by _Marcus_ of Ar

“Civilized men, the small and pale, the righteous, the learned, the smug, the supercillious, the weak-stomached and contemptuous, stand upon the shoulders of forgotten, bloody giants.”

–Samos of Port Kar, Beasts of Gor

“It is a kingly thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evilly spoken of.”


For quite some time, since first joining the swelling ranks of online Goreans, I have been engaged in discourse (often oddly heated, for some reason), regarding some of the basic principles regarding the Gorean mindset as set forth in the works of John Norman. Naive I may be, but I had always simply assumed that those works pretty much spoke for themselves… that the precepts contained in that voluminous fantasy series were rather cut and dried. Nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth, as I have recently discovered. Many years and many hundred thousand words of written commentary later, I find myself daily confronted with the same questions. The online Gorean world is, and continues to be, a battlefield whereupon different types of people attempt to sort out, for themselves, what the books actually mean and what is their significance in relation to their day to day lives, both on and offline.

Everyone is searching for answers. In a way, I am forced to compare it to a wanderer who dedicates his entire life to the search for the “great mystical guru” who dwells atop a remote mountaintop, seeking the one great, perfectly defined answer which will signify an end to all his or her problems. Upon reaching that mountaintop and confronting the great guru, the wanderer invariably asks: “Tell me, oh Wise One, what is the answer?”

To which the wizened guru scratches his beard in befuddlement and replies:

“To what question?”

The answer, is, of course, that there ARE no great and perfectly defined answers to the riddles of existence which daily plague us. Nor are there any great and perfectly defined answers to the matter of Gor, why it strikes so many of us so near to our hearts. The answers are certainly there; all the information anyone needs to understand what Gor is and how it relates to each of us. It is just that some are not willing to accept them, nor are they prepared to understand them. Therein lies the conundrum. Some people are simply unwilling or unable to accept the fact that many things, Gor being one of them, happen to be based almost entirely upon the particular perception of the individual who perceives them.

“Tell me what to do and say,” such people ask desperately. “Make me understand.”

That is, of course, an impossibility. Each is free to form different opinions about matters which relate directly to them, and rest assured that highly diverse opinions will be formed. Is any one of these opinions more fundamentally correct than the others? Not necessarily, though some may be better worded or more informed, grounded in more fact, than others.

Which brings me back to the issue at hand: Yes, it is possible to kick a dead horse until it no longer resembles anything close to a horse. This is true about pretty much anything.

Now I am not qualified to tell anyone what to think, or why, but what I can do is offer my own opinion to the mix. If it is a good one, I am sure it will be taken as such. If I am wrong, then I have no doubt I will be duly informed of it. But the answers to the most basic questions regarding the meaning of Gor and its various byproducts have remained, for me, fundamentally the same during the twenty-odd years I have been perusing those books and drawing conclusions from them. I list a few of those conclusions here, for any interested in sharing them.

Question: What is Gor?

Answer: A series of science-fiction/fantasy novels authored by John Norman. And a philosophy, and a lifestyle.

Question: What does Gor mean?

Answer: Literally, in the Gorean language, the word “Gor” means “Home Stone.”

Question: What is a Home Stone?

Answer: It is a rock. It is a rock which is chosen by a group of Goreans to signify the communal spirit and values of those who dwell in a particular settlement; but it is still, basically, a rock. And a flag is basically just a piece of colored cloth. And music is just vibration carried on the air. All of these things, indeed, all things everywhere, gain enhanced emotional substance through the particular meaning which is assigned to that particular thing.

Question: What is the definition of Gorean Honor?

Answer: It is pretty much the same definition as Earth Honor. Except Goreans tend to take the matter a bit more seriously, on the whole, than do the people of Earth, since it is so deeply engrained in their daily cultural interaction. I note that that condition seems much more prevalent in an armed society, where personal combat is a day to day reality, as is the case upon the planet Gor.

Question: What, then, is the definition of Earth Honor?

Answer: That’s a tough one. Basically the term “Honor” might be best defined as an inner drive to behave fairly and justly to those around you, regardless of personal motives. And above all it means to treat honestly and openly with everyone you deal with. This applies to one’s behavior in day to day life, on the field of battle, in a duel with another person… any time and anywhere. Those who earn a reputation for doing so are said to be “men of honor.”

Question: Can a female possess a sense of Honor?

Answer: I suppose so, though not in precisely the same way a male can. I personally doubt that any female can experience anything in precisely the same way that a male can. And vice versa. I have, however, often noted that women tend to be a bit more practical and pragmatic when confronted with such issues, whereas males tend to be more sentimental. Therefore, honor tends to be a much more serious matter to the average male than to the typical female.

Question: Can a slave have honor?

Answer: A slave, like anyone else, might certainly possess a “sense of honor,” in that he or she strives to behave in as honorable a fashion as possible. The enslaved person, however, is commonly considered to be relieved of such responsibility due to the fact that his or her every waking moment is dedicated to pleasing those of a higher social station, namely his or her owner. While a slave may behave in an honorable or dishonorable manner, it is common to consider that, since the slave is assumed to be constantly operating under the express instruction of his or her owner, or is behaving in a manner consistant with the will of another, that he or she is not practicing free will in the matter. Thus, embonded persons are considered to be “out of the loop” where matters of personal honor are concerned.


As far as the entire gaming issue goes, to my mind the matter is a simple one. Games are fun. Games are cool. We all enjoy a good game every now and then, nothing wrong with that. In fact, if there was a decent Gor-based role playing game out there somewhere, I might even try it out and see how it played, just for yuks. I myself have designed some rather clever “combat-drone” bots and scripts to simulate online combat, just to see if it could be done. I even used to have a semi-fictional “Gorean bio” posted on the S&S website in which I half-seriously assigned a personal history to my “Gorean” self, again just for a chuckle and to give readers an insight into the kinds of activities I would engage in were I actually on the surface of the planet Gor. My new bio is, however, entirely accurate. But the old one, which spoke of battles and tarn attacks and all kinds of cool things, was probably a bit more entertaining. The point is, I never saw any of these things as inherently bad or misleading, simply because I never assumed anyone who read them or encountered them would take them for anything other than what they were: the efforts of someone who was very serious about Gor and the entire Gorean lifestyle to impart a bit of flavor to the proceedings and to have a bit of fun with it. And heaven knows, I never ever expected anyone to fool around with those bots or read that bio and assume for one Ihn that I was actually placing any stake in “cyber-combat” or in my fictional Gorean home in a fictional Gorean city.

Then again, I never expected anyone to do so because I take Gor very seriously. I love the books. I love the setting, fictional though it might be. I love and treasure the camaraderie of my fellow Goreans, who take the precepts of those books to heart and apply to their lives those Gorean things which can actually be applied to one’s life… the inherent philosophy, love of life, courage and depth of emotion which so characterize the denizens of that fictional world.

I take Gor quite seriously, both online and off. The trouble is, there are others out there who do not, for reasons of their own choosing, who would misinterpret such online tomfoolery and assume that since there are games in which one pretends to be Gorean, then therefore there can be no Goreans. When the game of Gor is the only aspect of Gor one sees, then how can those outside our circle see any of us as anything other than players in that game?

Worse still are those to whom all that is Gorean… the books, the IRC channels, the websites… are all part of the great online game of Gor in which people log onto the internet and engage in petty power struggles to control tiny islands of cyberspace. These are the lost ones, those who simply cannot comprehend the concept that maybe, somehow, all of this online interaction and information sharing which we do about the Gor books and Norman’s work might have actual meaning in the offline world. Such persons dismiss all that we do as “play,” simply because they themselves look no further than the contents of their own computer screen to define what Gor means, what it is, and what it is not.

Gorean RPGs, Gorean computer games, Gorean cyber-duels… all can be good fun and quite entertaining. The bitch of it is, however, that too often the existence of such things is used by our detractors as an indication that, since PART of what we do is a game, then perhaps ALL of what we do is a game. That makes our community and all that we have built, all of our long Ahn spent in debate with those who would censor or decry us, easy to dismiss. We have confronted that argument for years, and been stung by the simple phrase “but the Gor books are simply works of poorly written science fiction. About beings from another planet. Ha! Goreans, Klingons… what’s the difference?”

There is a big difference. Works of fiction do not simply spring into existence from nowhere; they are the product of imagination, vision and emotion, and those whom they speak loudest to are changed by them.

Gor is a magnificent fantasy world, heady subject matter for adventure gaming of all sorts… but it would be wise to remember that Gor is not MERELY subject matter for a game. Nor is it just a convenient base upon which to found an IRC channel or series of channels. Before there were any such games, before there were any such channels, there were living breathing people who learned something important about themselves by reading those books and applied it to their real lives, and were perhaps better, healthier, and more well-adjusted people for it.

To play games based upon Gor is no crime; but when you reduce the entire Gorean experience to a set of rules and regulations which no longer touch the hearts of those who practice them, when you set that forth as a shining example of what the Gorean experience is all about, and other less experienced persons take that example as the be-all end-all of what makes Gor Gorean, then you risk changing the very nature of who we are and how we interact with one another.

The farther we go to make our online interaction seem more like life on a distant planet, the farther we remove it and its inherent philosophy from the real life issues of our own world, the one we live in on a daily basis. If you take it too far, you remove it from our world entirely, and it ceases being applicable to our day to day lives. Then again, much of the appeal which Gor has for me personally is based upon my imaginative notions of what it would be like to actually dwell on that magnificent alien world, so in trying to maintain an even keel and maintain the applicability of the philosophy in our daily, Earth-bound lives, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There has to be a middle ground, a place where we can practice our Goreal ideals among ourselves in our everyday lives while still having fun with the whole thing. Many of us have no trouble finding that middle ground. For others it is more difficult. For still others, the gaming elements create a smokescreen so thick that, if they are not careful, they can lose sight of the fact that there are real people out there to whom Gor is not in any way, shape, or form, a game.

Roleplaying is part of much that we do online; except the roles which we play are ourselves. Since I have no hit points or armor class that I know of, and since IRC is basically a free-form medium for communication, I have never seen the point of pretending to be that which I am not. For me to do so is to do insult to the person who I actually am, and as those of you who know me will certainly attest, I rather like myself. -)

The danger is not in playing games; the true peril is in losing sight of who we actually are because of them. And to those who know us, and Gor, only through such games, if we allow such games to eclipse the lifestyle and philosophy we practice, then in their eyes we are rendering ourselves no more than fictional characters in an ongoing soap-opera. I, for one, insist upon being much more than that, both offline and on.

As a final note in this huge ramble, I’d like to add that the ongoing back-and-forth which often occurs online, in IRC channels, on websites and various corkboards, seems to have an entire point-system and scoring mechanism all its own. As witty remarks, points of debate and endless finger pointing and “I touched you last” continue, it occurs to me that not all games played on the internet involve cyber-swords and bots. Knowing as I do a few of the more notorious instigators, and realizing that entire online feuds and so-called bandwidth “wars” have occurred in response to as small a thing as a channel topic which someone took out of context or took umbrage to, I would have to say that, apparently, to some people, the game is never ending and takes many rather insidious forms. I wouldn’t know, since I personally do not play it. But beware when attempting to play it with most of the Goreans whom I know and love, since they don’t consider any of this a game. Gor is serious stuff for them, and they treat it as such.


So, are you Gorean? Should you even attempt to learn how to be Gorean? And most importantly, are you naturally suited to be Gorean? Well, allow me to offer a few thoughts for consideration:

The only real freedom any of us has is the freedom to think, to make our own decisions about what is wrong or right. When we encounter new ideas, new philosophies, new concepts, we all must consider them and test them to see how they apply to our own situation, or even whether or not they apply to us at all. John Norman’s Gor books put forth a whole batch of new ideas about human interaction; what it means, how it works, how it should work, and how it might work. Now, if none of the concepts presented in those books make any sense to you, then don’t you dare accept them as fact! No one ever learned anything new by blindly following the path of least resistance. Try them out. Apply them to your real life situation. Do they seem to be true? Do they make you feel better, more natural, more alive? Do they fill you with a sense of “rightness” or match similar views which you have gained through life experience? If so, then you might wish to ask yourself a few questions:


If the Gorean mindset makes sense to you, then it might also make sense for you to attempt to learn more about it, to attempt to further experience it. If it makes little or no sense to you, or if you feel compelled to alter it according to your personal agenda, then why are you even messing with it at all? Just go away and scoff at us behind our backs. We don’t mind. In fact, we’re used to it.


Do you actively try to apply to your life the same basic tenets which are commonly prized by the average inhabitant of the world of Gor? Now, we all KNOW that Gor is a fictional planet from a series of sci-fi novels, and we all know that none of us were born on that fictional planet, nor can we ever go there. But, despite these facts, do you TRY to be Gorean, to act as a Gorean might, to behave in such a way as to experience the world through slightly Gorean eyes? Or just take to heart the things which Goreans are said to treasure, such as personal freedom, personal responsibility, courage and an overall lust for life? If that is so, then you are, whether you know it, “Gorean” to some extent. The measure of that extent depends upon you; how fully you embrace it and how far you choose to take it.


If the philosophical points which John Norman espouses in his Gor novels seem good ones to you, and if you care enough about them to discuss them, consider them and maybe even practice them in your own life in some tiny way, then, again you have come to the right place. If you don’t care very much about any of it, apart from the fact that it seems like a lot of fun, an exclusive club of people spouting off alien philosophy and swilling imaginary paga… if all that you get from the Gor books is a few hours of light entertainment and a few vicarious sexual thrills, then you might want to just stick to reading the books. That does not make you a bad person; but in my opinion you are only seeing the part of the iceberg that is above the water, and are completely missing the real stuff, which so happens to make up the bulk of what I believe “the Gor phenomenon” is all about.


Why, it’s the consideration that maybe, just maybe, on some level, John Norman was right about a few things. That we have lost touch with some part of ourselves through the ongoing process of socialization and mechanization, a part which might be beneficial to reacquaint ourselves with.

Life, or so it has been often said, is the neverending search for answers and new truths which apply to us as we go forward and grow wiser. John Norman says that in our quest for new truths and new ways to live we have foolishly abandoned a few things which are necessary for our fulfillment as human beings. It just so happens that I agree with him; my own life experience has taught me that. It has also taught me that when something is true, it is true, no matter how politically incorrect or socially unacceptable it might be.

So, if you would be “Gorean,” try on a few of Norman’s assertions and see how they fit.

The line forms right behind me. Or right next to me. Or on the other side of the world from me. Hmm. Maybe there IS no line. Maybe we are all moving in the same direction at different paces. The question is, will we all arrive at the same place? And if not, will we all be wiser when we reach our destination?

Maybe being “Gorean” is less about becoming more Gorean, and more about becoming less inhuman. And more human.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

I wish you well!


Copyright © 1998 Marcus of Ar, All rights reserved.


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