Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Twelve

This week we’re going to have an encounter with drum sand, take a peek at a pre-spice mass (up close), and make friends with the Fremen. Sort of.

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.

* * *

Family life of the Royal Creche is difficult for many people to understand, but I shall try to give you a capsule view of it. My father had only one real friend, I think. That was Count Hasimir Fenring, the genetic-eunuch and one of the deadliest fighters in the Imperium. The Count, a dapper and ugly little man, brought a new slave-concubine to my father one day and I was dispatched by my mother to spy on the proceedings. All of us spied on my father as a manner of self-protection. One of the slave-concubines permitted my father under the Bene Gesserit—Guild agreement could not, of course, bear a Royal Successor, but the intrigues were constant and oppressive in their similarity. We became adept, my mother and sisters and I, at avoiding subtle instruments of death. It may seem a dreadful thing to say, but I’m not at all sure my father was innocent in these attempts. A Royal Family is not like other families. Here was a new slave-concubine, then, red-haired like my father, willowy and graceful. She had a dancer’s muscles, and her training obviously had included neuro-enticement. My father looked at her for a long time as she postured unclothed before him. Finally he said: “She is too beautiful. We will save her as a gift.” You have no idea how much consternation this restraint created in the Royal Creche. Subtlety and self-control were, after all, the most deadly threats to us all.

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

Summary

Jessica awakens to find Paul already awake. He tells her that he enjoys the quiet of this place and she thinks of how her Bene Gesserit training made a point of highlighting how a mind responded to stress either positively or negatively. She is having trouble being as positive as Paul and tries to shake her darker thoughts. Paul sets a fuse for the thumper and they start walking across the desert in a strange uneven rhythm to hide their passage. They end up accidentally hitting drum sand on their way and are forced to run to the rocks. A worm comes out of the sand and writhes at the entrance to the rocks, but then another thumper sounds and it leaves. Paul thinks perhaps other Fremen have called it, though he cannot quite put his finger on why.

They follow the marker poles further up the rock until they reach a beautiful basin with some plant life. Then they spot some hopping mice, and one is snatched up by a hawk. Jessica thinks it was important that they saw that. Then they hear Fremen voices and one of them is suggesting that they take the water of the intruders. Jessica worries what will become of them, unshielded and alone.

Commentary

According to the Dune Encyclopedia, drum sand is a term used only on Arrakis, and occurs when the sand produces a musical sound and rhythmic beat after being impacted. There are four conditions necessary to this phenomenon: (1) sand grain of equal size that (2) must be bonded, with (3) uniform packing density, and (4) bedrock beneath that runs parallel to the sand’s surface. I dunno, I just really like the idea of it. It’s a unique little detail that seems like it could be real and adds a touch of other-wordly intrigue.

Jessica’s grief is continued from the previous sections, and she finds it difficult to see the brighter side of their isolation on Arrakis. That veil lifts from her soon, the instant she has reason to fight for their lives. But for now she’s stuck on the idea that their chance of survival is slim at best. Paul is focusing on the positive aspect of how remote their lives will be. There will be plenty of solitude, time for him to think and develop his sight.

Rhythm is central to life on Arrakis. The beat of the thumper, the off-kilter rhythm of their own steps to sound like wildlife, the hop of the desert mice. It gives a steady undercurrent of stability to the place as well as offering a marker for how well Paul and his mother are adapting. When they’re on rhythm they’re doing well, when they’re off they’re in danger.

The theme of subtlety and self-control being a dangerous weapon is really the point here, and as Irulan brings up these characteristics in her father, so too are we meant to make note of how essential it will be for Paul and Jessica on Arrakis. This is another very pointed jab at the Baron Harkonnen, who may be clever in his plots, but has no measure of self-control whatsoever. He makes his plans, orders others to do his bidding, then does exactly as he pleases. While he may not have the same pressure points as the poor saps that he uses, this lack of self-control is one of his most exploitable weak points.

When Jessica sees the mouse carried away by the hawk, she thinks it was important for them to see that. They get briefly caught up in the beauty of the basin and are quickly reminded of death, of the need to be on guard. And then their lives are immediately threatened following the reminder, so yeah, good job nature.

* * *

This Fremen religious adaptation, then, is the source of what we now recognize as “The Pillars of the Universe,” who Qizara Tafwid are among us all with signs and proofs ad prophecy. They bring us the Arrakeen mystical fusion whose profound beauty is typified by the stirring music built on the old forms, but stamped with the new awakening. Who has not heard and been deeply moved by “The Old Man’s Hymn”?

I drove my feet through a desert
Whose mirage fluttered like a host.
Voracious for glory, greedy for danger,
I roamed the horizons of al-Kulab, Watching time level mountains
In its search and its hunger for me.
And I saw the sparrows swiftly approach,
Bolder then the onrushing wolf.
They spread in the tree of my youth.
I heard the flock in my branches.
And was caught on their beaks and claws!

—from “Arrakis Awakening” by the Princess Irulan

Summary

Liet-Kynes has been left in the desert to die by the Harkonnens. He knows that he is right on top of a pre-spice mass that is about to explode, but he’s too weak and confused to get away from it fast enough. As he scrabbles across the sand, already suffering from delirium and heatstroke, he hears the voice of his father (who was the planetologist before him) lecturing him about the environment of Arrakis and how it could be changed to a fertile world with water. He suddenly realizes that another future for Arrakis is possible if the people fall into the hands of a “Hero.” But he’s too late to stop it; he’s already sent word of his support for Paul Atreides.

The spice mass finally bursts forth from the ground and swallows Kynes before the hawks can get to him. As he dies, he thinks that his father was wrong, and that the key principles of the universe are accident and error.

Commentary

I always think that Kynes’s hallucination of his dad is just him talking out loud and thinking it’s his father until it’s finally revealed that he can’t really make his voice work. I’m not sure which version of that I like better, really.

We’re getting a lot of environmental information here that clues us into some of the mysteries—the connection between the worms and the spice, the use for the maker hooks—on Arrakis and precisely what Kynes was hoping for in terms of making the world a paradise. His father’s words are a useful bit of exposition disguised in Kynes’s loss of lucidity.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about Kynes and his ties to the Imperium and colonialism and how this relates to Paul’s journey and maybe how it doesn’t need to. On the one hand, Kynes kind of serves as a proto-Paul on Arrakis; his father was an off-worlder with ties to the Imperium and his sandy-haired son grew up among the Fremen and was considered to a man who had “gone native.” He married a Fremen woman and had a Fremen daughter. This is similar to Paul’s journey, and knowing that the Fremen had accepted and integrated Kynes into their culture sets precedent for how they absorb Paul and Jessica into their numbers and combine their water together.

On the other hand, I’m a little bothered by the fact that Kynes cannot simply be a Fremen who was trained in the sciences. We’re clearly not meant to believe that a Fremen would never do such a thing (sure, you can’t leave Arrakis without spice, but we’re led to believe that Kynes has been off world, so it’s clearly something that could happen), being as militant and set in their ways as they are. As a result, the means to create this paradise of Arrakis that the Fremen dream of is only attainable with the help and vision of some sandy-haired guy sent over by the Emperor, and then eventually his kid. So there’s a colonialist element to it—the reverence that Liet commands among the tribes plays into that aspect—and then there’s the fact that I can’t help but wonder if Kynes wouldn’t be a more interesting character if he were Fremen and also a planetologist. That combination takes the narrative to a more complicated place in my mind.

This is even more interesting when we consider Kynes’ warning to himself all too late, when he realizes that he may have made a mistake in delivering the world and Fremen aid to Paul. This later course corrects under Leto II in terms of making Arrakis a lush world, but he’s right in realizing that a hero with a capital H is not a good thing for the Fremen. Backing a single vision is a dangerous prospect, especially the vision of someone like Paul, who will adopt the life and ways of the Fremen but still will always be an Atreides.

Kynes dies reasserting that he belongs to this place, which is an important final thought for a man who technically does not claim ancestry on Arrakis. It makes the point to the reader at least that whatever Kynes’ heritage, this place was his home and he lived and died by its laws. And then there’s his very final thought, a revelation that the universe is ruled by accident and error. It is an intriguing and perhaps legitimate take on the events of this tale; while every person on the board has their own plans and schemes and desires, all the truly relevant pieces of this puzzle have been informed largely by accidents and errors. The Bene Gesserit chose to hand a woman to Duke Leto who would give him the son he wanted, the Emperor threw in his lot with the Harkonnens because he feared Leto’s popularity, Jessica got pregnant a second time, the baron believed that Paul and his mother could survive the sandstorm.

And there will be many more accidents and errors to come.

* * *

Prophecy and prescience — How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered questions? Consider: How much is actual prediction of the “wave form” (as Mauad’Dib referred to his vision-image) and how much is the prophet shaping the future to fit the prophecy? What of the harmonics inherent in the act of prophecy? Does the prophet see the future or does he see a line of weakness, a fault or cleavage that he may shatter with words or decision as a diamond-cutter shatters his gem with a blow of a knife?

—“Private Reflections of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan

Summary

The Fremen who have Paul and Jessica cornered are being led by Stilgar. It is clear that they have been advised by Liet not to harm Paul, but Jessica knows that her life is still up for grabs. Someone named Jamis is giving Stilgar a hard time for letting them live, but Stilgar is intrigued by Paul, particularly for the fact that Paul does not seem soft to him, even though he has clearly lived with plenty of water. He is willing to train Paul about their ways, but he believes that Jessica will be dead weight and does not intend to bring her along. Jessica feints and catches Stilgar off-guard, getting hold of him. Paul relieves one man of his weapon and scrambles into the shadows.

When Stilgar realizes that Jessica is a weirding woman and can fight, he changes his tune; he wants her to stay with them and teach them how to fight as she does. Jessica commands him to make that clear to his people so they won’t keep trying to kill her. He promises her that he will keep them safe, and though he cannot vouch for all Fremen, he promises to keep them a secret so that no one will harm them. One of the Fremen is still hunting Paul—someone named Chani—and Stilgar berates them for it. He asks Jessica how he can be sure that she will keep her word, but she tell him that the Bene Gesserit keep their word the same as the Fremen. When they realize that she is Bene Gesserit, they think of the prophecy, and she asks if they require a sign from her. Stilgar says there is no time, so she recalls the name of his Sietch and suggests that she might be tested there, awing them again.

Stilgar berates Paul for being too noisy climbing the rocks and tells him to come down, then is again impressed to find that he’ll only take Jessica’s orders. Paul comes out from his hiding spot to see Chani—the girl from his dreams. She scolds him for taking a hardest way up the rocks and shows him the easier way down. Paul is instantly taken with her. They are given kerchiefs to identify them as belonging to Sietch Tabr. Stilgar asks for the weapon Paul took from the man he bested; it is Jamis, and Stilgar insists that he and Chani keep Paul safe and help to teach him. He also tells Paul that they will give him a new name after his test of reason. Jessica mentions that Paul was already been tested with the gom jabbar, again impressing them.

Jessica thinks of how the group of Fremen move like a military company, even in their day to day crossings. She thinks about the root of the word “sietch”: a place to meet in times of danger. These people are the perfect asset for Paul.

Commentary

A lot of set up occurring here—we have the introduction of Chani, the slight against Jamis, Stilgar’s interest in Paul, Jessica setting up her place among the Fremen. I always did love that while Paul does intend to keep his mother safe, Jessica is fully capable of handling the situation on her own and readily proves her worth to these people. Stilgar gets more points again for being pragmatic and quick on the uptake—he knows that they need her skills and has no injured pride over being bested by her. Unlike Jamis.

The opening where Irulan questions how much the prophet shapes the future as opposed to seeing it is met with what we could argue is the first prominent instance of Paul’s prescience “coming true.” This is where he meets Chani, a girl he has only ever seen in dreams, and now we find that she is real. So there is a clear delineation in this at least; we know that Paul didn’t shape Chani out of the ether, so this part of his prescience was beyond his influence.

Now, getting Chani to fall in love with him… that could certainly count as an instance of the prophet shaping the future that he sees. It is a good question to continue to engage with as the narrative goes on. When is Paul becoming bound by his own visions, and when does he shape the world to suit what he thinks must happen?

Herbert is relatively consistent in how he structures the story to help the reader get a picture of how Paul’s advancement in these sections. When we’re meant to see how he’s progressing, how much sharper he has become, we’re usually in his POV. As soon as we’re meant to see his mistakes, we’re in the POV of other characters who are calling him out or a slightly more distant omniscient narrator. So we get his internal thought process as he learns more about his powers and hones them to suit their new situations, and then others note his larger failings. When Paul does think over his own mistakes, it’s usually a swift thing that denotes a change in the narrative perspective as someone else takes control of the situation.

But much of this section is focused on Jessica learning precisely how much the Bene Gesserit Missionaria Protectiva will save her here on this unfamiliar world. She is constantly impressed by how well their teaching and prophecies have taken root, how well her training and background works to her advantage. On the one hand, she believes that the Bene Gesserit truly primed these people for her arrival, but on the other hand that’s hardly surprising coming from a people who have no extensive knowledge of the Bene Gesserit in the larger galaxy. Would any of this have worked if a significant number of Fremen ever left Arrakis and learned of the larger politics at play? We have to assume not, and then consider how the isolation of Arrakis may have helped to fill the Emperor’s coffers, but ultimately led to the exact environment that allowed for his usurpation.

There’s another interesting question here about the willingness to believe in actionable prophecy. There’s a considerable difference between wanting to believe in these legends and actually taking it as gospel when the possibility arrives. (I’m not saying that other religious people don’t believe in their prophetic legends, but I do think that your average believer might show a considerable amount of skepticism before taking a potential savior at their word.) That the Fremen have ways of testing Jessica to find out if she is the person they are seeking speaks to just how important these stories have been to their culture, how needed the Lisan al-Gaib is if they are to ever achieve the future they are seeking as a people.

* * *

And here is your weekly audio excerpt!

Emily Asher-Perrin wants to step on some drum sand. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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