So this is my third reading of this book. The cover I put in this post is from my first 1990 copy of it, and it’s how I think of it. I’ve seen the movie a handful of times, and the miniseries twice, and I honestly feel both are terrible (David Lynch’s movie has a lot of good in it), and I think it all comes down to what feels impossible to convey in a film version without some real trying. I think the new movie will have the same issue, and looking over the castlist there’s no one cast as Irulan or the Emperor and there’s no Fayd Rautha (Sting in a thong). So what this does, like the with IT movies and Game of Thrones, is that it contracts the scope implied by the book if not fully conveyed by the book. The book’s energy, world-building, history, and religious touches are all huge. The story itself is relatively small, or rather small compared to outsized universe it inhabits. This is science fiction in the way of it being a series of colony planets that clearly trace their history back to Earth. This is a great touch, because it allows idiom and allusion to exist in this world, but it’s fantasy in its mysticism and storytelling. This allows the magic of the world to be expansive. So it’s Earth-based, with little reference outside of a shared cultural history. (And the point about the language allows me to feel ok about something I hate in a lot of fantasy books — allusions and idioms borrowed from English and spoken by people speaking “Common” — think Stannis saying “fewer” like that would make any sense in Westeros).
So the story involves the duke of a major house (within an empire) being shipped from an Earth-like planet to be a kind of colonial governor over Dune (or Arrakis), a desert planet that contained a nomad group of inhabitants, giant worms and giant storm, and an important “spice” that allows for long life. He is displacing a rival house who obviously won’t be leaving on their terms. All of this is punctuated by his son Paul’s being named a kind of witch? wizard? messiah? or whatever by an ancient group of witches, all women,….and well it goes on.
It’s the precursor for novels like Game of Thrones (fantasy political betrayal) and Star Wars (magic, powers, and sand), and lots of other books. It’s also got its feet in two different time periods of fantasy and sci fi, and has the scope and size to pull it off. Would it stand up to a critical interrogation of cultural appropriation? Probably not! Do I want to do that to it? Nope!