Did the success of the Gor novels influence 80s sword and sorcery flicks?

Back in the 70s and 80s John Norman wrote a series of fantasy novels set on the planet Gor that successfully combined sword and sorcery fantasy and softcore bondage porn. They were a huge hit in the SF and F marketplace, running to a series of 24 novels and outselling all the other titles published by DAW combined.

In the 80s we had a spate of sword and sorcery B movies that were fairly successful: Barbarian Queen (I and II) Amazon Queen, Deathstalker, etc. that featured some fairly strong bondage scenes. When you look at how truly piss-poor representations of female bondage are in earlier sword and sandal films, the sword and sandal films of the 80s do represent a definite upward blip in the radar for bondage content. The logical assumption would be that they are influenced by the Gor novels, but I have heard and read nothing about that.

(And yeah, I know about the two films based on the Gor novels, but perhaps not-so-amazingly, they show little sign of having been influenced by the contents of the Gor novels – Dino de Laurentis just bought the rights to the title and spewed out a couple of mediocre sword and sorcery flicks without any notable bondage themes. They also weren’t all that successful – imagine that!)

Does anyone know the extent that the Gor novels influenced the spate of bondage-friendly sword and sandal movies that came out in the 80s? I’ve asked this question of some Gor fans, they didn’t know, but I figure this board might have some heavy duty movie fans that might know.

Probably very little.

I seriously doubt anyone in Hollywood ever read Gor (evidently, the screenwriters of the Gor movies didn’t).

The people who were reading Gor were not making movies and the books were not popular enough to be more than a blip on the Hollywood radar.

If no one in Hollywood read the Gor novels or heard of them, you have to wonder why de Laurentis paid out hard cash to buy the rights to make a couple of Gor movies. He apparently heard of them, and what he heard motivated him to spend cash. And why did female bondage scenes spike in 80s sword and sandal movies? Coincidence? A general cultural influence toward bondage?

Softcore bondage/humiliation was a pretty common theme in the 1970’s sexploitation films, particularly in the WIP subgenre. It’s not hard to go from that to some producer coming up with the idea that Conan the Barabarian + House of Whipcord ( to name one typically substandard example ) = boxoffice…errmm…well…silver-plating, at least.

It may be the Gor novels had some influence, but I rather doubt they were a necessary inspiration.

  • Tamerlane

He heard of them, but it’s clear he hadn’t read them. Basically, he (or one of his underlings) probably knew that it existed as a popular SF series and figured it was worth cashing in on. Note the OP: “Dino de Laurentis just bought the rights to the title and spewed out a couple of mediocre sword and sorcery flicks without any notable bondage themes.”

But, though popular with a certain coterie of fans (most SF fans hated them and even the most evenhanded considered only the first couple of books any good at all), that was just a blip compared to what Hollywood usually considered “popular.” I think you’d be hard pressed to come up with a connection.

I suspect that Conan the Barbarian and Tolkien had more to do with sword-and-sorcery becoming popular than John Norman.

Interest in Conan had been building since Gnome press started collecting the Robert E. Howard stories in the 1950s. In the 1960s Lancer books started putting out paperback editions, with additions by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and Bjorn Nyberg. They assembled the stories into a 12-volume chronology of the career of Conan of Cimmeria. (Lancer only succeeded in publishing 11 of these volumes before they enrtered a weird sort of bankruptcy. Sphere books in Britain continued to publish them through the 1970s, until Ace books finally re-published them in the US in 1977, adding the missing 12th volume) In 1970 Marvel comics started putting out Conan the Barbarian as a comic book, and published Savage Tales with an “adult” version of Conan (you got to see some skin, including nipples). Savage Tales morphed into Savage Sword of Conan.

Ever since the 1960s there were imitators and followers – Fritz Leiber’s Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser, Lin Carter’s Hadon of Opar, etc. DC comics started Sword of Sorcery with Leiber’s heros, pretty obviously in imitation of Conan. Any SF bookstore in the late 1960s (and onward) would’ve been filled with books about barbarian fantasies. When the movie Conan the Barbarian came out in 1982, it had a ready-made audience, and focused public attention on the idea.
Tolkien’s heros aren’t barbarians, but they were the same sword-swinging fantasy genre, if more literary and genteel. Tolkien, too, had been published in hardcover in the 1950s and in paperback in the 1960s – you couldn’t find a collegwe campus without those posters based on the Ballantine book covers, or grafitti reading “Frodo Lives!” Again, there was a rush to fill this desire for Tolkien asnd things similar. The Brothers Hildebrand published their Tolkien calendars in the 1970s, and got into other S&S painting. Publishers reseurrected old fantasy novels in paperback to meet the demds – Peake’s Gormenbghast series, Eddison
's Worm Ouroborous, Cabell’s stuff, etc.

Norman’s struff was in the wave of Conan-followers, and his S&M style (after the first couple of books of generic Sword and Sorcery stuff) fulfilled some sector’s interest.
But the films that started the wave of S&S films were, I think, the aforementioned Conan and its sequel Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonya, The Sword and the Sorceror (blatantly ripped off from Conan), Bakshi’s Wizards, and his Lord of the Rings.

I take minor exception to the characterization of Lieber as an “imitator and follower.” Lieber’s Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser series was an affectionate parody of the genre, while at the same time being a pretty good example of the genre.

Also, Tolkien’s books kind of stand on their own. The roots of the S&S tree go back to Howard more than Tolkien, it seems to me. Howard cranked the stuff out for pulps. Conan, Bran Mak Morn, and various other series. I really can’t remember them all, although obviously the Conan stuff was the most successful.

Norman’s books (I read one or two in my science fiction/sword & sorcery phase, back in high school) were pretty bad, and they were a dead end as far as influencing the genre. Oddly, I saw one of the movies mentioned above, based (extremely loosely) on Norman’s books on late-night cable a few weeks ago. It was horrible. And the bondage stuff (which was much more the point, I suspect, for Norman fans than the actual sword & sorcery) was deleted pretty much entirely.

I remember reading a few Gor books in the late 70s early 80s, I was still in grade school (the same period that I discovered the Burroughs Barsoom novels). Mostly I read them because of the scantily clad slave girls on the covers. It’s interesting that the S&M angle is mentioned as a possible influence because as an especially unworldly adolescent, those themes went right over my head. I remember really liking the books, but I only read the first three or so.

I remember * The Sword and the Sorcerer* from cable, also in the early 80. Lee Horsley was the star, and I don’t remember the female star (“love interest”?), but I remember thinking she was a hot number (OK, I looked her up, Kathleen Beller, who apparently hasn’t done much (anything!)in the last 12 years). It was also pretty funny, on purpose, that is, as opposed to the scores of silly fantasy movies that are only funny by accident.

I ran through some of the Gor stuff in ebook format, and while the first few books actually have some interesting and engaging parts storytelling wise, the slave humilation and bondage themes (and discussions of slave bondage equipment and methods used) are so relatively lengthy and lovingly detailed, that they are off putting to readers who aren’t all that into the slave bondage sub-cultures.

You’d be reading along, and the S&M stuff just kept popping up like pesky whack-a-moles. At times you could practically sense him flogging the weasel with one hand while he was typing the story with the other, which was a bit oogifying.

What the stories did have a major impact on were certain people into the S&M culture (esp where it intersected with the biker culture) who crafted entire lifestyles and relationships based almost verbatium on the slave-master models described in his books. I’ve seen a few magazine articles over the years on these people. They’re different.

See A personal view of Master/slave relationships for a general discussion of the Gor themes and how the relate to the sub-com culture.

Hmmm. I am not familiar with how Hollywood types come up with ideas for movies, or what gets them green-lighted, but from what I’ve read it really helps if something is successful in another genre. And the Gor novels were HUGE in their time – showing up in supermarket and drugstore racks as well as bookstore racks. That doesn’t happen with your run-of-the-mill title. So I think some note might have been taken by folks less clueless than de Laurentis and crew.

In my opinion, the guys who bought the rights to the Gor novels were clueless idiots who didn’t understand that the sexual bondage theme was central to the success of the novels, so they made generic sword and sorcery movies with little or no bondage themes, and what there was, totally messed up. The read the Gor novels, but WITHOUT COMPREHENSION.

I do think you and Cal Meacham have an excellent point about the Conan movie being the instigator of the spate of sword and sandal B movies in the 80s – I checked the dates in the IMDB, and the Conan movie came out in 1982, followed by Deathstalker in 1983 and all the rest 1985 and thereafter. Obviously, it led the way. But there was NO female bondage in the Conan movie at all. The female bondage that showed up in the subsequent movies weren’t inspired by Conan.

As I indicated in my response to Tamerlane, I atgree you’ve got a strong point about the Conan movie being the actual instigator of the sword and sandal fantasy glut since all of them follow it by a year or three – just what you’d expect from a spate of B-movies emulating a success. But I don’t agree that Conan led to the increase in female bondage and slavery imagery. There was a strong slavery theme in the Conan movie, but it was all about Conan himself.

Initial publication of Norman’s books may have owed in part to the success of the Conan novels, but you can hardly characterize Norman as just another Conan-follower. For one thing, Norman clearly owes a lot more to Edgar Rice Burroughs than to Robert E. Howard. For another, Norman was a huge success in the marketplace on his own – when your stuff shows up on grocery store and drug store racks, it means you’re a top seller in the field.

The bondage elements were’nt deleted from the Gor movie, they were never there in the first place. There were a couple of brief shots of slavegirls being auctioned in chains, and that’s about it. As I said, the guys who read the Gor novels to write the script were reading without comprehension.

Well, the first six books were published by Ballantine, and the editors there apparently kept Norman on a short leash wrt the sexual bondage elements (heh). So you might not have missed all that much. From book seven to book 24 Norman was published by DAW, and the reason he moved to DAW was, they let him move the slavegirls front and center where they belonged.

I’m not calling you personally on this astro, but I simply do not buy the notion that the tremendous success of the Gor novels in the marketplace came about purely because they appealed to card-carrying BDSM fans. It sounds way too much like all those guys who used to buy Playboy “because it’s got such good articles” and the ones who now buy the Sports Illustrated magazines “for the swimsuit fashions.” In short, it’s bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, and very obvious bullshit at that.

In fact, I think the success of the Gor novels is analogous to the success of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition – the Gor novels had enough sword and sandal fantasy plot to give a decent cover to the sexual bondage elements. Guys could buy them and read them without feeling like they were admitting to any taste for sexual bondage.

I have formed the habit of skipping the anti-feminist rants which always precede a sexual bondage scene in Gor novels, going straight to the good stuff, and moving on. Theyre very predictable and easy to skip and contribute next to nothing to the story. Also, I think some of Norman’s very best bondage scenes were very briefly described, done with a real economy of words but having a really nice erotic frisson because of it. Frex, the scene where the protagonist ducks under a wagon to take shelter during a rainstorm, and finds a slavegirl tied there. He takes her there, still tied to the wagon, then slips a coin in her mouth to compensate her master for her use before going on his way after the rain lets up. Short and sweet, and more details would have been a waste.

I think they’re people who have a lot of fun living out their fantasies. No need to demonize 'em.

I take major exception to it. The first Mouser stories appeared in Unknown in the early '40s. (I can look up the exact issues if anyone cares.) The Tuck Encyclopedia mentions an issue of Fantastic entirely devoted to them in 1959. This was long before Conan was popular except in fandom. I actually like Conan, but I like Lieber’s stuff better - he was far the better writer.

As for Gor, I always considered them more along the lines of a slavery fetish than a bondage fetish. Norman published a book of sex fantasies for Daw called Imaginative Sex, which was mostly along the lines of haughty woman being subdued and enslaved by haughty man and learning to love it. The bondage in these was rather light.

I found the fantasy elements run of the mill and derivative, the sex not my cup of tea, and while I have 3 or 4 of them, it was one of the few series of the time I made an effort not to collect.

You fellas can take exception to my calling Leiber’s srtories dependent upon Conan (and I debated saying this with myself), but it’s true – Howard’s stories preceded Leiber’s in the pulps, and I can’t believe that Leiber wasn’t strongly influenced by them. And, while I’ll admit that Leiber is a better writer, I like the Conan stories a lot more. But this isn’t a popularity contest – the OP was asking about what started it all, and Howard’s very popular tales very definitely did, I think.
As far as movies go, The Sword and the Soreceror preceded the first Conan film, but not by much, and it’s pretty clear to me that it was a bit rushed to hit the screens before Conan did, especially since S&S pretty clearlt ripped of several Conan stories without attribution.

The books were decent sword /sci-fi pot boilers, but after awhile the “woman is a natural slave” angle infuses everything, and unless it’s really your cup of tea, the extended discussions of bondage craft and other fetish elements clutter up the story after awhile. While the stories initally had a “forbidden fruit” appeal, not everyone gets a mental or physical chubby of the whole master/slave dynamic, and after awhile it just gets a bit tired and a tad silly.

Plus (I believe) reading this stuff when it first came out in the 70’s would have been a lot more of a forbidden thrill and a different experience than reading it currently (I read it about 2 years ago), where it comes across less a part of the sexual revolution, and more of a fetish lifestyle manifesto, woven into what was actually not that bad storytelling.

If calling people who want to pattern their lifestyle on this “different”, I guess I’m a demonizer, or someone’s sensitivity meter is set way too high.

see Gorean Lifestyle

Well, in defense of the OP, a lot of the sword and sorcery movies were poorly written, with awkward dialogue, so who knows? :slight_smile:

Okay. Placing Leiber’s stories in the '60s made it sound (to me) like he was cashing in on the popularity of Conan. He definitely knew about them - I’m sure he read Weird Tales, and weren’t Howard (as well as Leiber) correspondents with Lovecraft. I’m sure none of them ever dreamed that Conan would be as big as he is today.