Tarnsman of Gor (review)

gorean-saga-book-1-tarnsman-of-gor

Tarnsman of Gor
by John Norman
Originally published by Ballantine Books (1966)
Currently published by Open Road Media Sci-fi and Fantasy (2014)
$7.99 (Kindle)
$10.69 (Paperback)

Tarl Cabot is a college professor from Great Britain who had accepted a teaching job in an American university. While on a hike in New Hampshire, he discovers a letter from his long-absent father — and is whisked away to the world of Gor, where most modern technology is absent and barbaric codes of honor are the law of the land.

After he learns the ways of his new home, he is tasked with raiding the aggressive, expansionist Empire of Ar to seize their most precious artifact: the Home Stone. Seizing it would bring down the empire, but due to how he is told to accomplish the mission Tarl Cabot deliberately flies off course…

Welcome to the Gorean Saga, the first book of one of fantasy’s most infamous series.

Tarnsman starts off slow, but once the introductions are out of the way, it’s all action. The plot wastes no time in making Tarl face an array of obstacles, from mysterious assassins to enemy soldiers to wild beasts, and through all this, his aim remains clear. Since this is a short book, there are no subplots or perspective changes, so it makes for a fast read with an easy-to-follow plot. Nonetheless, the prose excels at giving the reader a sense of presence and grandeur at the landscapes and wildlife of Gor, especially its tarns — gigantic flying birds used as mounts by Gorean warriors. You almost feel like you’re in that strange world, riding alongside Tarl as he fights a hostile warrior or confronts a strange, monstrous creature.

Tarnsman also has a strong sense of honor. Tarl finds much to admire in Gor’s warrior codes, and he upholds them whenever he could. At the same time, he finds Gor’s system of slavery to be utterly brutal, and several times, he fights against it even when the slave demands he follow through on some ghastly order. Though the story doesn’t dwell on slavery too much, it shows well the tension between his 1960s Western social mores and the barbaric customs of Gor. That being said, he doesn’t feel afraid of fulfilling his mission or whine about how hard everything is; he doesn’t even feel homesick. Instead, he embraces the ways of Gor and throws himself in as if he were native.

(As an aside, much of the Gorean Saga’s reputation comes from its depiction of female sex slaves which, according to this website, came to dominate the series to the exclusion of everything else, including action and drama. In this first book, however, the action and drama are central and sex slaves are only briefly mentioned.)

The story’s only major weakness was its beginning, which was too talky and slow. An in medias res style or more foreshadowing would have made the opening chapters far more compelling, though frontloading all the exposition into one chapter allowed the rest of the tale to move forward without Tarl being dumbfounded by every new thing he saw. It ultimately doesn’t hinder the book much.

I recommend this book to any fan of fantasy — especially to fans of anime like Inuyasha or Fushigi Yuugi.

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4 Responses to Tarnsman of Gor (review)

  1. Donna Speare says:

    I remember reading Tarnsman when it was a new book. I picked it up because the blurb on the back compared it to ERB’s Princess of Mars — a comparison that was a bit TOO apt, since it had virtually the same story arc as Princess (which John Norman/Lange said he had never read) but re-skinned with an imaginative new world. The first half dozen books of the series were pretty good, then Lange moved the series from Balantine to DAW because he wanted more editorial freedom and from book seven on the sex become more dominant (and I do mean DOMINANT) and the prose more purple to the point of being unreadable. (I gave up around book ten, when it became clear there was no turnaround in the offing.)

    Another incisive review, Rawle. Thanks.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      The first half dozen books of the series were pretty good, then Lange moved the series from Balantine to DAW because he wanted more editorial freedom and from book seven on the sex become more dominant (and I do mean DOMINANT) and the prose more purple to the point of being unreadable.

      I think that laziness also played a role. Lange wanted to keep pumping out books, so he decided to just stick to a formula that he enjoyed.

      Another incisive review, Rawle. Thanks.

      You’re welcome.

  2. Ingot9455 says:

    In addition, Gor turns out to have been a set-up for Lange to write in different genres.
    So while the first is planetary romance, the third is straight-up bug-eyed-monster science fiction; the fourth is a kind of Bedouin-tribal culture exploration, the fifth is roman-Empire style intrigue, and so on.

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