It’s the third book! Things are about to get weird…er. Yeah, they were already weird. And we get another decade-jump!
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 (up to “I hear the wind blowing across the desert and I see the moons of a winter night rising like great ships in the void.”)
Stilgar is watching Paul’s children sleep—they are nine years old. He thinks of what his planet used to be like and the many ways that it has changed, and he thinks of his hand in all of this. Stilgar wonders if he shouldn’t kill Paul’s children, if that would put an end to this new way. He thinks of dissident groups against Muad’Dib that he has brought down, even when he did not want to. Leto and Ghana dress in Atreides colors and clasps to meet their grandmother, the Lady Jessica, for the first time. They are both nervous about it, and Alia clearly is as well; this is the first time that Jessica will visit Arrakis since she left when Paul took power. Alia cannot figure out why her mother would want to come now, and cannot see the future to understand how things will go. It is rumored the Jessica has gone back to her Bene Gesserit roots.
Leto and Ghanima are still young enough that they have difficult separating out their previous lives from their own persons, and Alia is determined to lure Leto into a spice trance even though he and his sister both believe that they are too young. Gurney is arriving with Jessica and there are rumors that the two are lovers now. Alia wonders what he would think if he knew that they were related to the Harkonnens. Duncan told her that Jessica arrived to claim the twins for the Sisterhood and educate them herself. There are Sardaukar secretly training under the Emperor’s grandson Farad’n to eventually remove the Atreides and restore the Emperor’s house to its throne.
Jessica arrives and knows that Alia has become the Abomination that the sisterhood feared just by looking at her. Everyone is uncertain of how to behave around her, and Irulan does not trust Jessica despite their common sisterhood. Jessica meets a priest named Javid and finds the whole reunion disturbing. She wants to see her grandchildren, who are still at Sietch Tabr. Leto breaks through to an understanding about the history of Arrakis, that it was once a planet with water and the sandtrout were brought there and eventually got rid of all the water so that they could morph into the sandworms. Leto knows that if the sandtrout go away, there will be no more worms, and he knows that Alia knows it as well and is keeping it from the tribes. The twins know that no one will believe them if they say so. Leto wants to meet the man in the desert at the legendary Sietch Jacarutu, the one people call The Preacher. They both wonder if he might be their father, not truly dead, but they also fear it.
Gurney warns Jessica of the dangers about them. He has questioned some Fremen and found that under interrogation, they brought up the name Jacarutu and instantly died. The Preacher himself is a man who is led around by a young Fremen without a tribe of his own. He has burned out eye sockets as Paul Atreides did. He wandered one day through the many believers and cursed at them for being idolaters, and his commanding presence led many to wonder if he was indeed Muad’Dib, but he would only say the he was speaking for the Hand of God.
Princess Wensicia, mother of Farad’n, the daughter of Shaddam IV is plotting to get back the throne of House Corrino for her son. She has her Sardaukar working with Javid against Alia, and then she wants her mean to embrace the religion around Muad’Dib to better dismantle it. She is also training Laza tigers to hunt the Atreides twins. She talks to the head Sardaukar, a man named Tyekanik, who is uncertain of her methods. Wensicia tells him to send a planned gift to their cousins, plotting on Farad’n’s behalf without his knowledge; the Emperor’s grandson is a sensitive young man.
Jessica meets with Ghanima alone; she excludes Leto because while she does not perceive Abomination about the twins, she believes that he is concealing something. After realizing that she fears for her grandchildren and having a moment of connection with Ghanima, she lets her guards down completely for the first time since Duke Leto was alive, and Ghanima knows in that moment that her grandmother loves her. But she also knows that if they do not bear out “human” in the Bene Gesserit sense, her grandmother would still destroy them. Jessica admits that she believes that Ghanima is human, but that she is not sure about Leto. Ghanima insists that Leto is not… yet. Then she shares their theory that their decision not to enter the spice trance is what prevents them from going down Alia’s path to Abomination. They talk of the Preacher and the possibility of him being Paul, and their mutual distrust of Javid. Ghanima admits that she worries because Leto keep studying Alia and may empathize with her too much. She tells her grandmother that he has mentioned Jacarutu, and thinks that Alia wants Leto to look for it. Jessica sense a sweetness to Ghanima despite her concern for her grandchildren, and thinks that the twins must be separated and trained as the Sisterhood wants.
There is a new status quo in this empire, and it didn’t take us long to get there.
This is an interesting point of contention I find often when I talk with fellow fans; how long should it take the universe to change? Because it has been a little over two decades since Paul Atreides assumed the throne, but everything is new. It prompts very interesting questions about cultural memory and how easily change can sweep over us. When you read Lord of the Rings, you’re told point blank that generations upon generations pass before history is legend and legend is myth and we forget things that we shouldn’t. It’s been literal ages.
Then you get a narrative like Star Wars, where people think that the Jedi are fairy tales a mere two decades after their destruction. The Emperor’s rise to total domination is a plan that only really takes him about fifteen years. It’s all so quick. Or seemingly so.
With both Star Wars and Dune, I think it is important to remember that you’re looking at vast universes where collective experience is a scattered thing at best. People will not have a unified version of events no matter what you do or how good your information systems are. But moreover, I think that both stories—Dune more consciously than Star Wars—are deliberately drawing attention to how short cultural memory is. In the opening of this book, Stilgar laments the change in his people already, the water discipline that has grown lax over this short span of time. Twenty years is long enough for a new generation to be brought up, one that has never known a world without Muad’Dib, never known an Arrakis that was totally devoid of water. That’s long enough for everything to have changed.
We have some of Herbert’s favorite tropes here, in that the twins are like Alia; children that both are and are not children. It’s almost as though he wants to make up for not writing enough of Alia as a child in Dune, and I find myself enjoying it because there are some genuinely fascinating concepts about the isolation of self that they embody quite well. Their ability to be their own people, only to get that lost in the mire of their ancestry and mental inheritance is a great place to begin with these characters. In many ways, I find it more interesting than Paul’s fight with prescience. This is even more true when you take into account the ways in which the twins are finally separating out as individuals and how confusing that is for two people who have essentially always been mentally connected to one another—Leto’s concern over how to explain something to Ghanima that only he has experienced speaks to a completely different form of communication.
The rest of the opening of this books is devoted to placing the players on the board and giving us an idea of what the trials of this story will focus on. So we know that the status of the twins is up in the air, we know that Alia is considered largely lost by those around her, we know that Jessica is reattached to the Bene Gesserit and hoping to bring her grandchildren into the fold. We also know that House Corrino is hoping to regain their throne due to the scheming of one of Shaddam’s daughters, Irulan’s sister Wensicia, but we also know that the son she wants to install is not the scheming sort. Stilgar is becoming disillusioned more and more each day, but is still undecided for what he will do. Then there is the relationship between Jessica and Gurney, which is an excellent turnaround from their journey in Dune itself. Being two people who loved Duke Leto so dearly, it makes sense to see them hanging on to one another.
There are a few things here that don’t ring quite true, and Irulan is the biggest glare coming off this opening. As I said at the end of Dune Messiah, the idea that she suddenly realized that she loved Paul just seems like a very convenient device for the story to do what it will with her. It still sits awkwardly.
The Preacher is brought to our attention, as is Jacarutu, which are both issues that will be expanded upon later. We’ll have to wait and see what they bring.