Monday, July 31, 2017

You Tarried With Trifles: Dune Club, Session 4

Apologies for the later-than-intended post this week.  I'd like to think that eventually, I'll be able to rely on work NOT depriving me of all my energy, but this week -- like most of the summer -- has been no friend in that regard.  No big deal, just longer-than-optimal hours.  
Which, of course, leaves a smaller amount of contemplating-the-Atreides time.
Here we are, though, so let's get to the contemplatin'!
There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man -- with human flesh. 
I don't have much to say about this brief chapter, in which Leto tells Paul about the ruse related to Jessica being "suspected" of being a traitor.

The Illustrated Dune, p. 106
The chapter contains some solid foreshadowing, including one moment where Leto points to the Atreides banner and says that in time, it come to stand for "many evil things."  
I also like these lines of dialogue from Leto: "The people must learn how well I govern them.  How would they know if we didn't tell them?"  This speaks to a sardonic quality in the Duke, but also a realistic one.

My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. 

The Illustrated Dune, p. 133 (I believe this is supposed to be Kynes, but am not 100% certain)


In this chapter, we meet Kynes, the Imperial planetologist, who will eventually be revealed to be much more than that.  This chapter involves him taking Leto, Paul, and Gurney on a visit to a spice-harvesting operation.  Much of the opening of the chapter is devoted to Kynes' contempt for the Atreides, which Herbert shows us via occasional interior monologue from Kynes.  For example, recalling the question about Imperial facilities he underwent from Hawat, Kynes thinks, "They'll learn soon enough who's master on Arrakis.  Order me questioned half the night by that Mentat, will they?  Expect me to guide themon an inspection of spice mining, do they?"  And then, a bit later, "I will have Stilgar send Idaho's head to this Duke."
Kynes' stance begins to become uncertain once he is introduced to Paul, however.  The reality of the young man matches the prophecies so well that even Kynes finds himself shaken and in wonderment.
But even the Duke himself grows on Kynes, particularly in the way he shows evidence for how much he cares for the men in his command.  Herbert ends the chapter by giving Kynes a simple line of interior monologue: "I like this Duke."  It is an extremely effective way of showing us the process by which the Atreides begin to truly win the Fremen.  Momentous things have occurred in these thoughts.
The chapter overall is excellent, and I should probably make more time to analyze it.  Time is quite short this week, however, so I'm afraid I have to press on.

One quick thing before I go: I am fascinated by the notion of the ornithopters, because why and how are they?  Not nromally-phrased questions, I'll grant you, but questions I nontheless possess.  (In National Lampoon's Doon, by the way, they are called "orthodontothopters" and are apparently powered by taut rubber bands, which cracks me up.)

The Illustrated Dune, p. 114

One more quick(ish) thing before I go.  At one point, Paul reflexively intones a quotation from the Orange Catholic Bible: "The gift is the blessing of the giver."
As I mentioned before, I'm actually reading these chapters twice, once via the above-pictured Illustrated Edition for the pleasure of reading, and once via the Ace Science Fiction edition for note-taking.  In the Illustrated Edition, the quote is given as "The gift is the blessing of the river," and I stopped when I got to that point, because I was completely puzzled by its meaning.  Then, in the Ace version, I found it as "blessing of the giver."  This makes more sense, and I was halfway convinced I'd simply misread it in the Illustrated Edition.  but, no; it definitely says "river."
This got me curious as to what other editions said, so I checked the ones I have.  Of them, the only ones that give the quote as "giver" and not as "river" are this Ace edition and the original Chilton hardback.  So obviously, at some point, somebody made a transcription error, and nobody caught it for decades.  Proofreading: vitally important, guys; vitally important.

One FINAL quick thing more: this chapter marks the first appearance of a sandworm.  Those are surely among the most intriguing alien creatures in all of science fiction, so bless the Maker, bless his comings and his goings, etc.

The Illustrated Dune, p. 127
Greatness is a transitory experience. 
This is the chapter in which a bunch of people sit around a dinner table and talk.  I can remember being perplexed -- and somewhat bored (though also oddly fascinated) -- by this chapter as a child during the first however-many times I read the novel.
Eventually, though, I got over that.  There's nothing boring about this chapter, which is largely composed of Jessica and/or Paul using their talents to read the situation and its cast of participants.  The scene crackles with energy and portent.
Again, I feel as if I should have much more to say about all of this.  I'll settle for making note of the elements I most enjoy:
  • Leto's melancholy, which seems to be ramping up.  "I've felt the cold hand of my mortality," he thinks after denying an old woman the right to sell purposefully-wasted dinner-party water to thirsty beggars.
  • Leto's dramatic reading of the lyrics to one of Gurney's songs, which begins, "Review, friends -- troops long past review."  I'm not always a fan of the poetical/lyrical content Herbert gives to Halleck, but this tone poem or whatever you'd call it is quite good.  It's a thinly-veiled fuck-you to the majority of the assembled guests, and arguably a pledge of friendship to the others.
  • Paul forking a piece of food off a young woman's plate to make a point about inter-species competition.
  • Jessica's statement of a planetological concept: "Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount.  And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate."  I'll accept that as a truism, although I'm aware that it might be anything but.  Nevertheless, it passes the smell test for me, and so I am indeed accepting it for at least the moment.  With that in mind, I find my thoughts turning toward an application of this concept the overarching problem that is Right Now In 2017.  How have we gotten to this place?  If Herbert is to be believed, then it is by way of whatever precious commodity -- be it physical, mental, or spiritual -- we possess in the least amount.  I won't go further than that; but it seems like a thing worth pondering.
  • Jessica's line rebuking -- and defusing -- the Guild banker, who has just been on the receiving end of a cutting anecdote Paul tells (after himself being outwardly insulted): "My son displays a general garment and you claim it's cut to your fit?"  I'll never in my life be that witty on a moment's notice; and probably not on a week's notice, for that matter.

And plenty more besides.  Deeply good stuff here. 

One thing I don't entirely understand: is this dinner taking place on the same day as the sandworm/spice-harvester incident?  I feel as if it probably is, but Herbert does not always make the timelines absolute.  For that matter, do the following two chapters take place on the same night?  I feel certain the one immediately following this one does, but I'm less sure about the one after that.
There is no escape -- we pay for the violence of our ancestors. 
In this chapter, Jessica is awakened by a disturbance from Duncan Idaho, who is drunk on spice beer in the great hall and causing a ruckus.

The Illustrated Dune, p. 152

This leads to his revelation that Jessica is suspected of treachery, and her confronting Hawat with that accusation.
The meat of the chapter lies in that confrontation, in which Jessica uses Voice on Hawat and shakes him to the core of his being.  "You've glimpsed the first within the Bene Gesserit glove," she tells him.  That line never fails to make me want to stand up and applaud.  I am apparently Team B.G.  Don't hold that against me!
As the chapter nears its conclusion, Hawat finds himself thinking back to a time when the Old Duke stood in the arena, his back turned to a stunned and immobilized bull.  "I am the bull and she the matador," he thinks, in yet another bravura moment from Herbert.  And yet, it is impossible not to think of the fact that the Old Duke was eventually killed by a bull; not, apparently, THAT bull, or at least not on that day -- but a bull nevertheless.  This thought does not even seem to be in Hawat's mind at the time; he does indeed accept that he has been defeated.
We, however, almost certainly think of the Old Duke's means of death, and this is a valuable way of subtly reminding us that Jessica's position -- if not with Hawat then in life generally -- is extremely tenuous.
As we occasionally do, let's have a look at the entire paragraph for this chapter, which comes in the form of a song:
Do you wrestle with dreams?
Do you contend with shadows?
Do you move in a kind of sleep?
Time has slipped away.
Your life is stolen.
you tarried with trifles,
Victim of your folly. 
This is attributed to the Songs of Muad'Dib and is titled "Dirge For Jamis on the Funeral Plain."
First-time readers will likely think nothing of the name "Jamis," but anyone reading the novel for a second time will possibly raise a couple of eyebrows at this and think about a scene which comes later in the novel.
But the song has immediate relevance to this chapter, which is where Leto is defeated when Yueh plays his treacherous hand.  It could almost be a song Leto has been singing to himself throughout the duration of the novel thus far.  For Leto, time has indeed slipped away; he has tarried with "trifles" such as kanly and politics, and has allowed his life -- with Jessica, with Paul -- to be stolen from him.  As we've discussed previously, a great deal could be written in speculation of how much of this Leto is consciously aware of, and what his specific plans are.  For my part, I am pretty sure I believe that he knows he will be defeated and die.  I think he believes he has more time than he actually has; but isn't that always the case for those of us tarrying with trifles?
What's even more interesting is to consider that this song may have been written by Paul himself.  If so, then the lyrics take on even deeper meaning.  I'm reluctant to talk here about future events from later in the novel, though, so let's table those thoughts for now.  I'll try to remember to come back to it when I do the inevitable wrap-up post that can encompass the entire novel.
A few notes from this chapter:
  • I'm somewhat unclear as to why Esmar Tuek is killed.  Or, for that matter, why he is even present.  Perhaps this is indeed the same night as the banquet, and he is a guest in the castle; that explains his presence.  But his murder?  I'm tempted to think it is mere coincidence, that Yueh killed him purely because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Either way, the function is to take away from our understanding of events a degree of safety for Jessica and Paul.  During the banquet scene, Jessica thinks of the smuggle Tuek as a man who might be able to be used to get them to safety in an emergency; so whether he has or has not been hired in that capacity, that possibility is now removed.
  • Mapes, too, has been killed, though she is not quite dead yet.  Clearly suffering the effects of the same drug Leto will be hit with soon, she is on the ground, laboring to talk.  Leto hears her words, and Herbert gives them to us from Leto's perspective: "S'you," she gasps.  I'd never noticed this before, but she is obviously trying to tell her Duke that "It's Yueh."  Chilling little moment, there.
  • That business with the poison tooth has stuck with me ever since I first read it.  And there's more to come with it, obviously.  But when Yueh hisses, "Remember the tooth," I apparently listened.

The Illustrated Dune, p. 164

That's about it for this time.  Let's now get our Ellis Weiner in our hands:

We're only going to look at a couple of chapters this time, but I got numerous chuckles out of them:


What sort of man was Duke Lotto Agamemnides?  We may say he was a brave man, yet a man who knew the value of caution.  We may say he was possessed of a highly refined sense of honor -- yet, like all leaders, was he no less capable of acts duplicitous and sleazy.  We may say this, we may say that -- indeed, we may say anything we want.  We may say, for example, that he was not a man at all, but rather a highly evolved bicycle.  See?  We may say just about anything.

--from "House Agamemnides: Historical Perspectives and Worthless Digressions," by the Princess Serutan


The Arruckusian sun had milkied a depthless expanse of daisy-blooming morning sky lightened darkly to the distant broken horizon when Pall, his father, and Gurnsey Halvah approach the Arrucksack landing field.


"The hood is to be worn in open country," Keynes explained, adjusting the Duke's suit as Halvah watched warily.  "These sleeves can be drawn back slightly, to give a more casual, fun appearance, a kind of I'm-ready-for-anything look.  The pants have elastic cuffs for a snug, trim fit over socks.  I prefer a slight blousiness in the pants, I think it makes for a more airy, playful effect -- a sort of Renaissance fluffy concept that I think is really attractive.  You can tuck the shirt in or let it stay out.  I personally leave mine out, but that's me, I have this sort of crazy thing for shirttails."
     "I'll leave mine out, too," the Duke said.
     That was wise, Pall thought.  Leaving his shirt out as a token of respect -- men would be willing to die for such a leader. 
     Keynes turned to Pall, said: "Now let's take a look at--"  He stopped and stood back a step, frowning.  Presently he said, "You've worn sweatsuits before?"
     "This is the first time," Pall said.
     "Then someone showed you how to tie the drawstring . . . ?"
     "No, I just took a wild guess."
     The Freedmenmen guards, who had been idling near the 'thopter, suddenly stood and began to murmur among themselves.  One of them cried, "Lasagna Allah Mode!," was slapped in the face by another, who whispered something harshly to him.  Then the first one nodded, shrugged, and cried, "Laserium al-Dilah'!"
A mammoth curved thing rose up out of the collapsing hole.  Its largeness was extreme; it may have risen two hundred meters above the ground.  It was vaguely heart-shaped, its body describing three ring-like segments, one under two, all roughly equivalent in size.  Its color was a nicely-baked brown.  The central knot, where its length looped around itself, shuddered hideously.  At the four and seven o'clock positions its body ended in two overlapping segments attached to the central, bottom ring.  One of these was its head; there, its eyes glared with mindless malignancy, and huge jaws yawned a black cave of void into which Pall now watched the beerwagon fall in a slow, dream-like cascade.  The other overlap was its tail, a short quivering stub that throbbed.  Breat boulders of salt rained off the back of the pretzel as in rockslide.  The air crackled with static electricity.  With a deafening roar the pretzel burrowed back into the ground, and was gone.
     That's one of the biggest pretzels I've ever seen, Pall thought.
"What the Baron will, I may," Lotto said firmly, striking the desk with his fist.  "What I will, the Baron may or may not -- depending on whether I do."
     "And if," Halfwit added.
     Lotto paused, stunned by this last remark.  Treachery?  From Safire?  Impossible!  "What do you mean, Safire?"
     The Mantan frowned.  "My Lord -- what do you mean, what do I mean?"
     "I mean, man, what do you mean 'and if'?  Unless you mean what I think you mean -- in which case, I caution you, you play a dangerous game."
     Halfwit's eyes widened as he realized the meaning of the Duke's words, or at least thought he did.  "My Lord--!"
     Lotto nodded grimly.  "Precisely."
     "Um . . . precisely what, my Lord?"
     We are reduced to this, the Duke thought bitterly.  To uncertainty within uncertainty within uncertainty, gambits within gambits within gambits, redundancy within redundancy within redundancy-- 
See you in seven!


  1. (1) That visit to the spice-harvesting station is such a great sequence. I think I was hooked before this, but that scene had me spellbound. It's just such great cinema of the mind. I think as much as 98% of James Cameron's Avatar comes from this one scene.

    (2) "Leto hears her words, and Herbert gives them to us from Leto's perspective: "S'you," she gasps. I'd never noticed this before, but she is obviously trying to tell her Duke that "It's Yueh." Chilling little moment, there." Nice! Yeah totally missed this.

    (3) Some good Doon-ing this time around! This has really got to be one of the weirder parodies going. I mean, just the cover alone is a weird, expansive parody, but fleshing it out, especially, drives it home!

    1. Oh and I have no real idea about "ornithopters" either. I was curious enough to google it just now and was surprised to discover they are real things. (I recognized them upon seeing them but didn't know that's what they were called.) Why and how Herbert came to transplant them to the Duneverse I don't know.

    2. I can only assume that they must be in general use within the Dune universe, given Leto's skill in piloting one. It'd be tempting to think they were in use on Arrakis itself as a means of keeping the worms away, but the Atreides have not been on the planet long enough for Leto to learn how to use one.

      It's distinctive, though, if nothing else.

  2. The going out to the desert sequence is one of the few sequences in the David Lynch adaptation that just WORKS, partly because it adheres extremely closely to the text of the novel. With Patrick Stewart, Jurgen Prochnow, Max Von Sydow and Kyle MacLachlan all in the same set, you have some serious acting talent. And the special effects for the worm are awesome.

    Interesting trivia note : In the movie, the spice harvester operator who complains about not being able to 'leave the spice' is actually played y David Lynch himself!

    1. I actually watched that movie this weekend with a group of friends. It's ... a weird, weird movie. But a lot of it works pretty well, especially for the first hour or so. And yes, I agree: that sequence is strong.

      Overall, I think that if you've read the novel, the movie plays pretty well as a sort of living piece of fan art. Visually, a lot of it is SPECTACULAR. Some of the story changes don't work, and it's compressed to a ridiculous degree.

      But I don't think it's a complete failure, by any means.

      I did not know that about Lynch's cameo. Cool!