I can see why, despite my love of the book Dune, my teenage-self wasn’t able to warm to its sequel Dune Messiah.
The overall achievements of Paul Atriedes (Muad’Dib) in Dune now seem to have questionable merit, being driven into a position where the things most important to him are overwhelmed by consequences of leadership that he can’t control; such as the feared Jihad in his name.
In one section of the book, Paul talks about leaders in the distant past who were responsible for the deaths of millions. He compares this to the numbers killed under (despite?) his leadership.
“There’s another emperor I want you to note in passing – a Hitler. He killed more than six million. Pretty good for those days.”
“Killed…by his legions?” Stilgar asked.
“Not very impressive statistics, m’Lord.”
“Very good, Stil … Statistics: at a conservative estimate, I’ve killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I’ve wiped out the followers of forty religions…”
It’s a part of the book that made me feel very uneasy. While I assume it intends to lay out the scale of the atrocities committed in Paul’s name, it also potentially minimises Hitler’s culpibility, as well as the scale of the atrocities for which he was responsible.
Paul’s problems aren’t resticted to the lack of control he has over his legions of followers and their jihad.
A secretive group of influential people meet to conspire against Paul, but the actual aim of the conspiracy (apart from Paul’s downfall) isn’t clear. Each of the group seems to have their own agenda, all of which appear to be at odds with the aims of the others. The plan that unfolds potentially benefits only one of those conspirators.
Paul has a vision pointing to his own demise; and being forewarned gives the potential of being forearmed. Can he avert that fate?
One of the more direct personal costs he faces is the threat his position causes towards those he loves. Can he guarantee a secure future for his family and ensure there’s an Atreides heir to his Imperial throne?
Compared to the other parts of Herbert’s Dune series, Dune Messiah is a very short book, and seems more like a bridge to link the first and third parts than a novel in its own right. This time I’ve been reading the books in one volume collection, and in that context I think Dune Messiah makes more sense, and is more satisfying than when I first attempted it as a stand alone novel 40 years ago.
If there is a redeeming theme within this book itself, as a separate part of the overall story, it’s the depiction of the dangers arising when religion gains, and becomes, a primarily political power.
The horrific results of that can be seen throughout human history.