Book Review: Dune
Frank Herbert, ACE, 884 pages
For science-fiction fans, Frank Herbert’s Dune was often introduced during a high school or college English class. For anyone with an interest in the fate of humanity, the 900-page tome became required reading.
Likewise, many of these young intellectuals took the charge of dissecting Dune seriously. Late into the night, they combed through its chapters and wrestled with its meanings, struggling to wrap their heads around the fairy tale of a down-and-out prince, his tight-fitting suit and addiction to a hallucinogenic spice. Some of these knowledge-seekers, overwhelmed by the ethereal qualities of the classic, skimmed a few pages, bought the cliff notes, and put off further study in exchange for the more satisfying activities of youth — chasing lovers across campus, chugging beer at house parties, and thrashing around at concerts.
I belonged to this second camp. My first contact with Dune occurred when I was 15 and worked part-time at a video store. In addition to the $2 per hour I was paid in cash for my services, I was allowed to borrow a VHS cassette at the end of every shift.
One night I chose the film adaptation of Dune (1984) written and directed by David Lynch and starred Kyle MacLachan as the noble hero Paul Atreides. While the blue-eyed Fremen intrigued me, the fat-floating Baron Vladimir Harkonnen disgusted me, and Sting’s role as Feyd Rautha struck me as just-plain-cool, the overall murky cinematography convinced me that the film was an artistic anomaly. Thus, I was in no hurry to delve into the paperback. I prophesized I would explore the series when I was older, wiser, and better acquainted with drug culture to appreciate the grand mysteries of the epic space opera.
Finally, at the age of 44, I felt I earned my credentials; it was time to revisit Dune. Since those whirlwind teenage years, I had travelled extensively (on my own dime and time) and held too many jobs to count on my fingers (but pizza delivery driver, insurance adjuster, news reporter, and teacher are a few that come to mind). I had read my share of the classics and spent years pondering the big questions tied to philosophy, psychology and literature. I was even author of a few science fiction novels myself.
As with watching the film version when I was younger, however, reading the masterpiece continued to be a strain on my consciousness. Like the giant sand worms pushing their way through the desert, Dune was a slog of a tale to sift. I put it down and came back to it and read several books in between, until finally, at some point, I lost myself in it. Maybe the spice hooked me.
The trip was worth it. For a middle-aged man with a wife and daughter so weary of a planet driven by unchecked commercialism and hell-bent destruction, Dune was a profound and pleasant opportunity to reflect on a world in which seemingly magical and pragmatic forces of existence come together to fight for a society steeped in righteousness and revolutionary ecology.
In that sense, I wish my fellow Earthlings were more like Fremen. Until that day comes, Dune remains a deeply refreshing and satisfying gulp taken from the waters of life.
Ryan Hyatt, Nov. 27, 2020