Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Thirteen

This week we’re going to kill someone we barely know in hand-to-hand combat! Yeesh. So… just an average week on the Dune Reread?

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.

* * *

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called “spannungsbogen”—which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.

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


They head into a cave, waiting until it is night again and they can make for the sietch. Stilgar shows Jessica where it is, and she observes Fremen hurrying for cover under the harsh light of the sun. He tells her that they choose their leaders based on who is the strongest. Jessica asks if she has disturbed their hierarchy by besting him in combat. He tells her that some of them might wonder that she has not called them out, but that it would be unwise because they would not follow someone who is not of the desert, even if they won. His group had been delivering their bribe to Guild to kept Arrakis free of satellite monitoring as Paul had predicted. Jessica asks what they are doing that must not be seen, and Stilgar tells her that they are slowly changing the face of Arrakis so that many generation from now there will be water and tall plants and no need for stillsuits.

Jessica sees a mirage, Fremen robes fluttering on the back of a sandworm far away. Stilgar says it would be faster to ride home, but that they could not summon a worm into this basin. Jessica reels from that revelation as he tells her that they should get back before the men think that they’re dallying together. Jessica remind him that she was a duke’s lady and there’s no room for that, but then wonders if Stilgar is in need of a wife, and if it would be wise to do so to secure her position there. She thinks of her unborn daughter, of why she permitted herself to get pregnant. Stilgar tells her that though she is desirable, his major concern is in keeping peace and balance. He doesn’t want his men to think that he’s too concerned with pleasure, as many of them are reaching an unwise age. He doesn’t want the people to expect one of them to call out the other once Jessica proves her worth to everyone. He notes that there is a potential vacancy with their own Reverend Mother who is quite old, and talks of the danger of a people descending into a mob and the need for peace in these times so they could expand their influence.

Jessica admits that she underestimated Stilgar, and he tells her that he would have friendship from her. She agrees and asks whether he believes that she and Paul are the ones the prophecy refers to—he tells her he does not know. She realizes that he wants a sign and feels a memory come upon her, recites a bit of text that the Fremen respond to. Stilgar says that she may become a Reverend Mother. Paul is eating food that Chani offered him, food that has a greater spice concentration than he’s ever consumed. He knows that this might trigger prescience in him and begins to sense it at his mother’s words. In that moment, needing to anchor himself in the present, Paul learns more about the problem of his sight; it was at once illumination and error, and even using the ability changed the outcome of what he saw.

And what he sees is this cave as a source of great change, where even the slightest movement would bring a different outcome. And in many of the scenarios laid out before him, he lies dead from a knife wound.


So, from what I’ve been able to find “spannungsbogen” literally translates to something like “the tension of the bow,” and is another way of indicating the suspense of something. The roots are German (as you probably guessed), and using it in this particular context gives it a sort of double meaning; the Fremen have this quality of being able to wait before they reach out for what they desire, but under its more literal translation, this is a section of the narrative that spells out suspense.

This exchange between Jessica and Stilgar heightens the suspense for what is to come. Stilgar makes it clear that leadership is something that the Fremen fight for, and that it has to be undertaken by the most capable among them. He has no desire to eventually fight her, so hopes that perhaps she could be their Sayyadina, and takes the place of the aging Reverend Mother. But even knowing that the possibility exists for Jessica does not clear Paul of this obligation, if he is indeed the Lisan al-Gaib. So we have layers of suspense making themselves known.

Jessica thinks of perhaps becoming Stilgar’s wife, though Stilgar claims to have other women and doesn’t want to seem extravagant by taking up with her. (Not sure if the other women are bonded mates or just friendly companions, and I’m trying to remember if we ever learn more about them….) There’s a point where Stilgar mentions that Fremen women are never forced to have sex, though that implies that this rule only applies to Fremen women and not to others, which is still awful and forces me to wonder in what situations they would deem that acceptable. Obviously there is a separation between the city-dwellers and the Fremen, so perhaps that is where the rule applies? But there was also that point made earlier in the narrative that lots of Fremen men prefer wives from the towns and cities, which makes the lack of rule where those women are concerned extra distressing.

Jessica turns her thoughts to her unborn daughter again and thinks of why she allowed herself to conceive this time around. She’s forced to admit that she simply wanted to, which I always assumed had to do with the fact that she knew Leto was likely to die soon. Later at the start of the coming section, Irulan asks whether her own mother or Jessica were the stronger in their choices to follow or ignore Bene Gesserit orders, and she claims that history has already decided in favor of Jessica. But while Jessica has considerable strength, it is interesting to consider that something else brings her out on top—simply the decision to do what she wanted to do, the greatest wild card of all. Jessica’s strength stems in many ways purely from her belief that her desires are a good enough reason to do as she wills. She regrets it or worries about it often, but it’s still a motivating factor that shapes their universe.

Stilgar talks to Jessica about what a good leader does for his people and mentions that leaders maintain individuals, otherwise the people just become a single-minded mob. It is a fascinating premise in this closed circuit society that he is a part of. Stilgar is trying to reject groupthink for the sake of keeping peace among the Fremen, claiming that maintaining the status of individuality is key to this. And he wants to keep that peace not out of any leanings toward pacifism, but due to his desire to propagate their agenda, the desire to make Arrakis a green world full of water and plant life. Stilgar is, in that aspect, perhaps even more goal-oriented than Liet-Kynes, determined to keep his people together for the good of their ultimate endgame.

Prescience is such a difficult thing to work into a narrative without cutting yourself off at the knees, and Herbert spends a great deal of time explaining Paul’s gift in the maximum amount of detail to ensure that it doesn’t overthrow his basic premise. The key is in showing how the ability can be incorrectly relied upon so that it can’t become a constant crutch for the character. So we have seen how Paul can lose sight of the future he thinks is coming, and now we have a different scenario; one where he sees a tapestry of possibilities where every thread spins him out in a different direction, but many of his actions still ultimately lead to death. Yet another difficulty that seems reasonable, and creates limitations on what Paul can and cannot do.

* * *

My father, the Padishah Emperor, was 72 yet looked no more that 35 the year he encompassed the death of Duke Leto and gave Arrakis back to the Harkonnens. He seldom appeared in public wearing other than a Sardaukar uniform and a Burseg’s black helmet with the Imperial lion in gold upon its crest. The uniform was an open reminder of where his power lay. He was not always that blatant, though. When he wanted, he could radiate charm and sincerity, but I often wonder in these later days if anything about him was as it seemed. I think now he was a man fighting constantly to escape the bars of an invisible cage. You must remember that he was an emperor, father-head of a dynasty that reacher back into the dimmest history. But we denied him a legal son. Was this not the most terrible defeat a ruler ever suffered? My mother obeyed her Sister Superiors where the Lady Jessica disobeyed. Which of them was the stronger? History already has answered.

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


Jessica wakes when it is night and readies herself to move again. She notes that Paul has seemed strange since before they slept and wonders if it has something to do with the spice diet. Then she notices that Stilgar is speaking to Jamis, the man who Paul bested, and that Jamis is demanding combat to test Jessica’s part in their legend, seeking a chance to get at Paul. Jessica insists that she is her own champion, but that is not their way. Stilgar talks of Jamis’s quickness to anger, his inability to be a leader in hopes of getting Jamis to attack him instead. Jamis tells Stilgar of the water they were carrying with them; Stilgar demands to know why they had such wealth. Jessica explains that she came from a land full of water and did not know their ways of discipline. Stilgar asks what she means to use this wealth for, and she tells him that she intended it to save lives, giving it to the tribe so they can replenish.

Stilgar thanks her for the blessing, but Jamis will not be diverted and still demands combat with Paul. Jessica uses the voice on him to tell him that if he hurts Paul he will hurt him far worse. Jamis says she’s using a spell on him and invokes silence on her. Stilgar tells her she must not speak again. A ring is made and Jamis strips down to a loincloth. Chani helps Paul prepare and hands him a crysknife, whispering advice to him. Paul thinks back on the lessons of his combat trainers, but realizes that he’s still at a disadvantage with an unfamiliar weapon and his bent toward shield awareness. Chani has told him Jamis’s abilities and weaknesses, but Paul is afraid all the same and recites the Litany Against Fear to combat it. They begin their fight and Paul keeps sidestepping Jamis’s attacks but returning just an instant too late to land his own blows, due to the shield training. Stilgar thinks he’s toying with Jamis.

Paul manages to draw first blood and asks if Jamis will yield. Stilgar pauses the match the explain their way to Paul—this manner of challenge is to the death. They start up again, and Jamis now knows that Paul is a true fighter, and is mired in fear. Jessica knows that makes him more dangerous and can see that Paul’s prescience is no help to him in this moment. But Paul was well trained by Duncan Idaho, and he remembers that fear will likely lead to a mistake on Jamis’s part… and it does. Paul catches him switching his knife hand (as Chani had warned him that he might do) and catches him in the chest with his blade, killing the man. The Fremen gather around the body and carry it off.

Jessica wants to be sure that Paul doesn’t think too well of himself and grow used to being a murderer, so she approaches and asks how it feels to be a killer, making sure that he notes her disdain. Stilgar is also angry, telling Paul that he had best not play with Stilgar if the challenge comes to them, the way he played with Jamis. Paul is crestfallen, and Jessica explains that he has never killed a man with a blade like that before. Paul assures Stilgar that he hadn’t been toying, he simply hadn’t wanted to murder Jamis. Stilgar sees that this is why Paul asked if he wanted to yield, and accepts this reasoning. He chooses a tribe name for Paul that noble members of their sietch may use: Usul, the base of the pillar. Then he asks Paul what name he would like to choose for himself that they may use out in the open. Paul asks about the jumping mice that they saw. Stilgar says that they call that mouse muad’dib.

Jessica remembers Paul telling her that they would call him that name, and is afraid of and for her son at the same time. Paul can see this future stretch out before him, and sees again the Atreides banned and the pillaging in his name, and he does not want it to come to pass. He asks not to lose the name his father gave him, and requests that he be called Paul-Muad’Dib, which Stilgar agrees to. Paul feels relief at having done something different than his prescience suggested. Stilgar tells him that they are pleased with the name Muad’Dib, as the mouse has great meaning to them. The band embraces him in turn, calling him Usul. Stilgar has their nose plugs refitted, and has one of their literjons opened to give water to those who are in great need. Then he arranges for Jamis’s funeral at sundown.


It occurs to me at this point that we learn practically everything we know about Emperor Shaddam through these accounts from Irulan, and that it is a such a singular way of getting to know an important character. I’m trying to think of other instances where a character is similarly introduced in a way that makes them both omnipresent and absent. It’s a bit easier to do this in film, perhaps, but even then it’s not typically with this level of detail. We know that Emperor Palpatine exists in the Star Wars trilogy before we meet him up close, but we also don’t know much about the guy. Herbert gives us all these careful dissections of Shaddam and his manner of wielding power through his daughter, but our contact with him is minimal. We really do get a sense of him more as a historical figure, which he could have gleaned from many eras of history, but has a certain Roman flare about it here. Irulan has a lot of philosophical questions where her father is concerned, wondering constantly at how and why he became the man he was, and what external forces pressured him to be that man.

The moment where Stilgar asks Jessica what her intent was in bringing such a wealth of water to the desert is the point where I think the idea of water waste and water need finally hits home. Herbert has spent so much of the narrative having his characters recognize the need for water on Arrakis and how the thought of it is omnipresent. But it isn’t until Stilgar makes a point of their carrying such wealth, and his suspicion of it that we can finally see the effect that has on a people and on one’s frame of mind. It is an extravagance or carelessness up until the point when Jessica deigns to give it over to those who need it. She hadn’t had the chance to think of it as “wealth” until then.

The fight between Paul and Jamis is an important lesson for Paul as Jamis is said by some to embody both the best and worst of the Fremen; he is a good and loyal fighter who knows the ways of the desert, but he is also stubborn and close-minded to what he does not understand or already know. Paul observes this close hand with the man, and it also provides an extra level of safety for he and Jessica when their position is precarious by bonding them more heavily to the tribe following his death.

I can still remember the first time I read the book and came across the point where Paul asks if he’ll yield and then finds out that the fight is to the death. It’s such a common trope, but it’s well-handled in this case. The outcome has consequences; Paul cannot get out of the duel once he finds out that he’ll have to kill, and Jamis’s death is not taken lightly. It makes the revelation actually worth something, which is typically not the case when it gets trotted out in other tales.

This is one section where I feel like the constant POV shift is a weakness; I’d rather the narrative stay with Jessica or Paul for the duration of the fight because I think it would make a greater impact and reads better for action purposes. Probably by staying with Paul? His recollections of Duncan and Gurney’s advice are a major component to why the fight works on paper.

It’s interesting how Herbert laces Chani’s actions and reactions through this section, before we properly get to know her. We are seeing her advocate for Paul at Stilgar’s command, but her advice is still what ultimately saves his life, and she is impressed by his fighting acumen. We are learning, even with these tiny scraps of information, what we can come to expect of her.

The meditation on violence in this instance will inform our view of it going forward in the narrative. Jessica’s choice to humble Paul after killing Jamis reminds him of the monstrosity of murder and reframes his thinking again, reminding him of the jihad he would like to avoid under the Atreides banner. There’s a juxtaposition at work here between Paul’s desire to prevent killing and his choice to ally with the Fremen who don’t think much of the act in either good or evil terms. There is pointedly very little “message” where this is concerned between the two groups. I’d argue that we are meant to side with Paul as the central figure, but the Fremen’s lack of concern over death comes from a ready acquaintance with it and a spiritual level of peace with the nature of life and existence. This will come up later in Paul’s weeping for the dead, but the lack of firm value judgement on who is “correct” in their thinking ultimately makes the story far more human.

Emmet Asher-Perrin wishes that she were named after an awesome jumping mouse. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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