Dune, by Frank Herbert

Keiran Murphy sitting on the couch in the libing room on Ash Wednesday, 1982.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Me at the age when I discovered the novel, Dune

As far as I know, this post won’t be about Frank Lloyd Wright or Taliesin. Since Dune, Part Two (the second part of Dune, the movie) will be released on March 1, I intend today to write about the novel.

In particular, my earliest experiences with it.

It begins

when I was a teenager. Like many kids, I had intense loves at that young age.

Although Dune wasn’t on that list. At least, not at that time.

When I was in both grade and early high school, I was addicted to the rock band, The Police.

I could write a long post just about them, but, you know…

If I said that I liked the complex writing and subjects in their music, I would be lying.

I first heard “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” when I was 12 and

like many other middle-aged respectable women today I’m sure

had a total 12-yo’s crush on Sting.

I liked the other bandmates,

and eventually knew a tremendous amount about them –  

            Which is why I mentioned drummer Stewart Copeland’s birthday in this post

But I mean, c’mon – what 12 yo isn’t gonna love this? A few months later I was crushed to find out he was married, but, still:

Screen cut from the video "Don't Stand So Close To Me" by The Police.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNIZofPB8ZM

Screenshot from that video.

Ergo

in 1983, my love of The Police introduced me to Dune.

I found out that Sting was going to play a character named Feyd Rautha in the upcoming movie directed by David Lynch.

I don’t remember how or when I first acquired the book. My mom might have given it to me at Christmas. And while I don’t remember the first time I read it, I’d never come across such complete “world building”. The entire “Duniverse” had a complex history, vocabulary and culture.

            After all, the book has a glossary and appendices with essays on its fake history.

I consumed

the information about this fictional universe just as I consumed history about The Police and,

—yes—

Frank Lloyd Wright.

In case

You’ve not heard about Frank Herbert’s book, or seen it,1 I’ll give you a short overview:

SPOILER ALERT

not that you can’t find all this information and more all over the internet,
but putting in “Spoiler Alert” has become like covering your mouth when you sneeze

Dune is a science fiction novel taking place in an interstellar planetary system of humans over 20,000 years in the future, after humankind has left our solar system.2

The civilization has 10,000 human worlds, an Emperor, and Dukes in charge of planets.

Space travel between them is possible in part because of a mind-altering and addictive substance known as the Spice or Melange, which exists only in one place in the universe: Arrakis.

Arrakis is a desert planet commonly known as Dune.

And for good reason:

Arrakis has no open water, clouds, rain, fog, mist, or almost any other kind of moisture you can think of. The natives (the Fremen) even have special devices called “Dew Catchers” to gather drops of water in the morning after sunrise.

The only thing Dune seems to have really going for it is the Spice.

Therefore, spice is incredibly valuable and makes Dune a place of intrigue, battles, and death. Yet, what also makes Dune deadly are its sandworms. These worms have crystalline teeth and “swim” through the sand on the planet’s surface. They can reach 300 meters in length and can’t be killed by known weapons. In order to get the spice, you need to go into the desert and as they say, “where there is spice,… there are always worms“.

The story starts

In the year 10,191 A.G.2 The Padishah Emperor, Shaddam Corrino IV, orders Duke Leto Atreides to take over the planet of Arrakis.

Despite the fact that Duke Leto knows that he’s walking into a trap, he uproots his family and entourage from Caladan (the watery home world of House Atreides for 20 generations) to Arrakis.

With him he brings his concubine, Jessica, and their 15-year-old son, Paul.

The Lady Jessica

is a member of an ancient group of women known as the Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit—whose motto is “We exist only to serve”—is sometimes mistaken for a religious group.

They’re a lot more than that and they are, I think, why I first fell in love with the entire story.

I don’t remember, ever before in my young life, encountering female characters that were so strong, insightful, or knowledgeable.

I wanted to be like those black-robed women. I remember trying to move very purposefully and being very quiet. I wanted to have a mind trained to pick up on the slightest things. 

These women could

  • move faster than the human eye if they wanted to in order to kick your ass
  • determine if someone is lying
  • undo any lock
  • survive any poison
  • completely control people through their voice
  • control the sex of their off-spring

While Jessica was ordered to bear a daughter for Leto, she bore him a son, who she had been teaching many of the things she had been taught. He will, by the end of the novel, become the Emperor.

Where’s Sting?

Sting as Feyd-Rautha

Screen grab from an unpulished scene of the 1984 movie, Dune, by David Lynch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCbR0wZWJxQ

The photo above is a screengrab of Sting with one of his two facial expressions as Feyd Rautha in Dune.

That’s not to say anything about his acting abilities.

is the nephew of the Baron Vladimer Harkonnen.

Oh, right:

I forgot them!

The Harkonnens, another Great House in the story, is an ancient enemy of the Atreides.

            as one would expect

and have run Arrakis for 70 years.

What I described

Is explained basically in the first 30 pages of the 500-plus page novel.

I haven’t even talked about Mentats (human computers), which exist only because there are no digital computers (which was either genius on the part of Frank Herbert or luck).

See, Dune is complicated

AND:

I’m old-school on Dune and have cranky opinions on whether the movie — or mini-series — director got the details correct. Or if they made decisions that annoy me.3

Dune Part 1 was the first movie we saw in the theater after vaccines became available; then we saw it once more when it came to our hometown. So I am really excited to see the next one.

 

Published January 7, 2024.
I was in the 8th grade when Mom took my photograph at the top of this post. I can tell by the smudge on my forehead that it was Ash Wednesday. The Persian cat I’m holding, Magoo, was mostly patient in how I used to hold her for so long… constantly. I’m wearing the polyester school uniform of my Catholic grade school. In grade school, the uniform was dark green. In high school, it was dark blue. In a jubilant rally a week after high school graduation, a bunch of us tried to set one on fire. That’s when we discovered that these uniforms don’t burn: they melt.


Notes

1. you need to get out some more.

2. The year is 10191, A.G. which stands for “After Guild”. So it means that this take place over 10,000 years after inter-space travel. In The Dune Encyclopedia the Guild was founded over 10,000 years after humankind left our solar system.

3. Weirding modules!!

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