Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Six

The Dune Reread is here to spot its very first wormsign! Also to discuss the difference between ecology and planetology, and also mull over the relative helpfulness of “bravura.”

We will have a break next week also! So come back in the new year for more desert-y fun.

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.

On that first day when Muad’Dib rode through the streets of Arrakeen with his family, some of the people along the way recalled the legends and the prophecy, and they ventured to shout: “Mahdi!” But their shout was more a question than a statement, for as yet they could only hope he was the one foretold as the Lisan al-Gaib, the Voice from the Outer World. Their attention was focused, too, on the mother, because they had heard she was Bene Gesserit and it was obvious to them that she was like the other Lisan al-Gaib.

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


The Duke goes to see Thufir Hawat and asks him to set up a raid against the Harkonnen spice stockpile storehouse, knowing that they won’t be able to retaliate publicly for an asset that they’re not supposed to have. Then he asks Hawat what is on his mind that he has been withholding. Hawat admits that they intercepted a message from a courier bearing the Harkonnen seal, and though most of the message dissolved, the part that remained implicated that Jessica was the traitor in their midst. Leto refuses to believe it. Hawat gives him his preliminary report on the Fremen and tells him that the people in the streets were calling Paul “Mahdi,” in reference to a belief they have that a messiah figure will arrive who is the child of a Bene Gesserit. Leto leaves Hawat and goes back to the conference room where Paul is asleep. Then he watches a glorious sunrise and wonders if this place could be a good home for Paul. A dew-collector comes out to collect moisture.


The opening section here does a good job of intimating how desperate the Fremen people are for change. Irulan’s texts, though smacking of propaganda in many cases, read truthfully here. Arrakis is a planet long-abused by the Harkonnen, long taken advantage of for their resources. They are ready to break away, something that Paul is already sensing in the narrative.

The plan still goes off just as the Harkonnen intended, with Hawat getting evidence that Jessica is the traitor and believing it. To be fair, it’s a pretty good misdirection, especially since the message is almost destroyed. Nice touch.

Leto tries to redirect Hawat, suggesting that she would never plot against her own child (which precludes the possibility that the Bene Gesserit want control of House Atreides through Paul), but he’s really only saying it for Hawat’s benefit; he trusts Jessica’s loyalty regardless.

To give some background on the legends that the Bene Gesserit have seeded on Arrakis, the actual term “Mahdi” in Arabic translates to “guided one,” and is a prophetic figure believed to be the redeemer of Islam who will rid the world of evil and rule for a number of years. Different sects of Islam have different interpretations of the Mahdi, and a number of people have claimed to be the Mahdi in times past. The term Mahdi cannot be found in the Qur’an itself, but the figure is referenced in hadith, and is supposed to arrive alongside the Second Coming of Christ.


* * *

“The is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father in a man—with human flesh.”

—from “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan


Paul is looking over Hawat’s filmclip on the Fremen, seeing references to himself and realizing that they think he might be a messiah. The duke tells his son that the Harkonnen are trying to make him distrust Jessica, and because of this, he must be cruel to her in the hopes that they think their plan worked. Paul wonders why he would tell him, since his knowledge might give the game away, but Leto figures that the people watching for Jessica’s reactions will not be watching Paul. He tells his son to reveal the truth to his mother should anything happen to him. Paul insists that his father isn’t going to die, that he’s only tired. Leto agrees that he is tired of these battles between their Houses, how they’re degenerated. Paul doesn’t believe they have, but Leto knows his rule is built on clever propaganda, and part of him wishes they’d gone renegade.

He tells Paul that they are creating filmbase to further spread word of how well he rules that place. He also has learned that the spice present in everything makes people immune to many of the known poisons. Not only will it be hard to poison them, but they cannot poison their population. Arrakis will make them more ethical. Paul is shocked to see his father so despondent. Leto tells him that if anything happens to him, Paul will be left with a guerrilla house, hunted. He tells Paul that he might think of capitalizing on this “Mahdi” status, should it come to that.


Paul has a true but slightly cheeky comment when the duke tells him off the plot to mane him suspect Jessica: “You might as well mistrust me.” I always assume a bit of ribbing intended in that statement when I read it, as Paul clearly thinks the idea of his mother being a traitor is as ridiculous a Leto does.

This section, as the opening suggests, is a moment where Paul learns from his father and also comes to terms with his father’s humanity. In terms of what he will take away from this exchange, I do think that this particular bit is underestimated:

“Nothing wins a leader more loyalty than an air of bravura.”

Leto is speaking of filmbase, which we can assume are essentially propaganda films. (I feel like there’s an interesting aside to be made over the fact that Herbert speaks often of films and visual media, but we get no indication of how these films are presented. Most of what we learn is via text, making the idea of film media seem almost strange in its prevalence. It also contributes to the fantasy sheen of the book; higher technology is never spoken of our used in a way that makes it seem particularly advanced. It’s a clever way to downplay mechanized influence.) But while he is talking of more practical forms of propaganda, this piece of advice will be invaluable to Paul in the times ahead. Or as Eddie Izzard helpfully put it in his standup act “Dressed to Kill”: it’s 70% how you look, 20% how you say it, and 10% what you say. People have to believe that you’re a leader before they allow you to lead.

I wish that we got more information on precisely what it means to “go renegade” and what happens to those people. Obviously they run beyond Imperial reach… and then what? They eke out a life on some horrible planet but at least they don’t have to worry about the politics they left behind? Do they grab their own navigators or steal ships they plan to pilot themselves and hope for the best? I do wonder if any of the renegades are enjoying their lives out there.

Paul is distressed over realizing that his father despairs of his future; he essentially knows there is a high probability that he won’t make it. And in these moments, Paul knows that his father is human and doesn’t really know how to handle that knowledge. He wants Leto to fight the incoming darkness when all Leto wants is for Paul to be prepared to run and fight when he’s gone.

My real question in all of this is why is it so important that Jessica believe he suspects her? He claims that the Harkonnen cannot know that he’s figured out their play, but letting them think that he’s going along with everything doesn’t really give him much of an advantage in the long run. It really seems that it’s just there for sake of the story putting a strain on their relationship, to make everything more emotional. It never stops the Harkonnens from getting what they want out of the situation.


* * *

My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that the was disturbed. He led me down the Hall of Portraits to the ego-likeness of the Duke Leto Atreides. I marked the strong resemblance between them — my father and this man in the portrait — both with thin, elegant faces and sharp features dominated by cold eyes. “Princess-daughter,” my father said, “I would that you’d been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman.” my father was 71 at the time and looking no older than the main the portrait, and I was but 14, yet remember deducing in that instant that my father secretly wished the Duke had been his son, and disliked the political necessities that made them enemies.”

— “In my Father’s House” by the Princess Irulan


The ecologist Dr. Kynes is thinking about the people he’s been ordered to betray, the Atreides. He’s alarmed by how close Paul seems to the legend of the messiah even though he’s not typically given to believe such things. He meets with Leto and Paul, noting that only the son seems aware of how to wear the native clothing. He knows that they want the Imperial bases and that they must have learned about them from Duncan Idaho, thinking to tell Stilgar to kill the man and send his head to the duke. He’s also not fond of Gurney Halleck, who schooled him in how to address the duke properly. Kynes insisted on them wearing stillsuits despite the fact that the duke could have carried plenty of water with them, insisting that one can never plan for likelihoods on Arrakis. He asks to adjust the suits and the duke acquiesces despite misgivings. He explains the technology as he tightens the garment. When he moves to Paul, he sees that the boy has put on the suit expertly with no guidance, adhering to the prophecy about the Mahdi knowing their ways. Paul recognizes that though the man would not say so outright, he is Fremen, even if he wasn’t born on Arrakis.

The duke begins to press Kynes on whether or not they are doing as expected in maintaining the planet. Kynes is cagey and unwilling to say much. The duke asks if along with his ecological research, he is investigating the spice, telling him that he wants those updates despite what the Harkonnens might have chosen to ignore. Kynes believes that Arrakis could become an Eden if everyone would stop caring so much about the spice. He is displeased with the duke’s propaganda and says so, getting a near scold from Gurney. The duke is not bothered however. They travel beyond the Shield Wall in a ‘thopter and Paul asks Kynes questions to “register” him as his mother taught him. Gurney sings them a song, which bemuses Kynes. The duke asks if anyone has ever walked out of the desert. Kyness tells him that some have from the second zone, but never the deep desert.

The duke wants to see a worm, and Kynes tell him that he might see one when they check on the spice mining, as the spice and worms are deeply interconnected. He also informs them that the shields draw the worms and that the bigger ones can only be completely destroyed with atomics. The duke wonders why they’ve never tried to wipe the worms out if they guard the spice so ardently, but Kynes tells him it would be far too expensive given how much ground they cover on the planet. Paul can sense that Kynes is lying and knows that if the worms and spice are connected, killing them would destroy the spice.

The duke explains that they’re going to fit all their workers with transmitters to rescue them when things go wrong. Kynes is not impressed by the plan as Arrakis ruins most equipment and the gesture is unlikely to work out well. The duke asks what he would do if he were forced down, and Kynes given him the simplest breakdown he can of how to survive such a situation and avoid worms so that one might make it out of the desert. They reach the harvester sight, and Kynes explains how the operation works. As they’re observing, the duke spots wormsign and has it confirmed by Kynes. They tell the harvesting crew who ask who is responsible for the sighting, as that person gets a bonus. Gurney advises Kynes to tell them that the duke spotted it and that he wants the bonus split among the crew.

Kynes knows they will continue working until the last minute because their haul is rich, but the carryall never shows up to take them away, so Leto starts working out a plan for using their own ships to cram in a few men apiece. He advises the crew to the plan, but they don’t want to leave because they’ve got nearly a full load of spice. The duke orders them to do as he commands. He ditches their shield generators in order to be able to carry more men on their ships. They take four men onto their ship and lift off, then watch the worm come up from below and swallow the harvester. As they fly off, they note two men still on the sand; it turns out that the harvester had more than a full compliment of men, and the duke is angry that he wasn’t told. He wants to send a ship back for those men, but he’s assured that they’ll be gone by then. Paul recognizes the truth—that those two extra men were Fremen. He asks what they were doing on the ship.

Kynes is impressed both my Paul’s ability to see through lies and by the duke’s care for his men. He has to admit that he likes them in spite of himself.


Princess Irulan’s window in on her father is the first section of her asides thus far that make her position in this story more clear. She tells the reader that the Emperor seemed to like Duke Leto quite a bit, and that his actions toward the family were seemingly out of political necessity. Since Leto is a pretty level-headed guy, the assumption has to be that he’s so even-keeled that Shaddam is concerned about Leto taking his seat from him due to popularity. Which, of course, will prove to be ironic in the extreme, given what goes down, but we’ll get into that later.

The introduction to Kynes is fascinating when you consider his overall importance to the story. We learn instantly that he’s a proud man who isn’t quite sure about the House Atreides, yet his opinion on them becomes instantly important to us because he clearly knows what’s what on Arrakis and has a healthy deference toward the planet and its people. His aversion to using the duke’s title gives him the air of a man who demands that respect be earned rather than freely given. And his inclinations about Paul’s abilities despite his internal monologue about not really believing the Fremen stories give the prophecies more weight—i.e. if Kynes can be convinced about Paul, perhaps we as readers should be too.

I love the bit where Kynes tells Leto that he prefers the “old term” Planetologist to the “new term” ecologist. It’s really a perfect example of how our understanding of language is relative to our time period. (If we want to get super nitpicky about it, none of these people should be speaking a version of English even remotely close to our own after ten thousand year plus, but that’s a whole different issue.) After all, the term ecologist is in use now, it’s plenty old. But it makes sense that once people were spreading out around the universe and spending time on new worlds, the term “Planetologist” would be created to suggest that pangalactic scale. “Ecologist” becomes the term again, but Kynes prefers planetologist because he is deeply tied to the planet he has chosen to study, going so far as to virtually become Fremen.

Comments from a few weeks back already went through the problems with the science behind the stillsuit design—it doesn’t really work out once it’s broken down. Still, Herbert gets points from me for making it sound plausible enough to pass on a science fiction level. Though I do always forget about the part where you have to urinate and defecate in the suit, and how that all gets recycled as well. Good use of technology, but that must be insanely uncomfortable (and probably not great for your skin to be in constant contact with all of that bacteria? depending on how quickly the suit processes waste…). I’m also intrigued by the directions for breathing, many because I’m always interested in any system that requires you to train your breath that way. Reminding yourself to breath in one way and out another has a meditative quality to it, but requires extreme discipline to maintain all the time.

There’s comment Kynes makes about the big worms being nearly impossible to destroy without the use of atomics. Which, if we assume the definition of atomics to be relatively close to our own, means that you would need a nuclear explosion to destroy the biggest makers on Arrakis. Something to keep in mind.

Paul’s prescience and intuition is working full blast throughout this entire section, from his understanding of how to put on a stillsuit to his immediate realization that killing off the worms would somehow destroy the spice. It’s actually pretty impressive how so many of the most important pieces of information that we require in this book are seeded throughout the beginning. There’s enough revelatory material that Herbert can afford to give certain Big Things away at the start.

Here is where we finally get extended explanations about conditions on the planet, from harvesting spice, to the worms, to how one would survive the desert, and how best to wear the stillsuit. The duke is making very common mistakes at the start of this encounter, typical of people who are accustomed to power; he keeps trying to assert his own values, systems, and technology on the environment despite being repeatedly told that these things will not work. Thankfully he seems to take Kynes’s information a bit more seriously, and begins to understand that he won’t be capable of enacting all of his plans. There’s the problem of the shields, of course, and then the duke’s lack of understanding in how the harvest missions works. The idea that he’ll be able to save workers easily by equipping them with distress signals that won’t break through in the environment.

But the duke is the first person to spot the wormsign, and also the one who willingly ditches the shields to make certain that they can rescue all the men from the harvesting mission (aside from the ones he isn’t told about). There’s his focus on the welfare of the men working rather than fussing over the equipment and the spice that they’re losing. Leto has qualities that make him a good leader when he’s in his element. He’s simply stuck at a point where he needs to adapt much faster than he is perhaps capable of. This is a particular area that Paul and Jessica succeed in as easy as breathing, Paul most of all—they are infinitely adaptable people. But the duke is still a likable man, as Kynes is forced to concede.

Emmet Asher-Perrin reminds you that we are taking a reread break next week! You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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