Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Fifteen

This week we’re going to gain two sons and then imbibe poison to change it into not-poison so that we can hand it out as a drug to all our new desert friends. Don’t worry, it’s not as dire as it sounds. Okay, it kind of is.

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.

* * *

Muad’Dib tells us in “A Time of Reflection” that his first collisions with Arrakeen necessities were the true beginnings of his education. He learned then how to pole the sand for its weather, learned the language of the wind’s needles stinging his skin, learned how the nose can buzz with sand-itch and how to gather his body’s precious moisture around him to guard it and preserve it. As his eyes assumed the blue of the Ibad, he learned the Chakobsa way.

—Stilgar’s preface to “Muad’Dib, the Man” by the Princess Irulan


As they make their way to the sietch, Chani chastises Paul for not having his hood all the way down on his forehead and wasting moisture. They are instructed to stop in case Chani’s outburst attracted attention, and she is utterly silent from that point on. When they reach the sietch she leaves Paul’s side and one of the other Fremen makes reference to the news and says “poor Chani.” Paul is assaulted by the smell of the place, but his mother is quick to compliment it and cues Paul to accept it readily. Paul hears that Liet has died and finally makes the connection; Liet is Kynes’s Fremen name and Chani is his daughter.

There is a cry and then Paul is led to meet Harah, Jamis’s woman. She cannot believe that a child could have bested Jamis and insists it was an accident. Stilgar informs her that Paul’s mother knows the weirding way and that they should not challenge the outcome. Harah thinks of the Lisan al-Gaib, and Paul sees that the legend has helped them again. Stilgar tells Paul that he must decide to accept her as woman or servant. Harah tells him that she is young, and Paul asks if he may change his mind if he accepts her as servant. Stilgar explains that Paul has one year to change his mind or she is free to choose another. He can also release her now from any obligation. Either way he is responsible for her for a year and will always be partly responsible for Jamis’s sons. Paul says that he will accept Harah as a servant, which irritates her.

Paul can see that the troop is growing impatient, so he uses the weirding voice on Harah and instructs her to take him to Jamis’s quarters which are now his. She worries that he’ll cast her out when he year is done, but he promises that she’ll always have a place with him. Paul asks if she hates him, but she says that Stilgar told her of how he gave water to the dead and was a friend of Jamis. She says that she will mourn when it is time. The tribe plans to move on soon as they are being pursued by Sardaukar, but they are still making dew collectors to be certain that plants will survive while they’re gone. Paul asks how the dew collectors work, and she explains their construction, though she is shocked that he doesn’t know. Paul notices that as they makes their way through the sietch, people are staring at him. Harah tells him that people are having a hard time believing that he bested Jamis.

They walk by a classroom and Paul is surprised that they are still teaching knowing that they must soon leave. Harah tells him that the teaching of Liet cannot be left off. Then they arrive at his new quarters—yali— and Paul hesitates, feeling a pull toward the Fremen way life that concerns him. He goes inside and rejects Harah’s help getting off his stillsuit, but accepts her offer of food. She comments on the strangeness of his eyes, as they are not blue like a Fremen’s. Paul dismisses her to get the food and finds his mind wandering to Chani who has just lost her father just as he has. He thinks again of the place that his mother and his sister have on this path he’s taking. He also notes that though he can smell many poisons within the sietch, there is no poison snooper anywhere. Then Jamis’s sons return with hands on the hilts of their crysknives, and Paul recalls that they children of the Fremen are said to fight as the adults do.


Again we are looking at Fremen customs, the Fremen way of life, observing two particular facets that we will need to understand as it pertains to Paul’s current situation; we are learning about their efficiency as a people, and we are learning about their social structure, particularly as it pertains to family units. We find out that Paul is now responsible for Jamis’s family, and although he can decide to let Harah out of that arrangement at the end of the year, Jamis’s children are always bound to him. It’s a practical system in terms of the longevity of the group; for survival, all children must have guardians. The Fremen make certain of this by having clearly defined rules about how the family unit is created and maintained.

This system does seem to ultimately favor the man overall; my assumption is that, should Paul make the choice to release Harah after a year, she would have had difficulty surviving without another partner. (In addition, it seems that if a woman’s partner is killed and the victor decides to take her on as his woman rather than his servant, she is obligated to that arrangement and would be frowned upon for neglecting it. And either way she ends up beholden to a man that she might not wish to be bound to.) A Fremen woman in this situation has rights, but she is still dependent upon male action to determine her life course. Conversely, the system they have prevents Harah’s children from being effectively orphaned, and Paul must take care of them. Harah is also free to speak her mind on the subject, even if Fremen society does not permit too much deviation from the standard arrangements.

This particular universe puts a keen divide on the concepts of romance and necessity where longterm companionship is concerned. For the Fremen, what matters most is survival. This is not to say that romance has no place in their society, only that they have more pressing concerns about being bonded to one another for the sake of maintaining homes, lineage, health. While this is not exactly the same as the arrangement between Duke Leto and Jessica, we are circling similar themes—the importance of love juxtaposed with the importance of carefully considered partnerships for the sake of advancement and protection (or to political ends as we see with Count and Lady Fenring). The outside world sees the Fremen as largely barbaric, but while their rules are different, the social structures boil down to the same basic outlines.

We are also looking at how terrifyingly efficient they are as a people, and not just where their fighters are concerned. They are aware that they’re going to have to move in short order, but they keep working all the way down to the wire to maintain the sietch and their equipment, and educate their children. Paul is drawn in by that efficiency; while the narrative constantly points out what an incredible asset the Fremen will be to Paul, here is a place where we can take note of how and why Fremen culture is appealing to a person with Paul’s level of discipline and power. It is little wonder that he falls so easily in step with them when all of his training aligns with their way of life exactly.

I really do love that the end of this particular section leaves us in a bit of suspense, as though we should be worried that Jamis’s sons might try to kill their new adoptive dad. (Their new adoptive dad who isn’t actually old enough to be the father of either of them, so more like a really cool older brother? But their dad in more of a legal sense.) The tension isn’t meant to be long-lasting, just to drive home the point of how dangerous all of the Fremen can be, and it sort of makes it funny in retrospect.

* * *

The hands move, the lips move —
Ideas gush from his words,
And his eyes devour!
He is an island of Selfdom.

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


Jessica waits in the latest chamber of the sietch, seeing that there are 5000 souls already among them and more pouring in. She waits for the Reverend Mother, and Paul enters flanked by Jamis’s sons. Stilgar jokes that they take the guarding of him very seriously. Jessica knows she must keep her mind on the upcoming task at hand, however; she is about the risk the life of herself and her daughter, but she must do it to secure their place among the Fremen. Paul does not know what is about to transpire, but Stilgar silences him before he can ask further. Chang is dressed in green for mourning, but Jamis’s sons have not because they accepted him as their guardian.

Chani heads up a litter of women carrying the Reverend Mother. The ancient woman speaks to Jessica, then Stilgar tells the sietch—now 20,000 heads strong—that they are heading into the deep desert, but that their Reverend Mother cannot make the journey. Jessica is to perform the rite to become their new Reverend Mother. If Jessica fails, Chani is to be consecrated as Sayyadina to prevent them from losing their holy woman altogether. Chang will fulfill the menial task in the Ceremony of the Seed to test Jessica. Water bearers bring forth sacks of water that are poison, undrinkable. they call it the Water of Life, and Chani says that if Jessica is a Reverend Mother this water will open the universe to her. Jessica is to drink it, and she goes forward with the task, uncertain as to what the water actually is. She realizes that it is a drug, but not any that she had experienced in the Bene Gesserit training. She realizes that time is frozen, and that this moment of suspended time exists to save her life.

In this suspended moment she sees the dark place where the Bene Gesserit cannot look, where only the Kwisatz Haderach may linger. Then she searches through her own body for danger, and finds it in the drug she took. She can see this drug down to its molecules now. Then the Old Reverend Mother comes and sits with her and she finds they come to a mutual awareness. She sees the Reverend Mother as the woman sees herself, a young spirited girl, and she is there to guide Jessica through the rest of the process—but she stops when she realizes that Jessica is pregnant. The water will change them both, so Jessica must calm her child. The Reverend Mother says that this would have killed as male and tells Jessica soothe the fetus. Jessica manages this with pure emotional contact, then is made to accept the Reverend Mother’s memory of her life and all the lives that proceeded hers in this chain. She is not certain that this won’t drive Jessica’s daughter mad, but she dies as she hands these experiences.

Jessica is a Reverend Mother now. It is not the way it would be done in a Bene Gesserit school, but the outcome is the same. She apologizes for what she has done to her daughter and gets a vague reassurance in reply. Then Jessica looks to the poison and realizes that she has the ability to change its structure to render it harmless. But she is not meant to undo the drug, only to make it safe for the people to partake in. She knows the words to say from her previous lifetime, and tells everyone that she has met Reverend Mother Ramallo, that she is gone but remains. There will be an orgy following everyone’s high, but what is left of the Reverend Mother tells Jessica to give them their party so that they have the ability to know one another before she fades away into Jessica’s conscience.

As she learns from the Reverend Mother’s experiences, she finds that the Fremen are an older culture than she expected and sees where they came from. Then she learns that the Water of Life is dying breath of a sandworm, the Maker. They killed it by drowning it. Paul goes to his mother to ask if she’s alright, and then to ask if he can drink the water as he’s being told by the others to do so. Jessica realizes that Paul’s prescience has its limits for him to ask such a question. She tells everyone that the water is safe, it has been changed. Stilgar says that now they know she “cannot be false,” before the drug takes hold of her.

Paul tries to discern more about the drug, but can only parse out aspects of it, realizing that the true challenge of prescience is to see the past in the future rather than in the present moment. He does not want to drink the drug, knowing that it will launch him deep into his visions of pure time, but he must or he delays the rite. Paul notes Chani’s armband of mourning, and she tells him that she can grieve for her father even in the happiness of the drug, and that they have both lost their fathers to the Harkonnens. She leads him away, and as the drug takes hold, Paul tells her that he knows her, admits what he has seen in the future. She is frightened, sensing something in him, that his presence makes everyone else sees his visions—that’s why she led him away from he crowd. He asks her what she sees and she tells him that she sees their child, and wonders how she can know his features so well. Paul realizes that the Fremen have some talent for prescience, but they suppress it because it’s frightening.

Chani is frightened, so he holds her and tell her not to fear while his vision of the future unwinds before him. He can see Feyd there and the Guild and the Imperium, he can see that he is the center of this storm, and he can see a moment where he and Chani have peace in the sietch between times of violence. He cries and Chani asks who he gives water for. He tells her it is for those who have no died yet, and she says he must let them have their time of life. He realizes that she’s right, and then she tells him that what she saw in his vision was comforting—the two of them giving love to one another during the quiet between storms. Paul asks Chani to stay with him, and she says that she will, always.


We jump from one suspense to another—from Paul’s new adoptive kids to Jessica about to go through with a ritual that sounds incredibly dangerous. And the delay here marks deliberate departure from what the story has been giving us because we don’t shift POV to see how Jessica arrives here, what she’s been told or how the decision was made to begin with all of this immediately. Because the use of direct suspense is rare in this story, even the smallest amount is pretty darned effective. It’s an interesting lesson in contrasts.

I really love that the Fremen color for mourning is green. Not just as a color that’s in deep opposition to the the muted shades of the desert, but given the fact that green is typically the color associated with life and flora. Their mourning color isn’t a representation of absence, it’s a reminder life.

We follow the ritual at the same time as Jessica, so we learn its intricacies with her. While Paul’s journey is marked by his prescience, his need to know what’s coming and how he is developing his abilities to that end, we are discovering Jessica’s journey along with her. In some ways, her path is more interesting than Paul’s because it is harder to see where it goes. She only gets glimmers of what the future might bring, and more interestingly, she’s always more important than she seems to anticipate. Paul is constantly looking to the future to see what it might bring, but Jessica’s training is so deeply embedded that her responses are practically instinctual. The story has different points of intrigue when it settles around her.

We are getting hints of just how different Jessica’s daughter will be as a result of this rite and ritual, and it’s an important set up for the final section of the story. Jessica’s fascinating penchant for putting undue burdens on her children without intending to serves as something of a commentary on parenting in general it seems; no matter how carefully one teaches and guards their children, in the end, so many forces beyond one’s control are responsible for shaping them. In Jessica’s case, there are generations of Bene Gesserit breeding behind her—the choices she makes mean that she winds up mother to the Kwisatz Haderach instead of grandmother (if we believe the the program would have worked regardless), but the deviation is one of her primary causes for doubt. Yet none of these stresses ever stop Jessica when her survival and Paul’s are on the line, and it seems that this is part of what makes her exceptional.

The idea of race memory here is beautifully depicted as Jessica is suddenly opened to a wealth of information and briefly holds the entirety of another person in her being, learning from her experiences and all the ones before it. We get a lot of interesting information here, including important background on the Fremen. And then there is perhaps the most important revelation of all: the worm is killed of create the Water of Life. And it’s killed by drowning.

Paul’s thoughts about time in this section are appropriately loopy, turning back in on themselves as he comes to understand that there is a difference between filtering one’s discovery of the past through the lens of the future or the present. It occurs to me that Herbert would have actually benefited from constructing some more complicated language tenses for views of time if he’d really wanted to have fun with it. (My partner talks about this often when referring to Doctor Who, that Time Lords would need so many different verb tenses to indicate where they were in time. I presume that someone with prescience would require similar language constructions.) Perhaps the most important revelation is the understanding that the Fremen have an innate tendency toward precognition, but that they avoid it out of fear. When they are all enhanced by the drug, they see together and are less frightened by the experience, but it prompts many questions both large and small, even ones so simple as could this be part of the reason why the Fremen are such good fighters? This could contribute to so many aspects of their society that they don’t even account for.

The relationship between Paul and Chani is a simple one, but the key difference it possesses is why it is simple; they fall in love because they know they will fall in love. It means the romance lacks any kind of tension in your average will-they-won’t-they sense (which is horrifically overused in fiction anyhow), but also makes it incredibly sweet. And there’s an extra layer of sorrow stacked on top of it because Paul’s prescience about the situation means that they both are struggling to grow into their adult selves in the moment. There must be something incredibly strange about trying to fit into an adult relationship emotionally simply because you are aware of what your future holds with another person. Regardless, they are a couple of kids who are both powerful and wise for their age, who have both suffered a terrible loss, so it’s hardly surprising that they quickly take comfort in one another.

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And here is your weekly audio clip!

Emmet Asher-Perrin would really like to be able to transform poison molecules within her own body, thanks. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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