“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.”
I first read Dune some years ago, probably in my later teens. I really enjoyed it and it left a strong impression on me. I remember going to see David Lynch’s film version at a cinema in Manchester back in the winter of 1984. This was before I read the book. I also remember the hype building up to the film’s release and the focus on the special effects of the sandworms. Lynch’s movie; I know how much it gets slated but there’s something about it that I’ve always loved. Parts of it look and feel completely alien and strange. And those sandworms still look great today, I don’t care what you say!
But on to the novel.
There are so many reviews of Dune already out there that I wonder what I can add to the conversation. Only my opinion and what I liked about the story. I’m not going to attempt a critical reading or interpretation of the novel. If you want to read one of those, I highly recommend you check out fellow book-blogger Bart’s rich and thoughtful review over here at “Weighing A Pig Doesn’t Fatten It“. I can only dream of writing such a thoughtful and intelligent review.
You are probably already familiar with parts of the story so I will give a very brief synopsis. Dune is the name of the desert planet Arrakis. This planet is prized for its ‘spice melange’, a very valuable commodity. Two rival families are vying for control of Arrakis: the Atreides and the Harkonnens. At the beginning of the story, control of Arrakis is being passed from the Harkonnens to the Atreides on orders of Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV.
Well, the question is does the book hold up after all these years? Quick answer, yes, it does. In my opinion, Dune is a masterpiece. Frank Herbert’s years spent researching and writing Dune are worth every last grain of spice from his stunningly-realized desert planet. I cannot stress enough how glorious this story is. But it is easy to sit here and write superlatives about Herbert’s novel. Let me tell you why I rate it so highly.
The world-building is excellent. Herbert creates a vivid world without getting lost in overly-detailed descriptions. Arrakis feels like a real place by the end of the book. I could visualize the sand dunes, the rocks, the huge worms, the Fremen and their dwellings. We get a strong feeling of just how precious water is on this planet, particularly when Herbert expands on the native Fremen’s traditions and beliefs. And the concept of the “stillsuit” is genius.
All of the main characters have strong, distinctive personalities. Herbert gives each of them individual voices and mannerisms. I like it when we are dropped into the characters’ minds and hear their direct thoughts. This helps make them feel more real and we sympathize with their different plights. What is especially impressive–when you consider Dune was published in 1965–is the strong female characters of Jessica, Chani, and even the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. They each have vital parts to play in the story and are served well by the author.
‘Whirling silence settled around Jessica. Every fiber of her body accepted the fact that something profound had happened to it. She felt that she was a conscious mote, smaller than any subatomic particle, yet capable of motion and of sensing her surroundings. Like an abrupt revelation–the curtains whipped away–she realized she had become aware of a psychokinesthetic extension of herself. She was the mote, yet not the mote.’
Another notable part of the narrative which impressed me is its inclusion and handling of court intrigue. The fierce rivalry between the two royal houses of Atreides and Harkonnen leads to a compulsive plot filled with power struggles, assassination attempts, bloody fights, betrayals, and more. Frank Herbert handles this all with great skill tying the different plot threads together and shaping the book into a real page-turner. The knife-fight scenes are particularly memorable, being brilliantly written, tense and thrilling. When the action comes, it’s difficult to take a breath and pause in your reading.
I could go on and on singing the praises of this brilliant book but I don’t want this review to get too long. I could write about how the philosophical ideas Herbert includes are deep and rich and add another layer to the story. I could also talk about its treatment of ecological themes and how well thought out they are. But I will leave that to better reviewers than me.
“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”
I will say again, in my opinion Frank Herbert’s Dune is a masterpiece of imagination. I recommend both the book and the brilliant audiobook production narrated primarily by Simon Vance. It also includes narration by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, and Ilyana Kadushin. I haven’t listened to many audiobooks but this is my favourite so far.
My highest recommendation!
‘It was as though he rode within the wave of time, sometimes in its trough, sometimes on a crest–and all around him the other waves lifted and fell, revealing and then hiding what they bore on their surface.’