrowly maledom-femsub oriented, and who provide different models of dom-sub relationships than chattel slavery.
I know the heart wants what the heart wants, but I’m saddened a bit when I see people who invest so heavily in a single, narrow way of life.
“I fear the man of a single book.” St. Thomas Aquinas (attributed)