The first thing you need to know about the series is that it is a controversial one. In these books, the author depicts women in an unfavorable light, often showcasing them as material possessions serving as abused collar-bound slaves. These women submit themselves to men by dropping to their knees and placing their arms in a position where it would suggest they are begging. These female slaves are known as kajira. The popular series spawned a subculture lifestyle known as Gorean with its own language. I'm not choosing this platform to either praise or criticize anyone who likes the series or its influence. You do you, and I'll do me. I'm simply sampling the series based on my newfound love for fantasy and science-fiction novels. Nothing more, nothing less.
Before reading the debut, Tarnsman of Gor, I discovered that the early novels in this series are pure sword-and-sorcery heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series (1912-1943). After reading the first few chapters, I discovered it is darn-near a complete ripoff of A Princess of Mars. But, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
At the beginning of the book, readers are introduced to a British man named Tarl Cabot, residing in present-day (read that as the 1960s) America. We learn that his mother died when he was young and his father seemingly disappeared. Tarl becomes well-educated at Oxford University and later becomes a professor at a New England college in America. While on a hiking and camping vacation in the rural mountains of New Hampshire, Tarl stumbles on an electronic device that allows him to use his thumbprint to access a document. The device is a makeshift letter from his father dated 1640. Soon, a spaceship appears and beams up Tarl.
Tarl awakens to find that his father is alive and well and a senior leader in a tower city called Ka-Ro-Ba. This city exists on a planet called Gor, which is “hidden” in the same solar system as Earth. The planet is ruled by a mysterious sect of supreme beings known as Priest-Kings and the leaders they have chosen for society are provided insights on the planet's dynamics – like the fact that it is round. The rest of society – those in a lower class – are fed misleading information to keep them on the lower rungs of survival. The lower classes think that Gor is flat. They also don't have access to any modern technology, or have the ability to rise above their intellectual levels. So, most of Gor exists on the same technological level of...say Earth's Bronze Age. Weapons are swords, daggers, shields, spears, etc. But, the most popular vehicles are large winged birds called Tarn, which all of Gor's military seem to ride.
Without going too far down the rabbit hole here, Gor's various nations tend to war with each other. The winner gets that nation's home stone, which is just a rock with the name of the nation printed on it. Apparently if your nation captures another nation's home stone, then you control that nation. So, the nation of Ar is getting a little too big for their pants, so young Tarl is educated in Gorean culture, including how to fight with the various weapons and how to control and ride the Tarn animals. Why? Because he is going to fly into Ar undercover and steal their home stone. Which makes up the bulk of this series debut.
Here at Paperback Warrior, we just call them how we see them. I sat down one Saturday for a couple of hours and read this 220-page paperback from cover to cover in one sitting. I was never bored by it. By suspending my disbelief on some of the ridiculous hero saves, I found myself thoroughly entertained. Lange certainly took some liberties with Burroughs' Barsoom series, including the first and last chapters of the book, and I had some hesitation on reading past the first chapter because of it. But, I'm glad I did because this is pure adventure from start to finish.
The book's monomyth story kicks into high-gear when Tarl is “shot down” over the skies of Ar. Landing in the jungle with the King of Ar's spunky daughter Talena, he must contend with giant Spider People, a fight to the death with a master swordsman and survive being crucified on a boat and drawn-and-quartered by flying birds. All of this is carefully navigated as Tarl contends with two brutal villains on a quest to disrupt the power of Ar while questioning his own nation's mission on Gor.
In some ways, this fish-out-of-water tale reminded me of Lin Carter's own Burroughs' rip-off series Zanthodon, albeit a more advanced version in terms of society and landscape. I prefer the Carter series more, but there was nothing about Tarnsman of Gor that was unsatisfactory. In fact, this early indication suggests that Tarl is a hero that disputes the idea of slavery and punishment of women. In one scene he frees a slave girl destined for death, and throughout the narrative he continually promotes equality between himself and Talena. He frees more slaves and has a more respectful view of women than...say...Conan. The most despicable treatment of women I've ever experienced in fiction is William W. Johnstone's Out of the Ashes series, which sets the gold standard in terms of male chauvinism. But, as I've noted, this series apparently retains some quality in the early installments.
If you enjoy over-the-top, completely senseless science-fiction adventure, then Tarnsman of Gor will deliver a good time. I can't speak for the rest of the series, but this specific book was wildly entertaining. Highly recommended!