Outlaw of Gor
Posted May 3, 2009on:
After a long absence that involved moving to New York City, a seemingly unending series of disastrous dates, and a few epic nights of drinking, I am back with a recap of Book Two of the Gorean Saga, Outlaw of Gor. Perhaps the first one, filled with monologues and characterization which would seem to indicate the author has some deep psychological issues with women, was simply a fluke and we’ll see a huge upswing in the quality.
When we left off, our hero Tarl was trapped back on Earth swearing he would return to Gor; the plot contrivances, brutal wars, and sexual slavery of Earth apparently just lack that Gorean flair.
The author, John Norman, lets us know that the tome we are holding is not fiction at all. Rather, it was given to him by a Manhattanite lawyer by the name of Harrison Smith who, in turn, knows Tarl from the days when they were both teaching at college. Harrison Smith, in turn, simply found the transcript in his apartment one day with no idea of how it got there. Apparently, the needlessly complicated narrative device superstore was having a liquidation sale.
We begin the story proper with Tarl waking up naked and in Gor. The all-purpose plot device Priest Kings have brought him here, and left him with a bronze shield, a spear, a helmet, and clothing. One has to admire the efficiency of a universe that places a main character exactly where he needs to be and gives him quest gear.
John Norman then takes 15 pages to tell us, “Tarl walked to Ko-Ro-Ba, the city of Gor he considers home, only to find it’s utterly destroyed.” Along the way, there’s a pointless interlude where a peasant is terrified to even talk to him, once the peasant learns who he is.
In the city’s place is a messenger of the Priest Kings, patiently waiting for Tarl to show up so that he can deliver his exposition. Ko-Ro-Ba has been destroyed by the Priest Kings, and have decreed that “no two stones and no two men of Ko-ro-ba may stand again side by side.” Because Gor is very efficient at tying up loose ends, the messenger advises Tarl to frustrate the will of the Priest Kings by suicide, and then promptly bursts into flames.
Tarl resolves to head to the Sardar Mountains, where the Priest Kings supposedly live. Needing supplies and food, he embarks to Tharna. It is unique in two ways: Strangers are welcome and women are in charge.
On his way, Tarl sees a lady wandering alone. In his unique style, John Norman feels that this is an excellent opportunity to spend nearly three full pages describing the near ritualistic fashion with which a young Gorean man is expected to abduct a woman from a rival city to use as a slave, and how his sisters are expected to ‘prepare’ those captured women for their new duties. I am not sure why sibling involvement in dehumanizing a sex slave is worse than just dehumanizing a sex slave, but it somehow is. On Gor, there is also apparently no such thing as a gay man or, for that matter, one who doesn’t have sisters.
It turns out the woman is being chased by four slavers. As Tarl is our selectively moral Mary Sue, he fights them off, killing one and wounding another. As soon as Tarl lets them know who he is, the fleeing woman decides to go with the slavers instead, as to associate with him is to invite the wrath of the Priest Kings. At least, that’s the excuse she used; it’s entirely possible she read the first book and doesn’t want to deal with him.
Having resolved that plot cul-de-sac, Tarl finally makes it to Tharna. After spending several minutes wandering around, he is offered a job by a shady character named Ost that will allow him to buy a tarn and supplies: Abduct the female leader of Tharna, known as the Tatrix. I hereby refuse to acknowledge the word Tatrix and will just say “queen” from hereon out. Tarl declines, but Ost gives him money in a leather sack anyway. With his newfound wealth, Tarl decides to find an inn to stay in for the night.
Tarl asks a random stranger where an inn might be, and is told there are none. The stranger then informs Tarl that, as he has been in the city for more than ten hours, it is too late for him. Oblivious to even obvious foreshadowing, Tarl heads to a bar. He is quickly arrested by guards, with Ost nearby claiming that Tarl stole the coins. Tarl cannot even plausibly deny this, as the bag with the coins in it has Ost’s name on it. The guards immediately inform Tarl and Ost they’ll have to appear in front of the queen, march them to an iron door, and order them to walk through. Borrowing liberally from cartoons, both walk through and fall twenty feet to their death minor injury. Tarl and Ost are then whipped, yoked, and taken to the queen. Sadly, Tarl does not have the presence of mind to ask what the point of the door was. The twenty foot fall must be, I don’t know, tradition.
Tarl explains to the queen that he didn’t steal the coins, and that they were given to him. The queen believes him. However, since Ost was plotting against the crown, Tarl is guilty of accepting a gift from a traitor and failing to impede somebody acting against the crown. He is therefore guilty.
Ost is then asked who gave him the funds for the plot. He doesn’t know her name, nor could he recognize her as she was wearing a mask at the time, but claims that he once spoke with her and could recognize her voice if he heard it again. Norman’s subtle foreshadowing then takes center stage:
What think you, Dorna the Proud?” asked [the queen] of she who was Second in Tharna.
But instead of answering, Dorna the Proud seemed strangely silent. She extended her silver-gloved hand, palm facing her body and chopped brutally down with it, as thought it might have been a blade.
The queen, apparently lacking any higher cognitive function, doesn’t connect the dots, condemning us to two hundred more pages of agony. Ost is sent to the mines, and Tarl is to be used in the Amusements of Tharna.
Tarl then meets a slave girl who is all too happy to deliver exposition. She reveals the ‘secret’ of Tharna: Anybody who stays more than ten hours is made a slave until death. How the city does this and retains a reputation is the one hospitable place on Gor is not explained. Men are also apparently not allowed to touch women, and it’s implied reproduction is somehow done artificially; apparently, the Priest Kings stole all of Earth’s straw-feminists. The slave’s backstory is appropriately ludicrous: She used to be a high ranking silver mask. One night, she confronted somebody who had been in the city for more than ten hours. When confronted, he kissed her. She instantly fell in love and decided she’d rather be his slave than continue on with her life as she knew it. She smuggled him out of the city, then turned herself in for treason.
Tarl is forced to compete in low-rent gladiator games, but chooses to be difficult. The queen is enraged and orders he be fed to a tarn, which is essentially a Gorean cross between a horse and an eagle– huge but rideable and some are domesticated. Tarl is a very lucky man, as the chained tarn they seemingly have solely for the purpose of eating prisoners is… the tarn Tarl had in the first book, who I dubbed Mary Sue. Mary Sue recognizes him, helps him fight off the guards, and breaks free of its chains. Through some precision flying, they abduct the queen and fly off.
From there, things get more ridiculous. Normally, tarns are flown with six straps attached to a saddle. When a strap is pulled, the tarn moves in the indicated direction. Mary Sue, of course, lacks a saddle. Never fear, however: In the first book, Tarl flew his twoo wub back to his hometown on the back of Mary Sue. While it wasn’t revealed in that book, Tarn apparently showed her how the straps worked, and called out “One” while pulling the one-strap, “Two” while pulling the two-strap, etc. This was, apparently, enough to train Mary Sue to respond to verbal commands, and he pilots her without difficulty.
They reach a place to land, and it’s negotiating time! After alternately threatening to feed the queen to the Mary Sue and auction her off to sex slavers, a bargain is struck: she agrees to free all the slaves used in the low-rent gladiator games in exchange for her freedom. They then travel to an exchange spot with representatives of the city; amusingly, Tharna has a spot that exists solely to conduct prisoner exchanges in, and the queen is confident her peeps will be there.
Tarl has the wherewithal to predict a sudden but inevitable betrayal, but this makes it no less painful when he’s suddenly but inevitably betrayed. He is captured *again* and sent to the mines. The queen is also betrayed, Dorna the Proud not-so-enigmatically telling her that she won’t be going back to Tharna.
Right then. News then filters down to Tarl that Dorna the Proud is the new queen, and the official story is that he made off with her. As Tarl is the Gorean equivalent of ‘Jim,’ nobody realizes that he’s the guy and the story is thus impossible. I might be inclined to kill off the person whose very presence belies the official story and could potentially topple my rule but, apparently, good mine labor is hard to come by.
Tarl’s mine experience involves a chain gang. Did you see Battlefield: Earth? If so, then the scenes that follow are just like the agonizing ones where the main character of that movie encourages human prisoners to cooperate and escape. If not, then you clearly make better life choices than I do. Suffice it to say that Tarl persuades the other men of the chain to buy into novel concepts such as, “Maybe we shouldn’t kill each other over food,” and “We should seriously contemplate an escape plan.” After an unspecified length of time, he organizes the mine slaves into a rebellion that’s as non-violent as possible, then speechifies them all into becoming guerrilla warriors for freedom against Tharna… while he aims to continue in his quest and leave them behind. He escapes the city with a scabbard, a helmet in poor condition, and having checked off more entries in the seminal work of, “ClichÃ©s to Indulge in Before You Die.”
He wanders off and, naturally, finds Mary Sue again. After he travels for a bit and lands, he happens across a slaver camp. On Gor, most slaves are branded, primarily as a means of conditioning and intentional cruelty. He comes across a young beautiful woman who is about to be branded and, due to a moral calculus that would make sense only to him, he decides to buy the slave girl and set her free. The rest can stay as is, though, since they’re already slaves.
After some haggling, he purchases her and discovers… it’s the queen from earlier, sold into slavery by Dorna. In a universe filled with contrivances, this is probably my favorite to date.
Set aside that he finds her again by pure chance, and buys her without even knowing who she is. The chronology here makes no sense whatsoever. If branding is one of the first things slavers do, she was sold into slavery before he even went into the mines, and the planning/execution of the escape took weeks, as Tarl says it did, then apparently they were just waiting for him to show up to go about their routine business operations. Had he showed up an hour earlier, the queen wouldn’t have an imminent threat of branding and he wouldn’t have been inclined to save her. Had he showed up an hour later, she would have been branded and he also wouldn’t have been motivated. All the stars must have aligned just right.
They talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. Inevitably, she reveals that she secretly dreams of being sexually submissive. I’ll just scan one of the pages and let it speak for itself:
… this is the prose I put up with to make these recaps. Is it too late to delve into Christopher Pike or Laurell Hamilton? What about Goosebumps? That ‘series’ sure derailed, huh?
They consummate their relationship, in a scene thankfully bereft of details. Tarl decides to take her back to Tharna and reinstall her as a ruler.
Upon returning to Tarna, they find out Tarl’s little escape has launched a full-scale rebellion, and entire portions of the city are under rebel control.
The rebellion has already captured several women of the ruling caste and turned them into drink-serving slave girls, motivated by the threat of the whip. In a moment I can’t even begin to explain, the queen begins to start serving the men too which (somehow) proves her genuine reformation and newfound leadership ability. Tarl persuades the rebellion that because the queen has now experienced the pain of slavery and the whip, she’ll be a more benevolent ruler. They manage to persuade most of the guards that the queen is the legitimate ruler. Her power base destroyed, Dorna escapes and flies off on a tarn, declaring her intent to exact revenge against Tarl. I can hardly wait.
In the course of the rebellion, we find out the price the queen fetched when Dorna sold her: Thirty pieces of silver. She had them turned into a necklace and wears it constantly. I figure there are only three possibilities here, arranged in the order of descending horribleness for your convenience:
1) The queen is indeed supposed to be a Christ figure, except for the fact that she has nothing in common with Christ, even if one were to adopt a wildly cynically interpretation of Biblical events. At best, she might be a mix of elements of Paul and Constantine. Further, as much as I would like to see Dorna torn asunder and her bowels spill out, that’s not how the book goes. I guess that’s what fanfic is for.
2) John Norman chose thirty pieces of silver because it is a symbol of betrayal, and didn’t really think about where it came from and how wildly inapt it is as a symbol here. Considering that he classified spiders as a type of insect in the first book, I’m prepared to accept this. In a variant, he may have chosen thirty pieces of silver as an homage to some third work which made a Christ allusion, not realizing the true origins of it. This is similar in concept if not scale to those who are firmly convinced that anybody making a heroic stand at a bridge is an allusion to Gandalf and will stare blankly if the word Horatious is uttered.
3) Coincidence. It seems unlikely that exactly thirty pieces of silver would be chosen as the price without it meant to be an allusion, but it’s at least possible. I want to believe this, but know I’m wrong.
After her power is reestablished, the queen has to decide how to punish the formerly high-ranking women of Tharna. Skipping right over establishing their complicity in the conspiracy, if indeed they had any, the queen skips straight to deciding punishment. They each have six months grace to find a man and offer to be the Gorean equivalent of a wife. The man they offer to may either accept, decline and make them a slave, or reject them outright. If she is unclaimed at the end of six months, then the first man to collar her owns her. When Tarl asks what the fuck her problem is, she explains that “some women can learn love only in chains.” Then she offers to be his slave any time, even if he wants to brand her.
The book then ends rather abruptly, with Tarl swearing he’s going to go find the Priest Kings which was, ostensibly, what he was going to try to do this book. A note signed by John Norman informs us that no further manuscript has been found, and he thinks it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out what happened.
Oh, if only that was true. See you next time for Volume 3, Priest Kings of Gor…