Sunday, October 1, 2017

They Had One Weapon Left and Both Knew It: Dune Club, Session 12

Well, y'all, here we are: our twelfth and final post on Dune.  (I say "final," but you can count on there eventually being a series of posts about the various film adaptations.  Plus, with a novel as good as this one, there's no such thing as having said it all; I didn't even scratch the surface, I just felt the itch and twitched my finger a bit.)
  
  
  
  
And it came to pass in the third year of the Desert War that Paul Muad'Dib lay alone in the Cave of Birds beneath the kiswa hangings of an inner cell.  And he lay as one dead, caught up in the revelation of the Water of Life, his being translated beyond the boundaries of time by the poison that gives life.  Thus was the prophecy made true that the Lisan al-Gaib might be both dead and alive.
  
Princess Irulan's epigraphs are almost always worthy of attention.  Some are more worthy than others, and this is one of them.  Consider the phrasing in that final sentence: "thus was the prophecy MADE true" (my emphasis).  This implies that there was a scenario in which the prophecy was not true in and of itself, which surely misses a bit of the point of a prophecy.
  
Or does it?  It's a matter that could be debated, and one could also debate whether Irulan is -- in her texts -- attempting to subconsciously hint that Muad'Dib really isn't all he's cracked up to be.
 
More thoughts from this chapter:
  
  • "This is a brave woman, my Paul's," thinks Jessica while she is preparing to tell Chani that Paul is comatose.  "She holds to the niceties even when fear is almost overwhelming her."  In a way, Jessica has a gom jabbar at Chani's neck during this scene, and Chani -- about whom Jessica soon thereafter thinks, "She'd have made a fine Bene Gesserit" -- proves herself to be quite the human.
  • Paul and Jessica share a limited sort of telepathy, akin to what the Fremen experience during a spice orgy.  Paul seems almost able to control it in this moment: "He grabbed her hand, faced her with a death's head grin, and he sent his awareness surging over her."  I (in what should be a common refrain to you by now) had never been struck by what was happening here in any previous read; but this now seems to me to be quite fantastic.  "Paul's consciousness flowed through and around her and into the darkness.  She glimpsed" [the place which the Bene Gesserit cannot go] "dimly before her mnind blanked itself away from the terror.  Without knowing why, her whole being trembled at what she had seen -- a region where a wind blew and sparks glared, where rings of light expanded and contracted, where rows of tumescent white shapes flowed over and under and around the lights, driven by darkness and a wind out of nowhere."  Jessica is awed and overwhelmed by the experience.  "Her mind still rolled and surged from the contact.  It was like stepping to solid land after weeks on a heaving sea.  She sensed the old Reverend Mother within her . . . and all the others awakened and questioning: 'What was that?  What happened?  Where was that place?' "
  • Paul explains: "There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives.  A man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it's almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man.  For a woman, the situation is reversed."  Well, there's quite a bit to unpack from that, isn't there?  And I'm going to refuse to do so!

*****

And that day dawned when Arrakis lay at the hib of the universe with the wheel poised to spin.

Irulan's rather a good writer, isn't she?

This is a good chapter, with Paul and his generals plotting to invade under cover of the enormous storm which is brewing.  We find out that Paul's son has died in a raid, and it's worth noting that we never actually meet Leto II in the narrative.  We don't even really hear that much about him.  Depending on how you look at it, this is either a narrative flaw or a reflection of the possibility that Paul more or less knew Leto II was doomed and never invested much time or love in him.  I lean toward the former judgment.

*****

And Muad'Dib stood before them, and he said: "Though we deem the captive dead, yet does she live.  For her seed is my seed and her voice is my voice.  And she sees unto the farthest reaches of possibility.  Yea, unto the vale of the unknowable does she see because of me."

Here, I think, Paul/Irulan is/are talking about Alia; some sort of reminiscence of her capture by the Harkonnens.  Have you noticed that as the novel is winding down, the epigraphs' style and language have increased greatly in religiosity?  That's no mistake; with each passing page, Paul-Muad'Dib is becoming less a man and more a God (in dawning-historical-fact sense if not in literal sense).

  • Here, Emperor Shaddam IV finally makes his literal entrance into the narrative.  The epigraphs -- and discussion of him by other characters within the narrative -- have paved the way for him quite capably.  In these last few chapters, it's quite marvelous how much Herbert is able to accomplish.  He does so by virtue of having seeded the rest of the novel well in preparation for the things he does here.
  • "And among the lackeys stood one of the Emperor's daughters, the Princess Irulan, a woman they said was being trained in the deepest of the Bene Gesserit ways, destined to be a Reverend Mother. " We are also meeting Irulan for the first time in the narrative, although she also has been a presence looming over the entire story.
  • The Baron is awestruck by the sheer spectacle of the entourage the Emperor brings with him.  The wealth such a display bespeaks renders the Baron thus struck.  During this chapter, the Emperor looms so large over the Baron -- who previously had loomed quite large in his own right -- that I almost sympathize with Harkonnen.  This is quite a deft trick Herbert has accomplished, and I'm not entirely sure how he managed it.
  • Reverend Mother Mohiam, returning to the story, is quite discomfited by Alia.  "She's in my mind," Mohiam tells Shaddam.  "She's like the ones before me, the ones who gave me their memories.  She stands in my mind!  She cannot be there, but she is!"  I have to confess that I'm a bit confused by this.  How CAN Alia be present in that way?  Granted, I don't really understand how the B.G. other-memory thing works, but can accept that.  So I accept this as well.  Shaddam is confused by what his Truthsayer is telling him, and that makes sense, because these are secret Bene Gessrit matter.  "I've said too much," Mohiam admits.
  • Here's a wonderful bit of writing: "But the Emperor stood alone now on his dais pointing toward the doors.  A forty-meter section of the hutment had been blasted away there and the selamlik's doors opened now onto drifting sand.  A dust cloud hung low over the outside world blowing from pastel distances.  Static lightning crackled from the cloud and the spark flashes of shields being shorted out by the storm's charge could be seen through the haze.  The plain surged with figures in combat -- Sardaukar and leaping gyrating robed men who seemed to come down out of the storm.  All this was as a frame for the target of the Emperor's pointing hand."
  • And another: "Out of the sand haze came an orderly mass of flashing shapes -- great rising curves with crystal spokes that resolved into the gaping mouths of sandworms, a massed wall of them, each with troops of Fremen riding to the attack.  They came in a hissing wedge, robes whipping in the wind as they cut through the melee on the plain.  Onward toward the Emperor's hutment they came while the House Sardaukar stood awed for the first time in their history by an onslaught their minds found difficult to accept."
  • There is a great -- and somewhat atypically (though wonderfully) pulpy -- moment right at the end of this chapter.  As his rule begins to crumble around him, Shaddam tells Mohiam that they must devise a plan.  "She pulled the hood from her face, met his gaze with an unblinking stare.  The look that passed between them carried complete understanding.  They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.  'Summon Count Fenring from his quarters,' the Reverend Mother said."  Boom!  Fucking great.  SO great that I almost wish Fenring was able to defeat Paul in the book's final moments; not really, but almost.

*****

He was warrior and mystic, ogre and saint, the fox and the innocent, chivalrous, ruthless, less than a god, more than a man.

  • Paul discovers that Alia can apparently speak to him from the future.  Still not entirely sure how that works, but okay, sure.
  •  Jessica thinks, "There should be a word for memories that deny themselves."  The Germans don't have us covered on this score?  They must not; seems like Herbert would have known about it.
  • "Isn't it odd how we misunderstand the hidden unity of kindness and cruelty?"
  • Paul comforts Chani over the loss of their son: " 'He cannot be replaced,' Paul said, 'but there will be other sons.  It is Usul who promises this.' "
  • Paul receives a shock when he first glimpses Count Fenring, because never once has this man appeared in his prescient visions.  This is one of the novel's many moments that would be exceptionally difficult to convey well in a filmed adaptation.  That aside, though, it's great on the page, because if this is your first time reading the novel, I think you probably get very tense.  It seems entirely possible that Fenring could indeed kill Paul here, and turn the novel into something other than what you've felt it to be.
  • "But here's a man fit to be your son," Irulan says (of Paul) to Shaddam in a terrific moment.  Again, Herbert has paved the way for this: we know that Shaddam secretly admired the Atreides, and it's logical to conclude that Irulan herself might even have done so from afar.
  • In preparing to fight Feyd, Paul finally accepts the inevitability of the jihad.  It does not matter at all whether he himself lives or dies; the jihad WILL spread.  "A sense of failure pervaded him," Herbert tells us, and again we might, as first-time readers, find cause to wonder if Feyd is about to be the victor.  But Herbert has a better trick up his sleeve than that.  Jessica secretively tells Paul that she is sure Feyd has been given Bene Gesserit imprinting, and tells her son the word that will bring Feyd down.  Then, later, as Feyd is on the verge of defeating him, Paul "strained, hearing the silence screams in his mind, his cell-stamped ancestors demanding that he use the secret word to slow Feyd-Rautha, to save himself.  'I will not say it!' Paul gasped."  This confusing moment causes Feyd to hesitate for a fraction of a second, which is enough of a window for Paul to kill him.  And so it is that Paul's life is spared only by his refusal to say a word that would, if he spoke it, bring him victory.  Wheels within wheels, that Frank Herbert.
  • Almost as good as that: the resolution of Fenring's story.  Shaddam (silently) orders Fenring to kill Paul, and the Count knows that he could do so.  Paul, looking at Fenring, realizes that he is a near-miss Kwisatz Haderach.  "A deep compassion for the Count flowed through Paul, the first sense of brotherhood he'd ever experienced."  Fenring somehow reads Paul's feelings, and refuses the Emperor's orders.  Here again is a marvelous moment that will be hell for anyone to ever properly put on film.

One of the novel's very best moments comes in its final paragraph, when Jessica consoles a despondent Chani, who is fretting over Paul's impending marriage to Irulan.  Jessica knows Paul better, and tells Chani that the princess will never have any tenderness from her husband-to-be.  "They say she has pretensions of a literary nature," Jessica says.  "Let us hope she finds solace in such things; she'll have little else."

Jessica says some other stuff, and the novel's final sentence is given to her: "While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine -- history will call us wives."  That's great, and has been a favorite line of mine for decades, but this time, that rebuke from afar -- "she'll have little else" -- hit me like a hammer.  In that moment, this entire novel is potentially recast as the story of a one-sided love affair, one in which Irulan writes book after book after book about her beloved husband, who never requites her love in any way.

It's a phenomenal final chapter all around, but that moment really clinches it for me.

Now, let's find out if National Lampoon's Doon is similarly masterful in its final pages!


 

I'm guessing not, but wouldn't that be something?

  • "The reason for it, she knew, lay in the Freedmenmen themselves.  They were a proud people, with a noble heritage tempered in untold iferce fires of persecution over centuries.  Their culture, if narrow, was deep.  Theirs was the very embodiment of a life of essentials, all traces of softness, weakness, and frivolity burned long ago to cinder by the harsh necessities of life on Doon.  They were resilient, strong, and -- within the stern code of survival forced upon them by both man and nature -- utterly honorable.  Yet, too, they were boring hicks."
  • "Jazzica had grown up on Wallach-Eli, a planet renowned for its sophistication and culture."
  • "I must be deft here, he thought.  Else all is lost, and my ass were as grass."
  • "The Emperor himself was slim, weathered-looking, clad in a jumpsuit of his family colors, black on black.  An armorial crest could be seen on his left breast pocket, the image of an invisible man."
  • It's not quoteworthy, but the "fight" between Pall and Filp-Rotha ends in amusing fashion.  The duels in this story, you may recall -- or may not, if I failed to mention it (which I might well have) -- consist not of knife fights but of insult fights.  "Rankouts," they're called.  Filp-Rotha starts to deliver his first one, and Pall pulls out a knife and throws it straight into his heart, killing him dead.  "The silence was of sufficient thickness it could be thinly sliced," Weiner tells us.  Jokes within jokes.
  • " 'There will be entrees, Spil.  This I promise,' Pall said, and held up his right hand in solmen oath.  'But we'll have to import them.  We can't grow cow one out on those sugars.' "  [I shit you not, I thought about titling this post "We Can't Grow Cow One Out on Those Sugars: Dune Club, Session 12," but managed to restrain myself.  It was a close one, though.]

And with that, we depart Arruckus, Doon, Dessert Planet ... forever?  Yes, absolutely; forever.

*****

It seemed silly to end this series on a Doon note, so we'll now dive back into Dune -- ha-ha! unexpected! -- for a brief look at the appendixes.

Appendix I: The Ecology of Dune

  • Here, you will find out specifics about the plan to reshape the surface of Arrakis to be at least partially a paradise.  I ain't no scientist, Doc, but it sounds reasonable to me, if only as fiction.
  • Here, you will also meet Pardot Kynes, the father of Liet (who, confusingly, is almost assassinated by a Fremen name Uliet, which means "Elder Liet").  There are a couple of cool scenes with him, including the origin of his affiliation with the native populace.

Appendix II: The Religion of Dune

  • "There is a fifth force which shaped religious belief, but its effect is so universal and profound that it deserves to stand alone.  This is, of course, space travel -- and in any discussion of religion, it deserves to be written thus: SPACE TRAVEL!"
  • Among other things, this appendix tells a bit of the tale of the C.E.T. (Commission of Ecumenical Translators), creators of the Orange Catholic Bible.  It's a big jolt of exposition, and reads like a massive story Herbert had in his head that he decided to just sort of hint at here.
  • If I'm not mistaken the Butlerian Jihad trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson contradicts a lot of this stuff, which is fine, because fuck those books.
  • Herbert divulges that much of Muad'Dib's religion was based directly upon the O.C. Bible, which gives some interesting shadings to Yueh's gift to him early in the novel.

Appendix III:  Report on Bene Gesserit Motives and Purposes

  • "Here follows an excerpt from the Summa prepared by her own agents at the request of the Lady Jessica immediately after the Arrakis Affair."
  • This section is a brief three pages, but it is utterly fascinating.  I'm not entirely sure I understood it, but I think it represents one of two things: (1) a faulty conclusion of inefficacy on the part of the Bene Gesserit as a whole or (2) willingly-created disinformation generated by the Bene Gesserit about themselves.  I'm not it's either of those things; this is rich stuff, and needs further contemplation.
   
There are two additional sections: one consisting of brief biographical information about some of the Noble House members who populate the novel, and one consisting of a glossary ("Terminology of the Imperium").
  
I'm not 100% sure I'd ever read any of these appendices before.  Is that possible?  Would I have skipped them on EVERY read?  I think probably so, because not one word of it seemed familiar.
  
I'll tell you now: that was a mistake.  These appendices suggest a great richness of world-building that informs not merely this novel, but the sequels that follow it.
  
A word about those sequels: I've always loved both Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, although the latter has not stuck with me in the same way as Dune or Dune Messiah.  It took me years to actually be able to finish God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune, and I mostly don't remember them well.  I've always had a bit of a sense that this was my fault as a reader, however, and based on this read of Dune I think I can say with certainty that if I don't enjoy the final three books the next time I read them, it'll be due to the books and me not getting along, and not to a failure on my part to give them proper consideration.
  
I'd love to say that I'm going to charge into them immediately and report on my progress here, but it seems unlikely to happen.  Too many fish to fry!  But I will make a commitment to do something with the rest of the series as soon as I can make the time for it.
  
Thanks for following along!

3 comments:

  1. (1) You isolated some great stretches of writing there, kudos. (And an implied Captain Obvious chapeau to Herbert himself. What a maestro.)

    (2) I'd be surprised if the Germans didn't have a word for this! But, if it exists, I don't know it.

    (3) Never having read the sequels, I'm unsure if this discussion re: wives and Irulan and what not resolves itself. I mean, the story continues of course, I just don't know exactly how to feel about it. You say "who never requites her love in any way," which lends me to believe Paul and Irulan have only the sort of houses-allying marriage of the nobility. But, don't answer any of this - I REALLY have to read the sequels, damn it!

    (4) Ah, Doon. This wacky damn thing has been a hoot for this series. Even when I haven't laughed I've marveled at just the oddity of it all.

    (4a) Is there some pun to "Wallach-Eli" I'm missing?

    (4b) "The silence was of sufficient thickness..." I read this sentence in Spock's voice. I can see him saying that, recounting a story to Dr. McCoy or something.

    (5) I loved these appendices so much when I read DUNE. That 'SPACE TRAVEL!' one in particular. The blend of Hinduism, islam, and Christianity that Herbert plays with for this future age of space-man is fascinating. I wish Joseph Campbell had published some kind of commentary on DUNE. (Maybe he did for all I know.)

    (6) Too many fish to fry indeed - I'm in the same boat, my friend. Thanks for the look back on this first one, though.

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    1. (1) Oh, indeed. And there were oodles more that I could have mentioned but didn't.

      (3) My lips are sealed.

      (4a) I think it's mentioned a few times in "Dune" (and is certainly mentioned numerous times in the sequels) that the Bene Gesserit main school is located on the planet Wallach IX. So clearly this made Ellis Weiner think of noted character actor Eli Wallach. That's the kind of nonsense I can get behind.

      (4b) If there was an audiobook of Leonard Nimoy reading "National Lampoon's Doon," I'd own three copies.

      (5) The philosophical and religious content of this novel is obviously of next-level interest. That's why I mostly steered clear of discussing it here; I'm not really up to the task, and didn't want to make it obvious that that was the case! I wonder if there is a resource out there for studying Herbert's books from that vantage point. There must be.

      (6) My pleasure! Literally. And, by the way, Comic Book Girl 19 has archived all of her talks and Q&As on the books, so if one were inclined to look those up, there's about 24 hours worth of exploration on the subject available.

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  2. (4) Ohhhhhh.... (lightbulb clicks on.) That's pretty good! (And 4a - ditto.)

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