Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Seventeen

Kids are weird. Especially, you know, when they’re not kids and they’ve actually been awakened to consciousness in their mother’s womb. Yeah. Kids are weird, you know?

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.

* * *

“Control the coinage and the courts—let the rabble have the rest.” Thus the Padishah Emperor advises you. And he tells you: “If you want profits, you must rule.” There is truth in these words, but I ask myself: “Who are the rabble and who are the ruled?”

—Muad’Dib’s Secret Message to the Landsraad from “Arrakis Awakening” by the Princess Irulan


Jessica knows that Paul is doing his sand rider test, though everyone had tried to hide it from her. She sits in the sietch between classes, thinking how this place will always make her feel like an outsider, even if she is safe there. She is given a cup of coffee as part of a birthing celebration taking place, and regards this society that allows her to accept an anonymous gift without worry over being poisoned or being intruded upon by the person who sent it. It was no coincidence that Jessica thought of the coffee and it appeared, the Fremen have a sort of joined understanding that comes from the spice. Harah enters followed by Alia; it would seem that the child upset everyone by watching the birth of the new infant. The Fremen expect their children to get all their crying out in the sietch, so that they don’t make noise when crossings are needed. Alia touched the baby and he instantly stopped crying.

Jessica wonders what has Harah upset, and she explains that the other women gossip about her and think she might be a demon. Harah knows that Alia is not, but she has been listening and perceives danger for Paul’s plan to unite the tribes that Alia adds to. Harah has helped to take care of Alia since birth, and she understands what is different about her. She and Alia believe it is time for Harah to go out and explain the truth about Alia so that people understand her better. Alia says that she knows she’s a freak but Harah insists that she not say so. She asks Alia to tell her what it was like coming into being, and Alia describes her awakening to consciousness. They are interrupted by a ritual for remembering the dead.

One of Stilgar’s wives, Tharthar, comes in with news; it’s said that Paul is going to be a sandrider by nightfall, and the men are saying that Paul must call out Stilgar and take control of the tribes or he’s afraid. Alia says she will go and talk to everyone, make it clear that it’s not what they want. Jessica asks Harah to go with her, but Harah insists that Tharthar will look after the girl, as they are soon to share the same man. Jessica assumes Harah is merely worried for her future husband, but she explains that she actually pities Chani because Jessica does not think she is a legitimate wife for Paul. She also points out that Chani herself would be Jessica’s ally in that thought, as she wants what is best for him.


While the warrior piece of Fremen culture drives this narrative, these are the pieces that intrigue me the most. The interplay of latent precognition as a societal bond is fascinating, and watching how the Fremen women interact with one another is far more nuanced and interesting to me. Jessica notes that the coffee is given to her without an expectation for her to entertain the person who offered it, that while she is a little feared, she is brought the gift out of love and respect. (On a humorous note, Fremen society is basically an introvert’s paradise, where interaction is not obligated, and thankfulness and generosity are understood without awkward phonecalls and twee cards. It sounds so nice.)

What we learn from this is how a family has grown up around Paul and Jessica. This is later expanded on in Paul’s talk with Stilgar, but the bonds are more complex here with Harah’s love for Alia, though Paul has never treated her like a companion. In fact, it could be argued that Harah assumes a more traditional motherly rule toward Alia, as the girl and Jessica are linked in a way that transcends typical parent-child bonds. Harah is the one who scolds Alia for calling herself a freak, just as she is the one who wants to help the Fremen understand her. Harah is the one who knows that Alia’s teasing (calling her ghanima, which is an interesting first appearance for a name of such import later in the series) is not malicious and dismisses it. She has taken a guardianship role that is very reminiscent of a parent.

This is our true introduction to Alia, and it is clear that were meant to sympathize with her struggles. It is only noteworthy because Herbert could have easily gone the other way on Alia; he could have made her a creepy bad seed type kid and she still would have been interesting and worth our attention. But it’s clear that we’re meant to consider what life has been like from Alia’s perspective and appreciate the difficulty of a being that has never truly had a childhood.

And then we a get a setup for what will be an important through line to the end of the book; that Chani is willing to step back and allow Paul to form whatever kind of alliance is needed, even if that means that she will not be his legal wife. I have a few thoughts about why specifically this is a theme central to the story, but I think we need to get further along to really take it apart, particularly once Irulan is on the scene.

* * *

You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion. This power struggle permeates the training, educating and disciplining of the orthodox community. Because of this pressure, the leaders of such a community inevitably must face that ultimate internal question: to succumb to complete opportunism as the price of maintaining their rule, or risk sacrificing themselves for the sake of the orthodox ethic.

—from “Muad’Dib: The Religious Issues” by the Princess Irulan


Paul hooks the worm and it turns as it’s supposed to. The other Fremen climb onto the worm, and Stilgar comes forward to berate Paul for not calling a second, noting the drumsand to his left. He asks Paul where he is going to take them, and Paul says he wants to go south. Stilgar believes that this means that Paul is planning to call him out and suggests raiding nearby instead, but Paul is adamant on going to see his family. He also does not plan to call out Stilgar if he can help it, which he tries to make clear, reminding Stilgar of his pledge to the man. Stilgar is chastised, but admits that while he knows Usul, he does not know Muad’Dib or the Lisan al-Gaib. Paul realizes that the worm he has hooked is stronger than any in legend, and will carry them twice as far.

Paul understands that Stilgar has still not managed to consider any way different from the Fremen way. As he killed the friend he succeeded to become naib of his sietch, so he imagines Paul must. Eventually, they have ridden the worm far enough that it’s time to stop for the night. They also note a thopter, but they’re sure that they won’t be able to see the people on top of the worm from that distance. Paul dismounts after everyone else, and hides until the thopter is gone. It is unmarked, which means that it’s probably a smuggler vessel—but it’s very deep in the desert for them to be flying. Knowing that they might go deeper into the desert to avoid Harkonnen patrols, Paul suggests that they set a spice trap for the men to warn the smugglers against pushing further into the desert.


The opening section directly correlates with the interplay between Paul and Stilgar here. There is action going on, of course, and we finally get a sense of how the Fremen ride the worm together, how the others board and how they work in sync. We find out that the trip to the southern reaches is a ten day ride, which makes me wonder about the speed of the worms and the actual planetary dimensions of Arrakis.

Then there is the talk between Stilgar and Paul, who are in an odd game of tug for different rules. Stilgar is a good teacher still, and berates Paul for not appointing a secondary rider to take over in case the drumsand had proved fatal. In this way, Stilgar recognizes the one aspect of Paul that is not Fremen and never will be; he will always think of himself as slightly separate from the tribe. The Fremen have encouraged this with their talk of the Lisan al-Gaib, but I think that Paul is unlikely to let go of it regardless. He dies not want to break from his heritage as an Atreides, and his “terrible purpose” is ever-present in his mind.

In addition, Paul has no direct belief in the Fremen religion. He understands the need to respect, both out of survival necessity and a real appreciation of what their culture engenders in its people. But he is not interested in killing Stilgar to adhere to a tradition that will cost him more in the long run. What we don’t know from this particular section is how Stilgar feels about it. We know he doesn’t want the combat to take place and that he has sadness over the combat he had to engage in to become naib. We know that he is unhappy that he had to kill a mentor and friend. But it’s also possible that Stilgar is concerned over Paul calling him out because he does not believe that he is truly ready.

Stilgar’s inability to understand Paul makes a perfect case for why Paul should leave him in charge of his sietch, however—if he has such difficulty divining Paul’s motivations, then the rest of the Fremen are sure to be more perplexed. And it is Stilgar’s ability to separate it the aspects of Paul—what is Muad’Dib and what is Usul—that makes their relationship invaluable.

Short one today, folks! But we’re coming up on the ending, and fast. Next week will be meatier. Here is your lovely audiobook clip for this week:

Emmet Asher-Perrin does have a love of deeply precocious child characters. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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