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John Norman based much of his Gorean novels on Earth history, especially ancient Greece and Rome. The various Gorean cultures such as Torvaldsland, the Red Savages and the Wagon Peoples are all based on Earth cultures such as the Vikings, Native Americans and the Mongols. One other source of inspiration for the Gor series appears to be the Mars novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. By comparing the two series, you find numerous similarities. As the Mars books have been the inspiration for a number of other science-fiction books, then it is no big surprise that Norman may have also been so inspired.
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) is most well known as the author of the Tarzan series, a 24 book series. Yet, he was a prolific author and created several other series such as Pellucidar and Carson of Venus. He also wrote a number of stand alone novels ranging from westerns to historical books. One such novel, I am a Barbarian, is about the life of the Roman Emperor Caligula. Many of his works first saw print in pulp magazines and were later reprinted into books.
The first book in his Mars series predates his first Tarzan book. In 1912, "A Princess of Mars" was serialized in the magazine "The All-Story." It would eventually be published as a book in 1917. There would be eleven books in the Mars series, published between 1912 and 1943. They include the following:
1. A Princess of Mars
2. The Gods of Mars
3. The Warlord of Mars
4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
5. The Chessmen of Mars
6. The Master Mind of Mars
7. A Fighting Man of Mars
8. Swords of Mars
9. Synthetic Men of Mars
10. Llana of Gathol
11. John Carter of Mars
Right off, we can see a similarity in titles to the Gorean series. Both series use the "of Mars" and "of Gor" endings and in general the first part of the title is a noun. This only scratches the surface of the similarities.
The basic premise of the Mars series is that the planet Mars, called "Barsoom" by its inhabitants, is populated by numerous races and creatures. An Earth man, John Carter, travels to Mars and undergoes many adventures in his exploration of this world. Burroughs essentially created a genre of science-fiction that would be emulated many times by other authors. He created the basis for the "sword and planet" book.
"A Princess of Mars established once and for all a template for what would become known as the 'sword and planet' novel. Take one earthman, transport him to the alien world of the author's choice, and have that world be a combination of advanced technology (with some kind of aircraft), glittering cities and a feudal society in which swords are the weapons of the day and monarchies are commonplace." (Edgar Rice Burroughs' Fantastic Worlds, edited and published by James Van Hise)
The Gor series fits this template perfectly. You have your earthman, Tarl Cabot, who is transported to the alien world of Gor. Gor contains some advanced technology such as in the fields of medicine and architecture. There are the tarns, the living aircraft of Gor. There are the glittering Cylinder cities of Gor, ruled by Ubars and Administrators. The basic premise of the Mars books, an earthman adventuring and exploring the different cultures and lands of an alien world, is exactly the premise of Gor. Tarl roams all over Gor, encountering many different peoples and adventures. The correlation could not be any clearer.
The rest of this essay will consider other similarities between these two series. I would highly recommend the Mars series to anyone seeking an exciting science-fiction series and an imaginative world.
1. The sword is the weapon of choice on Mars as it is on Gor though a longsword is more prevalent on Mars rather than the short sword of Gor.
2. John Carter, the primary hero of the Mars series, is a superb swordsman like Tarl Cabot.
3. John Carter weds Dejah Thoris, a Martian princess who is the daughter of the ruler of the greatest city on Mars. She is similar to Talena, daughter of Marlenus, and Tarl does join with her in Tarnsman of Gor.
4. A jeddak is an emperor of a Mars city, similar in some ways to a Ubar. A jeddara is the consort of a jeddak, like a Ubara.
5. At the end of the first Mars book, A Princess of Mars, John Carter returns against his will to Earth. This is similar to Tarl returning to Earth at the end of Tarnsman of Gor.
6. In the second Mars book, The Gods of Mars, John Carter returns to Mars and journeys to the forbidden lands of the gods of Mars, seeking Dejah Thoris. Tarl Cabot returns to Gor in Outlaw of Gor and he eventually journeys to the Sardar, the Sacred Place of the Priest-Kings of Gor, partially out of his need to learn the fate of Talena. Like Carter, Cabot does confront the "gods" of their respective planets.
7. The religion of Mars is common across much of the planet, as is the worship of the Priest-Kings on Gor. The "gods" of Mars inhabit an isolated valley surrounded by mountains. Men sometimes journey there when they wish to die. No one has ever returned alive from this valley. This is similar to the Sardar Mountains of the Priest-Kings.
8. Mars contains an Atmosphere Plant that produces the breathable air that permits the world to sustain life. In A Princess of Mars, the Plant is sabotaged and the world nearly perishes. This is similar to the Power Plant of the Priest-Kings that Sarm sabotages and which nearly destroys Gor.
9. The gravity of Mars is lesser than the Earth, as it is on Gor. This does give an advantage to the earthmen, Carter and Cabot, who journey to those worlds.
10. Mars has many walled cities, like the cities of Gor.
11. Helium is the greatest city on Mars. It is a circular, walled city with two lofty towers that are nearly a mile tall. Compare that to Ar of Gor, a walled city with many tall Cylinders, though not quite a mile tall.
12. The technology level of Mars varies and in certain fields, like medicine and architecture they are quite advanced, just like on Gor. Unlike Gor, Mars does have firearms.
13. Mars generally has a single language, spoken by most of the inhabitants of the world. On Gor, they too have a single language that is common across much of the world.
14. The men of Mars have a natural longevity, a life-span of about one thousand years. Goreans have the Stabilization Serums, giving them longevity as well.
15. The men of Mars hold tradition in high esteem, just like Goreans.
16. Slavery exists on Mars, of both men and women though the institution of slavery is far harsher on Gor.
17. Assassins exist on Mars and they are organized into a guild with its own laws and code of conduct, similar to the Assassins on Gor.
18. Animals on Mars are often multi-legged, possessing from six to ten legs. Compare that to the six-legged creatures of Gor such as the sleen.
19. Mars has a chess-like game called jetan. It is played on a hundred-squared board just like the Gorean Kaissa. Complete rules for jetan do exist in the Mars books.
20. If we examine some of the names of people, creatures, places and such within the Mars books, we will see some similar words and styles to words within the Gor novels. Some of the words from the Mars series include: Dar Tarus, U-Gor, Gor-don, Gorgum, Gor Hajus, Than Kosis, Tal, Tor-dur-bar, Tur, Ur Jan, Zad.
21. One of the plot devices used within the Mars series was paint and pills that bestowed the power of invisibility, like the Kurii ring of the Gor series.
22. The Black Pirates of Mars were raiders who kidnapped women to enslave them, similar to the League of Black Slavers on Gor.
23. All the men of Mars are considered warriors, no matter what else their profession. This is similar to the barbaric cultures outside of the Gorean cities. In those cultures, all of the men must be warriors first.
24. There are codes of combat on Mars, similar in some respects to the Warrior Caste Codes of Gor.
25. Women on Mars are almost never warriors. There are only a couple of limited exceptions, a similar idea to that of Gor.
26. Part of the premise of the Mars books is that John Carter wrote the manuscripts of the books and delivered it to an earthman to publish for him, just like Tarl Cabot did.