bellatrys (bellatrys) wrote,
bellatrys
bellatrys

Planet of the Complete Bloody Psychopaths, Part 2

aka "Tarnsman of Gor", by John Norman, © 1966

The city of Ar must have contained more than a hundred thousand cylinders [ie towers], each ablaze with the lights of the Planting Feast. I did not question that Ar was the greatest city of all known Gor. It was a magnificent and beautiful city, a worthy setting for the jewel of empire, that awesome jewel that had proved so tempting to its Ubar, the all-conquering Marlenus. And now, down there, somewhere in that monstrous blaze of light, was a humble piece of stone, the Home Stone of that great city, and I must seize it. [Chapter 5]


So we're about a third of the way through the book: Bertie Wooster Tarl the Newly-Minted Tarnsman has just been told by his long-lost, never-before-seen dad that he has to go attack the greatest city in the world singlehanded, steal their treasure, kill their princess and the only other pretty girl he's seen around the house in the process who happens to be an Unperson so it's all right, all in the aid of starting a hellish civil war there - and what does our sterling specimen of 20th-century English manhood say in response? "Uh, sure, dad, let me get my helmet." [paraphrase] Even if he does scuff his feet a bit and feel kind of down about it; only belatedly and while the mission is well underway (and he safely away from Dad's possibly-deadly disappointment) does he decide to revamp the parameters of it.

Not - The hell? Not - are you out of your bloody mind, Dad? Not - when did you forget that slavery was evil? Oh that's right, you come from three hundred years ago when you hadn't got round to admitting that yet, and by the way how DO you manage to stay so well-preserved? Not - my god, you just slaughter each other like a bunch of wild animals, and don't even blink? To which his father could of course if he were paying attention say something snarky right back about the Western Front and the H-Bomb and sweatshops and hypocrites, but nooo, none of this ever comes up.

The really appropriate thing for Young Tarl to say would be "Bloody hell, what have you been putting in my food since I got here, for a second that sounded like a good idea to me - flying into a strange empire's capital solo in the dark on a giant fucking bird that wants to rip my head off and kill two poor women who have never done me any harm, just to steal a sodding ROCK? All so you can start a world war here to relive your glory days as War Leader through us younger chaps, because you're so proud that you'd rather do that than even TRY diplomacy and alliance with your neighbors? Oh yes, I've figured you out, old man. I may have slept through most of my history lectures, but I did pick up a bit of it while I was teaching this past term!"

But then, you know, we wouldn't have the saga of Young!Tarl out-Cohening Cohen and learning the True Manly Ways of the Counter-Earth World for the next umpteen installments....

You remember in Willow when the Bad Princess Sorcha suddenly decides to pull EOL #19 and renounce her mother and all her mother's works and empty promises for the sake of Val Kilmer's hot bod? No, that's not a non-sequitur. Just bear in mind that sequence, and how plausible/implausible it seemed to you at the time, when considering the setup of The Great Love of Tarl The Tarnsman, 'kay?




In a moment it was below me. I dropped immediately, for no one without good reason rides a tarn in the vicinity of the tower of a Ubar. As I descended, I saw the wide, round roof of the cylinder. It seemed to be translucently lit from beneath— a bluish color. In the center of the circle was a low, round platform, some ten paces in diameter, reached by four circular steps that extended about the perimeter of the platform. On the platform, alone, was a dark robed figure. As my tarn struck down on the platform and I leaped from its back, I heard a girl's scream.

I lunged for the center of the platform, breaking under my foot a small ceremonial basket filled with grain, kicking from my path a Ka-la-na container, splashing the fermented red liquid across the stone surface. I raced to the pile of stones at the center of the platform, the girl's screaming in my ears. From a short distance away I heard the shouts of men and the clank of arms as warriors raced up the stairs to the roof. Which was the Home Stone? I kicked apart the rocks. One of them must be the Home Stone of Ar, but which? How could I tell it from the others, the Home Stones of those cities which had fallen to Ar?

Yes! It would be the one that would be red with Ka-la-na, that would be sprinkled with the seeds of grain! I felt the stones in frenzy, but several were damp and dotted with the grains of Sa-Tarna. I felt the heavily robed figure dragging me back, tearing at my shoulders and throat with her nails, pitting against me all the fury of her enraged body. I swung back, forcing her from me. She fell to her knees and suddenly crawled to one of the stones, seized it up, and turned to flee. A spear shattered on the platform near me. The Guards were on the roof!

I leaped after the heavily robed figure, seized her, spun her around and tore from her hands the stone she carried. She struck at me and pursued me to the tarn, which was excitedly shaking his wings, preparing to forsake the tumultuous roof of the cylinder. I leaped upward and seized the saddle ring, inadvertently dislodging the mounting ladder. In an instant I had attained the saddle of the tarn and drew back savagely on the one-strap. The heavily robed figure was trying to climb the mounting ladder, but was impeded by the weight and ornate inflexibility, of her garments. I cursed as an arrow creased my shoulder, as the tarn's great wings smote the air and the monster took to flight. He was in the air, and the passage of arrows sang in my ears, the cries of enraged men, and the long, piercing, terrified scream of a girl. [Chapter 6]


In our introduction to the hero's One True Love, we know two things about her: that she is insanely brave, and unbelievably stupid. One of these will remain constant through the next 100+ pages. (We are never told the sort of thing that would have made sense of this - frex, that she made the conscious choice to risk her life in attacking an armed trained warrior on a giant eagle with her bare hands, because her father or the priests would execute her if she let him get away, though her a woman and therefore both untrained in combat and unarmed as well as wearing a confining dress and veils.)


I looked down, dismayed. The heavily robed figure was still clinging desperately to the mounting ladder. She was now clear of the roof, swinging free below the tarn, with the lights of Ar dropping rapidly into the distance below her. I drew my sword from its sheath, to cut the mounting ladder from the saddle, but stopped, and angrily drove the blade back into its sheath. I couldn't afford to carry the extra weight, but neither could I bring myself to cut the ladder free and send the girl hurtling to her death.

I cursed as the frenzied notes of tarn whistles drifted up from below. All the tarnsmen of Ar would be flying tonight. I passed the outermost cylinders of Ar and found myself free in the Gorean night, streaking for Ko-ro-ba. I placed the Home Stone in the saddle pack, snapping the lock shut, and then reached down to haul in the mounting ladder.

The girl was whimpering in terror, and her muscles and fingers seemed frozen. Even after I had drawn her to the saddle before me and belted her securely to the saddle ring, I had to force her fingers from the rung of the mounting ladder. I folded the ladder and fastened it in its place at the side of the saddle. I felt sorry for the girl, a helpless pawn in this sorry man's game of empire, and the tiny animal noises she uttered moved me to pity.

"Try not to be afraid," I said.

She trembled, whimpering.

"I won't hurt you," I said. "Once we're beyond the swamp forest, I'll set you down on some highway to Ar. You'll be safe." I wanted so to reassure her. "By morning you'll be back in Ar," I promised.

Helplessly, she seemed to stammer some incoherent word of gratitude and turned trustfully to me, putting her arms around my waist as though for additional security; I felt her trembling, innocent body against mine, her dependence on me, and then she suddenly locked her arms around my waist and with a cry of rage hurled me from the saddle. In the sickening instant of falling I realized I had not fastened my own saddle belt in the, wild flight from the roof of the Ubar's cylinder. My hands flung out, grasping nothing, and I fell headlong downward into the night.

I remember hearing for a moment, fading like the wind, her triumphant laughter...


Was she really whimpering in helpless terror (a not unreasonable human response, but OOC with her first berserker attack and leap, and her subsequent hijacking) or was it all a sneaky feminine ruse to let her take cruel advantage of his chivalry? There's no way to know, because subsequent evidence just gives more "could go either way." BTW, Tarl never seems to realize what a dumb thud he is to expect her to trust him, to know that he's different - a Nice Guy, in fact, and won't ever dream of raping her (unless she really, REALLY provokes him) or making her his slave (unless she really, REALLY insists on it) - even though he just desecrated her people's Holy of Holies and carried her off in a traditional slave-taking manner.

Anyway, we already know that Tarl's unkillable by normal means, so I'll skip through the Spiderweb-ex-machina save and fast-forward through all Young Tarl's angsty shame over having lost the Mystic Rock and his mount and the Feisty Princess all at once due to neglecting to fasten his seatbelt before takeoff - I am reminded forcibly and unfavorably of multiple Orlando Furioso episodes at this point, even tho' Arioso was hardly a liberal feminist guy by liberal feminists' standards (as opposed to Nice Guy standards of liberal/feminism) and oscillated between going "double standard is sooo sexist & unfair" and "Angelica you prick tease, you!" b/c even when he's doing the latter he never seems to think it unreasonable that our Blonde Chinese Princess would do whatever she had to to remove herself from the proximity of would-be Chivalric date-rapists.

Actually, I just want to quote one thing from the meeting with the Giant Swamp Spider:


"You have saved my life," I said. "Thank you."

"My web saved your life," corrected the insect. He was still for a moment, and then, as if sensing my apprehension, said, "I will not hurt you. The Spider People do not hurt rational creatures."


--because it really is ironic from a genre trope standpoint that there is one civilized, moral, non-sociopathic group on the planet - and they're Bugs. This could really have been played up and the whole series made a commentary on the brutish tropes and unquestioned assumptions of the genre, as Lewis did in Out of the Silent Planet - the whole "Kill Strangers/Take Their Treasure" mentality of pulp from A Martian Odyssey to Conan to Lankhmar to still going strong in modern sf with The Belgariad and Sword of Truth - or the way that Pterry satirized the Brawny Barbarians and Brawling Dragonriders subgenres in early Discworld. That's what I'd have done, if this had been my invention. Nar the Swamp Thing as the Voice of Reason, or as Tarl's Conscience - an eight-foot-tall Jiminy Cricket with armor-piercing mandibles who doesn't use them to bite off the heads even of bigots, because that would be wrong, helping Young!Tarl stay sane and true to his (sporadic) desires to bring 20th-c UK ideals to Gor? Pure gold.

But not to be, alas.

"There is a carnivorous tharlarion, a wild tharlarion, in the vicnity," he said. "Hold tightly."

Luckily I did immediately a he had advised, fixing my grip deep in the long black hairs that covered his thorax, for Nar suddenly raced to a nearby swamp tree and scuttled high into its branches. About two or three minutes later I heard the hunger grunt of a wild tharlarion and a moment afterward the piercing scream of a terrified girl.

[Domestic thalarions come in two forms, Clydesdale giant wher-of-burden and Thoroughbred, er, velociraptor; this one may be a third entirely different wild sort, because it is strongly implied that the non-velociraptor ones are not carnivorous, and clearly this is not a velociraptor living in the swamp. --I'm probably working too hard to make this all work.]

From the back of Nar I could see the marsh, with its reeds and clouds of tiny flying insects below. From a wall of reeds about fifty paces to the right and thirty feet below, stumbling "and screaming, came the bundled figure of a human being, running in horror, its hands flung out before it. In that instant I recognized the heavy brocaded robes, now mud-splattered and torn, of the daughter of the Ubar.

Scarcely had she broken into the clearing, splashing through the shallow greenish waters near us, than the fearsome head of a wild tharlarion poked through the reeds, its round, shining eyes gleaming with excitement, its vast arc of a mouth swung open. Almost too rapid to be visible, a long brown lash of a tongue darted from its mouth and curled around the slender, helpless figure of the girl. She screamed hysterically, trying to force the adhesive band from her waist. It began to withdraw toward the mouth of the beast.

Yadda yadda monster fight, Tarl chops off its tongue and skewers it through the neck and the other swamp critters jump on it before it's even dead, letting us know just how skeery and horrible and lizard-eat-lizard the Swamp is.

I looked around. The girl had fled. This made me angry, for some reason, though I thought myself well rid of her. After all, what did I expect? That she would thank me for saving her life? She had undoubtedly left me to the tharlarion, rejoicing in the luck of a Ubar's daughter, that her enemies might destroy one another while she escaped with her life. I wondered how far she would get in the swamps before another tharlarion caught her scent. I called out "Nar!", looking for my spider comrade, but he, like the girl, had disappeared. Exhausted, I sat with my back against the tree, my hand never leaving the hilt of my sword.

Idly, with repulsion, I watched the body of the tharlarion in the swamp. As the water lizards had fed, the carcass, lightened, had shifted position, rolling in the water. Now, in a matter of minutes, the skeleton was visible, picked almost clean, the bones gleaming except where small lizards skittered about on them, seeking a last particle of flesh.

There was a sound. I leaped to my feet, sword ready. But across the marsh, with his swift prancing stride, came Nar, and in his mandibles, held gently but firmly, the daughter of the Ubar Marlenus. She was striking at Nar with her tiny fists, cursing and kicking in a manner I thought most improper for the daughter of a Ubar. Nar pranced onto the knoll and set her down before me, his pearly luminescent eyes fixed on me like blank, expressionless moons.

"This is the daughter of the Ubar Marlenus," said Nar, and added ironically, "She did not remember to thank you for saving her life, which is strange, is it not, for a rational creature?"

"Silence, Insect," said the daughter of the Ubar, her voice loud, clear, and imperious. She seemed to have no fear of Nar, perhaps because of the familiarity of the citizens of Ar with the Spider People, but it was obvious she loathed the touch of his mandibles, and she shivered slightly as she tried to wipe the exudate from the sleeves of her gown.


Actually, looking at it a second time as I excerpt, Nar does serve another useful purpose besides being the weaver of sticky ex machina: he's the Magical Negro of the story on a planet where there seems to be only one black person living (a slave girl we see briefly towards the end) the wise non-threatening kindly alien figure who exists to help Tarl by saving his life and intimidating Princess Brat - and show just like good ol' Inscrutable Raj, how not-bigoted and open-minded Our Hero is, at least when it comes to other males, no matter how black-furred and many-legged they may be - and then disappear happily back into his Swamp, having served his purpose of saving Gary Stu's ass and Making Him A Better Person, too.


I regarded the daughter of the Ubar, now a sorry sight. Her Robes of Concealment were splattered with mud and marsh water, and in several places the heavy brocade had stiffened and cracked. The dominant colors of her Robes of Concealment were subtle reds, yellows, and purples, arrayed in intricate, overlapping folds. I guessed it would have taken her slave girls hours to array her in such garments. Many of the free women of Gor and almost always those of High Caste wear the Robes of Concealment, though, of course, their garments are seldom as complex or splendidly wrought as those of a Ubar's daughter. The Robes of Concealment, in function, resemble the garments of Muslim women on my own planet, though they are undoubtedly more intricate and cumbersome. Normally, of men, only a father and a husband may look upon the woman unveiled.

In the barbaric world of Gor, the Robes of Concealment are deemed necessary to protect the women from the binding fibers of roving tarnsmen. Few warriors will risk their lives to capture a woman who may be as ugly as a tharlarion. Better to steal slaves, where the guilt is less and the charms of the captive are more readily ascertainable in advance.

Now the eyes of the daughter of the Ubar were blazing at me furiously from the narrow aperture in her veil. I noted that they were greenish in cast, fiery and untamed, the eyes of a Ubar's daughter, a girl accustomed to command men. I also noted, though with considerably less pleasure, that the daughter of the Ubar was several inches taller than myself. Indeed, her body seemed somehow to be out of proportion.

"You will release me immediately," announced the daughter of the Ubar, "and dismiss this filthy insect."

It's thus quickly established that she's rude, bullying - yet cowardly of course - treacherous, ungrateful, prissy, incapable of running without turning her ankle because of her stupid high-heeled shoes that she wears out of vanity, and dumber than a bag of sacred rocks. She predictably mocks and derides them for being base enemies and or Spider-people/Spider-People-Lovers and this after they've saved her from swamp monsters, and gloats over the fact that Tarl's noble black stallion tarn fought a wild tarn and defeated it (she escaping when it landed to feed on its rival) and then ran off with the other wolves wild tarns to be free soaring across the Yukon tundra and taking the Sacred Rock with it. As any chara who wasn't Terminally Stupid would anticipate, this kind of pisses Tarl and Nar off and so they start to head off on their own to Civilization, or what passes for it on Gor...

"Wait!?" cried the daughter of the Ubar. "You can't leave me here!" She stumbled a bit from the knoll, tripped and fell in the water. She knelt in the green stagnant water, her hands held out to me, pleading, as if she suddenly realized the full horror of her plight, what it would mean to be abandoned in the swamp forest. "Take me with you," she begged.

"Wait," I said to Nar, and the giant spider paused.

The Ubar's daughter tried to stand up, but, ridiculously enough, it seemed as if one leg were suddenly far shorter than the other. She stumbled again and fell once more into the water. She swore like a tarnsman. I laughed and slid from Nar's back. I waded to her side and lifted her to carry her back to the knoll. She was surprisingly light, considering her apparent size.

I had hardly taken her in my arms when she struck my face viciously with one muddy hand. "How dare you touch the daughter of a Ubar!" she exclaimed. I shrugged and dropped her back in the water. Angrily she scrambled to her feet as best she could and, hopping and stumbling, regained the knoll. I joined her there and examined her leg. One monstrous platformlike shoe had broken from her small foot and flopped beside her ankle, still attached by its straps. The shoe was at least ten inches high. I laughed. This explained the incredible height of the Ubar's daughter.

"It's broken," I said. "I'm sorry."

She tried to rise, but one foot was, of course, some ten inches higher than the other. She fell again, and I unstrapped the remaining shoe. "No wonder you can hardly walk," I said. "Why do you wear these silly things?"

"The daughter of a Ubar must look down on her subjects," was the simple if extraordinary reply.

Seriously, is there anything that Princess Brat has going for her - except the obvious? (No, I don't mean Authorly Heavyhandedness!)


Next: how long does it take a Princess Brat to change her wicked, wild ways and become a sweet, loyal, loving natural woman? Not as long as it takes a civilized Englishman to turn into a hate-rapist...


* It is admittedly very difficult for me to keep in mind that Ubar, on Gor, means a person, because I read Josephine Tey's The Singing Sands (1952)when I was in college, and was fascinated by the Lost City and its subsequent discovery ever since. The Gorean title is apparently pronounced "You-bar" and not "Oo-bar."

Tags: badfic, chauvinism, fandom, gor, misogyny, sexism, worldbuilding, writing
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