The author and the book:
This book is written by Frank Herbert (1920), a renowned science fiction author from England. He was a professional photographer before taking up writing, and he has also benn a radio news commentator and a jungle survival instructor. He died on february 11th, 1986, leaving a wife and two children.
He has published several science fiction books in addition to “Dune”, for instance “The Dragon in the Sea” (1956), and “The Green Brain” (1966), and also several follow-up books to “Dune”.
“Dune” was first published in 1966, by Victor Gollancz Ltd. Herbert recieved the highest literary award for the book, the Nebula and the Hugo awards.
The plot takes place mainly on the planet of Arrakis, although it starts on the planet Caladan. It sometimes shifts from Arrakis to portray what happens on Geidi Prime, the homeworld of the Harkonnen.
It is a bit difficult to place the setting in time, as this is not aproximated with more than subtle hints, but as it is a science fiction novel ,it hardly seems nessessary. Earth is not mentioned in the book, but there are things that indicate that Earth once existed in this universe, but it is basicly called the universe, no referance to our solar system or anything like that. The plot is basicly confined to the three planets of Caladan, Geidi Prime and Arrakis, some 90 generations after something called “The Butlerian Jihad”, (which, of course, is not placed properly in time either). Basicly, it is in the far future, although it is not as far-fetched as other novels of the genre.
The planet of Arrakis must be described in full to understand the plot of the book. It is a desolate desrt planet, with the ice on the north pole as the seemingly only source of water. The planet is the only source of the spice Melange, usually only called spice. It is what the commerce and economy of the Empire is based on, and what the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild (an organisation with monopoly on interstellar travel) get their abilities from. The planet is a fief, and the house currently in possession of the fief is responsible that spice collection is maintained at an adequate level.
The planet has native inhabitants, called Fremen. These live in the desert, and have specialised in stealth, figthing, and most of all, surviving in the desert. They were special suits, called stillsuits, which acts as water reclamation units. This is a nessessity when living on a planet where water is the most valuable commodity. They live in communities of about 20000 people, called sietches.
The planet is also home for a special sort of animal, the sandworm. These can grow up to the size of a large spaceship, and can kill any straggelers in the desert (apart from the Fremen, who have mastered the art of actually riding the worms for transport over great distances). The spice originates from these worms, but this is a fact that only the Fremen are aware of.
The book basicly has two main characters, although several others contribute to the plot. There is a character who is something in between, but maybe more of a major character rather than an insignificant one.. He is not visited so often in the book, but we get to know him to get some contrast in the story, and to make it more diverse, so that it doesn’t follow only one of the many schemes which make up the main plot of the story. But I will now describe these three characters in short, as there are so many fassets to their characters and personalities.
The son of the Duke Leto Atreides, former duke of the waterplanet Caladan. Paul is 15 when his life is uprooted, and he must follow his family to Arrakis (Dune). As the heir to the Dukehood of House Atreides, he has been trained all his life, both philosophically, mentally, psychologically, aristocarticly and in all the arts of war, including hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting and strategic thinking. His mother is a Bene Gesserit, schooled in the arts of the Weirding (it’s to complicated to explain, the book must be read), and has given her son training like no other boys have ever recieved (The Bene Gesserit are secretive of their ways, teaching their knowlegde only to girls). He could be (and later becomes) the ultimate goal of the Bene Gesserit breeding programme, which has been going on since the last jihad, the so-called Kwisatz Haderach, a man who can see the future and the past with absolute certainty, among other things. He is later believed to be the Fremen messias, the Lisan-al-Gaib, of Mahdi, which he also becomes in becoming the Kwisatz Haderach. After House Atreides falls, he and his mother are forced to live in hiding among the Fremen, the native inhabitants of Arrakis, until such time comes when he manages to reclaim his fief, and ends up becoming Emperor all in one fell swoop. Paul is the most dynamic of all the characters, undergoing rather heavy changes in personality and culture during the book. Jessica also undergo changes, but not of that magnitude, at least not personality-wise.
The mother of Paul, and the royal consort of his father, the late Leto Atreides. She is Bene Gesserit, trained in their ways since birth. She passed her training on to her son, which enabled him to become what he later would be. She flees to the desert with him, and later becomes a Reverend Mother (a sort of high priestess among the Fremen), and continues to be an important part of her sons life in further training of him, until he fulfills his destiny. She is also the mother of Paul’s sister, Alia, who is born among the Fremen.
The Baron Harkonnen:
The leader of House Harkonnen, House Atreides’ sworn enemy. He is a fat man, unable to carry his own weight (he needs the help of suspensors, an anti-gravity technology). He is cunning, malevolent and devious, and plots to put himself on the Imperial throne. He is the one who formulates the plan against House Atreides. He is (something I find rather strange, considering when the book was written) homosexual (althoug this is not said in that exact term, it is wery openly hinted as he says he prefers young slave boys over slave women. There’s no disputing the fact.). This I find strange, considering that this book was published in 1966, a period where homosexuality wasn’t accepted yet. But maybe, in the eyes of the 60’s, it aplifies the impression we are supposed to get of him as “the bad guy”. And if I haven’t mentioned it, Paul, his mother, and the Fremen are “the good guys”.
Structure and the narrators point of view:
The story starts rather head on, with things being explained as they happen. The story’s main climax is in the end of the last chapter, but there are various smaller plots all through the book, with their corresponding small climaxes in various parts of the book, all building up to the events at the end. The book has a rather abrupt ending (it ends abouy two pages after the climax), which is left a bit open, but what happens after the book is pretty easy to imagine. As I haven’t read the follow-up books, I am not sure of the spesific outcome, but it is basicly a happy ending.
The narrator is a third person, omniscient narrator. He knows the thougts of all people in the book who matter, and also all events.
The plot (quick summary):
The story begins on Caladan. We meet the Atreides as they embark for Arrakis, their new fief. They arrive there, and stay in controll for about six months, until they are attacked by their arch enemies, the Harkonnen, who is secretly backed by the Emperor. The Atreides are betrayed by their doctor, a doctor Yueh, who was forced to do so. But he manages send Paul and Jessica away from the Harkonnen, into the hands of the Fremen, who also despise the Harkonnen. Here, Paul and Jessica live for another 4 years, being accepted in different manors, she as a Reverend Mother, he as the messiah of legend. He receives training by the Fremen in the ways of the desert, and he and his mother trains them in the combat styles of the Bene Gesserit. Paul becomes leader for a huge squad of death commandos, called the Fedaykin.
When they have accumulted enough forces and resources, they launch an attack on the Harkonnen and the Emperor (the latter had just arrived on Arrakis to try and eliminate the Fremen, who were seriously hindering the free flow of the spice through the Empire with their raids on Arrakis). Even the Emperors elite troope, the Sardaukar, are no match for the Fremen forces led by Paul-Muad’Dib (which is saying something, as the Sardaukar are unmatched by any troops in the Empire). After a final showdown with the heir to the Baronhood of House Harkonnen (the former baron fell at the hands of Paul’s sister, by poison), Paul assumes the Imperial throne, by forcing the Emperor to allow his oldest daughter to wed him. The Emperor is the banished to his own prison planet Selusa Secundus, and Paul, his mother and the Fremen (to use a rather spent cliché) lived happily ever after.
As I said, this is only a brief summary of the plot, as a full recount of the plot with all its many-fassetted sub-plots would be extremely long.
The theme of this book is not easily found, but in loose terms I would say that it is about personal developement, the fact that fate isn’t a predetermined thing, and the old cliché of “he who has the last laugh...”.
In my opinion, this is the best science fiction novel ever written, and the best piece of entertainment literature written in the 20th century, along with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I would recommend this book to anyone. It is not a difficult book to read, althoug there are some passages that require a second read to grasp its meaning. But all in all, a superb book, and the culmination of science fiction novels to date.