I re-read Dune by Frank Herbert this year because a member of my work book club selected it. The rules of work book club are: we pick a book that has a movie or television adaptation, so that we can still hang out and gossip with the folks in the book club who inevitably don’t read the book. Those of us who do always read the book get to discuss what we liked or didn’t like about the adaptation. We rotate between who chooses the next month’s book, so when an avowed non-book reader selected Dune, the book-readers among us initially rolled our eyes at being given this particular assignment.
I had originally read Dune when I was, honestly, too young to get the full impact of the novel. I vaguely remembered enjoying it while I read it, but in the years since then I had developed some negative feelings around the fan-base of the book, and therefore the book itself.
Anyway, in case you don’t know the plot: Dune is a science fiction novel following the young Paul Atreides as his family, caught up in the political machinations of the empire, accept/are forced to move from their home planet and become the stewards of the planet Arrakis. Known colloquially as Dune, Arrakis is a desert planet with one major export: the spice, which enables faster than light travel and is therefore integral to the empire’s functioning. It’s a high risk/high reward situation for the Atreides family, to say the least. As his family’s fortune and safety hangs in the balance, Paul must decide whether to reject or accept the destiny that is calling to him.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book as an adult! I found it quite readable for such a dense book, and I was blown away by the level of detail that Herbert devoted to world-building. Perhaps…it’s wrong to judge a franchise by its most toxic, Incel-y fans? Looking at you, Star Wars…I’ve also seen that there’s a debate about whether or not Dune is meant to be a traditional “hero’s journey” narrative or a repudiation of this trope. There’s an actual, literal line in the book that says “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a hero.” So, that seems to settle that question?
I would say that readers should go in with the foreknowledge that they are reading a book by a white American dude in the 1960s. There are definitely some dated (i.e. bigoted) views in the book, particularly with how the evil Baron Harkonnen’s sexuality is portrayed: to me, it sometimes reads as if Herbert is equating homosexuality with pedophilia. I also found this article (which I believe I originally saw linked off of Pajiba) very helpful to contextualize Herbert’s co-opting of aspects of Islamic culture and languages. That said, If you have the patience for meticulous world-building, then the payoff here is well worth the extra energy it takes to read Herbert’s dense prose. I actually found myself eagerly reading the (many) appendices to learn more about the fully fleshed-out universe that he created.
AND – much to my surprise – the non-book-reader in the club who originally selected Dune did actually read the book this time around…and she also enjoyed it!
Bingo Square: Camel/Adaptation: There are camels in the (Earth) desert, PLUS people keep on adapting this famously un-adaptable book with varying degrees of success. Also! Evolution/adaptation is a major theme of the series.