Sunday, September 21, 2014

What is the True Origin of The Gorn?

In the Star Trek: TOS episode Arena, the reptilian aliens known as the Gorn are introduced:

Like many fans of the show, this episode enthralled me as a kid. With his fearsome appearance and lumbering approach, the Gorn fit in perfectly with those other infamous monsters from my childhood: The Mummy and The Frankenstein Monster.

In my twenties, the stiff artificial look and the improbable nature of a space-faring lizard beast struck me as cheesy. Teenage years have a way of robbing you of your ability to enjoy guilty pleasures. I seem to recall having similar conversations with fans of the 1966 Batman television show.

Fortunately, later in life, I made my peace with such things and now appreciate the show as a nice bit of action/adventure science fiction television - regardless of the low-budget costumes and dated special effects.  (And I'd argue that the Gorn costume is actually one of the more evocative looking designs from TOS.)

While a fan favorite, the Gorn don't make a lot of reappearances in Trek. There is a brief nod to them in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode The Time Trap:

And in the In A Mirror Darkly episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise series in 2005:

And they've made a numerous appearances in parodies of Star Trek, the most recent being a commercial for the new Star Trek video game.

In reading about the Gorn, I was able to find some interesting bits about the costume on the In Memory Alpha Gorn page, but I couldn't find anything about the writers creation of the character. I have a feeling that the character is inspired by the Ming's Lizard-Men from Flash Gordon, but I wasn't able to find anything to substantiate that.

 While their physical resemblances are remote at best, the name Gorn is basically Gordon with a few missing letters. And the Arena episode itself, with its desert environment resembles the desert looking Mars from the old Flash Gordon serials:

But the similarities in environment is probably due to more to easy access to the desert locations near Hollywood than anything else. (Quite a few Star Trek episodes take place in such barren regions.)

It's also possible that the Gorn is a call back to another green, fearsomely fanged alien older than Flash Gordon's Lizard-men - Tars Tarkas of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels:

Check out this version of the green martian on the Dell comic from 1952.

While the design is similar, it's not really a smoking gun. The problem is, Lizard Men, whether they were from space or lost lands, were sort of a staple of early pulp fiction:

So, it's entirely possible that the Gorn were a call back to just a classic looking creature.

Of late, there have been more modern revamps of the Gorn (like this one from the Star Trek video game)

 I suppose this is a way to make them more ferocious, but I remain a fan of the more anthropomorphic look.

What do you think? Is the Gorn too cheesy to exist in the current Star Trek movie mythos?

- Jim


Trey said...

I think you sort of hit upon this, but maybe didn't find it satisfying: it may be that the Gorn did have one source. As you point out, reptile men were pretty common at that point. The Gorn just another in that long line.

MattComix said...

I think the Gorn while being derived from a long line of lizard men in mythology and pop culture stands out in the context of Star Trek because he's a deviation from Treks usual humans with funky foreheads and/or skin coloring.

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey - yeah, that's most likely what it is.

Jim Shelley said...

@MattComix - I agree. The Gorn was a good bit of work compared to the usual anthropomorphic aliens we saw on the show.


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