Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune Messiah, Part Four

We come to the final part of our Dune Messiah Reread. Now we must deal with the consequences of this these machinations, which happens to be… twins? Of course twins. It’s always twins.

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.

Summary (through the ending)

Paul’s remaining eye tissue is removed, but he won’t get the Tleilaxu eyes he offers the other men. He tells Chani that they have eternity when she admits that she feels they are running out of time. Chani notes that Paul always refers to their unborn progeny as a single child, but she assumes that he must know she carries twins because he always knows everything. He tells her that their child will rule an even greater Empire than his own. The trial against Korba takes place, with the Fremen all nervous over Paul’s ability to see without eyes. Korba demands to face his accuser, but Paul say his accuser is Otheym—they have his voice by way of Bijaz. The other conspirators have fled Arrakis with the worm they kidnapped. Korba insists that he be judged by Fremen law, and Stilgar agrees—because he plans to take care of Korea himself later. Alia realizes that this was a plan between Paul and Stilgar to flush out the other traitors. Stilgar is surprised that Alia could not sense that ahead of time, and she wonders how he has changed. Stilgar asks if she is questioning his loyalty, and she insists that she isn’t… but she knows that he is about to betray Paul and tells Stil so.

Hayt is sent to talk to Bijaz, who claims to have been there when they reanimated him and tells him that his flesh did not want to be brought back to life. Hayt suspects that Bijaz is there to unbalance Alia somehow, then realizes that the dwarf is actually there to unbalance him. Bijou sings to him, explaining that they were grown in the same tank, that they are like brothers. He possesses the words and phrases to trigger Hayt—who he insists is truly Duncan Idaho. He tells Duncan that the Emperor will come to him one day and say “She is gone.” And in that moment they will offer him a ghola of Chani, and when he is vulnerable. He also tells Duncan that the Atreides carry Harkonnen blood through Jessica to help tip the scale of his argument. And the price will be renouncing his godhood, his sister, and his CHOAM holdings. Then he claps his hands, preventing Duncan from remembering their discussion of these matters.

Alia has taken a great dose of spice to attempt to see what her brother sees. She talks to Hayt and calls him Duncan, which he does not want her to do. She tells him that the Bene Gesserit are hoping to get their breeding program back in line by getting Paul’s child… or hers. She cannot see who the father of her child will be, however. Hayt begins to realize that she has likely overdosed on spice and wants to call a doctor—he cannot bear the thought of an Atreides woman dying. Alia realizes that the ghola loves her, and a doctor is called to help with her overdose. The doctor worries that she was poisoned, but she dismisses them and insists that Hayt stay with her. She tells him that she wishes she were not part of her brother’s story, that she wants the ability to laugh and love. She asks Duncan if he loves her, and he admits that he does. He tries to get her to sleep, but she tells him about the plot against Paul and how bad it has become. She drifts off thinking of the child she will have one day, and how that child will be born aware, just like her.

Chani looks out on the desert near the sietch where she will give birth. Her contractions have started but she wants a moment to herself, confused as to why Paul has brought so many people with them into the desert, including enemies. Hayt insists that Chani comes inside to avoid the coming sandstorm, recognizes that she’s about to give birth and calls other to them. He is gripped by fear that Chani will die and Paul will tell him so, wondering where the panic is coming from. Then he knows that Bijaz has done something that will trigger him when the time comes.

Paul is thinking of the future that is rushing toward him, wishing that he could tell his believers to worship life and not him. Hayt comes by to warn him of how he’s been rigged, but Paul insists that he will not do violence to him. He calls him Duncan, which Hayt thinks is dangerous… but then Hayt calls him “young master” as Duncan used to do. Paul advises him to choose his humanity. One of the Fremen approaches to tell him that Chani is dead and Paul utters the trigger. Hayt moves to stab him, but then has a crisis of consciousness and realizes that he is Duncan Idaho. Paul tells him that this was the moment he came back to him. Paul is then told that Chani gave birth to twins and that the speed of the birth is what killed her. Paul is shocked that he did not see two children in his visions and finds that he can no longer see. He comes to the room where Chani’s body and his children are, and Harah directs him to them. Paul had only ever seen a girl in his visions. He tries to access them, to see what is around him now that his vision is truly gone.

Alia comes in with Lichna, who Paul knows is truly Scytale in disguise. The Face Dancer is fascinated to learn that Duncan Idaho has regained his past. He tells the room that he will kill the Atreides children if Paul does not take his offer to have Chani back as a ghola. Paul realizes that they gave him Duncan to further entice him with the possibility that Chani could truly come back to him, but he knows the price would be too high for all of them, at the mercy of the Tleilaxu forever. He tells Alia to bargain on his behalf, then suddenly regains his vision… from the vantage point of his son. He needs to kill Scytale, and he wonders if perhaps Chani’s needs for so much spice had been to give his children awareness just like Alia. The babies can focus already, staring at each other. He names the boy Leto, for his father, and the girl Ghanima, “spoil of war.” Harah objects, as that is an ill-omened name that Alia used to tease her with, but Paul insists.

Bijaz comes in and insists that the plan succeeded, despite Scytale’s death; the Tleilaxu knew that Idaho thought of Paul as the son he never had, so he would not kill him if he resurfaced. He offers again to restore Chani, and Paul is more tempted than before. He orders Duncan to kill Bijaz to prevent this, and Duncan does. Paul then goes into the desert, and though Duncan thinks he will not die there, no one knows for sure. Stilgar takes Alia’s orders now, killing all the traitors including the Reverend Mother Gaius, which was in conflict with Paul’s orders—betraying him as Alia said he would. Duncan goes to Alia, who is racked with grief, calling her brother a fool for giving in to this path. She has had no more visions since Chani’s death, and now has to contend with Irulan who insists that she loved Paul but never knew it. Irulan has promised to renounce the Bene Gesserit and spend her life training Paul’s children. Duncan realizes that now the Bene Gesserit have no hold over any of the Atreides heirs with Irulan on their side. Alia pleads with Duncan to love her and tells him that she loves him, which confuses Duncan as it is such a departure from his old life. But he loves her and agrees to follow wherever she leads him.


The biggest problem with Dune Messiah as a book is that it spends ages debating philosophy about what is happening, and not a lot doing things. I’ve already sort of gone into this, but it comes very clear by the end of the book where every conversation is ultimately about whether or not Paul is a slave to his prescience or not. There are places where it gets kind of silly; Alia tells Duncan “Nature abhors prescience” like “nature abhors a vacuum,” and at that point you kind of have to chuckle at everything.

None of these ruminations are bad on their own, there are actually several fascinating arguments within this tale, but it seems like these arguments were really all that Frank Herbert was interested in writing and then he just kind of built the book around that. It’s a pretty common writing error that makes me wonder what might have happened if an editor had broken the book down a little more. Some of the back-and-forths are deliriously obtuse, and then the books legitimately stops being fun. But the ultimate point is that the life of Muad’Dib is tragic, as we were informed at the outset. Paul is not truly a savior, and he is not a deity. He did what he thought he had to do, but he still only ended up substituting one brand of tyranny for another.

The most important of these arguments is probably Paul’s insistence that people prefer despots to kind rulers, and that freedom results in chaos. Now, this is a pretty common theory that tyrants love to use when they feel the need to prove themselves right (see: Loki’s speech in Germany during The Avengers), but we’re observing a system in this book where that kind of thinking has literally subsumed an empire of billions, and resulted in slaughter. Given the long view of history, we can blame Paul for some of this, but not all—there is a system in place around him that led to his rise, all the myth making and legend-seeding that the Bene Gesserit did before he ever arrived. So the book is not just a argument against making individuals into gods, it is critiquing a system by which people are condition to accept such individuals. Without legends, without religions, without prophecy, the rule of Muad’Dib high have never come to pass.

Herbert is might be preaching, but his messages are largely sound: Think for yourself. People are not gods. Gods are not governance.

I kept coming back to the section where Bijaz and Duncan discuss Alia, and how she is described more than once as the “virgin-harlot.” That’s a pretty loaded term, as it combines two of few main archetypes that women are ever allowed in fiction: maiden or whore. On the fictional world level, these tropes have not left the universe that Herbert as created despite thousands of years having passed (from what is ostensibly our own time), which is still irritating to me because it suggests that people have not evolved at all… then again, the Dune Universe is kind of about that. On the other hand, the use of these tropes to label Alia—or to specifically call out the ways in which she cannot be labeled—is very interesting. Alia suffers continuously from having not just a dual nature, but a multiplicitous one. She is many lives at once, but she is also herself, and it is clear that the reader is meant to consider the impossibility of that, the difficulty of being Alia.

Later on, the book even goes for far as to describe the many over-complicated relationships she has with everyone in her life. Her father is her father, but he’s also her husband and lover. Her brother is her brother and he’s also her son. Her mother is her mother and also herself. These are all warning signs for what will happen in the following book, a clear breakdown of the sheer magnitude of Alia’s being. Paul spends a lot of time thinking how rough his life is, how he could not stop what happened to him, but Alia is the one who truly cannot help being who she is, whose very existence is a contradiction. Calling her a virgin-harlot is too simplistic at the end of the day. Alia is far more than that, and her grief at the end of the book should be painful; she is abandoned by everyone in her life, altogether and quickly. It is little wonder that she hangs onto Duncan with her fingernails.

Duncan’s tale is also bobbing up and down in the background of this story, but it is one of the most important arcs of the whole book. The idea of regaining humanity from a dead man, and how this resurrection changes his purpose is also central to the novel’s themes: what is a person made of? Are they their hopes and dreams? Their memories? Are they what other people require of them? This is particularly clear at end; Duncan is also grieving over Paul in his way, as once he comes back to himself at the end of the book, he means to serve his Duke as he did before. But then Paul is gone and he is left with Alia, who was not even born before his death. Now his life revolves around a member of the Atreides family that he never meant to serve, and he’s aware of the fact that he is recalibrating for a different purpose.

Chani’s death always bugs the hell out of me as a reader. There is a need for her to die in order for the events of the next book to work, but we don’t see enough of her for it not to feel like a slight. The worst part is, I really enjoy the way she is written when Herbert deigns to write her. She is such a fierce and keen presence when she is there, and her perspective is consistently one of the most interesting in the book. Then we have many more character deaths on top of hers once Alia chooses to murder all the conspirators against Paul. There is a vague mention of how broken up Alia is over Chani’s death, but because Herbert never writes their relationship into the book, it doesn’t land as well as it could. All the emotional moments between people who are not Duncan/someone else are missing in the novel, and it feels sparser for it.

We have Irulan, who is now claiming that she loved Paul all the while and now wants to teach his children. It’s one of those unfortunate places where the book wraps too quickly, because hearing that about Irulan is not a satisfying turnover, but getting to witness her reaction might help it make more sense. Of course, this will also be important going forward….

Jessica’s absence in this novel is glaring, and it is clearly meant to be. We will see her again, too… she can’t very well stay out of everyone’s affairs forever. With that said—Children of Dune is coming.

Emily Asher-Perrin has always been sort of mesmerized by the term “stone burner” as horrific weapon. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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