This week on the Dune Reread we’re going to insult a banker by telling him stories about a drowned man, and then confront a member of our household to prove we are powerful and also not treacherous!
In other words, it’s good to be back!
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.
“Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a great sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.”
—from “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan
The Atreides are having a party and Duke Leto notes a custom that the Harkonnen instilled where guests would slop water on the floor after rinsing their hands, then drop a towel on top of it, and the squeezing would be handed out at the door. He finds the custom demeaning and tells Mapes instead, while they dine anyone who comes to the door may get a free cup of water. Mapes isn’t pleased, and Leto realizes that perhaps the custom also involved her charging the beggars at the door for the squeezing. He assures her that he will have a man posted to make sure she follows his directions. He takes in the crowd, noting that Jessica is wearing some of his favorite colors to ever so slightly chastise him for being cold toward her; he summoned Duncan Idaho back and the man has been watching her on the pretense of guarding her, so that the charade of his believing in her betrayal remains intact. Paul is talking to some of the younger guests, aggravated at being made to attend the function.
Leto approaches Jessica’s group where a water-shipper named Lingar Bewt (who did business with the Harkonnens but was never controlled by them) shows his displeasure at the duke doing away with the water custom, then questions whether or not they plan to keep the conservatory. Jessica saves the conversation by explaining that the conservatory will be kept in true for the people of Arrakis, in hope that the climate will someday support plants of that variety. Leto advises Bewt to diversify his business, as they plan to make water a less scarce commodity. Kynes notes that another of Fremen beliefs has been fulfilled—that Jessica shares their desires for Arrakis. He asks her if she brings “the shortening of the way,” the meaning of Kwisatz Haderach. Jessica wonders again if it might be Paul. The guests take their seats for dinner, with Leto continuing to behave coldly toward Jessica. He questions her choice to invite a smuggler to their proceedings, though Hawat cleared the man; she wants to ingratiate herself in case they need to bribe the smuggler to get them off the planet if everything goes south.
The duke decides to give a toast and remains standing after his guests are seated. He has Gurney play a song, the food is served, and still he remains standing. The duke tells his guests the lyrics of Gurney’s song, toasts again, then slams his cup down on the table so that the water sloshes over onto the table linen. the others are required to follow suit and seem quite nervous about it. Kynes empties his own flagon into a container in his jacket. The dinner begins and someone compliments Jessica on the food and chef. Then the Guild Bank representative asks about the lost factory crawler, and the duke confirms it, still irritated by the fact that the carryall disappeared and never arrived to pick up the crawler. Kynes suggests that someone on the crawler might have been employed by an enemy of the duke to that end. The banker asks Kynes if he plans to report on it as the Imperial Judge of Change for the transition, though Kynes declines to answer.
Jessica thinks back to her espionage training and recognizes that the banker is a Harkonnen agent. She gleans his speech pattern and knows he will change the subject to something trivial and ominous, and indeed he bring up the birds on Arrakis, who are blood-drinkers. The stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter feeds him more dialogue to keep him going, so that he can say what he means to say, but Paul decides to get in the middle of it. He asks if the man was implying that the birds were cannibals. The banker insists that he didn’t say so and that there’s no reason why they would be, but Paul points out that it wasn’t a strange question when the greatest competition an organism usually faces comes from its own kind. Kynes praises him for his understanding. The banker is upset a Paul’s jibe, and lashes out at Kynes, saying that he heard that the Fremen drink the blood of their own. Kynes corrects him; all of the water in a Fremen belongs to their tribe. Once they are gone, they no longer need it.
The banker insults Kynes, saying that he’s lost sense from spending too much time around the Fremen. Kynes asks if he’s challenging him, and the banker instantly backs off, saying that he would not want to insult their hosts. Kynes tells him that their hosts are honorable people who could decide for themselves if they were offended. Jessica notes that Kynes would have killed the banker instantly, and that the smuggler Tuek was ready to assist him. She asks about the prevalence of water and Kynes cites the difficulties on Arrakis due to dealing with the Law of the Minimum. Jessica knows the law, which impresses him, and tells the group that it is possible to create a cycle on Arrakis where plants can grow and there is enough water for everyone. Best insists that it’s not possible, that there is not enough water and asks if there is. Kynes suggests that their might be, but Jessica knows he’s deliberately obfuscating and there is enough.
A trooper comes in with information for the duke. Leto has to leave the table and advises Paul to take his place. Gurney takes Paul’s seat at the table. The duke tells everyone to wait there while he sees to the problem, using code words that let Paul and Jessica know that it’s a security problem. The banker raises a glass and asks Bewt to offer a toast to Paul, a boy who they must treat as a man. Paul offers a story instead, about a fisherman who drowned on Caladan because another was standing on his shoulder to reach air. He says that his father commented that this action was understandable unless it happened in a drawing room… or a dinner table. The banker is angry and asks if it’s custom for the Atreides to insult their guests, but Jessica turns it around by suggesting that it’s more telling for the banker to take offense and insist that the story was directed at him. The smuggler gives a toast instead at Kynes’s subtle go-ahead, making Jessica realize that Kynes has real power and has chosen to side with Paul.
Gurney asks a question of the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter, and her perfected reply leads Jessica to realize that she had been planted there to lure Paul with sex, though he had clearly already noticed the gambit. The banker apologizes for his actions and Jessica forgives him. She makes comment that the duke will have to weed out Harkonnen agents on Arrakis during this transition and eliminate them, and that the laws support this act, which Kynes confirms. She asks the banker about whether the spice hunters go into the deep desert, and he tells her they do not. Kynes says there is a rumor about a mother lode of spice in the south, but that it was probably a story invented for a song. They talk of Fremen going deeper into the desert and finding soaks and sip-wells (where there is water to be found in the desert), but Jesica senses that he’s lying about something.
She receives word from the duke, and informs the guests that the matter that called him away was solved: The carryall was taken by a Harkonnen agent in the crew, but he was captured and the carryall return. A hidden part of the message also informed her that they were getting a shipment of lasguns, which worries Jessica—a lasgun destroyed anything in its path unless it was shielded. But contact between a lasgun and shield resulted in a powerful explosion that killed both the shielded person and the lasgun operator. She cannot see the reason in it, and worries.
This whole party is bonkers complicated politics at their best in this narrative. Nearly every piece of dialogue has a veiled meaning, nearly everyone at the party is under suspicion for good reason, and very few people at the table are truly enjoying themselves. They all came with motivations ulterior and otherwise.
The opening quote from Paul is important because we see this element of sardonicism in him by the end of the party, something that Leto himself fails to achieve. There’s a clear rise and fall that we’re witnessing as readers; as Paul gets more astute, more aware, more ready for leadership, Leto begins to fall apart one small piece at a time. Jessica notes how the party first thinks that he’s drunk when he starts his toast, how he makes the group uncomfortable, how he keeps reacting to things that he should keep closer to the vest. What makes it a tragedy is Leto’s knowledge of this. He’s not addled or blind to his mistakes. He’s resigning himself to inevitable. He begins to think of how Paul is ready to take his place, how the mere changing of an exploitative tradition is making him enemies. He notes these observations as “death thoughts.” He is thinking about the world around him as though he might leave it soon.
Still, he gets in a few good blows here. His choice to spill clean water following his toast was a deliberate slight against the old tradition of selling their dirty water to the poor after rinsing their hands. (I love the aside of how Kynes quietly saves his water, absolutely unwilling to follow suit as a man of the desert.) He gets to send word that they recovered their carryall, and that they got rid of a couple Harkonnen agents. He does what he can to set the stage for Paul, who is shrewd but still untested, and quickly winning them allies.
We get another Harkonnen agent in the banker “Soo-Soo,” and sheesh, the casual racism you get from the elite on Arrakis is just everywhere. No one thinks anything of calling them “scum” on a regular basis, and the assumption that their ways are backward or outright disgusting is clearly commonplace and inoffensive to most at this echelon. However, it becomes extra intriguing when you consider Kynes, who is doing his very best to walk that line and never really give away the extent to which he’s doing it.
Jessica’s immediate reliance on the crysknife is also a point of note. She keeps the weapon on her person as Mapes told her to, but what’s more, she actively considers using it all the time. She takes its importance to heart and never ignores it, effectively making their custom her own with little fanfare. All the same, she finds it important to consider Kynes’s Fremen-like attitude toward killing. He doesn’t not find the idea of murder unpleasant or difficult, he simply treats it as a possibility and a fact of life.
There’s still more discussion around the potential of transforming Arrakis, the possibility that the planet might have more water on it than anyone realizes, that the planet could be transformed for more hospitable conditions. I find it more fascinating on a reread because I remember when I first read the book assuming that this was the endgame. Transform Arrakis into a paradise, the balance of power shifts, problem solved. But Herbert is seeding this possibility for different purposes, at least for now. The Law of the Minimum cited by Kynes is a real agricultural principle also referred to as “Liebig’s Law, which is applied to crop growth. The concept was that more nutrient soil did not increase crop growth—only by increasing the specific limiting nutrient in the soil could you get more growth.
We get some foreshadowing with the information on lasguns, but I am deeply curious as to how a reaction between a shield and a lasgun could produce something more powerful than an atomic explosion. What would the shield energy have to consist of to even begin making sense of a reaction like that.
* * *
“There is no escape — we pay for the violence of our ancestors.”
—from “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan
Jessica hears a disturbance at 2 AM and wonders if it’s a Harkonnen attack. She checks on her family, both still where she expects, then hears someone in the Great Hall call for Yueh. She heads out to find Duncan Idaho being dragged in by two guards, completely wasted. He was advised by Hawat to take one of the escort women home from the dinner, then came back and made such a ruckus that the guards dragged him inside to be sure he didn’t make a scene. Jessica tells Mapes to get him some caffeine as Yueh appears. He tries to get Duncan to drink the coffee but he won’t. Jessica slaps him and orders him to drink it, but he tells her he won’t take orders from a Harkonnen spy. Suddenly it all comes clear to Jessica and she orders Hawat brought to her immediately, telling the guards to put Duncan in a room to sleep it off.
She waits for Hawat and when he arrives asks if he is the Harkonnen agent. He is furious at the insult, but she points out that he thinks the same of her. Jessica wonders if she should tell him that she’s pregnant with the duke’s daughter, but decides not to since Leto doesn’t know yet. The two of them come to a stalemate, as they have no Truthsayer. Jessica asks about the men acting out due to the spice beer, pointing out that they are having difficulty being uprooted from their home. She points out that someone has created this suspicion between them expertly according to the order of their lives around the duke. Hawat wonders with she’s threatening to sow suspicion about him, but she tells him she won’t. Hawat then asks if she’s questioning his abilities, to which she replies that he may need to examine his own emotional involvement in the situation, and consider the possibility that the Harkonnens have planted no traitor and have sown this discord while they enact a different plan. She also wants to know why in all these years Hawat has never sought her council or listened to her advice. Hawat refuses her prognosis and tells her that he knows she is trying to distract him, and that he never trusted the Bene Gesserit public line, that they live to serve—he has never trusted her at all.
Jessica is angry and retorts that the rumors of Bene Gesserit power are greater than he thinks and that she could destroy the duke if she truly wanted to. She then tells him that he is the most attractive Harkonnen target, and when Hawat tries to stand she uses the Voice on him to make him sit again. With this display of power she proves that she could have forced the duke to marry and do as she wanted, that she has far more power than Hawat ever suspected. He asks why she has not destroyed the duke’s enemies for him, but she insists that power is too tricky for that, that the Bene Gesserit do not want to fall under such suspicion by acting so openly. That they do exist to serve others. She tells him to do more digging until the suspicion on her can be retracted. He’s still unsure of her, but knows that he’ll always remember this moment and be in awe of Jessica.
Gotta love a drunken rant. Sure, it’s a genre staple, and a fiction staple overall, but there’s something weirdly satisfying about reading a character babble while drunk off their face. It’s also an interesting choice of character, given that we don’t know Duncan all that well—we are told that he is a good and reliable man, and that is most of what we have to go on when he comes back in bad shape. Then again, Gurney is too seasoned to make such a rookie mistake and let all of that spill to Jessica. (I do love the image of Mapes in her bathrobe being all irritated and rushing off for coffee.)
This is such a fascinating smackdown between Hawat and Jessica. It gives us a much broader sense of how the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit view one another, along with how difficult it is for Jessica to keep her abilities secret. She clearly relishes having a brief moment where she gets to strut her stuff and put Hawat in his place. As she says, she understands him completely, a fact that he has never had the slightest inkling of despite all the time they’ve spent in the same household. While suspicion and paranoia clearly get worse for the Atreides clan when they get to Arrakis, it’s clear that Hawat has always been suspicious of Jessica’s motives… you have to wonder what might have occurred had these two ever formed a rapport and trusted one another.
In that manner, we see that both Jessica and Hawat are blind to Yueh’s position as the traitor for reasons that are very personal to them. Jessica views Yueh as a friend and confidante, since his marriage to a Bene Gesserit gave him a better insight into her abilities and character. Hawat doesn’t believe it can be Yueh because he puts faith in the incontrovertible strength of Imperial Conditioning, which makes sense coming from a Mentat.
It’s important to note that Jessica asks Hawat to do something that he’s completely against from a training standpoint; in order to recognize his potential for error, she asks him to consider his own emotional involvement in the situation, to engage with those emotions and parse out how they might have influenced his judgement. Hawat flat out refuses to do so, calling it a diversion tactic on her part. When it comes to the fight between extreme rationality vs emotionalism, this really gets to the core of that issue—the idea that focusing on emotional isn’t simply indulgent, but a distraction from what truly matters. Hawat believes that he is skilled enough for his emotions not to effect his judgement, but much of what we see from the man so far has suggested the opposite. The narrative keeps telling us how exhausted he is, how stressed and bothered. He is in no position to deny his emotional distress, but he does because his training tells him to and because he is a proud man.
Pride has an interesting place in this story. Certainly not in a biblical sense, but pride as a personal trait has very different consequences for characters in this tale. In Hawat’s case, his pride in his work can be perceived as a flaw because he refuses to consider possibilities that would prove he is out of step. For men like Stilgar and Kynes, pride is a survival mechanism and a signal to others for demanding respect. There’s an aspect of nobility to their pride, and also to Leto’s. Paul’s sense of pride still requires tempering because he is young and doesn’t yet have all the wisdom he needs to back it up.
I keep coming back to the header quote from Paul and then thinking of Hawat’s recollections of the old duke in this section. It seems to me that the violence referred to in that quote could be in reference to this, to the inherent violence the old duke possessed that his kin are now paying for. Hawat thinking of the man as he desperately works to save Leto is the note the section ends on. The enjoyment he took in violence is nothing positive to look back on now, when the Atreides line is in danger.
Here’s this week’s audio section!