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Dune has single-handedly legitimized the science fiction genre. Dune has become a modern classic, encompassing many themes that remain relevant in the present day. Unlike the classics of old, Dune turns its eye to the future instead of the past, illustrating a myriad of issues that face humanity today. The journey of Paul Atreides through Arrakis and his transformation into the Muad-Dib is certainly a thrilling adventure, and the echoes of deeper themes that flow throughout the novel only add to
Dune’s significance. The interplay of science, religion, power, and fate make Dune motherfucking awesome in a way that other novels can only aspire to.
In Frank Herbert’s Dune, Paul Atreides, the son of the doomed Duke Leto Atreides, begins his life on Arrakis with a test. At the tender age of 15, Paul is pitted against the fatal gom jabbar, which challenges his humanity with agonizing pain. Immediately, this young boy – who we sense is older than his years – finds himself caught in the throes of ritual and prophecy. In the face of dire circumstances, he matures quickly, perhaps too quickly, and he is robbed of his childhood. Paul’s loss of innocence is hardly mourned; he accepts his strangeness and uses it to his advantage because he cannot survive on
Arrakis clinging to sentiment. This childhood loss of innocence is common enough in the present day. Faced by the demands of the information age, our youth must mature frighteningly quickly, lest they fall behind. In our world, as in Arrakis, there is no room for childhood.
Deprived of his innocence, Paul then journeys into the harsh Arrakeen desert with his mother. His father is dead, most of his friends and allies are dead, and he himself is believed to be dead. With the destruction of all he loves, Paul metaphorically dies and rises again as Muad-Dib, who is destined to lead the Arrakeen natives (the Fremen) to Paradise. Paul’s metaphoric rebirth combines aspects of various religions and philosophies. In accordance with Buddhism, Paul loses all his attachments and achieves
a kind of Nirvana. In accordance with Christianity, Paul rises from the dead, like Jesus, to become a Messiah. In accordance with Islam, Paul begins a jihad to lead his people to the promised land. This religious convergence in Paul is accompanied by a convergence with science. Paul attains his status as a religious figure and his supernatural prescience with the help of a drug – the spice mélange, which rules the universe. The omnipresence of mélange is identical to the omnipresence of drugs in our own lives.
Mélange fuels scientific progress such as space travel and is humanity’s shield against death. Mélange extends the lives of those who use it, and in those who use it extensively, it awakens a kind of future sight. Among the Fremen, mélange is used in rituals to awake a state of collective consciousness.
The power struggles going on throughout the universe over this singular resource, mélange, is reminiscent of modern struggles over oil. When Paul threatens to destroy the only source of the spice in the known universe, even the Emperor must concede to his demands. In doing so, Paul ascends to the throne of the known universe, powered by his monopoly over spice and by his dominion over the Fremen, who are very much like the Muslim extremists of today – they are fierce and willing to sacrifice everything in the name of an ideal. While simultaneously preserving the spice fields and the giant worms from which spice comes, Paul gives Paradise to the Fremen, slowly transforming Arrakis into a green world. Although he is able to avenge his father, obtain ultimate power, and maintain his status as an omnipotent religious figure, Paul is the victim of his own destiny. He is unable to stop the jihad he has triggered, resulting in millions and billions of deaths across the universe. Paul has power over everything in the universe except his own legend.
There is far too much in Dune to cover within five paragraphs. Themes of eugenics, incest, the role of technology, and ecology run throughout the novel, making it a pleasure to read and reread. Most of Herbert’s characters are very much human, motivated by desires and fears of every sort. The web of power and intrigue woven throughout this novel is nothing short of genius. Beyond Dune’s overarching themes and ambitions however, lies the simple fact that Dune is an entertaining, interesting read. That is reason enough why Dune is motherfucking awesome.