The Complete John Norman
John Norman Is Back!
Witness of Gor published
The Christopher Columbus of political incorrect adult fantasy; the Leif Ericsson of honest barbaric epical adventure; the Neil Armstrong of intelligent philosophical science fiction - the creator of the most elaborately and richly described alternative world in science fiction, John Norman, is back in print. After more than fourteen years, with several millions of books sold, and the help and support of a world-wide international fan-base, who refused to give in to mediocrity and conformity, the controversial and elusive Chronicles of Counter Earth, the strange history of Tarl Cabot and his adventures on the planet Gor, now, finally, continues.
This Special Feature Edition of The Complete John Norman is dedicated to the 26th instalment of the Gorean Symphony - Witness of Gor.
Some seven years ago, during Arisia '95, a man by the name of David Alexander Smith recorded the following conversation with John Norman.
"Are you still publishing?" Smith asked.
"No," Norman said, "I have been blacklisted."
"You're kidding." Smith said.
"I'm completely serious." Norman replied.
From Smiths interview with John Norman, which was published in 1996 by The New Review of Science Fiction, we can somewhat retrace both the course of history and the written conversation that took place between Norman and Smith in the month following the convention.
"Forgive my dispassion," Smith said, "but if you have been blacklisted it is hugely ironic. Science fiction, the rule- breaking, boundary-stretching genre, the genre which prides itself on individual expression, blacklists a successful author for political incorrectness?"
"Oh, there's no doubt I've been blacklisted, both by publishers and at conventions." Norman answered.
"At conventions?" Smith asked.
"I was recently invited to participate in an sf convention and was listed among the invited guests." said Norman. "Subsequently a prominent fantasy feminist told the program committee that she would feel 'uncomfortable' if I were at the convention when she was. Accordingly, my name was literally crossed off the ready-to-mail brochures."
"How do you know?
"I got one with my name crossed off the guest list with Magic Marker." Norman smiled.
"What did you do?"
"I tried to get an explanation. My inquiry was never answered." Norman shrugged.
"How did you find out what had happened?" Smith continued.
"I was told later by outraged fans." said Norman, "Another cave-in to political correctness, another victory for the liberal feminist axis and the thought police."
"Being snubbed at conventions, however annoying, is not blacklisting, which occurs only when you cannot publish." said Smith.
"My agent has combed the woods and told me there is no opportunity to publish my work with any science fiction, fantasy, or mainstream publisher in the United States." said John Norman, back in 1995. To find out what happened, we must go back in time, to the summer of 1988.
In the fourteen years between 1974 and 1988, John Norman had produced eighteen Gorean novels, which were all published by Donald A. Wollheims publishing company DAW. But during the coarse of 1985, Don Wollheim became seriously ill and in the first week of 1986, this is what he wrote in a letter to a friend.
"1985 was a very bad year for me insofar as I had been hospitalized for a long time. Four major operations - and just in December a fifth and I trust the last. My daughter - a very competent person with experience - is handling my desk at the office and she has determined to cut down on those authors and series which never quite justified their advances."
Donald Wollheim intended to overrule his daughter, Elisabeth (Betsy) Wollheim, on several occasions, but as his health deteriorated, so did his influence. The sales of the Gor series could not have been the issue; in March 1982, the DAW sales alone reached three million copies, a year later, in March of 1983, the figure came close to four million. Even so, in June, 1988, Magicians of Gor, was the last of the series published by DAW. Two years later, Donald Allen Wollheim, futurian and founding father, died of cancer, and John Norman decided to postpone his Gor series.
"But why?" asked Smith. "Apparently the books, if allowed to be published, sell well, in Europe and elsewhere, which suggests that not only political correctness but also editorial elitism, as in 'we know what's best for you', could be at work.
"Tarnsman of Gor was published in late 1966." Norman answered, while showing Smith the cover. "It has been reprinted 22 times."
"That's certainly impressive sales, but I see quite a stylistic difference between the early Ballantine books and later DAW books. Even so, the DAW books, starting with Hunters and continuing through Magicians, have each sold at least 50,000 copies; the average is about 125,000 copies." said Smith.
"I have recently signed contracts for fresh French and German sales, and have recently been published for the first time in Czechoslovakia." added Norman. "There have been recent Spanish and Italian sales. There's no evidence that my books no longer sell."
"But there have been no Gor novels for five or six years." Smith replied.
"After DAW refused to buy any more Gor books, I sold a three part Telnarian series to Brian Thomsen of Warner Books. The first book, The Chieftain, had a 67 percent sell-through. The second, The Captain, had a 91 percent sell-through, which is the sort of thing that would make Stephen King rush over to shake your hand."
"Then why aren't you writing more Telnarian novels?" Smith asked.
"Brian Thomsen, my Warner editor for the Telnarian series, was suddenly no longer with Warner Books. He claimed this had nothing to do with his willingness to champion my work. Thomsen was replaced by an editor from one of the blacklisting presses, one that explicitly informed my agent they would not consider anything by John Norman. That new editor canceled the series despite its success and without waiting to see how the third book, The King, would do. That way things are made nicely clear."
"Do you have other examples of blacklisting?" Smith asked.
"Two full-length feature films have been putatively based on my work: Gor and Gor II: Outlaw of Gor, both by Cannon Films." Norman said, "Ballantine Books refused to do movie tie-ins to either film; they failed even to answer my letters. My attorney finessed his way around Ballantine's rights department and contacted the legal department at Random House. The movies were made by going over the heads of the censors."
"Perhaps the letters never arrived." Smith wondered.
"The second one was sent registered mail." Norman added.
The two Gor movies were directed by Fritz Keirsch (Gor, 1988) and John 'Bud' Cardos (Outlaw of Gor, 1989) and included appearances of Urbano Barberini as Tarl Cabot, Rebecca Ferratti as Talena, Larry Taylor as Marlenus, Oliver Reed as Sarm, and Jack Palance as the evil Priest-King Xenos. Hans Khule was Director of Photography, and the screenplay, by Rick Marx and Peter Welbeck, weaved a very routinely double-tale of the good guy waging war against an evil priest and his army, aided by a handsome fellow from another planet. Many other films have threaded this well worn path, to a much better effect. Between the releases of both movies, in a letter from 1988, John Norman explained his involvement a bit further.
"Thank you for your review of the Gor video. You have the advantage over me in this particular, as I have not seen it, or the associated film. I gather that it had very little to do with the Gorean world, if anything. I did have a consultancy with the films and sent the producer something like 160 pages of single-spaced comments, suggestions etc. It would seem, however, that very little of this, if anything, went into the movie. From your account I gather that the film may have been quite different from, say, the scenarios on which I commented, at great length. It seems a shame that the Gorean opportunity may have been neglected, or ignored. With some imagination and talent, I think a very special, and different, and great film, could have been made. Those who see the films, I gather, if they are not acquainted with the books themselves, may find it difficult to understand why the Gorean books have been best sellers for over twenty years."
Even so, both movies are still currently available.
In the New York Review interview of 1996, John Norman further explained the details of his blacklisting.
"But if the books sell, surely you can find publishers willing to make money on them." said Smith.
"Unfortunately for me, only about seven or eight publishing houses maintain a mass-market paperback line in science fiction and fantasy; this small, closely-knit group effectively controls the market." said Norman. "With such a group, a blacklist need not be an explicit, formal written or oral agreement subscribed to by a gathered cabal pledged to secrecy .It is an understanding that a certain individual is to be ostracized, excluded, methodologically overlooked or such."
"How would that work?" Smith asked.
"All the editors talk to one another." Norman explained. "At Arisia '94 one sf/f editor asserted that editors all know one another and keep in touch, so if anything happens, "in three hours everyone knows about it."
"Sure, that's possible," said Smith, "but mere rejection of your work is by itself insufficient - any editor can decline any book for any reason. Nor is group rejection - several different editors can decline the same book, and for the same reasons, which may well be expressed in the book itself. Even if the editors discussed your work among themselves, and reached similar conclusions about it, that by itself would not in my opinion be blacklisting, because lemmings do not blacklist. Thus, an industry's refusal to publish work constitutes blacklisting only if two conditions are true: firstly that editors are coerced into not publishing, or producing the work, and. secondly that, if not coerced, they would publish the work."
"Coercion does not seem to be necessary for blacklisting, even though it might obtain." Norman said.
"Why not?" asked Smith.
"Suppose a small set of editors have a particular ideology." answered Norman. "Even without coercion, there could be a general understanding that an author who challenges that ideology is not to be published."
"But editors are allowed to use their judgment; that's what they're paid for." said Smith.
"Editors have four responsibilities: to their employers, to customers, to art, and to society." Norman explained. "An editor who puts belief ahead of proven commercial investments owes it to his company to make certain they understand he is doing so. Customers have a right to expect that editors will give them what they want. The customers are quite as serious about their beliefs and values as the editor is in his. Editors should also keep the art form of the novel healthy and flourishing. Finally, the editor can help society to be an arid, uniform, intellectually deficient, repressive, emotionally impoverished totalitarianism, or he can help it be a decent place to live, a place that is open, a place that acknowledges and celebrates the individual, that welcomes difference, that accepts controversy, in short, a place where a rational, thinking, feeling being can thrive and rejoice."
"Editors are also responsible if the things they publish are actively harmful." said Smith.
"Certain things ought not to be done: folks interrupting religious services with profanity, folks advertising bogus stock, folks explaining how to produce poison gases and make bombs, and such. Not everything goes. But the Gorean books are written against a background of reality, complexity, depth, breadth, history, experience, psychology, ethnology, biology, and sociobiology. As far as I know, they are the most carefully constructed and intricately designed alternate world in the history of science fiction and fantasy. They are healthy, sane, sound, and fun." said Norman.
"What does your evidence suggest about coercion and publishability?" asked Smith.
"I really doubt that the clique of editors who are in a position to decide what you may or may not read would publish me even if they were not coerced. I think it is possible to blacklist without coercion." Norman answered.
"Embarrassment is a powerful form of coercion - indeed, coercion by embarrassment seems an intrinsic element in the attempted enforcement of political correctness. Have editors been embarrassed into refusing to consider your work?" Smith wondered.
"Individuals in the little club of ideologically uniform editors might fear losing their cozy ensconcement in the personality network. They might not want to be ostracized as politically incorrect, find themselves castigated, have their characters assassinated and so on. Jobs might be lost. Why risk printing something by John Norman? One might shock one's peers, one might jeopardize one's spot in the gang." Norman explained.
"It sounds like enough to make anyone paranoid. Is any of this in writing?" Smith asked.
"No,", said Norman. "there's no paper trail. To be sure, they could have made the matter more subtle by at least pretending to look at my material. If you want to be a censor, come up with some reason, other than politics, for rejecting it: the book is too long or too short, the plot is too simple or too complex; there are too few characters or there are too many. But I suppose they want me to know unmistakably what they are doing; it's part of the fun."
"Fun?" said Smith, rather unbelievingly.
"If the individual discriminated against has no idea what's going on, what fun would that be?" said Norman.
Smith frowned, he seemed incapable to understand. "You think people take pleasure in this?", he asked.
Norman nodded. "I am frequently talked about. For instance, I have either heard or had reported to me many quotes like these: 'I am opposed to censorship, but I think everyone ought to get together and agree not to publish John Norman.', 'We are going to squeeze John Norman out.', 'I know the books will make money, but I publish what I like.', or 'My press will not propagate the philosophy of John Norman.'".
"That last one is intriguing." said Smith. "If true, and it's only one person's quote, it implies that people are objecting not to the books' literary quality, but rather their philosophical or political contents."
"Is it possible that liberal rhetoric is a hypocritical facade for thought control in America?" asked Norman. "Is it possible that liberals, if given the opportunity, will unhesitatingly and consistently impose on others the same restrictions of freedom of speech and thought which they themselves have objected to when applied to themselves?"
"No matter how much they try, editors cannot wholly divorce their view of a work from their image of the author. As a test, someone once retyped, and submitted as his own manuscript, the first fifty or so pages of Jerzy Kosinski's National Book Award-winning novel, The Painted Bird. Every publisher rejected it, some with caustic comments about its lack of worth. I believe that people's image of you and your work is acting against its consideration on its own merits." said Smith.
"Bad-mouthing John Norman is useful as a touchstone of political orthodoxy, rather like telling Ronald Reagan jokes." said Norman with a weary smile.
"I think people who have not read your work dislike it because they think it celebrates sadomasochism and violence against or suppression of women." Smith pondered.
"The standard criticism of the Gorean books," said Norman, seemingly a little annoyed, "popular with those who have never read one, is that they are sadomasochistic or such. A sadist is an individual who derives sexual pleasure from the infliction of physical pain on another person, and a masochist is a person who derives sexual pleasure from the receipt of pain at the hands of another. There is not one individual in the Gorean books who meets these criteria. In fact, sadists and masochists would seem anomalous in a Gorean culture - which does not breed them - a culture in which human nature is honestly fulfilled, rather than thwarted or denied."
"The novels fall into three basic groups." said Smith. "The six early novels, Tarnsman through Raiders, all published by Ballantine; the two hinge novels, Captive and Hunters, the last Ballantine and the first DAW, with Hunters being particularly important; and the later novels, all published by DAW. By the way, how many Gor novels are there?" said Smith.
"There are twenty-five books in the series. I stopped work on the twenty-sixth, Witness of Gor, when the blacklisting became clear. There was no point in finishing it." said Norman.
Blacklisting of this sort rendered it impossible for John Norman to communicate his ideas, but the science fiction enclave holds a somewhat special place in the line of literary arts; from the beginning of its history, the genre has been accompanied by fandom and fanac, culminating into fanzines and cons. [Science fiction fans might have a natural tendency to dominate (fandom), become activist (fanac), write pamphlets (fanzines) and seek conflict. Most of them are nice people, though.]
In the year following the Arisia interview, Richard Kasak, one of America's leading publishers of erotica, was persuaded to reprint the first part of the Gor series. Between August 1996 and August 1998, ten volumes are reprinted and published under Masquerade imprint.
"There's an author named John Norman, who wrote a series of about 30 science fiction books in the '60s called 'The Gor Series.' They've been out of print since the '60s. And I reprinted them because I felt there would be an audience, and there is an audience. He wasn't politically correct in the '60s, and he's not politically correct today. But there is a market." said Richard Kasak in 1998.
The Masquerade edition has had several reprints, but for some reason, the eleventh volume of the series, Slave Girl of Gor, would not be published by Masquerade. As some have suggested, perhaps, the title itself seemed too provocative, even for Richard Kasak, but with the Gorean science fiction novels sold from the same shelf as Bad Boy, Rosebud and Hard Candy, John Norman last straw seemed to be the adult comix market.
In 1996, Vision Entertainment partnered with John Norman to produce a graphic magazine based on John Norman's works. It was to be a sister magazine to Heavy Metal, marketed internationally and sold through newsstands. During the summer of 1997, the production was well under way, and the first two issues had almost been fully completed. The world bible had been done, showcasing everything from architecture to animals to the garmenture of each caste.
But during the autumn of 1997, Vision Entertainment was dealt a severe blow by the sudden withdrawal of Random House from their planned Marketing and Distribution Partnership. Left spinning, in the middle of full-blown production on Gor Magazine and the new line of horror, science fiction and fantasy novels, Vision tried to find other alternatives, but failed, and many of Vision's employees were laid off on Christmas, 1997.
Vision attempted to secure enough capital to bring out Gor Magazine, as well as their new line of science fiction & fantasy novels, even going to the extent of offering advanced subscription through the Internet in the hopes of generating a few thousand orders and starting the wheels rolling again. But there were no thousands of orders to be had. Only a small handful of fans sent in subscription orders. The cancellation of GOR Magazine was prompted by the termination of Vision Entertainment's licensing agreement with John Norman's Agent, Richard Curtis. While it could easily be re-negotiated, there did not seem to be a point. The Fandom as a whole did not seem overly interested enough to make Gor Magazine a success and thus, after much internal discussion and debate, the decision was made to cancel Gor Magazine.
Besides financial and marketing issue, Visions internal organization had suffered from a lack of solidarity, co-operation and, ironically enough, vision. Their rather small staff consisted of C. J. Henderson, who wrote the scripted adaptations of the novels; the artists Mike Lily, Greg Follender and Rich Kelly; and Kathryn Bolinger and Rich Perotta who were responsible for inks; digital painting was done by Imbue Productions and Tom Ziolkowski handled all lettering and graphic recompositing. J. Marrus oversaw staff, production, editing and creative direction, and Darrell Benvenuto was the publisher and owner of Vision Entertainment.
"I was the creative director for Gor Magazine..." Marres wrote, some five years later, "...hired the staff, worked with John Norman to create a visual bible for the Gorean universe, occasionally filled in as an artist. I inked a few pages, but I wanted to show you how beautiful this book COULD have been if the publisher had gotten his head out of his ass long enough to figure out how to run a company."
The niche was filled up by a small and independent new company, New World Publishers, combining conventional publishing methods with ICT technology and the Internet, and, in partnership with ereads.com, an initiative started by Richard Curtis, Tarnsman of Gor and Outlaw of Gor were re-released in a new and enhanced format. A year later, New World Publishers added both Priest-Kings of Gor and Nomads of Gor to their print-list, while ereads released electronic versions of the first ten volumes in their re-written and enhanced format.
"With the coming of the Internet I have been amazed, and delighted," John Norman wrote in a public letter published in September, 2000, "though it also fills me with some trepidation, to learn that the best efforts of the editorial establishments of science fiction and fantasy have been unable to expunge from the history of the genre the recollection of the Gorean phenomenon. Gor is a continent in science fiction. Many may wish it did not exist, but it is there. It is not hard to find, really. Just look for a world that lies a thousand degrees north of monothink, a thousand degrees east of orthodoxy, a thousand degrees west of ideological conformity, a continent far from the placid waters of predictable mediocrity, a different world, one real, one like no other, one beyond the familiar world's horizon, one emergent from far, tumultuous, untamed seas, a world alert to deep currents, which listens to secret whispers, which wears stars in her hair. The maps of ideologically servile cartographers may choose not to show the Gorean world, but it is there, a wonderful, forbidden continent. Some of you know her, and have been there."
On Monday, December 18th, 2000, New World Publishers opened up the World of Gor website, dedicated to John Norman's Gorean writings and developed in cooperation with the author; they announced plans to release all of John Norman's Gor series again, as well as a promise to publish the 26th volume of the series, and they seemed confident that a new generation of readers had emerged that had not yet been introduced to John Norman's Gor series, as they intended to bring Gor back to its original splendor, in spite of the potential animosity that might still exist elsewhere in the industry.
"At this time science fiction is a one-restaurant town. Hopefully we can change that. There are hungry people out there, insufficiently nourished on the political sawdust of sameness, on the ideological cardboard of conformity. The mind is starved for its protein. Let new beverages delight the imagination. Let the spirit of liberty thrive in a healthy, fearless, well-fed body, exercised and alive, with choices before it. Those who fear the free market will attempt to ensure that it is not free. They may succeed, but if they don't, then we are all richer for it. So let there be a thousand restaurants in the town of science fiction, a thousand inns and hostels, a thousand camps! Let a thousand meats be prepared, a thousand breads be baked, a thousand fruits picked, a thousand delicious meals spread out for the delectation of the curious and hoping. Let there be a thousand places in science fiction where the hungry can feed. Let there be a thousand places in science fiction for tolerance, difference, truth, and joy!"
The path New World Publishers had chosen, has not been an easy one, and they, too, have had their trouble with financing and marketing. But on August 6th, 2002, the company fulfilled its promise.
John Norman, in a letter to his friends, dated August 2002.
"It seems, unaccountably, a book may be published, another song in the Gorean cycle, after long years of slander, calumny, denigration, vituperation, blacklisting, and censorship. Have you been patient? I have refused to surrender, to submit, to yield, to compromise the integrity of the Gorean vision. Better it die than be betrayed. I wonder if our enemies can understand that? I suspect not. The hounds of hatred are still afoot."
Will John Normans new book, Witness of Gor, become the best selling Gor novel ever? Well, I guess, only the future will tell.
What matters, however, is not turnover or profit, what really matters is this - that silence was imposed and shattered, not by arms, not by violent resistance, but through the mighty roar of indignation which culminated from a thousand angered throats. Against the currents of the El Ninjas of Political Correctness, a thousand vessels set sail. Amidst the raging fury of ideological conformity and intellectual suppression, a thousand crews, as diverse as the flowers of the jungles and the corals of the reefs, were united by the direction of their journey and the importance of their goal. Some ships were wrecked, while other got lost, yet the bulk of the fleet survived. Finally, from a thousand crow's nests an identical cry bursted. Land in sight! Tonight, we'll dance on firm ground. The fleet of a thousand eagles has landed.
"They will try to suppress us, to destroy us. For years they have tried. They may yet be successful. But if they are successful, what would be left? Only the desolate flats, the arid deserts, of conformity. How ashen, narrow and sterile is the tedious, platitudinous world they would impose on us! They want us to be free - free to be just like them. But perhaps we would rather be free - to be just like us."
Welcome back, John!
I wish you well. Simon
This page is copyright © 2002 by Simon van Meygaarden - all rights reserved.