Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Eighteen

This week we might get murdered by an old family friend… or that old family friend might play us a pretty song! It really could go either way, though. You know how it 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.

* * *

When law and duty are one, united by religion, you never become fully conscious, fully aware of yourself. You are always a little less than an individual.

—from Muad’Dib: “The Ninety-nine Wonders of the Universe” by the Princess Irulan

Summary

Gurney thinks he has found spice mass, and has his harvester and crew head out to check. They confirm that sighting and set about beginning their harvest, though Gurney knows they are far out in Fremen territory and risking a great deal. He has been bothered by how the Fremen fight of late, even more skilled than before. As they begin their harvest, rockets are fired and a fight begins. One of their men is eyeing Gurney, a trained fighter. But he tells him to sheathe his knife and calls him by name. When he pulls back his hood, Gurney briefly thinks it is the ghost of the Duke, but then knows it must be Paul though he barely believes it. Paul tells him to call his men off.

Gurney can see that Paul has changed much, that he doesn’t look like any Atreides before him. He realizes that this is the reason why the Fremen’s tactics have been even more improved, and that Paul has no plans to apologize for letting him think that he was dead all this time. He tells Paul that he wishes he had told him he was alive, but understands that people would have wondered where he’d got off to. Paul asks where his men stand, and Gurney tells him that they’re smugglers interested in profits while flashing an old hand signal to Paul to make it clear that they could not all be trusted. He meets Stilgar, who says that he hears Paul is Gurney’s Duke, prompting him to note how this changes things. He tells his men not to struggle at being disarmed, as Paul is the rightful Duke of Arrakis. He points out that Duke Leto would have been more concerned over the men he hadn’t saved, but Paul insists this could not be helped as they were worried for things that these men should not see.

One of these things in the Fremen mounting a sandworm, which Gurney sees presently. Paul reminds him of what his father said about desert power, and that they are that power. Gurney notes that Paul talks of himself as one of the Fremen. He asks after Rabban, and Gurney tells him that they say that they’re defending themselves in the villages, but that means they’re immobilized while the Fremen go where they will. Paul points out that he learned that tactic from Gurney, and ask if he will enlist with him again. Gurney tells him that he never left his service, only did what he had to when thinking Paul dead, which leads to an embarrassed silence. He introduces Gurney to Chani when the wind kicks up and the Fremen are a flurry of activity. They open the rocks to their hiding places, and Gurney learns that these places are common. Paul asks about the men he doesn’t trust, and Gurney admits that they are off-worlders who he suspects might be well-disguised Sardaukar.

Gurney hears one of the Fremen call Paul by name and realizes that he is the Muad’Dib people have been speaking of. He has heard stories of Maud’Dib and all the death surrounding him and wonders what has become of Paul. Gurney and another Fremen approach, warning them to get underground for a storm, and they have a bundle containing Gurney’s baliset; Stilgar thought he would want it back. Gurney notes tension and figures that Stilgar is displeased and coming into contact with someone who knew Paul before he joined them. Paul says he would have them be friends and the two men exchange polite greeting and shake hands. They head down below, but before they have time to talk a fight breaks out between the Fremen and some of Gurney’s men—men who fight like Sardaukar. Paul stops the fighting before all of them can be killed and asks who would dare to come after the ruling Duke of Arrakis. The Sardaukar are upset and unsure, but Paul knows it was there idea to venture this deep into he desert for spice on orders from the Emperor to find out what was happening. He tells them to submit, and one of them tries to pull his knife, but the Captain kills him. Paul takes the Captain and his comrade as prisoners for the time being.

Korba, the Fremen who did not think to search them for hidden weapons, is distraught at having failed Paul. Paul insists that the failure was his own and warns him of other things to check for on potential Sardaukar. Paul then says that he wants the prisoners released. Gurney thinks that is madness, but Paul knows that the Emperor has no sway over him; they control the spice because the spice is everything and they have the ability to destroy it. He then turns to Stilgar and hands him a Sardaukar knife. He asks him why he left the battle to hide Chani away, and Stilgar admits that he did it for Paul’s sake. Paul asks if he could truly fight with him, try to kill him, if he would deprive Paul his right arm, deprive the tribe of his wisdom. When Stilgar insists that it is the way, Paul points out that he has changed the way already, when he didn’t kill Paul and his mother that night they met.

Paul tells Chani that he was wrong and they cannot go to the south; he has to stay where the fight is. He tells Chani to collect his mother and tell her that she must convince the young men of the tribe to accept him as leader without calling out Stilgar. She is to stay in the southern sietch where she can be safe, though the thought does not make her happy. Gurney does not hear anything beyond the mention of Jessica, who he had not thought alive. He plans to kill her first chance he gets.

Commentary

This is section is a sort of humorous fake-out that always made me chuckle; we realize quite quickly that the men that Paul is planning to descend upon who are going after spice are led by Gurney… but Paul doesn’t know that! Oh no! Tragedy is upon us! And the narration milks it too—we get two sets of paragraphs that address Gurney’s unease over the Fremen’s cunning and abilities in battle, which essentially say the same thing two times in a row. Just building that tension, making us freak out that Paul might accidentally kill Gurney, especially as he’d been afraid long ago that he might do something to cause his death. But then, nevermind! Paul saw it was Gurney well ahead of time, everything is fine, we’re cool.

As the opening section dictates, these passages are very might bound up in where Paul, Usul, and Muad’Dib intersect and the ways in which they are different men. We already know that Stilgar has the measure of it, but knowing that Gurney sees a difference so immediately is meant to clue us in as well. Paul Atreides must be a duke, but Muad’Dib must be a legend. And what just Paul (or even Usul, an adopted Fremen) might want is barely even up for consideration.

I think Herbert is asking very specific questions of his reader at this point; we’re meant to entertain the difficulty in separating oneself out from the freight train of history. We’re meant to ask how we might view our single existence in a place of extreme power and influence. Paul’s prescience is really just another version of the oracles that were once present mythology and ancient religion, the holy figures who have had visions from God —the question remains as to whether various leaders believed their own stories or took the opinions of religious oracles into consideration, but the general population certainly did. What Paul is going through is no different from anything that history has shown us, it merely casts it under a clever fictional gauze. What Herbert is asking us to do is to consider the cost, and understand how people are elevated into more than people. That Paul is aware of the lie of it, the performance of it, is a reminder of what really turns these wheels.

Also savvy to the true big picture are men like Stilgar. He looks out for Chani because he worries for Paul, he wants to observe the laws of his people and allow Paul to call him out, but he worries what they will do without him. He is the one who reminds Gurney that Paul is his duke because he knows that is the final aim, that Paul has no interest or need to become a naib. Stilgar clearly is bothered by the duality —he told Paul previously that he understands Usul well, but not the Lisan al-Gaib—but he plans to follow Paul’s lead regardless because he’s basically the only game in town at this point.

We get a few key reveals here, particularly that however the spice is made, the Fremen have the ability to destroy it. I have to applaud the incredibly through plotting of this book because it is tighter than practically everything out there and it’s doled in lovely bits and pieces. It does make me wonder how quickly readers pull it together on their own, and that probably has a little to do with age and experience. I was pretty young when I first read Dune, each reveal was a gasp and the final act was astounding. It’s probably why the book has stuck with me so hard.

Then there is Paul’s words to Stilgar, which are meant to instill purpose and loyalty between them, but are actually quite moving. He seems to have surpassed Leto in his ability to gain the fealty of others, and it’s hard argue the point when his way of making that clear is to say “losing you would be akin to maiming myself pointlessly. You are a part of my whole being that I cannot do without.” Yeah. It’s smart and its affecting. Of course Stilgar agrees.

And then we have a little cliffhanger here in the form of Gurney realizing that Jessica is alive and must be done away with. So we have serious momentum driving us onward.

* * *

How often it is that the angry man rages denial of what his inner self is telling him.

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

Summary

Jessica is now with Paul and enjoyed her journey from the southern sietch, though she is irritated that Paul won’t let them use the captured ornithopters yet. Jessica knows that Gurney is there and wonders why Paul doesn’t tell her the surprise yet. She finds him surrounded by devotees and worries for him, as a man of either station or as a prophet. She hands him his message detailing the fact that Rabban has been left without resources on Arrakis. The young men expect Paul then call out Stilgar, and Paul asks if they thinks him stupid. He tells them that ways change, but the crowd insists that they will decide what can change. Paul says they will have their say, but first he must have his. He asks who truly rules this tribe, as it does not seem that anyone can claim they do alone. He asks if they would smash their knives before a battle, and points out that no one could best him in combat. He asks if they truly want to rid their world of Harkonnens and change their planet.

Paul tells them of the message he has about Rabban, then takes out his father’s ring, the one he swore he would never wear until he was ready to rule the world of his fief. He tells the that he has no desire to leave every tribe without a leader just to prove his point. Instead, he takes Stilgar’s knife and recites the right binding Stilgar to him as his Duke. Then he tells the fighters that Stilgar commands in his name. The crowd seems to take this the way he intended, all ready to fight for him and follow Stilgar. Paul leaves and Jessica knows he means to bring Gurney to see her. She stares at the coffee service he inherited from Jamis and wonders what place Chani can have in all of this. Jessica knows that Paul must be wed to another Great House to solidify his power, perhaps even the Imperial Family.

Gurney comes in and instantly has her under the knife. Jessica realizes that he means to kill her, and that he will be a hard man to stop, well-trained as he is. Paul enters and takes in the situation. Gurney insists that Jessica not speak, and explains that she is the one who betrayed Leto, but Paul cuts him off. He tells Gurney that they knows for certain is was Yueh, that he knows his father trusted his mother, and that if Gurney harms her he will kill him, even though loves him. He points out the error in his father’s judgement, that he knew about love, but misunderstood hate; he thought that anyone who hated the Harkonnens could never betray them, and he was wrong. He tells Gurney that he has heard his mother cry at night for Leto, and that he learned from this how deep the love his parents shared was. Jessica realizes how much it is costing Paul to say this all outloud. She asks that Gurney release her, and when she does, she apologizes for having used Paul in the past due to her training. She tells him to defy convention and marry Chani if it is what he wants.

Gurney is horrified and demands that Paul kill him for his mistake. When he won’t, Gurney demands that Jessica do it. She asks him why he thinks that Atreides must kill those they love, and tells him that in trying to do this thing for Leto, he honors him all the same. She reminds him that she loved listening to him play the baliset, and he offers to play on his new one. Paul must leave them to it; he knows that he must go drown a little maker to produce the water of life—and find out once and for all if he’s the kwisatz haderach.

Commentary

Sorry, it’s just that there’s a bit at the start of this section where Paul is explaining that they can’t use the ornithopters yet until they have everything ready to move, and the phrase he employs is “saved for the day of maximum effort,” so now I keep thinking that Deadpool read Dune and that’s totally why he says “maximum effort” and it tickles me. New headcanon.

Here Paul reiterates what he said to Stilgar in the previous section to a larger group, and the speech is clever, measured and precise to have maximum impact. Of course, it’s not enough to be the final say, but Paul is laying the groundwork for the kind of power structure he wants to see in the future. He brings up the ring of his father and assumes the mantle of dukedom rather than naib, knowing that being the Lisan al-Gaib protects him in this decision. Can you say divine right of kings? Paul is literally framing his heritage as an Atreides here as the thing that makes him fit to rule. And he’s already built up his own mythology well enough that it goes largely unchallenged. Then he exits and tells his mother to meet him in his rooms.

What follows is another one of my favorite sections in the whole book.

Just when you feel like Dune is getting too “big picture” and leaving out important character work, we get a section like this. There has been so little commentary on Leto’s death that it’s easy to forget his impact, even when we’re constantly reminded of him—Gurney noting how Paul looks like him, Paul’s son being named after him, the collection of his bones hidden away. But emotionally, this moment in time makes perfect sense; of course the only way that Paul is capable of talking about this is when the belief that his mother was the traitor all along is finally brought the fore. And with people like these, who do nothing but carry their grudges and seek revenge, it was inevitable that this would come back.

And while I know part of Jessica’s true strength comes from her ability to view situations outside of herself, part of me kind of wishes that she had scared Gurney just a little for putting her through that. Jessica has been doubted at every turn, by practically everyone, and the idea of being endlessly suspected of betraying the person you loved more than anyone in this universe is not a burden she should constantly have to bear. I just kind of want her to get some petty revenge in. Because being a Bene Gesserit is literally the only reason any of these men had to suspect her of anything, and the rest of them could have been counted as plenty suspicious if it weren’t for this overarching paranoia about that one group of scary powerful ladies.

Thankfully, Paul is there to finally give his mother the credit she deserves for the work she has been doing since their escape, and to make it clear that someone has been witness to her pain. While Jessica is thinking only of what it costs Paul to admit that, I’m more pleased that he finally gives Jessica something that she has needed for a few years now—acknowledgment that her grief is real and it matters. They’ve both been so bound up in creating this legend around themselves that they clearly haven’t had much time for human connection and one-on-one consideration. They haven’t had time to be family to one another, and this incident provides it.

Which is precisely why Jessica lets go of her concern over Paul’s position in the future and finally gives her blessing for him to marry Chani. In that moment where they both allow themselves to be human, to be family, she recognizes that Paul is close to being as unhappy as she was, and she wants better for him. She wants him to be with the one he loves.

We end on Paul ready to pass the final test, to prove the he is the kwisatz haderach. So get ready for next week!

* * *

And here is your audio clip for the week!

Emily 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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