What is Gor? What does it mean to be Gorean?
The answers to these questions have been endlessly debated online and still there is confusion and disagreement. There are many answers to these questions, some simple and some complex. The answers will also vary based on your own perceptions and viewpoints. In different contexts, your definition may also vary. The answers are important to anyone who truly desires to understand Gor, live according to the Gorean philosophies, or role-play by the books. I am not going to try to provide definitive answers in this essay. I am only going to provide an overview and some guidance to the relevant issues surrounding the answers to these questions.
The simple answer is that Gor, also known as the Counter-Earth, is a fictitious planet that is supposed to be in the same orbit as Earth, but on the opposite side of the Sun. Thus, a Gorean is simply a person born on the world of Gor. Gor is a barbaric world, ruled by steel and concerned with honor. It is primarily a male dominated world where slavery is an ancient and universally accepted institution. The overseers of Gor, the Priest-Kings, are technologically advanced aliens who monitor and protect Gor. The Priest-Kings have transported numerous people from Earth to Gor over a period of thousands of years. They have also restricted Goreans from using many forms of technology but have allowed them to excel in a few limited areas where their technology even surpasses that of Earth. For example, Gorean Physicians have created the Stabilization Serums, a cure for aging. Such a cure would be priceless on Earth.
But usually when someone online says that they are Gorean, or are acting Gorean, they do not mean that they were actually born on Gor. They are basically stating that they are acting as a person would act who was born on Gor, that they are acting within the customs and conventions of Gorean culture and society. Some of these Goreans may only engage in role-play. Some may introduce elements of Gor into their lifestyle. And some may even do both. And their definitions of what it means to be Gorean will differ, sometimes drastically.
The world of Gor is detailed in a series of twenty-six, best-selling books written by John Norman. Norman is a pseudonym for John Lange, a university philosophy professor, who currently lives in New York. Additional books may eventually be published in this science-fiction series. Presently, the series consists of over 10,000 pages, a vast amount of information.
The series includes the following books. The dates in parentheses are the dates of their first publication. Most of the books are currently out of print.
1. Tarnsman of Gor (December 1966)
2. Outlaw of Gor (December 1967)
3. Priest-Kings of Gor (December 1968)
4. Nomads of Gor (November 1969)
5. Assassin of Gor (December 1970)
6. Raiders of Gor (December 1971)
7. Captive of Gor (December 1972)
8. Hunters of Gor (March 1974)
9. Marauders of Gor (March 1975)
10. Tribesmen of Gor (March 1976)
11. Slave Girl of Gor (March 1977)
12. Beasts of Gor (March 1978)
13. Explorers of Gor (March 1979)
14. Fighting Slave of Gor (March 1980)
15. Rogue of Gor (March 1981)
16. Guardsman of Gor (November 1981)
17. Savages of Gor (March 1982)
18. Blood Brothers of Gor (November 1982)
19. Kajira of Gor (March 1983)
20. Players of Gor (March 1984)
21. Mercenaries of Gor (March 1985)
22. Dancer of Gor (November 1985)
23. Renegades of Gor (March 1986)
24. Vagabonds of Gor (March 1987)
25. Magicians of Gor (June 1988)
26. Witness of Gor (August 2002)
27. Prize of Gor (2008)
28. Kurs of Gor (2009)
29. Swordsman of Gor (2010)
30. Mariners of Gor (2011)
31. Conspirators of Gor (2012)
32. Smugglers of Gor (2012)
The more complex answers concerned with defining Gor involve an examination and analysis of the entire series and distilling what is and what is not Gorean. This then raises even more questions. Many people claim to know Gor well yet how many of them actually do? What does it take to know Gor well? How does a newcomer learn about Gor? If you role-play and wish to remain true to the novels, what is and is not permitted? How do you make decisions on the ambiguities within Gor? What aspects of Gor can be used in one's life? What are the tenets of Gorean philosophy?
To truly be able to define what it means to be Gorean requires an extensive knowledge of the novels. It is nearly impossible to fully know Gor without having read all of the novels. And not only must you have read them, but you must also have understood them and retained your knowledge gleamed from the books. It would obviously help if you have read each novel more than once. With over 10,000 pages of information, there is a lot of detail to retain. A casual reader will miss many such details. And it is the richness of those details that serves to make Gor seem realistic.
Does this mean that if you have not read the books that you cannot live as or role-play a Gorean? No, you still can. But, you may not be a proper judge of everything about Gor. Few are likely to possess that much information about Gor. There are many basics of Gor that are easy to understand by everyone. But when you begin more extensive discussions concerning more specific details, a greater knowledge is required. Casual readers cannot adequately discuss more esoteric Gorean issues. They may be unable to assume a Gorean mindset and consider issues solely from the viewpoint of a Gorean and not from the viewpoint of Earth.
The Internet contains many dozens of Gorean web sites that try to describe and explain the world of Gor. Unfortunately, most of these sites contain erroneous information. Some of these errors are based on online "myths" that have been around for years, and which few have tried to debunk. As many have not read the books, they must rely on either web sites or what they are told by others. Thus, these errors can continue to perpetuate. There is no guarantee that newcomers will receive the correct information. I have endeavored to make my web site as accurate as possible, to clarify prior misconceptions about Gor. And I continually work by revising and expanding it to help ensure that accuracy.
The earlier Gor books, often the first ten books, are the most easily available. Thus, numerous people base their knowledge just on these early books. This can cause problems when new information arises in the later books that either adds to prior information or modifies the prior information. In any lengthy series, an author is bound to make mistakes and to contradict himself. He will also change his mind about certain matters as the series progresses. Thus, the more authoritative books in a series are usually the most recent ones. The later books benefit from much more thought and purposefulness. When you consider what is Gorean, more weight should be given to the later novels.
If we look in the Gor novels for some examples of this, we can find areas where the latter books went into much greater detail than the earlier books. Let's look at the monetary system used on Gor. It is not until the later books that Norman gives an in- depth description of this topic. Interestingly enough, the early books introduced two coins, the copper tarn and the silver tarn, which eventually vanished in the latter books. Those two coins were not mentioned in the lengthier descriptions in the latter books concerning the Gorean monetary system. Even when those coins were mentioned in the early books, they were never described in any detail sufficient to determine their exchange rates. It thus seems that once Norman settled on his concept of the monetary system, after more thought about the matter, he decided to eliminate those tarn pieces.
Now, pure knowledge alone does not suffice. You must also be able to use that knowledge to interpret and extrapolate from the given materials. The novels do not include every single detail about Gor. They omit many issues, leaving areas of gray. That is where the complexity of defining Gor comes into play. In this gray area, there are no correct answers, only well supported opinions. Anyone's interpretation could be incorrect, but how you support your opinion is relevant. The more support you can find within the books tends to lend greater credence to your opinions. One such gray and controversial area involves the proper role of free women of the Warrior's Caste.
Free women may become members of the Warrior Caste by birth or Free Companionship. Norman never explicitly states that such women do not receive a warrior's training. He never explicitly stated that they do not battle with swords against other warriors. But, there is not a single reference showing that any women ever did receive such training. The answer to the question of whether women of the Red Caste were trained as Warriors will depends on your interpretation of the novels.
A number of people claim that since there is no explicit prohibition against it, then women could have been trained as Warriors. But, that is too simplistic of an answer, ignoring the other evidence that exist in the novels. There are many items not specifically prohibited by Norman that would clearly not be Gorean. Norman does not specifically state that there are no fire-breathing dragons on Gor. Does that mean they might exist then on Gor? Did Norman ever intend dragons to exist on Gor? I very much doubt it and few, if any, would contend that they should exist there.
There is ample evidence in the novels to support the contention that female Red Caste women never received a Warrior's training. The issue of female warriors is discussed in much great detail in Education Scroll #15, Female Warriors. It is a complex issue that requires extensive explanation and references. The main idea I am promoting right now is that such issues are not easily answered. They require a good knowledge of the books and an examination of multiple references and issues raised in various books. Most arguments supporting female Warriors are not supported by information from the novels. They primarily rely on the absence of any specific prohibition but that is a fallacious argument.
Some people also attempt to justify their positions based on a single example presented in the books. This is not always a valid or logical argument. First, you must consider the context of the example. What are the circumstances surrounding that matter? Second, you must also analyze the rest of the information on the subject in question and understand how it is all related. For example, some people point to the character of Tarna in Tribesmen of Gor for their justification of sword-wielding women.
Tarna was a bandit in the Tahari region and wielded a scimitar. But, you must analyze the context of her character to fully understand her. Many people ignore the surrounding evidence and rely simply on the fact she wielded a scimitar. Education Scroll #15 more fully explains about Tarna but I will briefly recap a couple points. First, Tarna is an unwitting pawn of the Salt Ubar and the Kurii. She does not earn her position as a bandit chieftain by her skill. Second, Tarl Cabot is the only person who comments about her skill with the scimitar and he is not very complementary. Despite her boasts about her skill, there is no evidence to support it. Third, she is seen as an oddity by all. She is compared only to male warriors. If female warriors existed, then she would have been compared to them.
The primary point here to understand is that when you are trying to justify your position by the use of a single example, you must fully understand the factors surrounding that example. There are normally reasons that support such exceptions yet they remain exceptions and not the rule. Tarna was a woman who wielded a sword but she is a rare exception. Such an exception does not justify a generalization that women warriors existed on Gor.
The Goreans within the novels engaged in a wide variety of behaviors, just as any humans would. But, does that mean that all of these behaviors are "Gorean" just because a single Gorean, or even a small group of Goreans, engaged in such behavior. Obviously, such behaviors can be Gorean if we define it as such. But that would mean then that almost any behavior could be Gorean, thereby destroying any uniqueness of that term. To mean anything, the term "Gorean" must refer to something more limited. It cannot simply refer to any behavior conducted by any person from Gor.
Maybe we want to limit what we consider Gorean to the most common behaviors on Gor. But then we run into the different cultures on Gor. Do we really mean the most common behaviors of the Goreans of the city-states? But then each city-state has its own quirks and differences. Compare the multitude of differences between Tharna, prior to the events of Outlaw of Gor, and the city of Ko-ro-ba. Do we want to include the various barbarian lands as well? Defining "Gorean" thus is not a simple task. Matters will get even more complex, and controversial, when we try to define Gorean in a real-time context.
This is the first essay of many on my Gorean educational website. These educational essays will contain numerous generalizations concerning Gorean behavior. Please remember though that these are often meant to reflect the norm on Gor. They do not mean that all Goreans will act in that manner though. You may find examples that do not follow the generalizations but they do not necessarily dispute the validity of the generalizations. Gor is a diverse world with a diverse populace. There will be little that applies to every single person on Gor. Just do not mistake an exception for a general rule.
I consider myself a scholar of the Gorean novels. I also integrate a Gorean philosophy into my life. In addition, I enjoy role-playing in a Gorean context. I created my own online, Gorean role-playing city, a city that attempted to remain very faithful to the spirit of the Gorean novels. One of the primary objectives of my city was to educate its citizens and residents. Few know everything about Gor so it would be beneficial to learn while role-playing. This website began as a few simple educational "scrolls" that were used to help teach my citizens and resident about Gor. It has now grown tremendously, to become a vast and comprehensive reference tool concerning a myriad of aspects of Gor. But, why should you listen to me?
I feel that my credentials are respectable. I have read all of the Gor novels, multiple times each. I have also written and compiled a 400+ page A to Z encyclopedia of Gor, with over 2200 entries, supported by numerous book and page references. This is a large reference book that helps to keep the small details of Gor handy in an easy manual. Most other Gorean dictionaries online are much shorter. They are very incomplete, do not provide page references and contain errors. I continually add to my encyclopedia, constantly going over the books for any details that I missed. I believe this research has given me an excellent grasp of Gor. If you examine my web site, you will see that a lot of work has gone into its creation and to ensure its accuracy.
I have also spent much time and effort researching the various inspirations of Gor, trying to further my understanding. Those efforts too have resulted in numerous essays, detailing my researches. All of the educational essays that I have been written are primarily based on information from the Gorean novels and not from any web site. I also have an essay listing numerous non-Gorean books that are helpful in understanding Gor. My Gorean encyclopedia is the framework for many of those essays. The raw information is taken from that resource and then compiled into a more user-friendly narrative. If anyone ever sees something they believe is in error, please bring my attention to it. The essays are continually revised and expanded to ensure they are the most informative and accurate they can be.
If someone else claims to know Gor very well, ask them for their qualifications in that regard. If they have not read all of the books, their claim may be suspect. If they have read all the books, but many years ago, their claim may be suspect. If all of their learning was from online sources, their claim may again be suspect. Let them back up their knowledge of Gor with logic and page references. Seek out those who truly know Gor to answer your questions. If you think you know Gor well, then what is the basis for your knowledge? Having read the books once is not necessarily enough. Memory is a fragile object.
Remember though, the novels are the sole authority on Gor. It is highly recommended that anyone who wishes to truly know Gor should read the books.