The Gorean tharlarion. There are various species of this creature, many which resemble lizards or even dinosaurs, and they range in size from very small creatures to massive beasts the size of a bus. Tharlarion exist in many places on Gor, though they do not appear to extend to as many natural environments as do sleen. For example, there do not appear to be tharlarion adapted to the cold weather of the far north. Some species of tharlarion have been domesticated and serve several different purposes, from cavalry to draft animals. It should also be noted that the term "tharlarion" appears to act as both the singular and plural forms, much like the word "fish." Though there are a couple isolated quotes that mention "tharlarions," those instances appear to be mistakes as the vast majority of quotes do not use that plural form.
"There is some speculation they are forms of reptilian life brought to Gor long ago by the Priest-Kings in their Voyages of Acquisition, and may be related to the dinosauria. (It is not clear how long Gor as been in our solar system, or, if, perhaps, it has come and gone at various times in the past, such beasts being protected in the "Nest" during transits between stars.) "Others speculate that they are native to the Gorean world, and their resemblance to the dinosauria is a function of ecological niches and convergent evolution." ---John Norman, Letter to The Gorean Group, 9/20/00
Within the novels, Tarl Cabot speculates on the origins of some tharlarion, believing that they are very different from Earth reptiles. "The marsh tharlarion, and river tharlarion, of Gor are, I suspect, genetically different from the alligators, caymens and crocodiles of Earth. I suspect this to be the case because these reptiles are so well adapted to their environments that they have changed very little in tens of millions of years. The marsh and river tharlarion, accordingly, if descended from such beasts, brought long ago to Gor on Voyages of Acquisition by Priest-Kings, would presumably resemble them more closely. On the other hand, of course, I may be mistaken in this matter." (Explorers of Gor, p.326) Tarl's theory has some validity as otherwise we would have to assume that once the Earth lizards were brought to Gor, they evolved differently than on Earth, and in a much shorter timespan. We would then have to determine what reasons existed for a different evolution. We would also have to determine whether there has been adequate time for such evolution to occur, to make the Gorean tharlarion so different.
Norman does mention "convergent evolution" within the Gorean series. This is an Earth theory that tries to explain how certain animals develop to fill certain niches within the natural world. These animals thus bear certain common characteristics. Norman uses this concept to show the similarities between the Gorean larl and the Bengal tiger, similar creatures in some ways, and each the ultimate land predator on their world. Thus, it is believed that certain general creature forms, similar in many ways, could evolve on different planets, to fill certain ecological niches. Thus, not all Gorean animals have to be descended from Earth animals. They could have developed independently on their own.
"They are usually divided into the quadrupedal and bipedalian varieties." ---John Norman, Letter to The Gorean Group, Sept 20th, 2000
With the many different types and varieties of tharlarion, it is difficult to adequately describe their average physical description. They are all reptilian and thus scaled and likely all cold-blooded as well. Some are carnivorous while others are herbivorous. They range greatly in size, from tiny rock tharlarion to massive draft and war tharlarion. It will likely be easier to discuss the differences by describing the various types of known tharlarion. But, we first should mention their nervous systems, which do seem common to most, if not all, tharlarion.
"Tharlarion," I told her, expanding on the driver's remark, "show little susceptibility to pain." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.34) Why is that so? What physical characteristics of the tharlarion make them so? "The tharlarion, incidentally, at least compared to mammals, seems to have a very sluggish nervous system. It seems almost impervious to pain. Most of the larger varities have two brains, or, perhaps better, a brain and a smaller brainlike organ. The brain, or one brain, is located in the head, and the other brain, or the brainlike organ, is located near the base of the spine." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.34) This will have some application in the control of tharlarion, which is discussed later in this essay.
"Large quadrupedal types are usually used for draft purposes or as shock forces in ground warfare, rather as might have been the elephants utilized by the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars. Others, faster, upright, etc. are used as mounts, either generally, or by a ground cavalry, so to speak, of the Gorean military." ---John Norman, Letter to The Gorean Group, Sept 20th, 2000
There are several varieties of tharlarion, adapted to a number of diverse environments as well as some that have been domesticated. Unfortunately, the books do not provide much detail concerning the differences between all of these varieties of tharlarion. There are also multiple tharlarion types that inhabit the same environment. This can get confusing when Norman does not specifically identify the type of tharlarion within a certain environment. He also uses some descriptives which are ambiguous as well, so one is unsure whether a certain tharlarion is a different species of tharlarion or just a variety of the same species.
The tharlarion and the tarn are the two most common mounts for Gorean warriors. It is said that tharlarion are used primarily by clans who have not domesticated the tarn, though the books show several cities that use tharlarion despite their common use of tarns as well. Kaiila are used as mounts, but far less in the cities of Gor. They are more often used by the Red Savages of the Barrens, the Wagon Peoples and the tribesmen of the Tahari. Tharlarion are also used for numerous other purposes such as draft animals. The various types of tharlarion sometimes dictate for which purposes the tharlarion can be used.
They are also carnivorous, possessing large mouths lined with many long, sharp teeth. "However, their metabolism was slower than that of a tarn, whose mind never seemed far from food and, if it was available, could consume half its weight in a single day. Moreover, they needed far less water than tarns." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.125) One must be careful with high tharlarion has they possess short tempers as well, and can be very dangerous when angered. Controlling high tharlarion is not always easy. "They responded to voice signals, conditioned into their tiny brains in the training years. Nonethless, the butt of one's lance, striking about the eye or ear openings, for there are few other sensitive areas in their scaled hides, is occasionally necessary to impress your will on the monster." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.124-25)
"Kuurus pointed to a fruit on a flat-topped wagon with wooden wheels, drawn by a small four-legged, horned tharlarion." (Assassin of Gor, p.7)
"The other bird was apparently only stunned, and it was being rolled to the edge of the net where it would be dropped into a large wheeled frame, drawn by two horned tharlarion, onto a suspended canvas, where it was immediately secured by broad canvas straps." (Assassin of Gor, p.139)
"Eight tarns were flying in this race, and, hooded, they were brought forth on low, sideless wheeled platforms, drawn by horned tharlarion." (Assassin of Gor, p.143)
In their search for prey, these marsh tharlarion may rely on several different indicators. "It had been drawn to the area probably by the smell of blood in the water, or by following other forms of marine like, most likely the bint or blue grunt, who would have been attracted by the same stimulus. It is not unusual for tharlarion to follow bint and grunt. They form a portion of its diet. Also they lead it sometimes to larger feedings." (Explorers of Gor, p.270-71) When these tharlarion encounter large prey, they do not spend a lot of time on the surface battling it. They first just secure a strong hold on their prey. "The tharlarion, when it takes large prey, such as tabuk or tarsk, or men, commonly drags the victim beneath the surface, where it drowns. It then tears it to pieces in the bottom mud, engorging it, limb by limb." (Explorers of Gor, p.271)
Gints, a small freshwater fish similar to the Earth lungfish, sometimes feed on the scraps from tharlarion kills. "Sometimes they even sun themselves on the backs of resting or sleeping tharlarion. Should the tharlarion submerge the tiny fish often submerges with it, staying close to it, but away from its jaws. Its proximity to the tharlarion affords it, interestingly, an effective protection against most of its natural predators, in particular the black eel, which will not approach the sinuous reptiles. Similarly the tiny fish can thrive on the scraps from the ravaging jaws of the feeding tharlarion. They will even drive one another away from their local tharlarion, fighting in contests of intraspecific aggression, over the plated territory of the monster's back." (Explorers of Gor, p.300)
Other types of marsh tharlarion exist as well such as the long-necked, paddle-finned tharlarion. There are also tiny, vicious tharlarion in the marshes as well. "My leg slipped from the island into the water and suddenly a tiny tharlarion struck it, seizing his bit of flesh and backing, tail whipping, away. My leg was out of the water, but now the water seemed yellow with the flashing bodies of tiny tharlarion, and, beyond them, I heard the hoarse grunting of the great marsh tharlarion, some of which grow to be more than thirty feet in length, weighing more than half a hundred men." (Raiders of Gor, p.58)
One apparent contradiction is that in an earlier book, river tharlarion are described as: "…domesticated, vast, herbivorous, web-footed lizards,…" (Nomads of Gor, p.3-4) Yet in the above passage from Captive of Gor, the river tharlarion is clearly eating a fish, and thus is not herbivorous. This could be a mistake on Norman's part, or that not all river tharlarion are herbivorous.
An Ul possesses webbed, scaled wings that can span twenty-five to thirty feet Gorean. "Again it opened its wings. These are of skin and stretch from the jointed, hind legs, clawed, of the creature to an extremely long, fourth digit on its clawed hand." (Vagabonds of Gor, p.182) A standing Ul can measure over twelve feet high. Like the pterodacytl, the Ul has a strange looking head. "I had also seen then, as I had come closer, the small head of the creature, small considering the size of its body, and the span of its wings, lift up, above the rence, with its long, narrow, toothed jaws, like a long snout or bill, with that long, narrow extension of skin and bone in the back, balancing the weight of the long, narrow jaws, contributing, too, given the creature's weight and general ungainliness in structure, to stability in flight, particularly in soaring." (Vagabonds of Gor, p.179) This is not the only physical feature that provides stability in flight. "It had a long, snakelike tail, terminating with a flat, spadelike structure. This tail lashed, the spadelike structure dashing sand about. This tail, with its termination, too, I think, had its role to play in flight, primarily one of increasing stability." (Vagabonds of Gor, p.179-80) Uls can "squeal," "scream" and emit a "hissing, grunting sound."
The danger of the Ul is apparent with its unsual wing buffet attack, combined with its great strength. "The creature then snapped its wings again and again. I had not realized the blast that might be created from that, and was thrown back, stumbling, into the rence. I fought my way forward, again, then, against the gusts, as though through a storm in the Tahari. I held my arm before my face. I heard the short-legged tharlarion make a strange noise and saw it lifted from the sand and shaken. I heard its back snap. With a beating of the giant wings the creature ascended, struggling with the weight of the tharlarion, and then, after a moment, perhaps from a height of a hundred feet or so, dropped it into the marsh. I did not see it hit the water, for the rence, but I saw, two or three hundred feet away, the splash. Its shadow was then over the water, rapidly approaching, and, in a moment, its clawed feet striking down into the sand, it alit on the beach, much where it had been before. The whole thing had taken no more than a few Ihn. I had not realized the power of the creature, or that it could lift that much weight. The weight of a man, then, or a woman, would have been nothing to it. There is little wonder, I thought, that many take the predatory ul, the winged tharlarion, to be the monarch of the delta." (Vagabonds of Gor, p.182)
Similar to the Caste of Tarn Keepers, there is a Caste of Tharlarion Keepers, a Low Caste, which is responsible for breeding and training tharlarion for a wide variety of tasks. There are no caste colors for this Caste descibed in the books though such colors likely exist. The Caste of Tharlarion Keepers is very old as tharlarion were domesticated long before tarn. "These gigantic lizards had been bred on Gor for a thousand generations before the first tarn was tamed, and were raised from the leathery shell to carry warriors." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.124-25)
The specific methods of training tharlarion is not really described within the books. Obviously the various different types of tharlarion will be trained for their respective tasks. A draft tharlarion will learn how to pull and tow large items while a war tharlarion is trained to act in combat. We do know that some tharlarion learn the command "Tarsk." That is usually used during tarsk hunting and indicates to the tharlarion that it is to charge the tarsk, allowing its rider to strike the tarsk with his lance.
We do know a little bit more on tharlarion breeding as the Jason Marshall trilogy introduces us to Lady Florence of Vonda, who owns and breeds over one thousand tharlarion. "Her stables were among the most extensive and finest of any owned by a citizen of Vonda." (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.176) In the incubation sheds, tharlarion eggs are kept beneath sand, and close to a fire to provide the necessary heat for the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the hatchling will claw its way out of the sand where men, sometimes males slaves, will then take charge of them. There is a scene of a hatching though we are unsure as to the actual type of tharlarion that is born, possibly a draft tharlarion.
The hatchling weighed about one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty pounds, had a large head that was about eight inches wide and a foot long, and a neck that was about two feet long. "Girth cloths lay at hand. These, sewn from feed sacks, are used to dry and wrap the hatchlings. Snout straps, too, coiled, used to secure their jaws, also lay nearby." (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.259) The girth cloths will also keep the hatchling warm when it is moved out of the incubation shed. Such hatchlings already possess sharp teeth and pose a threat to someone who is not careful handling them. Hatchlings are brought to a nursery shed for an unknown amount of time.
"The teeth of the tharlarion," said he, "are swift, Warrior." ---Raiders of Gor, p.24
Tharlarion, bipedal and quadrupedal, are used as cavalry within the military of various cities, especially in those cities that do not possess tarnsmen, such as Vonda. The most commonly used weapon by these cavalrymen is the tharlarion lance, and thus they are sometimes known as thalarion lancers. The tharlarion lance is a longer and heavier lance than the kaiila lance. Because of its greater size and weight, it is often used with a lance rest or saddle boot. The scimitarus, a two-handed scimitar, can also be used while mounted on a tharlarion and is effective against other cavalry units. The Alars also use the spatha, a long cutting sword, from tharlarion back.
A charging unit of tharlarion lancers is an awesome sight, and a very dangerous foe. "There was nothing living on Gor I knew that could take the impact of a tharlarion charge." (Nomads of Gor, p.114) To effectively defend against such lancers, adequate defensive preparations are generally needed. "Massed men, I knew, could not stand against the charge of tharlarion, not without a defense of ditches or pointed stakes." (Rogue of Gor, p.11) Without such preparation, warriors must often use less effective means. "The common Gorean defense against tharlarion attack, if it must be met on open ground, is the stationary, defensive square, defended by braced spears." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.33) The famed mercenary captain, Dietrich of Tarnburg, has invented other means to defeat tharlarion cavalary. "It was Dietrich of Tarnburg who had first introduced the "harrow" to positional warfare on Gor, that formation named for the large rakelike agricultural instrument, used for such tasks as the further leveling of ground after plowing and, sometimes, on the great farms, for the covering of seed. In this formation spikes of archers, protected by iron-shod stakes and sleen pits, project beyond the forward lines of the heavily armed warriors and their reserves. This formation, if approached head-on by tharlarion ground cavalry, is extremely effective. It constitutes, in effect. A set of corridors of death through which the cavalry must ride, in which it is commonly decimated before it can reach the main lines of the defenders. When the cavalry is disorganized, shattered and torn by missile fire, and turns about to retreat, the defenders, fresh and eager, initiate their own attack." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.32)
The books do provide details of one military encounter, between tharlarion from Vonda and forces from Ar. "There has been a major engagement, one long awaited," said the man next to me, "south of Vonda. More than four thousand men were involved. Fighting was fierce. The mobility of our squares was crucial in the early phases, separating to permit the entrance of charging tharlarion into our lines, then isolating the beasts." Massed men, I knew, could not stand against the charge of tharlarion, not without a defense of ditches or pointed stakes. "But then," said the man, "their phalanx swept down upon us. Then did the day seem lost and retreat was sounded, but the withdrawal was prearranged to creviced ground, to rocky slopes and cragged, outjutting formations. Our generals had chosen their ground well." I knew, too, that no fixed military formation could meet the phalanx on its own terms and survive. Different length spears are held by different ranks, the longer spears by the more rearward ranks. It charges on the run. It is like an avalanche, thundering, screaming, bristling with steel. Its momentum is incredible. It can shatter walls. When two such formations meet in a field the clash can be heard for pasangs. One does not meet the phalanx unless it be with another phalanx. One avoids it, one outmaneuvers it. "Our auxilaries then drove the tharlarion, maddened and hissing, back into the phalanx. In the skies our tarnsmen turned aside the mercenaries of Artemidorous. They then rained arrows upon the shattered phalanx. While the spearmen lifted their shields to protect themselves from the sky our squares swept down the slopes upon them." (Rogue of Gor, p.11) Ar won this battle.
Like with massed tarns, drums and flags are used to help organize and command tharlarion cavalry. "As soon as the hundreds of ponderous tharlarion had been marshaled into an order, a lance, carrying a fluttering pennon, dipped and there was a sudden signal on the tharlarion drums. Immediately the lances of the lines lowered and the hundreds of tharlarion, hissing and grunting, their riders shouting, the drums beating, began to bound rapidly towards us." (Nomads of Gor, p.114) Interestingly enough, a tharlarion that loses its rider can react in different ways. "The riderless tharlarion or kaiila, like the riderless horse in battles of Earth, can sometimes be seen whirling about, obeying the trumpet calls for charging, and retreating, and such, just as though his master were still in the saddle. Too, sometimes such animals may be found calmly standing about, or grazing, while the fiercest of fighting surges about them." (Renegades of Gor, p.284)
The nomadic Alars are well known for being very proficient tharlarion cavalry, and some cities even use them in their armies. "Their most common mount is the medium-weight saddle tharlarion, a beast smaller and less powerful, but swifter and more agile, than the common high tharlarion. Their saddles, however, have stirrups, and thus make possible the use of the couched shock lance." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.45) The city of Turia is also known to have tharlarion cavalry. "On long lines of tharlarion I could see warriors of Turia approaching in procession the Plains of a Thousand Stakes. The morning sun flashed from their helmets, their long tharlarion lances, the metal embossments on their oval shields,…" (Nomads of Gor, p.113) The city of Ko-ro-ba does not apparently possess tharlarion.
Certain breeds of tharlarion have been bred for racing. These are apparently a type of high tharlarion, more like a medium-class of tharlarion. Only select breeds are used for racing and three such varities include the Ventzia, Torarii and Thalonian. "As one might suppose, the blood lines of the racers are carefully kept and registered, as are, incidentally, those of many other sorts of expensive bred animals, such as tarsks, sleen and verr." (Magicians of Gor, p.290) The city of Venna is well known for its tharlarion races, which occur in the Stadium of Tharlarion. The books do not provide any details on tharlarion races, though they did provide much information on tarn races. We do know that tharlarion races use high tharlarion, mounted by riders. We do not know anything about the type of tracks they run upon.
Due to the nature of movement of the high tharlarion, its bounding style, a special type of saddle is beneficial. "The tharlarion saddle, unlike the tarn saddle, is constructed to absorb shock. Primarily, this is done by constructing the tree of the saddle in such a way that the leather seat is mounted on a hydraulic fitting which actually floats in a thick lubricant. Not only does this lubricaant absorb much of the shock involved, but it tends, except under abnormal stress, to keep the seat of the saddle parallel to the ground. In spite of this invention, the mounted warriors always wear, as an essential portion of their equipment, a thick leather belt, tightly buckled about their abdomen." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.125) Such a saddle is very different from the saddles usually used with tarns.
Free women apparently use a slightly different type of saddle, or at least it is located differently upon the mount. Where a man will ride astride a high tharlarion, a free woman commonly rides beside it. "I lifted her sandaled foot upward, and she took her place in the leather seat at the side of the tharlarion's back. It has stirrups, into which I helped her place her feet, but it is not exactly a saddle as those of Earth would think of one, even of the sort usually designated as a sidesaddle. It is somewhat more in the nature of a stirruped seat. It it at the height of the beast's back, cushioned, held there by straps. She hooked herself into the seat, or, if one prefers, saddle." (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.196) To some degree, this is similar to the idea of women who ride tarn using a basket rather than riding astride the tarn.
Because men ride astride the back of tharlarion, they require protection that free women riders generally do not. "In addition, the mounted warriors inevitably wear a high, soft pair of boots called tharlarion boots. These protect their legs from the abrasive hides of their mounts. When a tharlarion runs, its hide could tear the unprotected flesh from a man's bones." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.125) Their hide may be similar to the abrasive hide of a shark.
"Small saddle tharlarion are generally managed by stout reins. The huge war tharlarion are commonly guided by voice signals and the blows of spears on the face and neck. Draft tharlarion are harnessed, and can be managed either by men, or usually boys, who walk beside them, or by reins and whips, controlled by drivers, men mounted in drawn wagons." (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.174)
Within the cities, there are commonly conveniently located tharlarion rings where a rider can tether his mount. These are essentially iron rings, secured to a surface. "These tharlarion rings are quite similar to slave rings. Indeed, the only real difference between them is their function, the one being used to tether tharlarion and the other slaves." (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.176)
The exact cost to purchase a tharlarion is not provided within the books though it is obvious that the price will vary, probably even significantly, dependent upon the type of tharlarion one wishes to purchase. A well trained racing tharlarion probably will garner a much higher price than an ordinary draft tharlarion. We do have one clue though as to the relative value of a tharlarion, at least in relation to the cost of a tarn. This is provided by Talena when she is speaking to Tarl Cabot. "As the daughter of Marlenus of Ar my companion price might be a thousand tarns, five thousand tharlarion!" (Marauders of Gor, p.14) Thus, we can see that a tharlarion is worth approximately one-fifth the value of a tarn.
Tharlarion oil is apparently rendered from the fat of tharlarion though the books do not provide any detailed information about how this is obtained, which tharlarion are used, who extracts the oil, etc. We do know that tharlarion-oil lamps appear to be very common on Gor. We also are unsure what other uses for which tharlarion-oil might be used.
"The word "Mamba" in most of the river dialects does not refer to a venomous reptile as might be expected, given its meaning in English, but, interestingly, is applied rather generally to most types of predatory river tharlarion. The Mamba people were, so to speak, the Tharlarion people." (Explorers of Gor, p.393) We must note that this refers only to the river dialects so that "mamba" is not a word in the Gorean language. We should also note that the Mamba people are cannibals, which may partially explain why they acquired this name, especially as many tharlarion in the jungles are vicious predators.
"In Lake Ushindi, in certain areas frequented by tharlarion, there are high poles. Criminals, political prisoners and such are rowed to these poles and left there, clinging to them. There are no platforms on the poles." (Explorers of Gor, p.34) This is apparently a "peacekeeping device" used by Bila Huruma, the infamous Ubar of Ushindi. Samos of Port Kar did appropriate the idea for his own use as well.
The Rider of the High Tharlarion is a common Kaissa piece. It is only considered a minor piece, usually worth two points. Though we might think the Rider of the High Tharlarion is physically similar to the Knight in chess, the limited information in the books does not make it seem that the movement capabilities of the two pieces are similar.