“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”
-From 'Manual of Muad’Dib' by the Princess Irulan
Frank Herbert's Dune Saga is the story of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, upon which is found a rare and valuable resource that every Great House in existence depends upon. Without it, interstellar trade would end. Even the Emperor of the Known Universe would be rendered mostly powerless in all but name. Whosoever controls the retrieval and distribution of that specific resource will be a formidable foe in a never-ending, far-reaching power struggle.
The first book concentrates on the rise of a reluctant messianic figure from not-quite-humble beginnings towards something he never expected to be.
The two things are connected but are each only a small part of what the novel contains. There’s a staggering amount of depth beneath the surface, exploring everything from petty feuds and familial concerns to the basic needs of evolution, ecology, society and the intersection of religion, politics and power.
Don’t expect to find what’s great about Dune solely by reading the words on the page. Doing so may lead to disappointment, especially in the early stages when the descriptive language is sometimes stiff and the dialogue unnatural. No, the real treasure only reveals itself if you delve between the lines and identify the nuances and implications of the situations that Frank engineers.
He calls upon the reader to recognise what’s required of them, to engage with the layers of meaning. Character responses are tailored to the person making the enquiry, dictated by the speaker’s relationship to the recipient and the calculated balancing of full or limited disclosure. How they behave in different situations or in the presence of different people is itself a guide that teaches how we as readers ought to be analysing it. New ways of seeing are gradually revealed to the protagonists and we must adopt the same approach or be left behind.
It eases you into the concept slowly. The structured opening sets the base level and then builds upon it until you’re second-guessing every action and wondering at more than just the moral implications of every decision. If you’re able to get into that mindset then reality can get swept away; nothing exists except the book and its world. Texts are supposed to do that, but Dune consumes me, utterly.
A word of caution if you have the 40th Anniversary Edition: Frank’s son Brian mentions in his afterword that he’s aware for some people the book they’re holding is their first experience with Dune, and yet he deems it acceptable to put in spoilers for Books II and III. If you want to avoid those, either don’t read it at all or wait until after you've read Children of Dune (1976).
5 plans within plans within plans out of 5
Note: The book was adapted into a feature film and a TV miniseries, neither of which were wholly successful but deserve praise for making the attempt. You can read about the miniseries HERE on one of our sister sites, Nut Box.