Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Four

The Dune Reread is going to keep questionable items in our dining rooms, ponder age-old feuds and sit with guilt, then get almost-assassinated! So. Pretty full docket, there.

This week we’re questioning the practicality of bobblehead toys. What is the intended purpose of bobbling? Does it provide any measurable joy? These are the questions that plague us. (Actually, the questions that plague us are hopefully more meaningful, but this is still a big one.)

Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.

With the Lady Jessica and Arrakis, the Bene Gesserit system of sowing implant-legends through the Missionary Protective came to its full fruition. The wisdom of seeding the known universe with a prophecy pattern for the protection of B.G. personnel has long been appreciated, but never have we seen a condition-ut-extremis with more ideal mating of person and preparation. The prophetic legends had taken on Arrakis to the extent of adopted labels (including Reverend Mother, canto and respondu, and most of the Shari-a panoplia propheticus). And it is generally accepted now that the Lady Jessica’s latent abilities were grossly underestimated.

—from “Analysis: The Arrakeen Crisis” by the Princess Irulan [private circulation: B.G. file number AR-81088587]


The Lady Jessica stands in a great hall on Arrakis in their new place of residence, a very old complex from days of the Old Empire. She has unwrapped two things that strike her as symbolic and unsettling—the portrait of Leto’s father and a black bull’s head mounted on wood. Duke Leto arrives and tells her that other areas of the place are more inviting than this hall, particularly the living quarters in the south wing. He rejects her desire to hang the portrait of his father in this hall, insisting on having it hung in the dining room even though he knows that its presence makes Jessica uneasy while she eats. He renews her permission to eat in her own quarters excepting formal occasions. He tells her that he is concerned for her comfort and that they have engaged servants who have been vetted. The housekeeper is Shadout Mapes—“Shadout” is a Fremen title of respect that means “well-dipper”—and she is well thought of by Hawat, and keen to serve Jessica due to her Bene Gesserit background.

Leto also tells her that Duncan is working hard on getting the Fremen to be their allies, and Jessica asks about what he will need for his rooms when she assigns them, putting aside her worries. She wants Leto to rest, but he is busy trying to ensure that the many spice hunters on Arrakis don’t chose to leave the planet with the change of fief. He tells her that he will send a guardcar for Paul to attend his conference, then leaves and sends Mapes in. The old woman refers to Jessica as “Noble Born,” which she corrects, explaining that she is the Duke’s concubine but only companion. There are people calling outside and Jessica asks after them. Makes tells her that they are water sellers, which she will never have to worry about because there’s a cistern on the premise that holds 50,000 liters.

Jessica and Mapes converse, and Jessica plays into the Bene Gesserit stories, showing her talents and acknowledging that Mapes has come with a weapon. Mapes insists that it is intended as a gift if she proves to be the “One,” but Jessica knows it will be used against her if she is not. Mapes produces a crysknife, the weapon of Arrakis, never taken off-planet. She asks Jessica if she knows what the weapon is, and Jessica realizes that Mapes asked to serve her for the purpose of asking that single question. She knows that the ancient name for the weapon translates to “the maker of death,” but as soon as she says “maker”, Mapes is overcome. Jessica realizes that Maker is the key word and uses it, and Mapes believes that the prophecy is about her. When she makes to offer the knife, Jessica points out that she sheathed it without drawing blood, and Mapes tells Jessica to “take her water.” Jessica draws only a line of blood and notes that Mapes stops bleeding almost immediately; it appears that the people of Arrakis have ultrafast coagulation to retain their water.

Someone is coming and Mapes makes to hide the knife in Jessica’s bodice, saying that anyone who sees the knife has to be cleansed or killed. Mapes asks what Jessica needs her to do, and she tells the woman to hang the old Duke’s portrait in the dining hall and the bull head on the wall opposite. She is not to clean the bull’s horns because they are covered with the old Duke’s blood—this is the bull that killed him. Jessica tells Mapes to start unpacking boxes once she has completed that task, and notes how wrong she feels after these encounters. She rushes off to see Paul.


The opening section here gives us a few clues, but perhaps the most interesting of all is the note that this work is in “private circulation.” As it lists a “B.G.” file number, we can assume that this is from the private Bene Gesserit collection containing works that deal with their histories. So we can guess that there are elements of this piece that the Bene Gesserit would not like the general public to know, likely in the vein of “myth seeding.” Here we have record that the order makes a point of creating and spreading its own legends for the purpose of keeping its operatives safe.

This is an awesome way of incorporating prophecy into a fictional world without relying on it as truth, the way fantasy often does. Here, mythology is a matter of careful pruning and passing, something that sharp organizations can use to their benefit if they are constantly spreading their people about. The originator of the need for implant-legends likely comes from the fear that Bene Gesserit women would be perceived as “witches” as women once were, and harmed or even killed for their perceived abilities. So now the reader understands that these measures are taken to ensure the survival of Bene Gesserit operatives, and that these particular measures will be invaluable to Lady Jessica in the rest of this story. We are getting the insider scoop so that we know not to take these legends at face value—we are privy to the truth, which is of great value in this tale.

There are so many things at play in this section. My first curiosity comes from the Bene Gesserit manner of essentially selling their students off to powerful people. We know that Jessica was “bought” for the Duke, and that the same purchase could have ultimately extended to marriage. This means that the Bene Gesserit train their recruits to this purpose, by and large, and that people throughout the Imperial region recognize certain privileges in essentially owning one of their trainees. There was some talk in the comments last week about how much the general population knows about the order’s machinations and power, and it prompts a question of what sort of front they present in this world. They clearly produce women of great power and importance, but do they downplay that power to the general public? 

For example, the Duke and many others know about the Bene Gesserit “voice,” but trust that these companions they purchase will not use it on them. This suggests that the order greatly downplays their political motivations, and largely bill these abilities as tools for the purchaser to use to their own benefit. These women are touted as useful to your own station and ambitions. I’m sure that the Bene Gesserit vet these clients, but they also clearly have no compunction about selling their women off to unsavory figures if the benefit is great enough to their overall goals.

Jessica struggles with the burden of such power and how she employs it. She knows that she has the ability to control the Duke, but pleads with him instead to prove to herself that she won’t. That in and of itself gives us a clear idea of her struggle; the ability to shape things as she sees fit versus the desire to give Leto what he wants because she loves him. It doesn’t help that not all of Leto’s demands are remotely fair—giving your wife “permission” to dine alone in her rooms because you have to hang a gross painting of your dad and the head of the bull that killed him? Gee, what a swell guy.

Is there a real tradition behind this? Leto indicates a certain ancestral duty in it, but it’s never specified. Is it Atreides law that you have to keep an image of the previous Duke where you eat? Is it necessary to also have the means of his demise on hand? Does it have to be the dining hall? Then there’s the question of the matador cape and the old duke’s death by bull; a family right of passage? A weird personal passion? A form of execution ordered by someone in power? I believe that as far as we know canonically, it’s just a hobby of his. It does make you wonder if it’s linked to the Atreides heritage. (Their name is Greek, of course, after Agamemnon’s father Atreus; his descendants were known as Atreidae.) We learn later that Jessica really hates that old guy, which makes you wonder if she knew him, or only knows him by the unfortunate temperament he left to Leto.

There’s an oddness also to the politics of marriage in this universe. The Duke teases Jessica about being thankful that he never married her, otherwise she’d be forced to dine with him whether she liked it or not. There is mention later about keeping the potential for a Great House alliance open, but there’s also a suggestion that keeping Jessica as a concubine allows her more freedom. On the other hand, the Duke might just frame it that way to take the sting out of his choice not to marry her, something we learn in the next section that Jessica truly wants.

I bring up these politics because they are central to this story; the idea of legitimate companionship and where affection does and does not come into play. This is important for Jessica and Leto, and will later be very important for Paul, Chani, and Irulan. It is interesting to me that marriage is still deemed emotionally important in this system at all—if motivation to marry is largely a political thing, you’d think the weight of the institution would lose some of its potency. It would be regarded as a means to an end, rather than this complex issue where the question of a person’s true affections come into play. But instead we have a layered system where both a concubine and a wife can be the same or different in terms of what they offer. (Now wondering if this extends to women with power, i.e. are there male concubines. It doesn’t seem likely, given what we’re presented with, but it would be interesting.)

The meeting between Jessica and Mapes is one of my favorite exchanges in this book. We watch Jessica expertly turn the Bene Gesserit myth-making to her advantage and play on this woman’s desire for a prophecy to come true. She is well-attuned enough to know how to present herself, when to speak and not to speak, when to be unforgiving and when to withdraw. This is what the opening section from Irulan’s writing was alluding to—Jessica was underestimated because the Bene Gesserit did not glean her talent for playing on the expectations of others, for sussing out their desires and twisting them to her advantage. She doesn’t know everything she needs to, but she never missteps, learning information by allowing Mapes to give it to her. It’s sort of similar to how fortune-telling and mediums work; you let the person you are reading give over everything you need.

This is also the first we see of a crysknife, the native weapon of Arrakis that has some very particular rules surrounding it. If you draw the knife, you are not permitted to sheath it without drawing blood, which is kind of an awesome rule—basically “if you’re going to draw this you better mean it, don’t just keep pulling a weapon all willy-nilly.” Also, it has to stay close to your skin or it dissolves… which I would love some fake-science reasoning for. I mean, you could make a comment about skin oils, but the knife is always sheathed, so maybe it’s body heat thing? No idea. Of course, Mapes tells Jessica that it comes from “shai-hulud,” but we don’t yet know that this is a reference to the sandworms. The breakdown of those terms in Arabic translate to “royal-eternal.” Which seems an apt set of terms for describing something that you tie heavily to god.

*    *    *

“Yueh! Yueh! Yueh!” goes the refrain. “A million deaths were not enough for Yueh!”

—from “A Child’s History of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan


Jessica enters the room where Paul was meant to be studying with Yueh. He’s not there, so she asks after him; Yueh tells her that Paul was tired so he sent him to rest, calling Jessica by her first name. He apologizes for his familiarity, which Jessica easily forgives, and Yueh is grateful that his slip will prevent Jessica from overanalyzing how off he seems. He knows that Jessica does not have the full Truthsayer powers the way his wife did, but he tries his hardest to be truthful with her regardless, and talks of how the people on Arrakis look at them. He directs her attention to the palm trees lining the house and points out that watering one palm for a day is the same amount required for five men. He’s thinking of his wife, unsure if she’s dead or alive at Harkonnen hands. He also has a plan to betray the Baron when they finally come face to face.

Jessica asks if she can look in on Paul, and Yueh agrees since he gave Paul a sedative to relax. Jessica looks in on her son and thinks of all the genetics that had to combine to create him. Yueh goes back to the window, wondering why Wanna never gave him children, wondering if there was a Bene Gesserit reason. Jessica retreats from Paul, and she and Yueh consider the abandon of a child in sleep. Then Jessica asks about the water situation on Arrakis, pointing out that according to the planetary evidence, there should be water on the world. She believes that something is plugging it, and Yueh suggests that the Harkonnens have kept information from everyone. Jessica notes that Yueh seems to have a deep hatred for the Harkonnens, but he can’t manage to voice his sorrow. She feels affection for him and his struggle.

Jessica points out their precarious position on Arrakis, the fact that the citizens rioted when they found out how many new people the Duke was bringing along and only quieted when they learned that they were bringing more windtraps and condensers. There are shields and guards everywhere, and she senses death on the planet. She knows that Hawat is bribing people at high levels to ensure their survival. Yueh suggests that she distract herself, but Jessica knows that is not her purpose. She figures that the Duke wants her to be a sort of Bene Gesserit secretary, one bound to him by love. Yueh dismisses that, knowing the Duke’s love for Jessica.

Jessica knows bloodshed is coming, that the Harkonnens hate the Atreides for two reasons; the Atreides line has royal blood while the Harkonnen name was bought, and an Atreides had a Harkonnen banished for cowardice after the Battle of Corrin. Yueh asks Jessica if she remembers her first taste of spice, and talks of how some believe that it creates a learned-flavor reaction, prompting the mind to interpret the taste as pleasurable. Jessica reckons that their family should have gone renegade and fled beyond the Emperor’s reach. Yueh wonders why she hasn’t used her powers on the Duke, and asks why she never forced him to marry her. Jessica is surprised by the question, but admits that the Duke being unmarried allows for an alliance with another of the Great Houses. She also tells him that forcing people to do your bidding makes you cynical. Yueh almost confesses his role in the Harkonnen scheme, but Jessica prevents it by going off on a rant about how the Duke is two different men—one whom she loves, another who is cold and cruel like his father. She decides to go looking through the south wing to assign quarters, thinking that Yueh was clearly hiding something, but that she shouldn’t press and put more trust in friends.


This conversation with Jessica and Yueh is dramatic irony at its most wince-worthy. They have known each other for years and decide to be a bit familiar in this shared moment of trepidation; Jessica is trying to put more trust her her friends, while Yueh is feeling extended guilt over lying to her in that precise moment of trust and familiarity. It’s worse for learning that we don’t even know if Yueh’s wife is still alive at the hands of the Harkonnen, and that he feels a special kinship toward Jessica in this moment because his wife was also a Bene Gesserit.

The point about the palm trees is excellent commentary on how extravagant displays of wealth are extra specially demoralizing to those who have nothing. Jessica figures that the plants give hope to the local population, but the wastefulness that water is probably still rude-seeming to the people to dwell in the cities, and must be deeply offensive to the Fremen. (I feel the same way whenever I think about how much water Las Vegas wastes in the middle of a desert, and I don’t even live there.)

Jessica goes to look in on Paul, and I have a weird moment where I recognize those features—another boy with dark black hair and bright green eyes—

—oh my god, are you serious, Paul Atreides and Harry Potter have the same coloring, what is my life again, how did I do this to myself, heeeeeelllp….

Mind you, this is hardly surprising. Dark hair and bright eyes are a very common color combo in fiction (think how many superheroes have black hair and blue eyes in comics: Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, practically every Robin, etc….). For one, it looks striking. For another, since blue and green eyes are less common and dark hair is pretty common, you’re combining traits that are usual and unusual. Your hero blends traits that make them at once average and noticeable.

I’m still gonna stomp my feet over doing two rereads in succession with a main character who essentially looks exactly the same, though.

Jessica makes a comment that she believes perhaps Leto chose her (or a Bene Gesserit concubine in general) because it was a good idea to have a “secretary” who also loved him, and while Yueh tells her that’s not a worthy thought because the Duke clearly loves her… I’m pretty sure she’s right. Leto being in love with her does not prevent that from being his reasoning behind taking a Bene Gesserit as his primary companion. And what she says is true—she has no chance of looking the other way in this madness because she is deeply involved with all of the Duke’s affairs. She is expected to do a great deal of work in this relationship, not sit back and get pampered because she is part of the Atreides household.

We get some background on the fight between the Atreides and Harkonnen families and discover two facets to this hatred; on the one hand, someone in the Atreides family got a Harkonnen charged with cowardice during an old battle. On the other, we have a classic “old money” vs “new money” fight—the Harkonnens are pissed that the Atreides are related to royal blood when their own fancy titles were essentially bought. So it’s about power, certainly, but pride has a great deal to do with it as well. Importantly, this feud is really, really old. The Battle of Corrin, according to the Dune Encyclopedia, is the battle from which the Emperor’s house Corrino gets its name. This was the battle that saw them rise to the Imperial position, and it took place about 10,000 years ago. Apparently, the ship commanded by Bashar Abulurd Harkonnen fled the battle. Gunnery officer Demetrios Atreides took command of the Lu-ta and led a surprise attack that turned the tide of the fight, dying in the process. After the fallout, House Harkonnen was striped of its titles and honor.

Again, this feud is ten millennia old. So. The Harkonnens really love their grudges.

Jessica admits to Yueh that she feels that Leto is two people; one is the man that she loves, another is the man shaped by his father, who is callous and cruel. This is a clue, of course, in its own way. The temperament of this man made its mark on Leto, and therefore must make its mark on Paul as well. Her reservations about the old duke’s memory is a warning of sorts—what of his personality has imprinted on his grandson, and how will that affect they destiny?

Yueh’s question about why Jessica has not forced Leto to marry is one of the first places where we encounter another theme of the series, which centers around what constitutes true free will. Paul will have to deal with this in greater depth when he ends up on the Golden Path and is constantly burdened by knowledge of the future. In Jessica’s case, it’s the knowledge that forcing people to do anything just because she has the ability robs actions of their meaning. She wants Leto to marry her, but if it isn’t his choice, then it counts for nothing.

*    *    *

Many have marked the speed with which Muad’Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the other, we can say that Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad’Dib knew that every experience carries its lessons.

—from “The Humanity of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan


During Jessica and Yueh’s conversation, Paul was only pretending to be asleep (he palmed the sedative Yueh tried to give him). There are strange controls and false doors all around, elements that intrigue him the same way that the planet does. The filmbook Yueh gave him on Arrakis came from before the discovery of spice, detailing plants and animals. Paul decides that he should slip out through a bookcase and go exploring. Once he stands and moves to the door, he sees the headboard of the bed fold down and freezes. A hunter-seeker emerges, a common assassination tool. A shield would have slowed it, but Paul isn’t wearing his. The only thing he has is immobility, as the person operating the hunter-seeker would rely on his movement to locate him.

Paul thinks of calling for Yueh, but knows that the thing will kill him the instant he comes to the door. There is a knock and the door opens, and as the hunter-seeker streaks past Paul to the newest target, he shoots out his hand, grabs the thing in midair, and slams it against the wall. Mapes enters the room, telling Paul that the Duke is waiting for him with Hawat’s men. She asks why he didn’t let the hunter-seeker kill her, and notes the debt she owes him. To help settle it, she tells him that there is traitor in their midst, though she does not know who it is. Paul takes up his shield belt and goes to find his mother where Mapes told him she had gone—the weirding room.


This opening paragraph. I love it so. This philosophy about learning is something that should be carved into plaques and hung over the doors of classrooms everywhere. It would help so many people. Because the greatest feat of school is truly to teach you “how” to learn, not what. If schools prioritized teaching students how to learn, how to think critically, then those skills would be with them for life, applicable to literally every situation. And it is also true that one of the greatest enemies to learning is the belief that learning is difficult, and that certain individuals are less adept at it than others. The number of people I know who have been held back by precisely this thought is staggering. And so we learn that our hero’s greatest strength is one that any person could achieve—he knows he can learn, that learning is not difficult, and he has been taught how to learn. These are the only tools he needs.

That is the greatest attribute I can think of to give your central character.

Of course, this short section is primarily about Paul thinking of getting up to a little mischief by wandering off, then getting cut off by an assassination attempt. It’s frightening, of course, but knowing that it’s so common is also interesting. Paul has known about hunter-seekers since he was a small child because they’re apparently so often used. Between this and the earlier mention of poison snoopers for their food, we know that people with this level of power are constantly wary about death threats. We already know that this attempt is meant to fail, and fail it does, but with the added benefit (for a definition of benefit) of getting Mapes to tell Paul of the traitor in their midst.

Paul adds Mapes to his “mnemonic memory,” which sounds vaguely similar to the idea of a “mind palace” or other memorization devices created for maximum retention. Paul leaves—remembering his shield belt this time—to find his mother, all thought of exploration gone. Almost getting murdered will do that, I guess.

Here is your latest audiobook snippet! Jessica and Leto are having a very polite sort of row…

Emily Asher-Perrin wonders what it would be like to hold a grudge for 10000 years. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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