Study Guide

Dune

By Frank Herbert

Dune Introduction

Imagine a dune. What do you see?

If you're like most people, you probably see a big pile of sand. But this one guy, Frank Herbert, saw something else entirely. During a visit to Florence, Oregon, in 1957, Herbert visited the Oregon Sand Dunes to research an article titled "They Stopped the Moving Sands" (Afterword.13). The article was never complete, but the research took hold of Herbert's mind, and an idea for a story began boiling in the back of his brain.

The rest is history.

Well, not exactly history. Herbert would spend another six years researching and writing the story ignited from a simple visit to the Oregon Coast. Then the story would initially be published piecemeal in Analog magazine between 1963 and 1965, before it was finally released as a full-fledged novel in 1965. The novel was called Dune.

Dune told the story of a young man named Paul Atreides and his life on the planet Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune. Paul starts the story as a gifted young man who eventually grows up to become the leader of a rebellion and a religious messiah, all in an attempt to avenge his father's death.

Sound familiar? That's because it's a familiar plot—we've all experienced it in some fashion. What separates Dune from more traditional science fiction is the breadth and richness of imagination Herbert filtered into his fictional universe. Herbert's exploration of the ecology of Arrakis did not just focus on nature. "[P]olitics, religion, philosophy, history, human evolution, and even poetry," all these things signified for Herbert the world of mankind (Afterword.34). Each has its place in the Dune universe, and each plays a significant role in the destiny of humanity.

And now the rest is history. Upon its release, Dune became something of an instant classic, joining the ranks of Stranger in a Strange Land and The Lord of the Rings as a must-read novel for the 1960s college crowd (source). It also provided Herbert's career with the get-up-and-go it needed: Dune went on to win the Hugo and the Nebula award in 1966, making it the first novel to receive the honor. Herbert himself would write not one, not two, but five sequels (of, we have to admit, varying quality).

Oh, is that all?

Not by a long shot. Dune would continue to grow in the decades following its initial release, evolving from simple book series to full-fledged franchise. After Herbert's death, Brian Herbert, his son, and Kevin J. Anderson would increase the Dune series to almost 20 novels and going (they aren't finished yet). David Lynch directed a movie adaptation in 1984, with Kyle MacLachlan leading an all-star cast as Paul. In 2000, John Harrison adapted his own made-for-TV film, which aired on the Sci-Fi channel, staring John Hurt as bangarang Duke Leto.

Finished yet?

Almost, but we have to mention video games like the real-time strategy Dune series by Cryo Interactive. Oh, and let's not forget the music Dune inspired, such as Klaus Schulze's Dune album. Man, Dune even served as a major inspiration for Star Wars. Star Wars, people! Now, when you're recognized as an inspiration for Star Wars, you kick your feet up and have a drink, because buddy, you've earned it.

What is Dune About and Why Should I Care?

Who is your hero? Is it a professional athlete? A religious figure or philosophical thinker? Perhaps a political leader or social activist? Maybe even a fictional character or two? Consider that figure while we discuss why you should care about Dune.

In Dune, the character of Paul Atreides is a hero to many people. For House Atreides, he's the rightful Duke, the one who will bring power back to the defeated family name. For the Fremen, he's the messiah, the one who will lead them out of the grip of tyranny and into a new paradise. But Paul Atreides—for all his talents and abilities—is just a man. He's as frail and fallible as the rest of us.

By focusing on the character of Paul Atreides, we are offered a glimpse at the reality of heroes and the legends that surround them. For all his successes, we see that Paul's failures are numerous, too. In fact, the legend that surrounds Paul blows his successes way out of proportion. And for all Paul's abilities, he can't really solve the problems facing the people who worship him. He can barely handle his own.

Dune isn't saying we shouldn't have heroes like Paul, but it is asking us to take a closer look at the people we prop up as heroes and the reasons we worship them as we do. Can we really expect an elected official to solve the nation's problems? Should we be angry at movie stars or athletes just because they are less than superhuman, or because their moral compasses don't always point toward righteousness? How much faith should we put into the legends of our religious figures?

All questions that could use a good answer or two. But first things first: let's read Dune.

Dune Resources

Websites

That Official Website Smell
It's like a new-car smell with a hint of electricity. This website comes equipped with a blog keeping you up-to-date on all things Dune.

Mappin'
A map of Arrakis, just in case you lose your way—an easy thing to do in the 400+ pages of the book.

Liar, Liar
Dune joins the illustrious ranks—is that the right phrasing?—of science fiction novels people lie about having read. Don't be the one with pants on fire. Just read it (and feel free to read the others on the list as well).

Not Too Shabby
NPR lists the Top 100 must-read science fiction and fantasy novels. Dune receives top honors at fourth place. Like we said, not too shabby.

A Wicked Wiki
The Dune wiki was made by fans for fans.

Movie or TV Productions

'80s Hair in the Future
Roger Ebert called this film "a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion" (source), but we've got to give credit where it's due. There is nothing unstructured or pointless about Kyle MacLachlan's hairdo.

Made-for-TV CG
The special effects are super dated. Super dated. But this Syfy miniseries attempts to be a more faithful adaptation to Herbert's novel. How does it do? You'll have to watch for yourself.

Sequelitis
This follow-up miniseries combines both Dune Messiah and Children of Dune into one massive story. Yeah, it's not technically based on Dune, but if you like the first series, you'll want to give this one a try too.

Articles and Interviews

Positive Paul
Dune concerns itself with many matters: religion, ecology, and politics. But the power of positive thinking? Isn't that a tad after-school special? Maria Konnikova doesn't think so, and she explains why in this essay.

Reconstructing Criticism
The critics gave David Lynch's Dune a heck of a beating back in '84. Dominic Corry thinks maybe it's time to reconsider that beating and maybe offer an apology and some critical balm.

On Why Paul Atreides is not Harry Potter
Io9's "Blogging the Hugos" reaches a milestone with Herbert's novel. Here, Josh Wimmer recounts what is amazing about Dune. His answer is: just about everything.

The Old Back and Forth
Once upon a time, J.G. Ballard argued that Dune was a silly novel dressed up as literature. Sam Jordison disagrees. Here's why.

A Little Chit-chat
One Professor McNelly interviews Frank Herbert early in Herbert's career. It's filled with fun facts. For example, did you know Herbert read over 200 books in preparation for writing the novel? You do now.

An Epic Chit-chat
Fourteen pages of interview? Yep. If you're into collecting biographical facts, then this is the interview for you.

Ten-Dollar Words
Lorenzo DiTommaso discusses the "Vitality Struggle" as a theme in Dune. Advance Warning: Science Fiction Studies is an academic journal, so expect plenty of big words and run-on sentences. However, if you've ever wanted to learn academic-ese, this essay will help you in your foreign language studies.

Video

Sting and Patrick Stewart in One Film? Oh, Yeah!
The trailer to David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of Dune. These few minutes are mind-bending enough. Just wait until you see the film.

3 Dollars = A Lot of Film
Watch Dune for a mere three bucks on YouTube, and you don't even have to drive to the Redbox.

Amazing Character Actors for Amazing Characters
The trailer for the Syfy miniseries. William Hurt's Leto and Ian McNeice's Baron Harkonnen are worth the price of admission.

Small Screen, Big Story
Watch the Syfy Channel try to squeeze Herbert's epic novel into your television, er, computer screen. Part 1 Part 2

Before There Was StarCraft
There was Dune. Herbert's novel provided the inspiration for one of the great real-time strategies in gaming history. We still love those old school Amiga graphics.

Audio

Beep-boop-beep
Dune gets all the love. Even Dune: Spice Opera, the soundtrack to the video game, is highly acclaimed. Here, we provide two tracks of MIDI goodness for your listening pleasure. Spice OperaSign of the Worm

Images

Simply Awesome
This wonderful, plain cover adorns the novel's 40th anniversary edition.

Classic… if not Classy
We're going old school with this cover.

Palate
The covers of Dune's various incarnations follow a particular color palate. Namely, orange.

More Cover Art
Dune is the gift to cover artists everywhere. It just keeps giving them work. Here's the 25th anniversary edition for you.

The Trend Setter
The cover that started it all. We present to you the first edition.

The Dune Scribe
The creator of Dune, Frank Herbert. Now that's what we call a thinking beard.

Hello, Beasty
Kraken, schmaken. The sandworms of Dune are the true beasts to fear.

The Wicker Worm
Made entirely from willow, this sandworm is truly awesome.

Stellar Concept
Concept artist Mark Molnar draws Arrakis. He says he did it for the pleasure, but the pleasure is all ours.

Legoed
Is there anything Legos can't make? Hm… nope.