Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Sixteen

How many dunes would a dune buggy bug, if a dune buggy could bug dunes? Find out this week on the Dune Reread!

Er, sorry. We’re into the third section of the book! Everyone is lining up into their final positions…. Let’s do this.

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.

BOOK THREE: The Prophet

No woman, no man, no child ever was deeply intimate with my father. The closest anyone ever came to casual camaraderie with the Padishah Emperor was the relationship offered by Count Hasimir Fenring, a companion from childhood. The measure of Count Fenring’s friendship may be seen first in a positive thing: he allayed the Landsraad’s suspicions after the Arrakis affair. It cost more than a billion solaris in spice bribes, so my mother said, and there were other gifts as well: slave women, royal honors, and tokens of rank. The second major evidence of the Count’s friendship was negative: He refused to kill a man even though it was within his capabilities and my father commanded it. I will related this presently.

—“Count Fenring: A Profile” by the Princess Irulan


It has been two years since the Harkonnen coup against Duke Leto Atreides. The baron heads into the rooms of his captain of the guard because he has slacked on his duty; he was supposed to inform the baron if Feyd ever went to the slave quarters and check all of the boy slaves sent to the baron for anything lethal on their person. Feyd quickly enters Nefud’s quarters as well, having his own network of spies to keep an eye on his uncle. He also shows his hand when the baron asks for men to clean the body out of his quarters, and Feyd nods to two of the guards who instantly do his bidding. Feyd claims to have been in the slave quarters playing chess with the slavemaster. The baron tells Nefud to take some men and go kill the slavemaster under the thin guise of claiming that they should not have such bad chess players in their employ. He also tells Nefud to kill Feyd’s two guards.

He asks Feyd to accompany him to his chambers, and lets the boy worry over whether or not he plans to kill him as they walk. The baron brings up a new religious leader that the Fremen on Arrakis have adopted—his name is Muad’Dib, which means “the Mouse.” He figures that letting them have their religion is fine, as it will keep them occupied. They reach the baron’s chambers and he asks why Feyd did not kill him himself. Feyd says that the baron taught him to keep his hands clean so that a Truthsayer cannot know he had a hand in the murder when questioned about it. Feyd asks why his uncle never bought his own Bene Gesserit. The baron insists that he does not trust them at all, and then insists that they’re getting off the subject. He brings up Feyd’s fight with the slave-gladiator, the one that got the old slavemaster killed. Feyd realizes that the baron knows what happened, so he admits it was a sham.

The baron then insists on striking a bargain. He doesn’t want to waste Feyd, but the young man must stop foolish attempts on his life and recognize the baron’s value in his rise to power. The baron promises to step aside once Feyd is ready and retire to an advisory position. In the meantime he means to send Thufir Hawat to keep an eye on him. (It was Hawat who warned him about the needle in the slave’s thigh, preventing him from falling victim to this plan). Feyd agrees to the plan, wondering over Hawat’s seeming switch in loyalties; he wonders if the man is playing them against one another. The baron admits that he is not worried over Hawat, that the man believes that he can best the baron at any time, and because he believes that he is easy to direct—against the Emperor. Feyd cannot believe that Hawat would help them in that way, but the baron explains that Hawat only cares for revenge against the man. Then he tells Feyd to kill all the women in the pleasure wing to prove that they are back on the same footing again—Feyd agrees, knowing that some day he will not need the old man anymore.


I think this might be one of my favorite versions of “let me relay a jump in time to you.” It’s not original, as the device goes, but I like it because you would suspect this fast-forward to come through Paul, as the main character and the person who is apt to change the most. Instead we’re back with the Harkonnens going, yeah, they’re the same as they ever were. Still plotting and trying to kill each other.

So there’s music that goes with the drug semuta, and while I’m sure that this is actually more complex in terms of arranging sounds that play along with the substance and its effect on the brain, I can’t help thinking that this is basically their version of drop-acid-and-listen-to-Dark-Side-of-the-Moon.

Here we see an example of the way the Baron’s penchant for using others by exploiting their weak spots is actually prone to mishap; Nefud is so addicted to the drug that he basically neglects his duties in keeping the baron alive. The baron is so paranoid about having strings to tug people with that he often neglects how those strings might affect their judgement. And he thinks that’s okay because he’d prefer to be the cleverest guy in the room. It’s an impossible level of control to maintain and the cracks are showing, here.

Always loved the detail of calling a game known as pyramid chess “cheops.” (That’s the Hellenized version of the name of the pharaoh who perfected pyramid construction.) Also perpetually amused by SFF’s tendency to create new games by taking an old game and adding a new dimension to it (à la Trek’s 3D chess).

Also, my kingdom for this exchange:

Get to the point you old fool! Feyd-Rautha thought.

“You think of me as an old fool,” the Baron said. “I must dissuade you of that.”


There’s a thing that gets a little muddied here for me. The baron takes Feyd back to his chambers to talk and the kid sees signs of a struggle between the baron and the slave assassin he sent. He wonders how the baron could have overpowered the slave and the baron tells him he would keep some of his methods secret. We find out the baron was tipped off by Hawat, and he later tells Feyd that he trusts Hawat to keep an eye on him. So was the struggle faked? Or did he go through the motions for the sake of showing Feyd? It’s kind of unclear here.

I feel as though there’s an interesting game going on with the Harkonnens. Most writers will know about the “kick the dog” device (i.e., you show that a character is bad by having them kick a dog or something similar to both indicate evil and make it clear that the audience shouldn’t feel empathy for the character), but here it’s like an ongoing play at this idea where Herbert just keeps upping the ante. Kick two dogs. Now drown some puppies. Commit canine genocide. He just keeps flipping the switch. So when the baron tells Feyd to kill all their female slaves, it’s horrific—but it’s not surprising. It’s just another step in the Don’t Forget the Harkonnens are Evil Incarnate journey. And I think it’s effective, or at least it was when the book was first published. Now that “grimdark” is a entire fantasy genre, part of me wonders if it really works the same way anymore. The first time I read this book, what the baron did was shocking. Now one of the biggest HBO series of all time is based on a fantasy epic that deals in this kind of misery in every episode.

*     *     *

Deep in the human unconsciousness is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.

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


The baron demands that Hawat give him an explanation for a warning that he asked to be sent to Rabban. Hawat muses to the baron on Salusa Secundus, the Emperor’s prison planet and the conditions on that world that trains his Sardaukar. He points out that he knows why the Emperor turned on Duke Leto—because his fighting force was superb, close to that of the Sardaukar, and Arrakis would have provided him with even better recruits to expand his army: the Fremen. The baron insists that only a handful of those Fremen must remain. His nephew and the Sardaukar have killed tens of thousands. But Hawat believes that the number is far greater than anyone suspects. Based on what he was told by Duncan Idaho, Hawat believes that there are around ten million Fremen, and that Rabban has only whittled away at some weaker links.

The baron realizes that Hawat is suggesting that they potentially recruit the Fremen to their cause, and has ideas on how to do it. It’s then that the baron remembers the conversation with had with Fenring those years back about maybe using Arrakis the way the Emperor used Salusa Secundus. That was an unfortunate tip of the hand; Hawat knows the the Emperor will have spies all over the planet for that, watching their every move. Knowing this, there are only two options—they must either wipe out the Fremen completely, or the baron must abandon Rabban, make it clear that he’s disappointed with him and set very specific spice quotas for the man to meet. Then he can keep his hands clean while Rabban drives the population harder and creates the prison planet effect that they’re going for. If he sets the quota higher every year, it will be easy to eventually go and take over the operations when Rabban fails. The baron admits that he’s tiring of the game, and Hawat realizes that Feyd is intended to succeed in all this. He says the plan will work well with Feyd’s usurpation.

Hawat is dismissed and thinks of the information being passed to him by Gurney Halleck. There are many unknowns about Arrakis, the first being the new religion that’s cropped up. Gurney has noted that the fighting style of the Fremen has elements reminiscent of Duncan Idaho and even Hawat himself. The Mentat wonders if perhaps Idaho survived, but doesn’t dream that Paul might have, still believing the baron’s line that Jessica was the traitor in their midst.


This is the point where I start to feel bad for Thufir Hawat. Not only is he stuck with the Harkonnens (with only rage to sustain him), but at this point he’s operating a few steps behind where he needs to be. He has calculated a great deal, but there’s so much he can’t know. We do learn from this that he’s in contact with Gurney (I wonder how they renewed that communication), and that he’s keeping tabs on Paul’s religious movement. Still, it seems as though the opening commentary of this segment is directed at him; Hawat wants his world to make sense, but there are things he cannot grasp from where he sits. He still holds onto the idea that Jessica is a traitor, and he is blinded by his own desire for revenge.

His observation on how much the baron speaks in comparison to Leto is borne out further in the following section where Paul thinks on advice that his father gave him—to give as few orders as possible because once you gave on order on any given topic, you always had to give orders on that topic. This is actually some pretty solid advice; no one likes a micromanager, and the baron is the Uber Lord of micromanagement. He says too much, he arranges too much, and therefore spends all his time trying to stop people from thwarting his carefully laid plans. He tells Hawat that he’s growing tired of the whole game, but he has no one to blame but himself.

There is one item here that interests me in terms of dealing with the different fighting forces. Hawat tells the baron that the reason why the Imperium went in with them on deposing Leto was due to fear over Atreides military might, which was set to grow and become just as effective as the Sardaukar. Now, this seems an odd thing to assert, seeing as the Sardaukar are meant to be the best due to the unfathomable conditions they are forced to survive on the Salusa Secundus. The Atreides forces are impressive because they are unflaggingly loyal, but they haven’t undergone that manner of environmental conditioning. Their training is rigorous, but it’s not cruel. Now, Hawat believed that the Fremen could have been leveraged toward use in Leto’s army and provided that little extra kick that the Sardaukar provided, yet the real commentary here is that environment alone is not enough. If Leto was near to having such a fighting force without the environmental factors on Caladan, then it was their loyalty to him that created this situation.

Environment and extreme loyalty. Which brings us back to Arrakis

*     *     *

There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe. It has symmetry, elegance, and grace — those qualities you find always in that which the true artist captures. You can find it in the turning of the seasons, in the way sand trails along a ridge, in the branch clusters of the creosote bush or the pattern of its leaves. We try to copy these patterns in our lives and our society, seeking the rhythms, the dances, the forms that comfort. Yet, it is possible to see peril in the finding of ultimate perfection. It is clear that the ultimate pattern contains its own fixity. In such perfection, all things more toward death.

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


Paul is in the middle of one of his spice-fueled visions, trying to discern where he actually is in time and what has already passed. He thinks of Chani, secreted away in one of the new sietch strongholds with their son, and wonders if that is in the future or the present. He believes it is the present, and that his mother and sister went with her. He also remembers going to claim the water of their dead in a raid and finding his father’s bones, enshrining his father’s skull in a Fremen rock. Then he remembers Harah intruding on him to tell him that there had been a fight in the sietch corridor, that Chani had killed someone. He had gone to find out what happened and learned that Chani had killed someone who came to challenge Paul to combat. He is upset with her, but she makes light of it, insisting that the man hadn’t been worthy. Then under her breath, she points out that dispatching the man herself would get around to others, meaning fewer challenges.

Paul worries about getting lost in this metaphysical space where limitations are absent, knowing that the lack of anchors to the present make it easier to lose his way. He remembers having a conversation with his mother, who warned him abut combining religion and politics, who was worried over how he never stopped indoctrinating and encouraging this path. Paul had insisted that she had taught him much the same. This argument happened the same day that his son’s circumcision ceremony took place; Jessica had not condoned Paul’s bond with Chani, but once she had given birth to an Atreides child, she had let go of that prejudice. She had told Paul that she worried he thought her an unnatural mother, that he judged how she was with his sister. Paul had told her that he understood, and Jessica admitted that she loved Chani and accepted her.

Remembering this grounds Paul and pulls him back into the present. He is in a stilltent set up by Chain. He hears a baliset play and thinks of Gurney, who he knows is alive—but he cannot act on this knowledge yet out of fear that it will lead the Harkonnens to him. Paul remembers now that he is in the desert to mount a maker and become a full Fremen. Chani hears him move and tells him to get more rest. Her duty is that of Sayyadina who watches this rite, but she cannot completely disconnect from being Paul’s woman either. Paul says that another should have seen to this task, but she tells him that she would rather be with him than wait to find out how the rite goes.

Paul knows he must do this in order to be truly respected among the Fremen. Chani asks him about the waters of his birth world to distract him, but Paul wants to know about their son and the sietch they are headed to. She won’t say much about it, and when he asks why, she admits that it’s very lonely there without the men. They work all the time to create what is needed, and the only bright spot is spending time with the children. Paul asks how his sister is doing, if she is accepted among them; Chani says they should discuss that another time. Paul insists and Chani tells him that the women are unnerved by Alia because she knows things a toddler should not know. They tried to have Jessica exorcize the demon in her daughter, but Jessica quoted law back at them and embarrassed the lot. She tried to explain how Alia had been changed in the womb, but they would not hear her after that. Paul knows that there will be trouble with Alia in the future.

The Fremen are moving to break down their tents and get ready without any direction, and Paul is reminded of something his father had told him: to give as few orders as possible because once you gave an order on something, you had to keep giving orders on it. Paul knows this is one place where the future has many possibilities. He could die here. Stilgar approaches and Chani takes her role as Sayyadina to record this event for their chronicles. He and Stilgar recite the appropriate words, then Stilgar tells him not to do anything fancy, to be simple about it and get this done. He receives his hooks from a squad leader of his Fedaykin and a thumper from Stilgar. He goes to the dune he was directed to, plants the thumper, thinks of how the process works. When you hooked a maker and opened a flap of its ring segment to the air, the maker rolled to prevent sand from getting into it and would not dive below the surface. If he passes this test, then Paul can make the journey to the southern sietch to rest and be among the women and children who are hidden away from the pogroms. He thinks on the advice given to him by Stilgar and Chani, then sees the worm approaching, bigger than any he has ever witnessed or heard of. He goes out to meet it.


A lot has changed since the last time we saw Paul, and Herbert deliberately floods us with these revelations in his visionary capacity, leaving us to question where Paul currently is in time. Eventually it evens out, but we get a lot of memory directed toward catching us up—his mother coming to accept Chani and his son, the men who are coming to challenge him, the finding of Duke Leto’s bones. Then we come to the present with Paul meeting his most important challenge yet, the rite of passage that will make him a full Fremen, normally a test granted to children at the age of twelve. (Wouldn’t that be extra hard if you were that much shorter? Sheesh.)

I am curious about Jessica thinking that Paul finds her an “unnatural” mother, mostly because I’m not sure what she means by unnatural in the first place. She doesn’t say “you think I’m a bad mother,” which is more the sort of thing you would expect in that context. Unnatural because of how she’s trained them? Because of the choices she has made as their mother? It doesn’t seem likely that she refers only to Alia, though she does mention how she is with the girl as reason for Paul to think wrongly of her. Then we learn more about Alia and the women of the south sietch finding her frightening, asking for an exorcism. We’re told straight off that Alia is going to cause trouble, even just by virtue of Paul’s visions telling him so.

Paul and Chani’s relationship has clearly blossomed in the past two years, and they have a relationship that bears a resemblance to Leto and Jessica’s, but seems far more intimate and trusting. And that tells you a lot about how we’re meant to feel about their relationship, particularly knowing that they are so young and have only been together for a couple of years. This is a strong bond. We’re not lingering over the specifics of their union, but we can see plainly that it is a good one and that they are good for one another. We’re supposed to be rooting for those crazy kids. (And kids isn’t really accurate for either of them. They’ve both been through enough in their lives to makes them adults ten times over, and it shows in their conversation.)

And now we finally learn what Herbert has been hinting at for hundreds of pages: how to hook a sandworm and ride it through the desert. We get just enough information to make it seem plausible (the idea that the worm wouldn’t want to dive back under the sand to prevent itself from getting sand in its skin is a great touch), and we finally get explanation for the hooks and thumpers we’ve been seeing ever since Paula and Jessica made their way among the Fremen. Of course the one that Paul is about to snag is the biggest he’s ever seen.

Haha, cliffhanger! It’s a good one, too. See you next week!

Emmet Asher-Perrin is going to ride a snow worm home today. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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