This week we’re going to reencounter a dead man in the most discomfiting possible way. And we’re also going to become our own parents? Being pre-born is weird.
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 “Atrocity is recognized as such by victim and perpetrator alike…”)
Alia frequently has trouble keeping her past lives, their inner voices, from subsuming her individual personage. She has struggled with this all her life, but it has only gotten worse as the years went on, particularly after Paul walked into the desert and left her to run the Atreides empire. During one particularly bad bout of voices, one in particular offers his services… the old Baron Harkonnen. He offers to help her with all the difficult decisions she has to make in return for taking up far less space than the ancestors clamoring for attention—he merely wants a corner of her mind to occasionally experience life. He advises her to seduce and interrogate Javid for a recent deception, and once confirming it, kill him for his lies. Alia knows that it is a mistake to let him in, but he seems to be able to control the voices and promises that he has no desire to take over her life, lest she be executed for Abomination. They agree to the terms, and Alia commands a guard to bring Javid to her quarters.
Out in the desert, a man named Muritz has his son kill Fremen who arrived via guide at their holy site as his passage into manhood. Leto wants Ghanima to work with him to contact their family internally through their ancestral memories, and they take the roles of their mother and father, and try to find out if Paul is still alive, and if it is true that Alia has fallen. Paul emerges in Leto’s mind and tells him that the Baron has Alia. Leto thinks to give himself over to Paul to prevent this from happening to him, but Paul withdraws from him quickly, and Leto advises Chani to leave Ghanima—but this time she doesn’t want to leave. Leto has to convince this shade of his mother that Paul would hate her for staying and so would she. Apparently, it is harder for women to throw off the invasion of others in their persons. Leto and Ghanima used to play this game often when they were children, but Leto regrets it this time. Ghanima returns to herself and tells him not to apologize as they learned much that they needed to know.
They discuss what they have learned and what they are worried about. There is concern about their grandmother having returned to the Bene Gesserit ways, especially as they know that the Sisterhood still wants the Kwisatz Haderach genes. One of the possibilities they know has been discussed is mating the two of them, which is an idea that repulses Leto. They decide on the Golden Path that Paul made mention of. They know that this will require one of them to die, either truly or as a simulation. Ghanima also knows that Leto is hiding something from her, and recalls his explanation of the Gold Path, a dream where he is the sun and shines down, then leaves himself, but turns around to find a stick figure holding a scepter. He then realizes that he is encased in armor that makes him incredibly powerful. Ghanima worries that they might be possessed the way Alia is, but Leto denies it—he believes that because they do not completely lock out their former lives, they have avoided that trap. Leto does mention that they will have to undergo the trial of possession, which Ghanima did not know. But he believes they can make it out the other side, and he knows that Alia is a great danger now.
Prince Farad’n is talking to Tyekanik about his mother’s desire to reclaim the throne, and the princes many other interests that he would rather pursue. The prince is also confused by Tyek’s new adoption of Muad’Dib’s religion, suspicious that perhaps his mother insisted that the man take it on (he’s right about that). Tyek does not give Wencisia away, however, and tells the prince that he’s brought an dream interpreter to decipher Farad’n dream. This interpreter turns out to be Arrakis’s Preacher, who listens to the prince’s dream, but refuses to interpret it for their benefit, as he believes that they would mistake his meaning. Farad’n is angry over this first, but then decides that he likes the man and tells him to stay on with him. The Preacher declines, claiming that he is called back to Arrakis by a force more powerful than him or the Atreides. Tyek admits that there is another reason in bringing the man here; he agreed to bring Duncan Idaho to them as an agent for House Corrino provided that he could interpret the dream for himself.
The Preacher offers advice to Farad’n, insisting that governance and power are not always determined by careful machinations, but sometimes by completely innocuous things. The advice stirs the prince, but he fixes on the mention of a garment’s length and realize that the Preacher seems to know of his mother’s plan to deliver the special clothes to the Atreides twins. The Preacher tells Farad’n that he needs to be more careful, that his weakness lies in not knowing what he wants or why he means to rule. Tyek takes him away, and the prince decides that the dream cannot mean anything important.
Leto talks to his grandmother about what he sees, what he knows. He tells her that Alia is planning to kidnap her to blame House Corrino for it, which Jessica doesn’t believe. Leto talks circles around her, insisting that she should pity Alia for what was done to her, and that the Bene Gesserit should still not be trusted. He believes that they plan to use Jessica’s Harkonnen heritage as blackmail against her if she doesn’t do their bidding and insists that they want he and Ghanima to produce heirs together. Then he talks about using their abilities to extend their lives, something that the Sisterhood can do, but never dares. Jessica points out that Alia is clearly doing this, but Leto plans to live a long time as well… if not quite in the same manner. He proves to Jessica that she does not have the careful control over herself that she believes, then tells her that she will allow herself to be kidnapped according to Alia’s plan so he can see where it goes.
Continual set up is happening through this section, and we also get a lot of information about just how terrible it is to be pre-born. We finally get a window into just how difficult Alia’s entire existence has been. Unlike the other Reverend Mothers and her brother, Alia has basically struggled her entire life to develop and maintain a sense of self, and the narrative shows us that she has a different philosophy in dealing with this than her niece and nephew. Alia spends her time trying shove down all the other opinions, appearances, and voices in her mind. Leto and Ghanima believe that they are doing better than their aunt by choosing to engage with their memory-voices occasionally, thereby staving off complete absorption. At this point in the book, the twins seem to have a point, even though their method clearly has its issues.
These memory-voices beg a lot of questions about the nature of existence, though. A person is made up of their memories, so if you have those memories, are you also that person? On the other hand, if you believe in the concept of soul, these memories are not meant to be the true person that embodied them. They are instead an echo, and that echo is only given power if the person holding those memories allows it. We can make certain concessions in regard to the power each of those voices has—it isn’t really surprising that the Baron would float to the top as one of the most powerful voices in Alia’s arsenal. But it does contain the seed of a terrifying notion; even in carrying these memories, these people, you are still only ever truly fighting yourself.
But Alia’s story is perhaps even more tragic than Paul’s when all is said and done. She is largely abandoned, she has no guidance, she is expected to do and be everything, and yet somehow people have the gall to act surprised that this eventually turns out to be too much. I’m on Leto’s side here—anyone who wants to judge Alia for her failings likely has a hand in her creation, so they should keep their mouths shut. It makes the terror of the Baron Harkonnen’s return that much more acute, as well. Alia might have been able to keep these things at bay if anyone had ever taken the time to help her, and in this, her family is the most to blame. In his resurfacing, we can also see that Duncan’s presence doesn’t have as much of an affect on Alia as one might have hoped, and we see later that there is good reason for that, as he’s agreed to help House Corrino.
And now we have to talk about… maybe incest? It kind of is? Wow, that’s confusing. Leto and Ghanima play a “game” sometimes where they take on their parent’s personages, partly to gain information. But if it’s a game, that means they also likely do it for fun. It’s sort of like playing house, except you’re playing it with your sibling while you both possess intimate details of your parents’s life together. So not like playing house at all. The twins draw the line hard at the idea of mating and having children together, but there’s a bond that results from being so many parts of their own family. In that way, it is impossible to revoke the idea of incest, but I find it more interesting conceptually than it is in other SFF yarns. Leto and Ghanima have a more complex manner of dealing with their feelings and relationship to one another than, say, Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Which makes it feel less like it was created for shock value, and more out of a desire to explore how truly terrifying being pre-born is.
Plenty of clues are cropping up, mostly in the form of dreams had by both Leto and Farad’n. And if anyone had doubts that Paul was truly the Preacher, his command of Duncan Idaho is likely to lay that suspicion to waste. But we get a closer look at the prince and learn what sort of young man he is, what he has to learn in order to be a serious player in this universe. The idea that Shaddam’s grandson would have no interest in ruling for the sake of ruling is a great place to start him at, giving the character room for growth, and also preventing the story from rehashing old themes.
Leto’s discussion with Jessica is a little overwritten and purple for my tastes, but it is an important place to seed integral information that will be pertinent later. It’s a bit irritating to get Lady Jessica back only to have much of her confidence and sense of self bogged down by the Bene Gesserit and the need to relearn her own family—but having abandoned her children to their empire, it’s not exactly surprising. I just miss Jessica having it together the way she did in Dune. We also get information about the prolonging of life through spice of Bene Gesserit skills, and the idea of Leto with armor… which will be very important as the story continues.
More than anything, as the story coalesces it’s easy to see that Children of Dune is a better book than Dune Messiah. Where Messiah had too much philosophizing and thought experiments dressed up as narrative, Children of Dune gets back to the universe’s characters and sits with all their faults and follies. And things are just getting warmed up.
Emily Asher-Perrin feels eight kinds of creeped out at the idea of Baron Harkonnen floating around in anyone’s head. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.