There are many positions for gender feminists to assume on Gor ... this is a favorite! Image source: Sex and Submission.com.
Prize of Gor is the most aptly named novel in the entire Gor series. It is the novel in which John Norman reached for the brass ring and actually had a member of the group he so despised, i.e., antisex feminist academics, kidnapped and taken to Gor to be a slavegirl.
This is the second book written after the long hiatus after DAW dropped him and before he started publishing via Amazon. (it is preceded by “Witness of Gor” which has much less going for it). And throughout the Gor series, Norman has been fuming and fussing about those horrible, antibiological sexual frustrates back on Earth who Ruined Everything for men and women by denying that a woman's place is at her man's feet, in chains, generally in paragraphs-long rants that cranked up whenever a sexy scene started to happen. Or sometimes the rants would just crank up out of the blue, stopping whatever plot or character development was occurring dead in its tracks.
(I'm not calling Norman's rants “rants” not because I disagree with his ideas (though I do disagree with them) but because of the way they are organized. They are repetitive, forceful restatements of the same ideas over and over again with no added depth or background, the very definition of a rant. If you want to find some ideas about evolutionary biology stated as arguments, with lots of background and support, I suggest you watch a Girl Writes What video. She's also a thorn in traditional feminism's side, but a much more subtle and effective one that Norman will ever be.)
This happened a LOT in the Gor novels, but interestingly, Norman never had a feminist academic kidnapped and brought to Gor for some immersive slave training of the sort Earth women tend to get on Gor. So when I saw that the protagonist of Prize of Gor was going to be a professor of gender studies, I was hoping that Norman had finally decided to go full-bore at the issues surrounding feminism and his viewpoint that women are natural-born sex slaves to men, and I was glad, because even it produced a novel that was full of pedantic arguments about the true nature of sexuality, they would at least be (I hoped) different and deeper arguments, and I could handle that. Just no more repeating the same old complaints over and over, please.
What's more, Norman added a delicious twist to the story when he had the gender studies professor, Ellen (it's just her slave name, no real Earth name is ever provided) be old at the beginning of the story. The Greens of Gor, you see, have figured out, not only how to render everyone young and beautiful for a thousand year lifespan, but they've also figured out how to wind one's age backwards in ten-year increments. And so 58-year-old Ellen (let's just pretend her Earth name is Catherine MacKinnon) is transformed into a woman who is physically an 18-year-old slavegirl hottie through four such age-reversing treatments.
And there's a recuperative period between each treatment, in which she's given increasingly strong doses of slavegirl training, or as it would be called on Earth, molestation, assault, torture and brainwashing.
I thought, “Wow, what an opportunity to explore these topics in depth, combining and contrasting youth and age with discussions of sexuality and gender, autonomy and submission, all in one tremendous package. This book is indeed a prize!”
Those who have already read Prize of Gor are laughing their asses off right now,because Prize of Gor contains no such things.
Instead, it had lots and lots of the same exact stuff we've seen in all the OTHER Gor novels, which is to say, lots and lots of exposition about how bad evil old Earth sexuality and how liberating and free good old Gor philosophy is, being 100 percent more natural and all.
I've been describing these rants of Norman's but the rants themselves do more than any mere description ever could. Read this, and imagine it going on for page after page after page:
Someone, you see, may be watching you, you entirely unsuspecting, unaware, unwitting of this so significant a surveillance. Someone may be thoughtfully considering how you might look in sirik, that striking custodial device with its collar, the connecting chains, the wrist and ankle rings, or conjecturing, taking notes, on your likely value, as he watches you, what you might be expected to bring on the slave block, first, and then later, after having been suitably informed and trained. All your laws then, your politics, your ideologies, your legal remedies, your petty threats, your thousand devices to obtain power, to control, reduce, tame and destroy men, would be useless. Remember them, such seekings, such devices, when you are chained naked in a Gorean dungeon, collared, with other slaves, a mark burned into your thigh, waiting to be brought to the auction block.
But with you, on the same chain, perhaps prized even more highly than you, their collars locked as securely as yours, their chains clasping as perfectly, their bodies as bared, may be other women, they selected as carefully as you, quiet, gentle, loving, needful, natural women, women less removed initially from their sex than you, women who disdained to strive to be facsimile males, such monstrous transmogrifications of human reality, those to whom grotesque propagandas could not speak, those who could never bring themselves to believe the catechisms of negativity, horror and hatred, those who had no difficulty in detecting the unsatisfying special nature and hollowness, the idiosyncratic party-serving nature of diverse bromides and slogans, the lies that others would impose upon them, but who knew themselves female, even from the beginning, despite all the propaganda and conditioning, female radically and profoundly, those who even on Earth have longed to fulfill their femaleness in the service of men, men who will understand them and treasure them, but will nonetheless give them the domination they crave, who will supply the masculine to their feminine, the yang to their yin, who will see to it that they are, as they desire to be, let it be stated explicitly, mastered, wholly, and beautifully, and uncompromisingly mastered.
Imagine that going on for page after page after page. Now you have some idea of the effort it takes to read Prize of Gor. To tell the truth, after the first couple of instances of this, I just skimmed the pages looking for unusual words or short paragraphs or quote marks indicating that something interesting might be going on, and then backed up til I was at the start of the non-rant portion of the text, and started reading until I encountered the next rant.
Now I'm not saying that Prize of Gor is an epic fail. I am saying that it was not a fail because Norman never even tried. Instead of working a little deeper on the topic, he just larded in lots and lots and lots of his usual rants into the book. I'd say it's about fifty percent rant, by volume, and I'm being generous. Some of the rants do relate to what's going on around Ellen, since she's a slavegirl and gets molested, furred, whipped and switched and bound and gagged and hooded a lot, and Norman very deftly and thoroughly describes how she feels about anything relating to sexual bondage and slavegirliness, though he continues to avoid explicit descriptions of sex to keep things PG or soft-R rated, even though you know EXACTLY what is happening.
(For example, there's a scene where some captured enemy soldiers are tied up and naked and Ellen is ordered to give them blowjobs and swallow it all so there's no spooge revealing that they've been blown. And she does it, with her hands tied behind her back yet, and apologizes nicely to the soldiers since they are free and she is a slave, explaining that she HAS to give them blowjobs because, hey, slavegirl. And though Norman would never use indecorous language like “blowjob” or describe what she feels like with cocks in her mouth, but he uses much more, um, refined language to let you know exactly what she's doing.)
Anyway, point is, the descriptions of Ellen's slavish activities slide easily into rants about how good sex slavery is and how bad things on Earth are, and if you wanted to be strict about it, you could reasonably say that “Prize of Gor” is 70 or 75 percent rant.
But the sheer amount of it is not really the important thing about all the ranting, in terms of the Gor series. The important thing is, it's a demonstration that Norman has either no ability or no interest in really taking on the issues raised by feminists about his books. (And to be fair, a lot of feminists really hate Norman and the Gor novels, and have raised many objections to them, in terms both snarling and angry.)
I had envisioned … well, fantasized … “Prize of Gor” as a story about a feminist enslaved which would bring forth all the most powerful and cogent arguments of feminism against Norman's vision of sex slavery, and Norman gets in there and responds with his most powerful and cogent arguments FOR slavery, for a really interesting donnybrook of an argument.
Norman is a professor of philosophy, clearly he's CAPABLE of making a tough argument, but he sure didn't do so in “Prize of Gor” and if he were going to do it ANYWHERE, this would have been the place to do it. And Norman did not do it. The man has nothing when it comes to expanding or deepening his ideas. And yeah, a lot of people, especially feminists but quite a few of his fans as well, have assumed that all along, and after more than twenty novels, who can blame them?
The only counter-argument I can see is that the Gor novels are fantasy adventure novels and they're no place for intellectual donnybrooks. But if you are going to take that approach, the Gor novels are also no place for the lengthy, repetitive rants about the virtues of sex slavery, which frankly, could not POSSIBLY slow down the story and character development, such as it is, as much as an in-depth intellectual argument. You can't have it both ways, in short … if the intellectual donnybrook has no place, neither do the rants.
And on the issue of character development, that's where things get REALLY revelatory. Just think of this character, this Ellen, an aging, virginal professor of gender studies who has spent her whole life on Earth in a career as a successful academic suddenly finds herself in a prison on another world, reduced to slavery, and at the same time restored to her early youth and beauty.
This could credibly be a cause for driving her insane, certainly her psyche would have to make some major adjustments. And there are some interesting questions to consider – we know the brain is still growing and developing physically until you reach age 25, she gets aged back to 18. Does this truncate any of her intellectual abilities? Would there be different levels of hormones acting on her brain as a young woman that would radically change her emotional and physical responses? Would she be aware of them? Would her aged, finely tuned, highly developed mind experience these changes as some sort of alien experience forcing itself on her, or would she perceive it as changes in who she was? Would she be AWARE of what was going on?
As an academic involved in gender studies she probably should be aware of these things, but of course there's no mention of any of it in. There's no examination of what she goes through mentally other than the “I love being the slave of big strong men!” “I hate big strong men for enslaving me!” “Being a slave is wonderful!” “Being a slave is awful!” stuff … granted, whole rafts of it, but still, nothing that creates a real, living character.
Of course, if such character development were to occur, it wouldn't really be a Gor novel. Because let's face it, if the mental effects of being broken by Gorean slavers were unstintingly portrayed, it would make for something more like 1984 than a sexy barbaric fantasy novel. That's why Norman stays away from it. And that's why his rants are kind of a cheat: he keeps insisting that slavery is wonderful but he can't go into the real effects of nonconsensual slavery as practiced on Gor … his ideal, apparently … without making clear how brutal it was.
Instead there is just the occasional switching and whipping and of course, all the sexy, sexy bondage.
He also does not go into the innate wastefulness of using a woman whose mind is intelligent and detail-oriented enough to be a successful academic, just to prepare food, sew and suck cocks. Norman makes a lot of how fulfilling this feels to the enslaved Ellen, but he gives us no idea how a mind that can do research, read and analyze long, detailed texts and then write long, detailed texts in response can handle spending most of her time watching eggs fry, pushing needles into cloth and walking around a lot. And furring, of course. (“Furring” is the Gorean term for “fucking” as it is done “in the furs” most of the time. I like it a lot better than fucking.)
As is made plain at the beginning of “Prize of Gor” the manuscript is written by Ellen, so clearly someone (Bosk of Port Kar, who makes a cameo or two in “Prize of Gor”) has recognized that her mind needs something to occupy it. But as the book Ellen turned out is full of even more of the lengthy rants than the other Gor novels, it's pretty clear that Ellen's mind is not what it once was.
And the thing is, Prize of Gor has a pretty good story buried among all those rants. Ellen is kidnapped, exchanges owners several times, gets involved with the opposition to Cosian occupation of Ar and with the mysterious plotting of the Kurii and their human agents. There is much pleasing of different Masters, much intrigue swirling about, much danger and much fun.
Because here's the hell of it: underneath all that ranting, Norman is REALLY GOOD at telling an adventure story. He also has a genius for creating rich, detailed societies for those adventures to occur in.
And of course, he had the masterstroke of understanding that softcore bondage romance works BEAUTIFULLY with sword and sorcery fantasies. He even realized he could sidestep the necessity of dealing with the horrors of actual slavery in ancient cultures by placing the stories in an ahistorical setting (i.e., Gor).
Norman is a genius, period.
But he's a flawed genius. I'm not saying he's an idiot savant, but after reading a few dozen pages of his rants on sexuality you DO get the impression that you are reading rthe equivalent of an OCD disorder in text form.
If Norman had the ability to constuct halfway decent female characters and focus strictly on the softcore/bondage sexyfantasy and adventure elements of his story, while imbueing them with his normal excellent world-building skills, his books would be FREAKING popular. Maybe even “Fifty Shades” popular, because he writes a much more compelling adventure than E.L. James does and he has a better feel for the appeal of sexual bondage than James does.
Hell, if Norman even had an editor who would relentlessly trim the rants and push him in the right directions, that would do the trick, I think. But as “Prize of Gor” conclusively demonstrates, he does not have any such help.