Recently over at John C. Wright's Journal, the noted sci-fi author could be found wringing his hands over the uncomfortable admission that, yes, as a youth, he was quite entertained by the first six or so of John Norman’s Gor novels. I can’t help but imagine that while typing out that confessional, Mr. Wright’s expression looked something like Mark McKinney’s did in this Kids In The Hall skit wherein a politician learns just exactly who he has awarded first place to in the local jam contest…
Alright, to be fair, the Gor series doesn’t come anywhere near the level of child molestation, but the S&M cesspool the stories eventually descended into is still enough to make most people hesitate before admitting to reading them. Alas, like Mr. Wright, I must admit that I too read the first four or five Gor books at the age of eleven after running across a box set at a flea market. What can I say? I was a raging bag of hormones, the box art featured an incredible combination of testosterone and cheesecake by Boris Vallejo, and I got the whole thing for a couple of bucks. Completely irresistible. And to be honest, the first few novels (from what I can remember) were pretty enjoyable. There was an alternate Earth full of sword wielding men flying atop giant birds and human-sized insectoid Priest Kings who ruled over things from the hollow core of the planet. Sure, it wasn’t Tolkien or anything like that, but I hadn’t read any John Carter or Conan books at the time, so it was a fresh genre for me and I gobbled it up. But even at the age of eleven, by the time I got to the fourth book in the series, I started to notice things were getting a bit weird. I hadn’t even been on a date yet, but I was pretty sure I knew enough about women to suspect that the mentally healthy ones weren’t secretly longing for a rippling he-man to beat the crap out of them until their inner slave girl awakened.
Now, I mention all of that just to point out that there are things about the Gor books which make them both interesting AND infamous. And you should know that because… none of it is to be found in this movie. Holy crud is this thing an abominable combination of dull and bad. There’s not a giant bird or alien insect to be found. Actually I’m not even sure there was a regular sized bird or insect in the movie. They probably couldn’t afford to pay for a wrangler. They certainly didn’t pay for a script. Or a fight choreographer. This movie has the most anemic sword fights I’ve ever seen. We fought harder than this with sticks on the playground in elementary school. Actually, if I had to guess, I would say the majority of the budget was probably spent on the voluminous amount of alcohol necessary to drown Oliver Reed’s shame at appearing in this fiasco.
Still, none of that would probably matter to the books’ devoted fans if the more exploitative aspects of Gor had been left intact. But beyond an overabundance of pasty butt cheeks peaking out from beneath the flimsy Party City quality costumes, Gor the movie is completely devoid of shocks. Tarl Cabot, the flame haired meat eating misogynist of the books, has been changed into a vegetarian weenie, while Talena, the stuffy freewoman turned willing slave, has been converted to a generic 1980s big haired bimbo with a balsa wood sword. No one was more aghast at the changes in the story than the psuedonymous John Norman himself, who wrote shortly after the movie’s release, "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… 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." And it’s true. About the only thing they managed to keep from the first novel, beyond a few character names, was the central idea of a man taken to another world where he experiences some incredible things, and then at the end is returned home a changed man because of them.
Oh well. That idea, at least, should hold some interest to us Christians, as it calls to mind this week’s first reading in which the Apostles are watching Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” It’s kind of a funny scene in a way. It’s almost like the disciples are getting the angelic version of “move along, folks, there’s nothing more to see here.”
And it’s a fitting passage for the end of the Easter season. “In the liturgical year the various aspects of the one Paschal mystery unfold.” the Catechism explains. “This is also the case with the cycle of feasts surrounding the mystery of the incarnation (Annunciation, Christmas, Epiphany)” And of course there’s Easter, which “is not simply one feast among others, but the "Feast of feasts," the "Solemnity of solemnities.” But after this month, the time for staring up at the sky in wonder is over, at least for awhile. We’ve spent our moments with the miraculous and they have shaped us. But just as it was with the apostles, tempus per annum, Ordinary Time, is approaching, and it’s time for us “new creations in Christ” to venture out into the doldrums of regular living and put our transformations to the test. Most human beings have the tendency to rise to the occasion when there are fireworks going off, but it’s in the dull times where we often get to prove we are the people we claim to be.
So embrace the “dullness” of Ordinary Time. The dullness of Gor, however, you can (and probably should for sanity’s sake) safely pass right by.
(Oh, a word about the trailer for Gor. The only one I could find has a non-English voice over, but you know, it really doesn’t matter one little bit. The badness transcends all language barriers.)