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Witness of Gor (Gorean Saga) Paperback – June 1, 2007
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About the Author
John Norman was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1931. His best known works, the Gor novels, span 26 books written 1967 to 2002, plus three installments of the Telnarian Histories, two other fiction works and a non-fiction paperback. Mr. Norman is married and has three children. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Aside from that issue, as long as he keeps writing the Gor books, I'll keep buying them.
If you have not read any, or even most, of the previous books in John Norman's Gor series, do not touch this one with the proverbial barge-pole.
And if you like those books in the lengthy "Gor" series which feature the anti-hero Tarl Cabot, but have had enough of Kajira (e.g. slave girl) books, skip this one and the following book, "Prize of Gor" and go straight to number 28, "Kur of Gor" in which Tarl Cabot makes his return.
This story is set on the planet Gor, which supposedly shares the orbit of Earth but on the other side of the Sun so that our astronomers cannot detect it. Most of the action takes place in the Gorean cities of Treve and Ar, and appears to overlap several of the previous five books. Tarl Cabot does not appear "onstage" at any time, though he is mentioned once or twice.
The narrator is a slave girl from earth, who at various times of the book is given the names Janice or Gail, or at other times is not allowed a name at all.
The narrator has been planted in Treve in the hope that she will be able to identify whether a particularly important prisoner is there. She has no idea who the prisoner is, and it turns out that he appears to have lost his memory and doesn't know himself. Norman obviously intends the reader to work out the prisoner's identity for yourself: he is not named at any stage in the book. However, most of those readers who have previously seen the rest of the series may begin to form an idea what is going on.
There are some quite good parts of the book: one is the development of the pit master character, who is horribly ugly but also honorable and intelligent and about as kind as Norman allows a Gorean male to be (which after about book eight has meant "not very"). You meet again an old enemy, Doorna the Proud, who attempted to usurp the throne of Tharna in book two, Outlaw of Gor. Naturally she has never forgiven Tarl Cabot for frustrating her ambitions, and Norman may be setting up something here for a future book.
The most nerve-wracking scene comes towards the end of the book when an entire hit squad of assassins comes to dispose of the prisoner, only to find that he is still much more dangerous than anyone had imagined.
No mention at all of the Kurri or "Others" in this book - those of us who have been wondering to what extent they were behind the Cosian invasion and war which raged from book 20 to book 25 are still wondering.
The heroine & narrator of this book gets a brief cameo in book 27, "Prize of Gor" when she will meet the heroine & narrator of that book at Ar's equivalent of the public laundrette, where both slave girls have been sent by their masters to wash the household's dirty clothes. By that time her new master will have renamed her Corinne.
Norman's greatest strength is not that he is a particularly good writer, and the prose in this work is sometimes quite impenetrable. It is his ability to set your own imagination off, and at times this book does do that.
The catch is that to get to those moments you have to wade through reams of very undistinguished filler, and particularly the most turgid "women should be slaves" tosh. It is one thing to fantasise about things which you would never want to do in your real life, but the endless repetition of arguments for enslaving women eventually gets quite boring and almost makes you wonder if Norman actually means it. There was rather too much of this sort of thing in books 14 to 25 and Witness of Gor is worse. From this 700 page book you could cut out at least 250 pages of male supremacist lectures without losing any of the essential plot or action, and still have quite enough left to annoy any feminists or politically correct people who for some strange reason are reading it. And it would be a much better book.
The treatment of the protagonist, an earth woman brought to Gor as a slave girl, as having no name, and for all practical purposes, no earth identity, accomplishes a stroke of genius. That is, this device lets even the male reader see through her eyes as the "witness of Gor". The reader shares her naïveté in this new world precisely because he or she lacks her history and is thus unable to see her from a distance, critically. Instead, the reader must view things and learn things as she sees them and learns them.
Further, Norman goes beyond the usual philosophic discourses on dominance-submission as the paradigm, which governs male-female relationships, and uses instead a critical ethical dilemma to present honor as an ethical issue. And indeed, the story itself turns upon this ethical issue, in a day when soft politicians, diplomats, public servants and the philosophical ethicists who advise them renounce the very concept of honor, precisely because honor is not negotiable. In this book, Norman emerges not only as a first-rate storyteller-once again-but as the deeply insightful philosopher of human nature and morality that he is.
This latest offering in the Gor series has several further features that make it exquisite. First, Norman sets the story in the Voltai Range, in the impregnable city of the robber-Ubar, Rask of Treve, a part of Gor of which readers have heard, but never experienced. Second, he pulls the series out of the morass that was "Magicians of Gor", and sets it once again on the road of heightened suspense and adventure to an epic climax in the struggle for dominance of the great city of Ar by the Island Ubarates, Tyros and Cos. Setting the story against that backdrop itself ties up a major loose end from Magicians of Gor and brings the series back to life for those who suffered through the loss of Ar's legions in the delta of the Vosk, the disappearance of its mighty Ubar, Marlenus, and the crass and treacherous rule of his daughter, Talena, as the proxy of Cos. Third, Norman shows here the best character development of any of the books. The figure of "The Tarsk"-the "depth warden" or pit master, he who governs Treve's deep and cavernous prisons-is the deepest, most thoughtful, and most sensitively developed character of the entire series. This massive twisted figure, deformed from birth, but of high intelligence and great cunning and strength, a master of the board game Kaissa as well, becomes the most sympathetic character of the story. Thus the reader suffers with the depth warden when he violates his oath of honor to preserve his integrity in another matter of honor. One actually finds oneself hoping long before the possibility arises in the plot that this great and grave figure does not commit suicide over his actions in the midst of this dilemma. And I note: only someone who himself has a profound sense of honor recognizes that violations of honor necessarily result in one's death, even if that means at one's own hand. Fourth, only an exciting and improbable twist of fate brings the heroine (and the reader) from the dank and dangerous depths of Treve's fortress prison to a surprise, nail-biting conclusion far from that setting. I cannot wait for Prize of Gor, the finale, or at least the sequel.
To sum up, this Gorean tale contains the greatest depth of character development and philosophic thought to which the author has yet risen. He also tells a great story, one that I could barely put down.
Many people role play from these books and enjoy making Gor come to life in Second life and many other chat rooms.