Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Eleven

This week we’re going to take a harrowing trek through the desert, nearly drown in some sand, and sing a man to his death. Just your typically perilous Tuesday.

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.

* * *

What do you despise? By this you are truly known.

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

Summary

The Baron Harkonnen’s new guard captain, Nefud, comes in to give report that Paul and Jessica were seen heading into a intense sandstorm and are certainly dead. The baron doesn’t believe it for a moment, but asks for details on their operation. Nefud confirms that Kynes was helping them, so the baron wants him killed. Kynes is being guarded by Sardaukar, so they will have to take under under the pretense of the questioning and then make his death look like an accident. Nefud also confirms that they have captured Thufir Hawat and that Hawat believes that Jessica betrayed them. This works to the baron’s advantage; he tells Nefud to bring both Hawat and Kynes and tell the Sardaukar that he wishes to play the two off one another to get information. He then tells Nefud that they will slip Hawat residual poison that he’ll never know about, then keep him alive by putting the antidote in his food and drink. He wants to woo Hawat over to their side by proving that the Harkonnens are better suited to his abilities and will provide him with better information and resources.

The baron believes now that all the Atreides are dead, and sees a clear line to a Harkonnen being Emperor. Not himself or Rabban, but he thinks perhaps Feyd-Rautha. Rabban enters to speak with him, and is surprised to be handed back the planet, thinking that it was going to Piter. When the baron admits that Piter is dead, Rabban presumes that his uncle had simply grown tired of the man, which aggravates the baron. He explains how essential it is not to dispose of assets without consideration. Rabban asks if the Emperor knows that the baron suborned a Suk doctor with Imperial conditioning, and the baron explains that the Emperor will be informed by his men, but he will produce a report stating Yueh’s conditioning had been faked so that no one suspects his true abilities. He then tells Rabban that he plans not to keep him under a tight leash this time, and that his only directive is to squeeze the planet dry for profit; this whole operation was their undertaking and the expense was worth decades of spice mining on Arrakis.

Rabban is pleased with his new reign, but the baron wants to assure him that he understands nothing of the larger plan. Rabban insists that he has underestimated the Fremen, however, and tells his uncle that he had a report indicating that a band of Fremen wiped out Sardaukar. The baron does not believe it, thinks that they were Atreides men dressed as Fremen. Rabban tells him that the Sardaukar think otherwise and have started a pogrom to wipe out the Fremen. This suits the baron just fine, as he’s more worried about the Houses Minor in the cities and towns of Arrakis who might try to inform others of what they’ve done. He advises Rabban to hold a hostage from each of these houses. Rabban wonders at exterminating an entire population, but the baron wants him to subdue the people of Arrakis, not murder them all. Rabban asks about Kynes, but the baron reminds him that he’s addicted to spice and cannot leave the world—and that he’ll be dead by nightfall anyhow. He advises Rabban to replenish his personal spice stores for selling first, as they lost a great deal in the duke’s raid. Then the baron dismisses Rabban and thinks of how his tyranny will make the population bow to Feyd-Rautha instantly.

Commentary

This section is set up deliberately to show where the Baron is shrewd and where his hubris interferes with his abilities. He’s so pleased with himself, so self-congratulatory for seeing things that men like Nefud and Rabban do not that he misses the most important factor in succeeding with his plan.

In fact, the Baron’s key mistake boils down to a disregard for people who exist completely outside the class and stations that he holds in such regard. He cares about the Houses Minor, the Sardaukar, the Emperor, but the Fremen are beneath his notice. It’s fair to say that he barely considers them to be people at all. In addition, he holds his own intellect in such high regard that he never bothers to consider that someone from the Atreides household, like Paul, might outmatch him.

And this is how the flow of his own scheme works against him. If Paul had developed his abilities earlier, then the Baron would have undoubtedly heard tell of it. But it was precisely his plot—getting the Atreides put in charge of Arrakis, coming after the entire family—that put Paul under the needed stress to trigger his abilities. Baron Harkonnen is entirely the instrument of his own undoing, but the irony is enjoyable because it’s so complex.

The Harkonnen concept of loyalty is meant to stand in stark contrast to the Atreides. The Baron makes certain that Rabban can see his shield when he walks in; he doesn’t trust anyone from his own family in the slightest. What’s more, he is certain that Hawat can be won over to their side, failing to understand the depth of loyalty that Leto (and soon Paul) command, which will be very important before the final act of the story. But since Herbert doesn’t set much store by ultimate Good and Evil—the Harkonnens are a horrific group, but the Atreides are protagonists, not perfect saviors—this is more of a lesson in how smart leaders inspire loyalty while others have it under unreliable pretenses. The baron thinks himself above everyone because he knows their sticking points, how to buy them off. But that’s only as good as money, and it means that everyone you use is always vulnerable to being bought or converted.

In all other matters the baron does know how to manipulate with considerable ease. The idea of letting Rabban be a monster so that the population is ready to be awed by Fyed is a clever one that plays on the savior mythos that Paul will attune himself to in order to win Arrakis. The only difference is that Paul’s myth is basically genuine. Which is something that the baron couldn’t have known because he is missing a window into the Bene Gesserit sphere. (As are basically all the men in this story.)

* * *

At the age of fifteen, he had already learned silence.

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

Summary

Paul finally turns them into a storm vortex and it spits them out into the night. Four hours of piloting has led them out of it, and Paul tells Jessica that he will land near rocks and she is to run for them the instant they touch down; a worm is sure to come and it will destroy all evidence of their survival when it takes the craft. The left wing breaks before they can properly land, but they vacate the craft swiftly and run for the rocks. They barely make it to them before a worm arrives and swallows the ‘thopter whole. Paul realizes that it’s bigger than a Guild ship. Jessica is tired but they have to keep moving under cover of night when it’s cool. Paul saw this way for them in a vision, but notices that it’s different—Duncan had been alive when he’d first seen it. They head deep into the desert.

Eventually they come upon kilometers of open desert and stop to eat. Paul advises his mother to drink all the water from her stillsuit, as the best way to store water is in the body. They know that they might encounter a worm in the open desert and try to think best how to avoid it. Jessica notes that she’s become oddly formal with Paul because she’s afraid of him and his abilities and what he might tell her. Paul thinks that they could plant the thumper in their kit and then make it across the desert while the sound occupied nearby worms, provided that they moved less rhythmically. He fears the worms, but knows somewhere deep down that he shouldn’t. He slides down into a fissure, but when Jessica follows she is buried in a landslide. Paul remains calm to search for her, knowing that she’ll suspend her functions and give him time to dig her out. He gets to her, and drags her away as the sandslope completely collapses.

He says the word to bring her out of bindu suspension, but tells her it might have been better to leave her there—he lost their pack with all the supplies. Jessica insists that Paul can reason this out, and he comes up with a plan, combining the acid in the power pack of his paracompass with spice to create a foam that can hold the sand at bay while they tunnel down. They eventually find the pack and get it free with some tricky maneuvering. Paul sets up the tent for the night then uses his binoculars and spot some vegetation growing. Jessica thinks it could be a botanical testing station, but Paul thinks they’re close to Fremen. Jessica is less pleased by that idea, though Paul insists that Kynes promised their help. Another worm surfaces, large and commanding. Jessica tells Paul that they have to review the musculature of the hand, to help Paul control his body after the panic he showed today. Though initially irritated, he acquiesces.

Commentary

This is the first time that we see Paul work through considerable problems using his gifts without having a grasp on the future. We get a feel for his learning curve, but it’s abundantly clear that he’s not quite up to scratch. He doesn’t make many errors, but the ones that he does make are born of panic and cost them valuable time and resources. In the words of Vader “The Force is with you, young Skywalker… but you are not a Jedi yet.” And we’re given a key clue as to how far off Paul’s visions can truly be; when he first saw this journey, he saw Duncan with them. Now Duncan is gone. So there are no guarantees, no matter how carefully Paul sticks to this path laid before him.

I’m trying to remember if I thought that Paul and Jessica were going about their trek incorrectly the first time I read the book, and I’m fairly certain that I did. The narrative has been good about lacing exchanges with the Fremen with just enough mystery that it’s clear we’re missing part of the story, and the errors that Paul and Jessica make are due to a lack of that knowledge. Paul almost hits on it when he thinks of the worms, remembering the hooks in his pack and knowing that he should think of them with respect.

All sense of foreshadowing aside, I love this section. I love the mental gymnastics it takes Paul to get through it, and I love that Jessica has to remind him what he’s capable of, I love the references to muscle suspension. I also love the brief reprieve of Jessica and Paul actually laughing, which might be the first time anyone in this book has actually laughed, aside from Gurney and the baron? It’s one of the few times, and the sudden mode lift is much appreciated.

The words “prana” and “bindu” are part of the Chakobsa language, which within Herbert’s universe is reference to a language that is derived from an ancient Bhotani dialect, particularly their hunting language (according to the Dune Encyclopedia). Bindu means muscle, prana means nerve. So when Jessica asks Paul to review these things with her, she is taking quite specifically about nerve and muscle control. Fun aside: chakobsa was also a real secret language that was used by Chechen princes and knights in the medieval era.

The reference to silence at the start of the section extends itself to all manner of metaphors, but it is also relevant that Jessica notes how moving through the desert leaves a person inclined to speak only when they need to. The desert dictates actions, movement, rhythm. All of these denote a spiritual aspect to the their journey, something that is beyond their total understanding and commands that they give themselves over entirely to the landscape. I would argue that for Herbert, this is the true religious experience. Not what the Bene Gesserit plant on each world, not the mantras and various texts for differing religions. It’s a person’s relationship to the ecology of a world, their participation in it. In some ways, he’s more effective at seeding this idea than other writers of his ilk. Tolkien was big on describing nature and connecting people to a sense of the land as a living thing, but Herbert really connects people to the land as a means of describing their hardship, their toughness, their development. More than once in the section, Jessica thinks of Caladan, her recollection of its water now something approaching spiritual enlightenment. She recognizes its beauty, its preciousness.

Conversely, the desert is about precision. Knowing each type of sand, shale, gravel. Knowing when to travel, how much water to drink, where to camp. The desert demands your concentration, your respect—like shai hulud.

* * *

We came from Caladan — a paradise world for our form of life. There existed no need on Caladan to build a physical paradise or a paradise of the mind — we could see the actuality all around us. And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving paradise in this life — we went soft, we lost our edge.

—from “Muad’Dib: Conversations” by the Princess Irulan

Summary

Gurney Halleck has been saved from the slaughter of the Harkonnen forces by Staban Tuek—Esmar Tuek’s son. The man tells Gurney that he is welcome to work off the debt to them alongside his men, but he is not permitted to act in open revenge against the Harkonnens. They must do that work covertly to make certain that they don’t anger the Guild. He informs Gurney that the duke’s body has been seen, and that Paul and Jessica are likely dead, and that Rabban has charge of the planet once again. This angers Gurney as Rabban is responsible for the deaths of his family and his scar. Tuek says that he will help Gurney and his men earn heir passage off Arrakis, but Gurney releases his men from him and is determined to stay for revenge, either with him or the Fremen. Tuek tells Gurney that the Fremen way of life is likely not for him.

Gurney thinks he might rather live with those who are so adept at killing Harkonnens, but Tuek tells him that they are being hunted by the Harkonnen fighting forces. Gurney insists that they could be Sardaukar, but Tuek dismisses that as rumor. Gurney is troubled by this choice before him, but still opts to stay with Tuek. Tuek asks that he try to convince his men to stay. Gurney says he will consider that later, and goes to see his men. They are tending to their wounded, and one of them will not get the medicine he needs to survive, so he has requested that Gurney sing his favorite song to ease his passing. Gurney is given his baliset and plays, and that man dies as he finishes the song.

Commentary

We can see that puzzle pieces are being laid in every time we reencounter one of the duke’s men. Knowing where Gurney and Hawat are is important, we’re meant to make note of it, to see where they are and what they intend to stand for in the coming fight. And again we have another example of the loyalty of Atreides men—Gurney refuses to leave, and though he wants to give his men the chance to escape this place, it seems unlikely from the start that they have any intention of abandoning him. Leto commanded loyalty, and Gurney commands it on his behalf, even when he doesn’t mean to.

We are also being reminded constantly of that fact that everyone in duke’s employ still believes that Jessica is the one who betrayed them. Which is mostly just important for future plot reasons, but also getting to be a bit funny when you get down o how deeply convinced all of them are, and how they refuse to question the thought. (It actually makes me wonder how many of them didn’t like Jessica? Or if they simply didn’t know her at all.)

I think it is also important to note that though Tuek’s son is not Fremen and has no interest in their doings, all the people of Arrakis are exceedingly pragmatic. He has no interest in an immediate revenge that might get him killed. Instead, he plans to bide his time and wait for the perfect opportunity to get back at the Harkonnens. He extends this philosophy to Gurney, who desperately needs to hear it before he gets himself killed for nothing. In that manner, the Atreides need Arrakis; not simply for its resources and its harsh lessons, but to learn from its people. There is a stern logic to all the people who occupy this planet because they know that the world does not bend for them. And the Atreides and their allies, who are accustomed to demanding and having those demands met, must learn the patience to be a truly effective force.

* * *

And here is your weekly audio excerpt!

Emily Asher-Perrin has a fondness for Gurney Halleck that she can’t explain and wonders if that maybe isn’t the point of the man. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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