I’m halfway through Dune Messiah and boy, it’s getting weird, but I am so, so in.
Origins of Dune
As I have said elsewhere, I’ve discovered many of my favorite series simply by perusing the various lists of award nominees and winners, but the way I found Dune was a bit different. The year 2000 was a bountiful year for the Dune franchise. I don’t have an exact timeline, but somewhere around there is where I was becoming culturally aware, and my first exposure to the franchise was either the SyFy Channel mini-series or the release of Westwood Studios’ PC videogame Dune 2000. My fourteen-year old brain was in awe of what I was seeing – “There’s a desert planet like Tatooine! And what’s the deal with the blue eyes?? And OH MY GOD THERE ARE GIANT WORMS LIKE IN TREMORS!”
Inspired by these interpretations of Dune in other mediums, I first picked up Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi epic Dune somewhere right around that time period. I distinctly remember a high school friend telling me that Dune was incredibly dense and tough to comprehend. It was true – I was constantly referring back to the glossary to check on the meaning of words like “Fedaykin” and “Bene Gesserit” and I can easily admit now that I mostly wasn’t registering what I was reading. I finished the first book and enjoyed it (despite not fully understanding it), and I did not continue on with the series. For years and years, the franchise fell out of the forefront of my mind.
That was, of course, until one of my favorite directors signed on to helm a new adaptation. I still cannot believe that not only are we getting a Denis Villeneuve-directed Dune movie, but that the cast, crew, and entire production looks this stellar. I mean, look at it:
At this time last year, only about two months into the pandemic, my Dune elation was at an all time high. I was following the production of the film very closely and, feeling the need to consume more Dune content, I decided to revisit the original novel. Not only did I read it, but I somehow convinced by non-sci-fi-loving fiancé, Julianne, to read it as well. This time around, twenty years removed from my original read, I enjoyed, and more importantly, understood the novel quite a bit more. I understand now, of course, that Tatooine is like Arrakis, and not the other way around. I understand that the graboids from Tremors are just cheap knock-offs of Shai-Hulud. Furthermore, I now understand that, unlike Luke’s path in Star Wars, Paul Atreides’ path in Dune is not The Hero’s Journey, but instead, a journey of loss in which the hero rejects his pre-ordained role. This shit…doesn’t work out the way you want it to.
– – MAJOR DUNE SPOILERS BELOW – –
I’m starting to suspect that anyone who expected a happy ending to the Dune saga will be sorely disappointed. I’m only about 60% of the way through my first read of of the second book in the series, but I’m already getting the vibe that whether or not Paul Atreides is the “chosen one” is a moot point; he doesn’t want it, and he seems to be actively refuting his status. This is itself a trope at this point in literature, but it’s refreshing in Dune Messiah because Paul can actually see his path; he can see the loss and failure in his future, and despite his prescient visions, he’s trying to save the ones he loves from their preordained dooms. Despite being the most powerful human alive and the Emperor of the known universe, he’s powerless against destiny.
“You can’t stop what’s comin’.”
Sequels, whether they’re movies or books or whatever, typically try to take the winning formula of the first installment and build upon the formula that warranted the sequel – thus we get more action, more explosions, and…just plain ole’ more. Dune Messiah does not follow that formula. Whereas Dune did an enormous amount of world building that led up to a thrilling final climax, thus far Dune Messiah has been the antithesis of what many would expect a sequel to be. I keep expecting there to be action, but so far we’re just getting a lot of dialogue and inner monologue as Paul edges closer to his final, terrible purpose.
I saw a meme recently in r/DuneMemes that perfectly sums up my experience with Dune Messiah thus far:
The Shape of (Spice) Water
The best part of Dune Messiah, though, has got to be the Guild Steersman Edric. Described has having an an “elongated figure, vaguely humanoid with finned feet and hugely fanned membranous hands — a fish in a strange sea,” Edric is a product of the Spacing Guild’s navigator breeding program. His extreme addiction to the spice melange has warped his body and mind to the point where he can have prescient dreams similar to Paul’s – it’s this skill that sets the plot in motion as Paul’s enemies finally decide how to attack him. Anyway, all this is to say that Edric is a gross man-fish that looks kinda like this:
Anyway, I’m going to keep plugging along to find out what happens to Paul Atreides and the rest of the Atreides line, but ill omens abound. I admit that I’ve run across a few spoilers here and there during the last 20 years, but I’m still having a blast blowing through this thing, despite that it is, frankly, quite weird and introspective. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, indeed.