Throughout my years of reading, I’ve never encountered a book whose themes and overall plot resonate with popular culture as much as Dune. Written by Frank Herbert and originally published in 1965, Dune is an epic novel that’s since become the world’s bestselling work of science fiction. On Thursday, March 26th, the Dune Book Club met for the first time to discuss Herbert’s classic.
Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Dune takes place 21,000 years in the future. It is Action packed from the moment it begins until the very last page, following most closely the royal Atreides family. The Atreides have left their home planet of Caladen to take control of the spice-mining operations on the desert planet of Arrakis, formally controlled by their rival, the House of Harkonnen.
Duke Leto Atreides sees the possession of Arrakis as an opportunity to gain power, wealth, prosperity, and political influence that cannot be turned down, regardless of the potential ramifications. One such ramification is angering the House of Harkonnen, another is life (or an attempt at it) in the ruthless desert. In learning to live in the desert, the Atreides must also learn to successful navigate relations with Freman, the native inhabitants of Arrakis. Duke Leto’s concubine Jessica and their son Paul, who is slated to be the Duke, are forced by circumstance to take on the responsibility of being successful ambassadors.
Intermingling with the political struggle between Atreides and Harkonnen are the spiritual beliefs of the Freman. A prophecy on Arrakis speaks of the son of a Bene Gesserit (which is the sisterhood of women with superhuman abilities to which Jessica belongs) who will bring peace and fruitful life to all on Arrakis. Through the training received from his mother, Paul realizes he may be the one to fulfill the prophecy and beings taking on his role in hopes of shepherding harmony on the planet Arrakis. The war brewing between the Atreides, Harkonnens, and Fremen is stunted by religious fervor for Paul as he takes on the identity of ‘Paul-Maud’Dib’–granting Paul the leverage needed to start a jihad against the Harkonnen governance.
As is evident in the above paragraphs, the story of Dune is complex. However, the ideas Herbert explores with his readers are reflections of historical realities and clearly relevant to this day. Arrakis, desert planet, places the conservation of water at center stage, which echoes the rise of modernized ecological awareness gaining popularity throughout the 1960s. Herbert treats Arrakis as a fully living organism and shows the changes brought to it by its inhabitants as altering its overall existence. While the names of characters and places as well as much of the vocabulary often references the Middle East, the political power struggles throughout the novel exemplifies many human wars and the rise and fall of civilizations throughout the great drama that is human history.
Lastly, even though classic science fiction has a bad reputation for its tendency to either disregard women or portray them as the lesser of two genders, Herbert presents something different. The female characters in Dune are not only fleshed out, they are powerful beings who can and do attain superhuman abilities. The 1960s marks a significant tipping point in the struggle for some sense of gender equality in the United States (though we still have a ways to go). In the midst of that social chaos, Herbert presented women that were not just sexed up space aliens but intelligent, mystical, human if at times omniscient, characters.
After avoiding the undertaking that is Dune for several years, I both revel in and regret the fact that I had not read it sooner. As an adult, many of the themes, including environmental awareness, political conflicts, and issues of gender equality were evident (and even a bit heavy handed at times). However, had I read it in middle school or younger (as many people I know did), I imagine many of the aforementioned themes would have gone over my head and Paul’s hero journey or the technology would have been more enticing. Most importantly, Dune is a great story that is accessible to a broad range of readers, especially those who thirst for adventure.
-Post written by Veronica Lim