Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Nine

The Dune Reread is about to kill a very important man, then arrive at an awakening of our psychic abilities! That sounds like fun, right? Well… that’s where you’d be wrong.

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.

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There is a legend that the instant the Duke Leto Atreides died a meteor streaked across the skies above his ancestral palace on Caladan.

— the Princess Irulan: “Introduction to A Child’s History of Muad’Dib”


Baron Harkonnen watches his forces trap the Atreides fighters and leave them to die in a cave. Piter de Vries arrives to tell him that the Sardaukar have captured the duke, and the baron thinks that he will have to kill Piter very soon—but not before the people of Arrakis are made to hate him so that Feyd-Rautha can become their savior. He has Yueh brought in, and the man knows immediately that Wanna is dead. The baron says he will keep his end of the bargain and permit him to join her, letting Piter kill him as Yueh gasps his last words, claiming that they did not defeat him. He demands to see Leto, and finds that some of the wind has been taken from his sails over Yueh’s words. He asks about Paul and Jessica, and Piter is forced to admit that the men sent to dispose of them were found dead, though it might have been a worm that caused the problem. One of the duke’s men got away, either Halleck or Idaho in all probability. The baron asks after Kynes, aggravated that he’s nowhere to be found when he’s supposed to be the Emperor’s man.

Leto can hear them talking through a veil of drugs and knows that Jessica and Paul are at least safe. The baron berates Piter for killing Yueh too quickly before they knew everything, noting the absence of the ducal signet ring. The duke is coming in and out, and remembers the tooth. When he finally comes to he’s groggy and mesmerized by the baron’s propensity for compulsive touch. Baron Harkonnen questions him, demanding to know where Jessica and Paul are, wondering if he sent them to live with the Fremen. He insists that if he doesn’t comply, Piter will torture him of the information. The duke sees that the baron is about to move away, so he breaks the tooth and expels the gas. Piter dies, but the baron’s shield combined with the clue of Piter’s choking helps the baron gets away to safety in time. He appoints a new captain of the guard just as one of the Emperor’s Sardaukar comes for a report on Leto, as the Emperor wanted to be certain that he died without pain.

Baron Harkonnen is upset because he knows that the Sardaukar colonel bashar will see the scene before it’s been cleaned up and realize that he slipped—and that the Emperor will see that as weakness. He consoles himself with the fact that the Emperor did not find out about the Atreides raid on their spice stores. He knows that he’ll have to put Rabban in charge now on Arrakis to get his plan moving again. He tells a nearby guard that he’s hungry again and wants them to bring a boy to his sleeping chambers that they bought on Gamont, and to drug him so there’s no struggle. The boy looks like Paul.


The baron is like a great vacuum that does nothing but consume, and the narrative here supports that through exposition and his own thought process. Everyone around him is a “rabbit” while he is a carnivore. As he watches the battle at the beginning of this section, all of the description terms are related to consuming; “The guns nibbled at the caves”; “Slowly measured bites of orange glare”; “The Baron could feel the distant chomping”…. The Baron Harkonnen’s mode of destruction is by hunting and then absorbing things into his being.

His ever-precise control is given even more credence here, and it makes a great deal of sense when considering the alternative; the the baron was nothing but a pile of wants, then he could never achieve power. Instead, he is precisely controlled in all things to an extreme. While puzzling over Yueh’s threat, the confusion results in a lack of control that causes him to raise his voice to an inappropriate decibel and even this very slight change is extremely bothersome to him. Because his indulgences are so over the top, his control must be even more sharp. This is further played out in his knowledge of the vices of literally every person in his employ. He only keeps on people he can manipulate, and he knows everyone’s sticking point as a matter of professionalism.

The description of Leto’s death here is beautifully done. The random surfacing of thoughts, the confusing and blankness. I’m not sure how that would relate to a poisoning, but if you’ve ever been knocked out (say with anesthesia for surgery), the sensation is much the same. It’s only odd in its abruptness, as a character who has been so important up until now dies with very little fanfare. But then, death is seldom all that grand in reality, so perhaps it’s more appropriate.

The use of descriptors get a bit irritating here because Herbert really sticks it to us in terms of equating their relative levels of badness with their personal looks and traits. In some cases it can be clever—such as Leto noting the baron’s roving touch, making the character’s mere presence seem like an assault. But then there’s the repetition of “effeminate” where Piter is concerned, thereby equating the idea of an effeminate man with great evil. It sort of makes me glad that he dies so quickly so we don’t have to keep hearing it over and over.

And then there’s the now explicit mention of the baron going to rape a drugged boy. This is grotesque on several levels; we have rape, pedophilia, slavery, and then the mention of the boy looking like Paul. Which gets an extra layer of awful stacked on when we find out just one section later that Paul is technically his grandson, though he doesn’t yet know it. Here’s the part where everyone shouts “but the Baron Harkonnen is based on the debauchery of Roman aristocracy and they practiced pederasty, so it’s totally fine for Herbert to drop this in here!”

Look. When you create a society where you code good and evil very carefully, and evil is codified by using both homosexuality and pedophilia and linking the two, and there is little-to-no mention of anyone else in this universe being queer without being evil, I am going to have a problem. I have the problem in part because queer people are not pedophiles (or evil obviously), and in part because Paul Atreides’s character is largely based off of T.E. Lawrence—who was gay. But, of course, Paul is not gay because he’s the main character and the “good guy” for a certain definition. Both Saying that someone is a product of their time is all well and good, but it’s still upsetting and disappointing to have one of my favorite books make it clear that the only place for any form of queerness in this universe is alongside the most heinous brand of evil. It’s not a great feeling.

EDIT: It has been pointed out in the comments by Crane that T.E. Lawrence was likely asexual, so my sincere apologies for the inaccurate label. All sources I’ve read labeled him as gay, but that could have easily been the result of academics without an understanding of LGBTQIA identities presuming that someone with homoromantic leanings was automatically homosexual–or presuming that a person who is aromantic and asexual must simply be “hiding their homosexuality.” Both are incorrect assumptions, of course. I’ll do more research, since I’m now deeply curious about error.

Moving away from that, I think it’s important to highlight how Baron Harkonnen uses the phrase “I’m hungry” to refer to all manner of hunger, not just a need for food. This drives home the concept of his “evilness” being about consumption, tied to how much he can ingest, power included. And his rate of consumption is constant; he literally flits from hunger to political machinations (which is about his hunger for power) to hunger again. There is no room for anything else at all. In some ways it makes the baron seems less than human—he is a great gaping maw, a black hole for things to fall into.

* * *

O Seas of Caladan
O people of Duke Leto —
Citadel of Leto fallen,
Fallen forever…

— from “Songs of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan


Paul is sitting in the stilltent with his mother, having been rescued from the impending wormsign by Duncan Idaho. He’s trying to parse out a sudden awakening in his abilities, which seems like Mentat power only more. Suddenly he can see things far more clearly than his mother, and he tries to process the grief of his father’s death and finds nothing. Thinking back to Gurney’s words on mood, he realizes that now it not the time to feel. Jessica is talking of gathering what Atreides men have escaped, but Paul insists that they must secure their atomics. Jessica realizes the shift in Paul and finds herself fearing it. He has her turn on the receiver Idaho left them, and they hear that Sardaukar are running around in Atreides uniform; the Emperor wants the Guild to be angry with them for destroying their bank, effectively marooning them on Arrakis so that they can be wiped out.

Paul tells Jessica that they can wait another day for Idaho to return, but they must leave at night because there’s chance he might have been captured by that point, and they can’t survive without supplies forever. He has to explain to Jessica that the people who truly control this planet are the Fremen—they are paying the Guild in spice to keep satellites from keeping careful track of what goes on on Arrakis, the real reason why weather satellites would have been so expensive. Jessica is sure he can’t know what yet without being a Mentat, but Paul tells her he will never be that, that he’s a freak instead. He thinks to himself that he wants to mourn his father, but he’s not sure that he’ll ever be able to do it.

Jessica examines their Fremkit and the tools within. Paul notes their sophistication, betraying advancement that they are hiding from outsiders. Paul realizes that this may be the only convenient chance he has to tell her about Leto’s true suspicions. He tells her that Leto never believed Hawat, that he loved her, and that his only regret was not making her Duchess. Jessica cries, and as Paul is still unable to mourn, he fixes his mind on the problems at hand. He feels all possible futures stretching out before him, all of the people and paths. He thinks of being accepted by the Guildsman, but knows that his sight extends farther than navigating spaceships.

As he extends his computations and begins to see the finer detail of things, he feels as though there’s a bomb ticking down inside of him, and proceeds to throw a tantrum (then instinctively logs the reaction in another part of his mind). Jessica tries to calm him, but he begins asking what she wanted for him, why she decided to give him this training that has awakened “the sleeper.” He tells her that he has had a waking dream that she must listen to; he has realized that the spice gets into everything and that it would kill them to be without it—they will never leave without taking a part of Arrakis with them. He tells her that spice changes a person, but because of her training he can see the change instead of leaving it in his subconscious. He tells her that he knows she’ll give birth to his sister on Arrakis, and that the Bene Gesserit have bought them a place on this world. How he knows of this and the Missionaria Protectiva is frightening to Jessica. Paul feels some compassion toward her and tries to explain the view into the future he has received, where the path is hidden and where he sees more clearly. Jessica realizes that he has come to terms with mortality and that he is no longer a child at all.

She brings up the Harkonnens and Paul tells her to put those “twisted humans” from her mind. She tries to tell him not to use the term human without awareness, but he has more information for her: they are Harkonnens. Jessica tries to insist that they might be from a renegade house, but Paul tells her that she’s the baron’s own daughter from once dalliance in his youth when he let himself be seduced. Jessica realizes that she was meant to bear the Kwisatz Haderach had everything worked out correctly, and that Paul is that. But he insists that he isn’t, that he’s something that even the Bene Gesserit could not predict. He sees two main paths toward the future, one where he confronts the baron, another where a religious war begins under Atreides banners. He does not want to choose that way, but he sees that the only way to remingle all these genes, to move forward, is jihad.

Jessica asks again if the Fremen will take them in, and Paul confirms it, saying that they will call him Muad’Dib: “The One Who Points the Way.” And now that he’s laid it all out he finds he can mourn his father, and begins to cry.


And now the “science of discontent” that was mentioned in the opening of a section in last week’s reread comes to the fore. The stress Paul undergoes in their escape triggers a release of his abilities, and suddenly he can see many paths, many timelines, many bits of minutiae that propels him far ahead of his mother’s abilities. Certain themes that will be very important going forward surface right here: Paul’s disconnect from his humanity, the difficulty in being able to see many possible futures, the fear that his power inspires in others, the idea of his arrival being in step with the Kwisatz Haderach yet something more.

I like this perhaps more than the average mythic arc because Paul’s “specialness” is merely intrinsic to the circumstances of his birth, not something that Herbert pretends he earns through hard work and sacrifice in the traditional sense. Which is not to say that Paul’s training up to this point hasn’t been helpful, but more than when Paul finally unlocks his abilities, it’s not his Special Destiny Time where he learns how to be a hero and accept how great and important he is—he’s already keyed into the near-full extent these powers, and their blessings are circumspect at best. Not all protagonists can be awesome people who learn how to use their abilities responsibly, and feel good about the things they do. Especially not Paul Atreides.

Paul keeps his word to his father and tells his mother than Leto never mistrusted her and wanted to marry her, and while it is a moving sequence, it’s always fascinating how emotions are set firmly in the background of this story. Or they’re refocused—part of the interest in this moment is observing how Paul is incapable of connecting to his own emotions while his mother is in tears, his sudden instinct to look outside of himself and catalogue his own reactions and outbursts as part of computation. He claims that this is beyond what an average Mentat would do, which makes you wonder how precisely that is true.

This is the point where Jessica’s place in the narrative shifts and takes a backseat to Paul’s coming of age. Her choices are still something that must be heavily scrutinized however, because they are what has allowed all of these things to come to pass. It is perhaps perfectly summed up in one of my favorite exchanges of the series:

“You!” he said.

‘I’m here, Paul,” she said. “It’s all right.”

“What have you done to me?” he demanded.

In a burst of clarity, she sensed some of the roots in the question, said: “I gave birth to you.”

The fact that the answer calms Paul down is one of those perfect details. And while Paul does question her decision to train him in the Bene Gesserit fashion, this ultimate answer is still here: You cannot blame your mother for giving birth to you any more than she can blame you for being born. That is always the root of your relationship, regardless of how it grows and changes over time.

This is also the first time in the book that we see the word jihad if I’m not mistaken, and it comes in Paul’s awakening to the religious war that is coming on the path he must likely follow. There are a lot of revelations in this section; the reveal that Jessica is the Baron Harkonnen’s daughter, that the spice is addictive and you eventually must continue consuming it to live, that the Fremen are truly in control of Arrakis by keeping eyes off of the planet. They are good reveals for the end of “Book One” because they leave us with many more questions to start into a new part of the narrative.

Paul Atreides is no longer a child, and the time of Muad’Dib is on the rise.

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And here is your audio snippet for the week!

Emmet Asher-Perrin is really looking forward to Book Two. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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