Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Children of Dune, Part Seven

This week we’re going to cover ourselves in sandtrout and morph into a superbeing? Yeah, it’s clearly one of those days….

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 “Fremen were the first humans to develop a conscious/unconscious symbology through which to experience the movements and relationships of their planetary system.”)

Leto rushes away from Gurney, knowing that Halleck will expect him to go south but likely not into a storm. He heads into a storm and rides a worm, then camps for the night in his stilltent. Jessica is done teaching Farad’n his lessons, and he graduates to become a Bene Gesserit. Leto comes out of his trance and realizes that the heel pumps of his stillsuit have been cut and he’s lost half of his body’s water. He is perturbed over the fact that he did not see that coming. He rides a worm even deeper into the desert and comes across a band of Fremen renegades from the mythical place of Shuloch. He knows a leader of his band, Muriz, plans to take his water, so he reveals his identity and tells him that if he refuses to help him Dune will become a land of grass and trees. These are the people who have been housing his father, and Leto knows as much (Muriz’s son is the one guiding the Preacher about). They form an uneasy alliance.

The arrive and Shuloch, and Leto sees the pens where they keep the worms and sandtrout (baby worms). They’ve been selling them off world on Paul’s orders, but none of them are surviving long. Muriz asks how Leto plans to lead them, and Leto says he will lead them into Kralizec, or the Typhon Struggle—a battle at the end of the universe. Muriz then discovers that they have another visitor; Sabiha, who was banished from Jacarutu and sent to them because she let Leto escape.

Gurney talks to Namri, who insists that Leto is in a safe place, but refuses to tell him where. Gurney is confused by the secrecy, but Namri is adamant that Gurney has already seen too much and it is Sabiha’s job to look after Leto now. Namer will no longer decide Leto’s fate. They argue and Namri reveals that Gurney has not been following Jessica orders at all—they were Alia’s, and Jessica is on Salusa Secundus. Gurney does not let his surprise show. He and Namri fight, and Gurney kills the man. Then he covers up the murder and sets off and away. He knows Alia will want to have him killed, but he means to tell her that he never liked her plan for Leto. He heads to find Stilgar.

Leto is prompted to eat by Sabiha, who tells him that she will be in trouble if he doesn’t. Leto is stuck on the many strands of his future, again thinking or the thread that leads to Sabiha, and also one in which he kills her. But he decides instead to head to the qanat where the worms and sandtrout are. He knows of an old game Fremen children play where they let a sandtrout cover their hand like a living glove. Instead, he allows the sandtrout to cover his whole body, creating a sandtrout membrane that behaves like a living stillsuit. The membrane adjusts to his body and begins to change it. Leto shows confronts a worm face to face and finds that it will not hurt him now. He shows Sabiha that he can actually control the worm to do his bidding. Leto knows that he’s becoming something that is not human, and that this moment will mythologize him. But this is the way onto the Golden Path. He leaves Shuloch and plans to destroy key centers to set Arrakis’s transformation back a generation, allowing him to rearrange the plan for the planet.

Alia goes through reports from her informants, unsure of what to believe. Ghanima has been tested by Truthsayer and insists that Leto is dead, Namri is dead and she doesn’t know the location of Gurney, Duncan is incommunicado, Muniz is in a panic after claiming that Leto ran from Shuloch on foot without gear, leaping from dune to dune. She isn’t sure what to believe, and the time that the baron is spending in her body is beginning to change her form and her activities. He asks for her to bring a man in that he’s interested in, but she threatens to take a sedative if he keeps bothering her, so he stops. He warns her not to trust any of the people in her council, which she agrees to.

Leto’s body continues to change, and he realizes that this was a path his father saw and shied away from. He puts himself in the Preacher’s path and stops his worm. Muniz’s son Assan is there and insists that their worm has been stopped by a demon. Leto reveals himself to the Preacher and says that they will spend the evening together. The Preacher agrees. They sit together and Paul tells Leto that this thing he has done is no good. Leto disagrees, and insists that it is too late to reverse the process. Assad attempts to kill them both, but Leto quickly dispatches him. Paul tells Leto that he cannot commit to this destiny, asks if he is willing to change and live for thousands of years and accept what he will become to the universe. When it is clear that Leto will, Paul tells him that this is his universe now, and the declaration fills Leto with sadness.

Paul demands to know if Leto’s path will be better than his, and Leto is forced to admit that it isn’t, and it might be worse. Paul tells his son that he’ll oppose him then, that he wish he had died, but had stayed because he knew he had to restore the legend. Leto wants to take Paul with him, but Paul wants to go into the desert to finally die. Leto won’t allow it and tells Paul that he is permitted to fall on his knife instead, and leave his body to his son. Paul knows that Leto thinks him weak for not choosing this path himself, but he sees how horrific it will be. Stagnation and horror. Leto tells Paul he will take him to Gurney and realizes that limits of his father’s visions when Paul says the Gurney works for the Sisterhood at Jessica’s request. Leto informs him that Gurney serves himself, and that his father’s limits caused him to do good and evil things. Paul says that the evil things were only known after the events, that he could never commit an evil act knowing it was evil at the start.

Leto tells him that the baron is the one who has taken hold of Alia. Paul admits that he had hoped Leto would renounce all of this and make a new life. Leto asks what the price of that would have been, and Paul admits that the one time he didn’t stick to his principles for Chani’s sake made him a bad leader. He asks with the Typhoon Struggle is necessary, and Leto tells him that if it doesn’t occur, humans will be extinguished. Paul had not seen that in his visions. They camp the night together.

Commentary

This is one of those sections where so much happens and a lot of it is frankly difficult to understand because it seems to come out of left field. We know about the Fremen who exist even further out than Jacarutu, so meeting Muniz isn’t that much of a surprise. We also knew that some Fremen were selling the worms off-world, so that wasn’t a surprise either. But all the information about the sandtrout glove and the kids playing with them is brand new information overall. And to release this information and then have these trouts proceed to completely integrate into Leto’s body and transform him… I remember being mesmerized the first time I read the book, but also really annoyed that this just sort of leapt out of the ether.

The actual transformation sequence is fascinating due to the amount of detail that Herbert is willing to write into it. We gets lots of information about cilia and membranes and so on, and obviously a lot of it is very made up in terms of legitimate bodily integration, but it reads convincingly enough (if you don’t have a large base of scientific knowledge, I mean). But it’s also strange because it basically turns Leto into this odd superhero? He can suddenly leap sand dunes in a single bound?

This is also the first we hear of this Typhoon Struggle that Leto means to engulf the universe in, which seems… kind of too important to just namedrop three quarters of the way through the book. Moreover, it’s not explained in any great detail, which seems like a substantial error this late in the game.

Haha, I completely forgot that Gurney was acting under Alia’s orders for Leto without knowing. It’s been a while. The problem for Alia is that she believes she is maneuvering sharply, but she never really has any control at any part of this story. All of her machinations just become more and more unhinged with every step, as she proceeds to be outpaced by everyone because they can already see her slipping away. And now, of course, we are seeing her physical form begin to show signs of the baron’s influence, which is terrifying for my part less because the baron is grotesque and more because it’s like having a host body subsumed by a parasite. Classic horror genre stuff.

The talk between Paul and Leto has bee a long time coming, of course, and I always loved this meeting in the desert to sit on the dunes and discuss their various shortcomings deal. But this is where Herbert’s vagaries come back to bite him. In Dune, the incoming jihad was a sweeping thing that would have a vast reach—but it was still possible to conceive of it, to conceptualize it. We’re not getting enough detail about Leto’s Golden Path and where it leads. And to my recollection, we never really do to any great satisfaction. We understand how the plan will save Arrakis, how it will prevent spice from vanishing and the human race from dying out on their various worlds. But we don’t really understand what Leto and Paul are discussing terms of what this Golden Path will bring in its stead.

We’re told it’s good because it’s better than the alternatives, but it’s also bad because humanity will stagnate and so forth. But it seems as though Herbert knows how this will affect humanity in the generations to come and can’t get it across without veering too far from the central plot of his novel. And that’s one of those places where the extreme reliance Dune places on philosophical underpinnings and the long view of history really gets in its way. (This becomes far more prevalent in the next three books.) Leto’s transformation into what will eventually be know as the “God Emperor” of Dune needs to be a little closer to the ground, and not just in terms of hearing about his bodily changes. I think we’re too removed to really align with Leto the way a reader can more easily align with Paul.

On a sidenote: I had a thought as I was reading the other day, in terms of why Dune works as this sweeping science fiction epic when it doesn’t have the usual hallmarks—alien life, some form of AI, oodles of space travel, and so on. SF doesn’t need to have these things to be successful of course, but they are things that I usually need in my sci-fi. So why does Dune work for me? I think Herbert did such an excellent job of creating wholly different groups in his universe that you get all the usual story gambits and intrigue from having those elements with the human organizations he’s already created. The worm makes Leto inhuman, just as the spice does to the Spacing Guild. Mentats are people who compute like robots. The Bene Gesserit are essentially space witches. All the hallmarks are fulfilled by people in a completely unique way.

And next week we complete Children of Dune….

Emily Asher-Perrin does wonder what it would feel like to have a living stillsuit. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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