Frank Herbert
Dune Cover

Failing tragically...



I have long held the suspicion that what underlies big parts of literature is the way we relate to us being determined.

At a basic level, everybody understands that reality is deterministic: if an egg falls, it breaks. If you drink alcohol, your behavior changes. If our heads are chopped off, we die. Physical and chemical laws - via evolution - give rise to biology, behavior and society. That knowledge is a problem for our consciousness, for we feel in control.

As freedom is inherent in so many human claims, our basic understanding of reality short circuits with our basic perception of ourselves. It is humanity's most basic problem - already acknowledged centuries ago by numerous strands of religious Predestination.

Recurrent readers of this blog know that I tend to find examples of this in many of the books I read. I believe the problem is the very bleeding heart of tragedy. It will not surprise you it is the core of Dune.

Recurrent readers of other Dune reviews will have found the usual references to other themes: environmentalism, ecology, oil, "critique of the myth of the hero" and religious fanaticism. It's what keeps this book fresh, they claim. It's about the Middle East! It's about climate change! Etc. And while such claims definitely have merit, they miss the essential thing. The central theme is Paul's prescience - and how this is tied to determinism. It is that what keeps the book fresh forever: it grounds Dune firmly in a reality we will never escape.

Dune is an ecological book, indeed, but not only in the Greenpeace way. Dune stresses the importance of ecology: the environment, conditions, surroundings, milieu, external factors, what have you. Factors that determine the way organisms succeed or not, that restrain their evolution, and that - ultimately - guide their internal make up.

The imperial planetary ecologist Liet-Kynes - arguably the most wise of all of Dune's characters, and the grandfather of the later God-Emperor - knows this: "When God hath ordained a creature to die in a particular place, He causeth that creature's wants to direct him to that place."


For the full 5500 words analysis, please visit Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It