Arrakis. Dune. Desert Planet. Paul Atreides. Bene Gesserit. Gom Jabbar. Mentat. Maud’Dib. This list of strange words goes on.
If none of it means anything to you, don’t worry. It didn’t mean anything to me either when I first started reading Dune, Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic published in 1965. Dune is making a resurgence into the zeitgeist thanks to another Hollywood attempt to bring the science-fiction spectacle to the big screen. It’s hard to talk about Dune independent of its cultural impact. For now, I’ll start with the story.
At its core, Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, a noble-born son cast out and left for dead on a desert planet only to emerge as the messiah of his people and the universe at large. It’s the Hero’s Journey, as you’ve never seen it before, but, yes, you have. Storytellers George R.R. Martin and George Lucas cite Dune as inspiration for their fictitious (and highly lucrative) worlds.
From a literary standpoint, Frank Herbert’s significant achievement lies in how he created an elaborate, multi-layered world that serves as a grand metaphor for the messianic figure. The aesthetic of Herbert’s world differs from the worlds of Game of Thrones or Star Wars because Herbert places particular emphasis on technology and the physical properties of the environment. Also, Herbert’s world has solid religious undertones—and overtones— as well.
Anyone who considers themselves a serious science fiction fan ought to read Dune, the way that anyone who considers themselves a fan of gothic literature ought to read Dracula. Dune is a genre-defining work that holds up still, and exists at the boundaries of what world-building and the hero’s journey can be. The fall of 2021 will see another attempt at Dune on the big screen. The last shot came in 1984 with a bizarre and visually disturbing production that, oddly enough, still gets discussed today. It will be interesting to see what the filmmakers come up with this time. The book will be split into two parts, so we can expect a sequel in a few years.
So now that I’ve finished the stand-alone Dune book, did it leave me wanting more? There are many other books in the Dune universe, but I think I’m done for now. I know things get more complicated for Paul Atreides later on down the road, maybe in the way they did for Daenerys Targaryen. But for now, I’d like to leave Paul where he is, a conquering hero and a prophecy fulfilled.