The first time I read Dune, it was a Bildungsroman turning a boy into a super-hero, a savior of his adopted folk, and an extremely exciting story. I was fourteen years old, there were no ever-present distractions by smart phones, and I had no device to play video games on. Those were the 1980s, and I wanted to be Paul Atreides, and Iron Maiden’s To Tame a Land ran continuously.
This first read started a life long journey with an on-off relationship to this novel. There’ve been several years in between where I didn’t touch it, and other times when I read it two times in a row. Let’s just assume it has been ten times that I’ve read it.
Now, you should know that I don’t re-read books. There are rare exceptions, but I quickly get bored with re-reading. This book is different, because each time I find something different in it. A different aspect, or something which touches me in the relevant phase of my life. And boy, the book is so readable in layers within layers within layers, that it keeps unfolding fascinating topics that I didn’t care for previously.
There were times in the 90s, when I was fascinated by Dune’s ecological discussion which I connected to our own sorry state of global warming and rising Sea levels.
In the late 1980s there was my religious struggle with Catholic church, and my quest through Buddhism, Zen, and comparisons to Islam. That re-read vibrated with Dune’s Orange-Catholic universal Bible and the sarcastic Bene Gesserit abuse of religious indoctrination, but also the following idiocies of religious fanaticism. I’m happy to say that I’ve found my peace in my belief again, though it’s an ever struggle.
Litany against fear
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
In the 90s, I also was heavily invested in everything Japanese, I just loved the Samurai, adored Myamoto Musashi, and trained in Aikido for several years. Dune’s Prana-bindu training, the weird way, reflects the mysticism of some of those fighting skills perfectly, because not everything in live is science or religion.
Another re-read followed my interests in Native uprises, most prominent the very long and very fascinating film Lawrence of Arabia which the Fremen story is based on. It also fit to the 9/11 terrorism and the reaction to it.
Re-reading Dune has never been a comfort read like so many other of my friends fall back into. It’s always been an intellectural or emotional struggle, a challenge coming up.
What was new this time? First of all, I didn’t really plan to read it this year (last time was 2017), but pictures of the new film hyped me again. My daughter asked for a buddy read (or was it the other way round?), and there we go again. It’s the first time that I didn’t slam through it in two or three days but had a slow read, a chapter a day. With special emphasis on the epigraphs, which are often overlooked in a continuous read-through.
This time, I discovered a gender topic – the strong, independent females – most prominent Lady Jessica Atreides as royal concubine, struggling mother, and fighting Bene Gesserit. But also Paul’s love interest Chani who never let her proud fighting skills be shadowed by Paul. And there is weird Alia of the Knives who snitched away the Baron Harkonnen as an en passent strike, and thereby deconstructing the big antagonist. Now Mr heroe’s journey Campbell, how do you take that blow?
This time, I’ve been preempted by several LGBT+ novels – it is a new thing for me as a reader to understand and interpret those non-binary pronouns. Coming back to Dune, there is nothing lesbian, agender or non-binary in it at first glance. And one can very safely read it as non-LGBT+ and be very happy with it (as I’ve been more than 35 years long). Only this time, an idea came up that I want to share:
“There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it’s almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed.”
The Kwisatz Haderach has to be male. But why is that necessary? When Paul induced himself into the mind-changing state caused by the Water of Life, and thus turned to be the Kwisatz Haderach, Frank Herbert could have taken a different outcome: My logical conclusion is that Paul should have turned agender or non-binary, because he sees both ways as giver and as taker, i.e. both male and female are open to him. In fact, he changed fundamentally that very moment, just not with the gender consequence. I don’t blame Herbert for not applying this, as that topic was uncommon back in the 1960s (though there were some SF experimental stories with gender transformation). And in a contemporary novel I’d certainly expect it. So there, you have it: It was gender discussion, this time.
So jump with me on a Sandworm and sing along “Riders on the Worm“.
Dune stays with me and keeps on giving. Together with Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, it is the only book on this blog with 6 stars, because it doesn’t fit in quality and importance to the otherwise excellent 5 star books.
A final word to the book edition those gorgeous pictures are taken from: That’s the Dune Deluxe Edition, isbn 059309932X, published by Ace. The binding is very good, it’s got that melange eye color stained edges, no interior illustrations, but the cover is double sided, and there is this awesome glossy iridescending style. I’d say it is affordable in contrast to other far pricier editions. Here’s the blurb for this edition:
– An iconic new cover
– Stained edges and fully illustrated endpapers
– A beautifully designed poster on the interior of the jacket
– A redesigned world map of Dune
– An updated Introduction by Brian Herbert