Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Re-reading Dune

Dune is one of the books I remember loving, but I haven't read it for a number of years, maybe 20, so when a friend suggested we re-read, I thought it was a great idea. We will use this blogpost to talk about re-reading the book. At this stage, we have read up to Book 1. The discussion is in the comments.

31 comments:

Tripp said...

One of the things that surprised me was how much I liked the book when re-reading it. I suspected it was youthful enthusiasm, but I find it as fresh and exciting as I did back then.

Harris said...

I agree. One of the things that grabs you from the get-go is Herbert's ability to set such an ominous mood. The description of the emptying Atreides estate, I found, was very unsettling and a portent of things to come.

Tripp said...

He certainly writes quite a bit of portentous prose. On the one level there is the doom of House Atreides, but there is also the change for Paul and for the universe itself as the plot moves forward.

Harris said...

What did you think the first time you read it when you learned that, after tens of thousands of years of advancement, Herbert believed that humans would settle back into an essentially unjust feudal system? Was that saying something, or was it just to set the stage for the Fremen uprising? In other words, was it a cop-our that he had to restructure an antiquated system to allow the plot to develop, or does it have some inherent meaning itself?

Harris said...

Agree with you, Tripp. There is that odd sense of "emptiness" even when a place is full of people that good writers can convey. A la the opening chapters of the Shining - a bustling hotel that still felt ominous and sparse, given things to come

Tripp said...

Hmmmm, well when I first read it, I admit I did not consider whether Herbert was debating if history was linear or cyclical, I just thought, hey cool!

Today, though, I think he might have been arguing that the Empire, perhaps a stand-in for the 500 year dominance of the West, might fall before revolutionary forces in the Mid-east.

Tripp said...

Regarding the emptiness, I noted that most of the people in House Atreides are anonymous. They are often called the "Duke's men," as if it were pointless to name them.

Harris said...

On the first issue - I agree with you but it still begs the question (sorry Brack) of whether that was an intentional comment on the cyclical nature of history, or just a device to set the stage?

On the second - agreed - once again, ties into the first. Almost biblical in the anonymity of secondary actors - incidentally, such was even more extreme in the bible vis a vis women. Only the perfect embodiments of feminine traits merited a mention and only when they somehow affected the plot (the matriarchs and Mary on the side of virtue, and Eve, Lot's Wife, Delilah, Mary Magdelene, et al, on the other hand). Another Dune parallel in the biblical themes running through it.

Tripp said...

Nice points all around and fair enough on my dodge of your question.

Regarding the nature of history, I think he is saying it is cyclical with a rise of power, a descent into decadence and then rebirth via violence. The Butlerian jihad is followed in time by the Fremen jihad and that too will lead into decadence. In some ways this lessens the import of Paul and his eventual jihad, as he too will be replaced and that he is a tool of history.

There are quite of lot Biblical themes there, and as we have noted before, a good bit of Hebrew language (and Arabic as well?)

The role of women is interesting. I think they are a bit stronger here, with the role of the Bene Gesserit. You could argue that all the key women serve as supporters of the growth of Paul though.

Harris said...

Excellent first comment there - Paul as "tool of history" is underscored by the fact that, as you may recall, the VERY LEGEND ITSELF of the Kwitstatz Haderach was implanted by the BG into the planet's lore. And this ties nicely to your last point - the role of women. I agree with you - far more prominent and strong - but equally interesting is that the Lady Jessica was a concubine, never the wife.

Tripp said...

The concubinage underscores the idea of servitude, but also that of the veiled manipulator, which the Bene Gesserit certainly are. The plots of the BG reinforce the idea that Herbert is interested in history as a subject.

Another idea that Herbert advances is that to be a homo sapiens, does not necessarily make one human. He introduces it early on and then lets it recede into the story itself. Do you think this is a comment on modern humanity's reliance on machines or something else?

Brack said...

It's about time to elevate the intellectual level of this debate.

Resolved: that Sandworms are like big giant kawks.

Have at it.

Tripp said...

Brack,

Well stated! They are in fact thus. Attracted mindlessly to sensations and productive of a mind altering substance! Nicely put!

Harris said...

Plus, you can grab onto them with a big ol' pair of hooks and ride 'em alllll night, baby! YEAH!!!

Harris said...

Tripp - to your (serious) point: I too thought that was interesting - the computer people, the bard - everyone with their role. Not so sure it's a comment on reliance on machine so much as our willingness within an overly hierarchical structure to assign roles to individuals - the extreme of which requires them to give up their humanity and solely be defined by task/specialty. Precursor of slavery mentality? Hence Baker, Cooper, Carpenter, Brewer, Fletcher in feudal society.

Tripp said...

So, if that is what the Empire has done, do Paul and the Fremen break that hierarchy and allow humanity to start anew?

A broader question. Is this book good because of Herbert's close attention, and the logical and thematic coherence, to the world he has created or because he is a good story teller?

Harris said...

1. Or just exchange one oppressive regime for another - arguably as mindless or more.

2. I think the logical and thematic coherence is crucial. It makes the story, in my opinion. I totally nerd out with the glossary and try to uncover linguistic inconsistencies.

On the first point - and more general - do you really like Paul?

Tripp said...

1. I think there is a sadness in the replacement of one regime for another. Maybe as a warning to those who advocate revolution? (the book was published in 1965.)

2. Awesome! Did you uncover any? Yes, I think it is crucial as well. World creation is critical for sci fi and fantasy IMHO.

3. Re: Paul. Having just read book 1 (of three) I can't say just now. He emerges in the second and third books so we shall see. You?

Harris said...

1. I agree, and even sadder when an oppressive antiquated one is replaced by over-the-top religious zealotry, with much blood spilt in the course thereof. Perhaps a "look where your BS feudal system leads," as a warning to imperialists who think that oppressed people will just "take it."

2. Nope - didn't find any. He's good - a la JRRT.

3. I don't think I like him. A little over-the-top introspective and whiny. Plus he really leads the Fremen because his mom comes to his aid in the Jamis battle, and thereafter (and therebefore, to the extent the BG-implanted Fremen lore set him up for greatness). But I didn't really like Frodo either and I see some consistency in this.

Back to the BG-implanted lore for a moment. Condemnation of religion as being solely a vehicle of manipulation? Recall, Paul DOES have extraordinary abilities too. Hard to square that up.

Tripp said...

Regarding Paul, maybe his extraordinary abilities X BG implantation=success? His views on religion aren't clear, but I suspect they are negative. Here they are appear to be a social construct prone to blowback.

Also I see that you do not like the protagonists of two books you quite like. I also am fine with not liking or identifying with the main characters, but that is often a complaint about books. Do you hear this much about Paul? I need to re-finish to be sure.

On the notion of warning to imperialist, yes, it could be a conservatives call to caution.

Neill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neill said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g66iEr2HrvM

Neill said...

Does Kynes really serve two masters? When he first meets Leto he says that he has been commanded to betray the Duke---but if he really had gone native why would he ever join a conspiracy to engineer a return of the harkonens, so hated by the fremen?

Tripp said...

I need to get crackin on Book 2, as I haven't re-read that bit yet. More when I read it.

Tripp said...

Thinking about Book 1, I don't think he reveals his conspiracy, at least that I can remember. He is also somewhat disdainful of the Duke, until he admires his actions.

So far he could be a double agent who has burrowed in particularly well. Need to read more to see.

Harris said...

Me too - need to freshen up - but doesn't it seem that the end justifies the means for him - to engineer the re-greening of the planet?

Neill said...

Yeah the duke's actions bring Kynes to like and respect him but why would kynes continue to follow the Emperors commands once he went native. The emperor wasn't interested in greening the planet. He was only interested in getting rid of the atreides line because it had gained popularity among the other houses and threatened padishah's rule. But even before growing to like the Duke, Kynes would never support a plan to return the harks to arrakis if he had truly gone fremen. Don't you think?
there's means but the ends is shitty - lose/lose for kynes' interests.

Neill said...

this is book 1 stuff. i think that kynes is dead at the hands of the harks shortly into book 2 right? the emperor musta fed him a line of BS to betray the duke.

re. religion.....i'm still figuring out how the cycle of the book goes...is paul the prophecy come true or is he exploiting the prophecy to rise in power? is it matter of both?
also... at one point he claims that he is so much more than the kwizats haderach ...that's sopmething i don't remember from previous readings... then what is he? is he more badass than we thought?

Tripp said...

Let me get back to you on Kynes. I think he may have had his own agenda and no real reason to support Leto.

Re: religion, I have a few thoughts. On one level, you could look at Paul as Jesus in the sense that he was the Messiah they didn't want. He ended up fulfilling a prophecy but not in a way suitable. In regards to the KH I think Paul is aware that the BG are foolish to trust that the KH will be something they can control. And Paul is also aware of the tragic consequences of his rise.

Tripp said...

Re: Kynes, here is how I see it.

A) Kynes wants to green Arrakis.
B) Kynes cuts a deal with Emperor to get what we wants that requires working with Harkonnens.
C) He meets Paul and is at least partially swayed by his charisma and vision.
D) Harkonnens are bad dealers and kill Kynes.

Neill said...

yeah you put into words what i had gathered from the start of book2