A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.
– from the “Manual of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan.
How do I begin with my thoughts on Dune?
A Science Fiction novel mixing a kind of medieval feudalism with advanced technologies, written in the 1960s, and yet seemingly cogniscent of current 21st century issues.
Politics. Religion. Ecological sciences. Religious wars. Conservation. Environmentalism. Exploitative economics…
“The historical systems of mutual pillage and extortion stops here… You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after.”
Some of the main protagonists/antagonists within the novel are:
The House of Atreides is headed by Duke Leto who has been commissioned by the Emperor to govern the planet Arrakis, source of the empire’s most valuable commodity, the spice melange.
Leto knows the appointment is a trap, meant to cause his downfall, but it is a commission he can’t refuse. His son and heir, Paul becomes the central figure in the course events of to come.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen has ambitions for the increased prominence of his own family that will require the destruction of the House Atreides He has particular ambitions for his nephew and heir Feyd-Rautha, a nasty piece of work who loves the thrill of gladiatorial combat – as long as the odds are nefariously manipulated to his favour.
The Bene Gesseret sisterhood are a nun-like order who for centuries have surreptitiously controlled family lines by selective breeding, and have introduced religious teachings and myths into the lore of chosen ethnic groups, with the aim of producing and making way for the Kwisatz Haderach, a male messianic figure through whom they plan to increase their order’s power.
The Fremen are an underestimated, mysterious, fierce and resilient desert race on the planet Arrakis who know the secret of the spice and its production, and have adapted their ways to survive with minimal water.
I first read Dune in 1977. It is perfectly paced and structured, well plotted with strong relatable characters.
I picked it up whenever I could, always eager to get back to the story, not wasting a moment of my spare time on anything else.
When I reached the end, I immediately started it again. The only time I’ve ever done that.
42 years later I read it for a third time, and can see why I enjoyed the book to that degree in my teens.
Unlike so much science fiction, this story hasn’t dated. At times in the intervening years, events in the news stirred my memories of the book.
For example, it was in Dune that I first came across the term jihad, a word that has gained wide familiarity during the 21st century. Herbert’s use of it leans more on historical accounts of real desert peoples, who were a clear inspiration for some elements of the desert people who play a pivotal role in this book, but when the word was used in the context of recent politics (the “war on terror”), I recalled its relevance in Dune.
Paul Atreides, later Paul Muad’Dib, has prescient dreams of armies conducting jihad in his name. As other dreams prove to be accurate premonitions, can he prevent the violence he foresees being done by his future followers?
I recall my teenage self longing to play Paul Artreides in a film version of the story: despite the fact I was no actor and had no chance of getting close to any film makers able to bring the book to the screen. And despite having no physical similarity to Paul .
The character seemed so real to me. I could identify with him to an extent that perhaps only a boy in his late teens, desiring adventure and meaning, could.
That is clearly an aspect of the book that doesn’t have the same effect when I read as a 60-ish year old, but my enjoyment of the book hasn’t diminished because of that.