Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tarnsman of Gor Revisited

As predicted, I did enjoy reading Tarnsman of Gor again. The hero of the novel, Tarl Cabot, gets into a fight and/or eludes death in every chapter. The story telling has an obvious foundation in classical English Literature. In fact, Cabot was employed as a college professor before he is abducted to Gor, the Counter Earth. He is returned to Earth at the end of the novel, where he avoids returning to his employer due to the embarrassment that would surround his disappearance.

He is abducted to supposedly serve the Priest Kings, the megalomaniacal leaders of Gor. He seems resigned to his abduction after finding a message, left by means of alien technology, which self destructs after he has read the message. I can’t help but to parallel this plot device with the works of Ian Fleming and George Lucas since the message was from Cabot’s father. “I rose to my feet. As I did so, a door in the side slid quietly upward. I must go in. My father’s word recurred in my memory: The fate is upon you.” p. 21

When he arrives on Counter-Earth, Cabot receives an education in Gorean culture which emphasizes the Code of the Warrior Caste. Gorean culture is a caste system. The upper classes, scribes, priests and administrators are well educated and better informed of politics and technology. The lower castes, laborers and slaves have a cultural and intellectual level of nomadic barbarians. An individual’s movement into an improved caste position is strongly influenced by financial power or brute force.

He is given lessons on prayers to the Priest Kings which he does not memorize. “…they were in old Gorean, a language cultivated by the Initiates but not spoken generally on the planet, and I never bothered to learn them. To my delight, I learned that Torm (his instructor) had forgotten them years ago.” p. 40

One of the first creatures Cabot meets on Gor is a servant of his father’s. He is shocked by his initial introduction to the caste of servitude but must accept the tradition as commonplace in Gorean culture. The evening before he is to receive his quest from the officials of the city of Ko-ro-ba Cabot is sufficiently accustomed to the caste of servants. “I remember, too, the girls in the last tavern, if it was a tavern… If there were natural slaves and natural free men… those girls were natural slaves.” p. 61

The quest which Cabot is given is an elaborate version of capture the flag. He is to steal the Home Stone, the central alter, of a rival city. In the process will also kidnap the daughter of the city’s administrator, a man how seeks to become dictator over all the tribes of Gor. This has been the focus of his training in Gorean culture and his instruction as a Tarnsman. Tarns, giant predatory birds of Gor, are use for aerial cavalry and scouting by warriors, or Tarnsmen. On Tarn-back he enters the rival city at the appointed time and is able to seize the stone and the girl but is subject to the many anticipated threats to his own life. “…she suddenly locked her arms around my waist and with a cry of rage hurled me from the saddle. In the sickening instant of falling I realized I had not fastened my own saddle belt in the wild flight from the roof…” p. 81

Our hero is miraculously saved, in the style of all serialized adventurers, when his fall to death is stopped by the web of a giant spider creature. The creature has an intelligence level of man and since he, the spider-man, has no argument with Tarl, he has no desire to kill Tarl or prey on him. Immediately after this startling introduction Tarl and the spider-man engage in rescuing the kidnapped princess, Talena, from a giant lizard. Telana agrees she must submit to Tarl’s leadership if she is to survive the many perils of the swamp in which they have landed. But since she is the proud daughter of an Ubar of Gor, Talena attempts to betray Tarl at the first possible opportunity. “We were near the Ka-la-na trees when I heard a slight rustle of brocade behind me. I turned, just in time to seize the wrist of the daughter of the Ubar as she struck savagely down at my back with a long, slender dagger.” p. 97

Later, Talena comes to understand that Tarl is an honorable comrade and helps as they struggle to escape capture form a group of military scouts. “Suddenly his eyes emitted a wordless scream, and I saw a bloody stump at the end of his arm. Talena had picked up his sword and struck off the hand that held the dagger.” p. 104

This outline I’ve provided covers the main plot of Tarnsman of Gor while omitting a majority of the supporting characters of the 219 page tale. The attraction of this novel to fans of fantasy role playing games or too a reader of adventure novels or fantasy fiction, I believe, is apparent from this outline. The action, intrigue, combat and culture of Gor could easily be the setting for D&D, Hack Master, Encounter Critical or any role playing system desired. Here’s a final combat sequence for your hungry, adventure starved, appetites;

“As the burly magistrate hastened forward, I seized my spear and hurled it with such force as I would not have believed possible. The spear flashed through the air like a bolt of lightning and stuck the oncoming magistrate in the chest , passing through his body and burying itself in the heart of his companion.” p. 205


  1. I've got to read the Gor novels some day!

  2. Back in the 80s, one of my original AD&D groups played a campaign set in Gor. At the time, we tended to divide our attention about equally between the traditional action and the not-so-traditional slave girls. (What can I say? We were teen-aged boys.) Looking back on the setting, though, there are quite a few things that can be cribbed for a fantasy setting, even if you don't use the ideas whole-cloth. I especially like the idea of the Home Stone of a city. I've often thought about incorporating these into various D&D campaigns. Now I'll have to go back and reread the novels to see what kinds of details I can eke out again.