Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

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

Today we are going to become a weird emperor god who is part human part worm… and then we will marry our sisters. That part is somehow less surprising?

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 to the end)

Duncan and Stilgar have talked through the night, Duncan desperate to convince Stilgar that Alia is possessed and requires the trial to prove it. Stilgar knows that the trial is a terrible thing and isn’t certain of Duncan’s motives, so he denies it for the time being. When their talk is over, Duncan comes out into the hall and murders Javid, Alia’s lover, “to silence gossip. Stilgar is furious that Duncan has broken Tabr’s neutrality but Duncan insults Stilgar, prompting them into a fight in which Stilgar kills Duncan. Only afterward does Stilgar realize that Duncan provoked him on purpose, knowing that Alia would have to publicly retaliate against Stilgar for killing her consort, despite any fair reason he might have had to kill the man. He takes Ghani, his wives, Irulan, and anyone who wishes to go with him into the desert, knowing that he is the only hope for Ghanima’s survival.

Gurney Halleck finds brief refuge in Tuek’s sietch, knowing that Arrakis has changed irrevocably and that he has little time to move. He also know that Alia will win this war if the Fremen don’t rise up against her. Alia finds out about Duncan and Javid from the Fremen messenger Agarves, sent by Stilgar. He freed all the Fremen of his sietch and those who did not accompany him are now free to name a new Naib and begin anew. Alia promises that she will give Agarves the position if he hunts Stilgar down for her. When he’s gone, she fumes over Duncan’s actions, then realizes that she bruised her foot stamping it on a buckle. It turns out to be one of the old Atreides buckles, given to Duncan by Duke Leto. She realizes what he meant by leaving it there and begins to cry. She feels as though she is two people, one consumed with grief and the other astonished and perplexed by her tears.

There are rumors of a Desert Demon, who breaks the qanats and moves through the desert. Ghanima has been traveling with Stilgar and company for months, and she sees the changes in the desert and the Fremen, and she is deeply concerned. She finds out that Stilgar is meeting Agarves, who is being led there blindfolded. Ghanima knows this is a terrible idea, but there is nothing she can do. Gurney stays with the Cast Out, who now worship Leto II as Shai-hulud their god. Leto has given them instructions to stop selling spice and build him a home oasis here. He has Gurney meet the Preacher, and order Gurney to guard the man with his life. Gurney brings them back to the plan Lady Jessica had ordered, but Leto tells him that Namri was ordered to kill him regardless on Alia’s orders.

The Preacher tells Gurney that his task to discover whether Leto is an Abomination is for naught, calling Leto the Healer. Gurney demands to know if the Preacher is Paul, but the Preacher insists that anyone can be a Truthsayer, so Gurney knows who he is. Gurney is certain that this is Paul and demands to know Jessica is aware. Paul tells him she is not and that it is better that way. The Fremen press in around him, asking if he is Muad’Dib. He insists that they must think of him as the Preacher, and when they persist, Leto hours them down and threatens to bring their sietch down on their heads. He assures them that he will exile them into the desert without water if they tell anyone who was here, then takes Paul and Gurney to be on their way, telling Gurney that Farad’n will soon arrive and then the real test will begin.

Ghanima doesn’t like Agarves, but he has come to tell Stilgar that Alia plans to reinstate him as Naib of his sietch with no bad blood. Irulan insists that this is a lie, but Agarves lashes out in anger, making it clear that he finds Alia’s presence abhorrent and wants to be away from her. Stilgar wants to know what assurances he has from Alia, and tells Agarves that he will no longer be her lieutenant or supply her with fighters. Agaves says that all Alia wants is Ghanima returned for the betrothal and Ghani is pleased, knowing Stilgar will never go for that. Suddenly, there is a cloth with chemicals fixed over her mouth and she falls unconscious.

Leto asks the Preacher (he cannot think of him as anything but the Preacher because he realizes that Paul Atreides is truly no more, that the desert made this man) if he will come with him to Arakeen. Ghanima will be there and also Jessica. He means to speak to Farad’n. The Preacher actually seem nervous at this, but agrees to go. Leto says they will not bring Gurney, as he wants the man to survive. Alia is waiting for Farad’n and company; she put a tracker in Agaves’s boots that led kidnappers to the party, and now she has everyone in custody. Stilgar had killed Agarves. But the Preacher has arrived again, and Alia’s guard Zia informs her that Farad’n, Jessica and two guards want to be admitted to have the best vantage point to see the Preacher from… to watch her reaction. She tells Zia to outfit Ghanima as a Fremen bride, knife included.

The party enters Alia’s chamber to watch the Preacher, who begins by talking of the changes in the desert and how he saw the face of God. He says that there is blasphemy and the blasphemy is Alia. Her priests descend upon him and murder him. Alia tells Jessica that is her son, and knows that this is going to provoke terrible violence. But when Ghanima arrives, Leto has her buy the arm. He utters their trigger word to give Ghani back her memories and she asks if their plan worked. He tells her well enough as Alia screams to have them seized. But Leto is too powerful and deals with the guards handily. Then he goes against Alia, swinging her over his head, and then dropping her. He pleads with her to learn what he and Ghani did to silence the inner voices. She begins speaking with the baron’s voice and everyone knows she’s possessed. Alia calls for help, but Leto tells her to help herself. As the baron cries for mercy, Alia throws herself out a window to her death.

Ghanima explains to Farad’n what Leto’s plight is now; the skin he has taken on cannot be shed. He will live for 4000 years before the transformation overtakes him, but he won’t truly be human. Jessica and Ghanima try to explain to Stilgar and Farad’n what the future will be. The worms will be mostly gone in 100 years, and the Spacing Guild will barely survive with that little spice, but they’ll make it through and then the real Kralizec will come and the worm will multiply again. This will be the Golden Path, millennia of peace wherein humanity will forget what war is. Stilgar is uncertain that he believes in this future.

After performing many feats to the Fremen’s satisfaction, the tribes have come to pay homage to their new god. Jessica refuses to sit in on the proceedings, outmaneuvered by her grandchildren, and saddened that Alia’s life had to be forfeit in all of this because no one had bothered to save her from a fate that she could have avoided by looking at the twins. Farad’n has been given a new position as Royal Scribe. Stilgar and Tyekanik have formed an uneasy alliance, both disturbed by the current turn of events. Stilgar comes to pledge and Leto sends him back with Gurney to train more men for their cause.

Leto has Farad’n stand before him and explains that he will give over his Sardaukar to eventually mingle with the Fremen. He tells him that he lied when he said he was not an Abomination, that he pressed back the most malignant of his personalities but allowed one to take root, a man named Harum, who bred humans who lived short suspicious lives that were easily swayed by gods. He tells Farad’n that he is a well suited to being a scribe, as he is an excellent historian, and that he tends to keep him as the Fremen kept tamed eagles. He suggests that the Bene Gesserit were fools to think they could create their breeding program without being changed by it themselves, but that he has no such illusions. He intends to marry Ghanima to continue the Atreides line, but they cannot have children as he is no longer human. He leaves that to Farad’n, who will be capable of molding that new generation in his image. Farad’n tells Leto that he will resist this new peace, but Leto expects that and says that it is why he was chosen. He renames him Harq al-Ada, which means “Breaking of the Habit.” No one will know that Farad’n is Ghanima’s concubine and fathers her children, but Leto suggests that like their parents there might be love one day between them. He tells his cousin that he and Ghanima will always stand back to back, even in marriage, and that Farad’n back will be exposed. As he leaves, Ghanima tell Farad’n: “One of us had to accept the agony, and he was always the stronger.”

Commentary

And so Duncan Idaho dies again, this time to keep others safe by forcing them to flee Alia’s grasp. It’s a sad fate, especially given how singular Duncan is as a ghola who has recovered his memories. But it isn’t all that surprising for an Atreides man who already died this way. I always had a peculiar attachment to the character, even moreso as a ghola, and I think it’s because there are some Spock-like attributes lurking in there. Duncan Idaho after being trained as a mentat is a logical person, but he does feel deep emotions that he prefers to push away. The murder of Javid is a means to an end, but he also clearly wanted to do it.

There’s a lot in the end of this book with various characters noticing how much Arrakis has changed, how much the Fremen have changed, how important this is to the future of the Imperium… only it doesn’t seem to be by the end because Leto has everything figured out. Maybe it’s intended more to worry the rest over the future of the planet, but it seems strange that all these ruminations don’t really amount to anything. The Fremen are intended to mix with the Sardaukar, and consolidate Atreides power by making their army contain the strength of the two mightiest groups of fighters their universe possesses.

Gurney manages to make it despite everything, and he remains skeptical until the end. (A shout out to thinking of Leto as that “question mark Paul fathered.”) In fact, taking stock of who makes it is an interesting exercise. Jessica remains, in time to see most of her family die. Farad’n makes it, the twins obviously do, Gurney and Stilgar survive. Irulan manages to pull through, despite having very little pull whatsoever in the narrative… I’m still bothered by that. It makes sense for Gurney and Stilgar to pull through—they are the rocks, the old war dogs who survive every upheaval and social change. They remember how things were and have enough perspective to mull over how the status quo has altered forever. It makes sense for Jessica to survive because that is her role in these stories—the tragic lady who outlives them all.

Of course, Paul does not make it into this new world that his son will create. It’s hardly surprising, but I do think it could have been staged a little bit better for some extra drama. I would prefer to feel bad when Paul Atreides dies, but it all happens so quickly. Poor guy.

That little trick with Farad’n is great, the fact that we don’t realize we keep reading his musings in the book for so many opening sections. It echoes our introduction to Irulan in a slightly more clever manner. There are a lot of parallels between this book and Dune, in fact, and not all of them are as smart as they need to be in order to justify the use of a parallel. The fight between Leto and Alia as a sort of similar throw down to the one between Paul and Feyd doesn’t feel as connected as it should be. There’s a lot of repetition with different outcomes here, almost as to suggest that this is way things should have been the first time around. The problem is that Leto’s plan is so encompassing, it’s hard to conceive. He says that he will rule for millennia and that people will change from all that pace, but it’s hard to understand how, and even why Leto has decided that this is the right way to go.

Also, don’t get me started on finding out about Harum, the ancestor that Leto is taking ruling advice from, because that is not something you just slip in there right at the end. We should have known more about that, and also about why Leto really believed that Harum’s perspective was worth taking on, especially when we see how horribly it can go wrong.

The only parallel that I really like is the idea of the concubine as the true companion working in reverse. This time it is the male character who is taking the place of a concubine, the one who will hopefully have the love and trust of Ghanima as time goes on. And in this case, Farad’n doesn’t even get to rest easy with the knowledge that everyone knows he’s the most special, the way Chani did. He’s going to have to work for that affection when Ghanima is finally grown. The secret partner, and House Corrino’s only true shot at revenge, in a manner of speaking. To just bury the hatchet and coexist.

There’s something poetic but deeply depressing about the fact that little Alia kills her grandfather only to have to kill him all over again, this time sacrificing her own life. Even Jessica is forced to reconcile how unfair Alia’s fate was in the end. I don’t think I’ll ever be particularly happy with how that’s handled, especially when we can see how much of Alia is still in there. That scene where she cries over Duncan always messes me up. Alia is ultimately a casualty of her family, a child who might have had a completely different life were it not for the choices of everyone around her. Unlike the Baron Harkonnen, she is not a villain who can be blamed for circumstance.

Leto’s transformation was the thing that captivated me as a kid when I read this book. There’s a true aspect of body horror to it, as Leto would have probably picked a different path for himself if he had seen one that worked. Also the concept of taking your central character and essentially changing them into an entirely differently being is on par with Clarke’s 2001, and not the most common angle to see in big mythic arcs.

Though I really do enjoy Children of Dune as a book, I still think that there is too much that Frank Herbert keeps from his readers, too many sweeping philosophical meanderings that are hard to grab hold of without a few textbooks sitting next to you. And it’s not that the concepts he’s entertaining are too complex—they just require more context in the world he’s created. Leto spends the majority of the book working up to this big end game that just sort of gets explained away in exposition when we deserve a bit more than that for three books worth of work. The Golden Path should seem a little more… concrete.

We have the Sci-Fi miniseries Children of Dune coming up next week! Stay tuned.

Emily Asher-Perrin wonders what it feels like to be Stilgar most days of the week. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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