Wow. What a book.
This wasn’t my first time reading Dune but, dear God, it is still great.
I can’t think of many books that operate on the same scale as Frank Herbert’s epic. Galactic conflict, formation of religions, prophetic visions, political machinations. All encompassed in a classic heroic coming-of-age story for the protagonist, Paul Atreides.
If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review to tell you whether Dune is worth a read, then stop right here. It is. Go and do that. Seriously, go and buy a copy. Right now.
Anyone still reading should have started reading it, at the very least. I’ll avoid the ending just in case.
What is most alluring about Herbert’s story is that it is not just the events in the time of the book that have a grand scale. The events are the climax of millennia of planning and genetic manipulation by the Bene Gesserit, millennia of spice useage and addiction by the Spacing Guild, generations of imperial Sardaukar being raised in a hellhole to serve the Emperor. It is only with all these influences that Paul’s ascension can work. And it’s believable.
Herbert builds the world of Dune so convincingly that none of these influences feels like it was added in to fix a plothole. Rather, it is as though he created all these vast organisations, all the intrigue, all the plots-upon-plots first and then came up with the what-if to drive the story itself?
What if the Kwisatz Haderach was born, but outside of Bene Gesserit control? What would he do? How and why would that happen? The story builds itself around these simple questions.
The construct of Paul’s story is, as I mentioned above, a traditional hero’s journey. We glimpse his “normal” life at the beginning, as a Duke’s son on Caladan. We see the dramatic change in his world as they are forced to Arrakis. Twice, in fact, as both the move to Arrakis and the subsequent fleeing to the desert could be classed as this. We suffer Paul’s immense loss with the death of his father, and his trusted companions being scattered. He then rises, first within Sietch Tabr, then within the Fremen as a whole.
His first awakening, as both a Mentat and seer, comes shortly after his first loss. It is not until near the climax that he faces the second.
The Hero’s journey trope even goes as far as to highlight one element as a “death and rebirth”. In most cases this is metaphorical, in Paul’s case it is as close as possible without a literal resurrection. When he drinks the Water of Life and passes into his dreamlike state for three weeks, he is brought back from the brink to ascend into his true, full nature as the Lisan-Al-Gaib.
The nature of this means that Paul’s journey is one that resonates with us as readers, we empathise through his loss and rejoice in his success. But this is true of many books, what sets this apart?
Herbert’s vision is galactic, and he trusts his readers to understand. There is no useless exposition of detailed explanations of the Bene Gesserit breeding program. There are few moments of hand-holding the reader to the realisations. Although there are a few. Instead, Herbert manages to guide the reader through this universe with just enough information to keep them aware and grounded, with hints of what is to come.
An often over-looked portion of the structure of the book are the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They hand the reader the entire plot of the book, without any of the story losing its impact. Being written by the survivors of the story in the past tense, they dangle curious hooks into the narrative path. Causing the reader to wonder about future events, before diving them straight back into the action.
If you’ve made it this far and are still unsure, I can only leave you with the same plea that I started with, go and read this book. You will not regret the decision.
I must not fear.Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.