Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Dune by Frank Herbert

I first read Dune 20 years ago. Earlier in the year, excited by the upcoming movie, I read “Frank Herbert” by Tim O’Reilly, and my overall feeling was one of omission. And I thought that revisiting Dune would be illuminating. Re-reading books is not something I’ve done much of. I wish I had written notes on my first reading!

What I remembered and what I forgot

  • I forgot much of the universe, which was both disappointing, and also entertaining in that many revelations were often unexpected.
  • I’d forgotten about the convoluted and intertwined relationships between House Harkonen and House Atreides. That Sardaukar is the name of a house is a revelation. And Paul's relation to Princess Irulan was also fascinating and unremembered.
  • Gurney Halleck and Thufir Hawat were largely forgotten.
  • Obviously the main characters were very familiar. Stilgar was surprisingly crisp in my memory, as was Duncan Idaho, who I remember having a much larger role (perhaps he does in subsequent books).

How my impression changed

  • Paul Atreides felt a lot more villainous to me now, perhaps colored by my recent reading of Frank Herbert. Earlier I remember basically being wholeheartedly in awe of him. Now I'm reticent. Paul Muad’dib is übermensch, reaching apex in too many domains to be humanly possible. Politically, inheriting duke and then in line to succeed the empire, spiritually as a living prophet, mentally as a proto-mentat and seer, physically as a vanquisher of foes in melee combat. And as a Fremen sand rider, capable of mounting legendarily large worms.
  • Leto Atreides has a much more outsized role in my mind compared to the short role he plays in the book. He is the unambiguous good character that I've personally identified as hero. Reminds me of my own father.

At the end of Dune, it's very unclear that the author’s goal is to discredit hero worship. At this point you can't help but worship Pail Muad’dib yourself. Unless of course Herbert’s deliberate plan is to get the reader feeling what a Fremen zealot would feel, before tearing you down in the sequels.