Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert

By Timothy O'Reilly
Copyright 1981 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.

This book is no longer in print.

 


Chapter 4: The Hero

In his classic work, Heroes and Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History, nineteenth-century English historian Thomas Carlyle likened the conditions that bring forth a hero

to dry dead fuel, waiting for the lightning out of heaven that shall kindle it. The great man . . . is the lightning. . . . Those are critics of small vision, I think, who cry: "See, is it not the sticks that made the fire?"

Paul's reception as a messiah among the Fremen and their consequent outpouring into the galaxy has been shown to be a culmination of social, psychological, and even biological factors. But one would indeed be a "critic of small vision" to leave it at that. Herbert's detailed creation of the desert world comprises only the "dry sticks" of Carlyle's image; Paul provides the essential spark. The sincerity and wisdom of Paul's visionary quest, together with the realistic "technology" of consciousness described in the story, ignite the heroic conflagration.

The fundamental fact of history in Herbert's galactic Imperium is the Butlerian Jihad, in which men turned against computers and other "thinking machines." The primary commandment of this "Great Revolt" was "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of man's mind." Specialized training for humans came to replace outlawed computer functions. As a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit instructs Paul in the first scene of the novel, "it forced human minds to develop. Schools were developed to train human talents.

The original idea for the Butlerian Jihad may have come to Herbert as a direct result of the fear of computers in our own culture. In an article written for the San Francisco Examiner in 1968 (admittedly a number of years after Dune), Herbert imagined a look back in time from 2068 and prophesied a similar revolt in our own immediate future:

Prominent in 2068 history books is the account of the violence at the turn of the century when people revolted against computer control. Computer stored data (growing out of the old National Data Center) had been used to harass and persecute those whose views didn't conform with those of the majority. In the bloody revolt, most computers were destroyed, their data erased.

What he is showing in Dune, however, is not just the possibility of popular revulsion against thinking machines and their dangers. The Butlerian Jihad was the birth agony of a new science of the subjective. In our culture, individuals are trained to believe the evidence of mechanical measuring devices rather than their own senses. A feverish patient believes a thermometer, not his own discomfort. Millions give up the doubts of their own feeble addition to the magical certainty of electronic calculators. But the Bene Gesserit have rejected all reliance on external devices as a substitute for subjective knowledge. They, and those trained in other post-Butlerian disciplines, such as the Mentats and the Spacing Guild navigators, have learned to trust the knowledge available to their own inner awareness.

In the Empire, Mentats have been trained to store vast amounts of data and to calculate probabilities on the basis of past performance. They are human computers. But even the Mentats operate by a kind of intuitive process, like so-called idiot-savants of our own day--unlettered mathematical geniuses who cannot explain how they do what they do. The Mentats have transformed what was once a freak ability into a teachable skill by applying to psychology discoveries originating in physics and the other hard sciences. The "First Law of Mentat" reads like a translation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle into the world of consciousness. The "law" helps the pedestrian mind expand its limits by reminding it of its inability to grasp everything it touches:

A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.

The Spacing Guild, which established its monopoly on interstellar transport soon after the Butlerian Jihad, likewise uses mind expansion techniques. Intense training in higher mathematics is combined with the use of melange to provide the limited prescience needed to envision time-warping safety factors for interstellar flight. As for the Bene Gesserit, they have joined together all the arts that used to be described as magic, yoga, and the esoteric depths behind religion.

The key ingredient in the Bene Gesserit science, as Paul recalls from his early lessons, is "to be conscious by choice":

The human requires a background grid through which to see his universe. . . focused consciousness by choice, this forms your grid.

In other words, the fundamental Bene Gesserit discipline is a heightening of what phenomenologists call the "intentionality" of perception. Herbert is fond of the observation that students learning to read X-ray plates "almost universally.., demonstrate an inability to distinguish between what is shown on the plate and what they believe will be shown. They see things that are not there." Perception is an active process, in which human beings choose from a vast array of sensory input and organize it into recognizable forms. In most cases this is also an unconscious process. The result is what appear to be perceptual screens or filters, based on past training and experience, through which only certain information will pass. Stimuli that do not match a preconceived model are rejected.

Much of the Bene Gesserit technology of consciousness is based on the insights of general semantics, a philosophy and training method developed in the 1930s by Alfred Korzybski. Herbert had studied general semantics in San Francisco at about the time he was writing Dune. (At one point, he worked as a ghostwriter for a nationally syndicated column by S. I. Hayakawa, one of the foremost proponents of general semantics.) Korzybski's argument was that people confuse words with the things they represent, and that as long as they do so they are trapped by the assumptions and old "semantic reactions" of their language. He observed that our everyday use of language--particularly of the verb "to be"--does not accurately reflect what we now know about perception: that it is a process of abstraction (things are not the same as our experience of them, words are not experiences, and certainly not the things they represent) and that more and more of the qualities of a thing are left out as one ascends the ladder from object to label. We violate what Korzybski called the "consciousness of abstracting" every time we say "This is a rose, rather than "This is called a rose.

Korzybski argued that language must be viewed as a map, which is useful only insofar as it is similar in structure to the world it describes. He stressed the importance of questioning the unconscious assumptions built into our language, and urged a response to life on the basis of fresh, "first-order" experience rather than the old experiences that have been crystallized in words and concepts.

The importance of general semantics in Herbert's work is twofold. First, it emphasized the importance of language and other cultural givens in providing a fundamental, unconscious structure for human thought and behavior; and second, it insisted that it was possible to train human beings into new semantic habits and an orientation toward first-order experience. The role of these concepts in Dune is obvious. But in the Bene Gesserit, Herbert has taken the concepts of general semantics one step further, combining them with yoga, Zen, a kind of internal body awareness that was later to be associated with biofeedback and nonverbal communication. Korzybski's study of the human abstracting process provides a conceptual umbrella that ties these diverse sciences together in a way that current scientists would do well to look at.

By making conscious the process of abstraction, the Bene Gesserit have turned it around, They are no longer prisoners, but masters, of their own perceptions. This conquest of perception is the key to both their "prana-bindu" training in Yogic inner control and their observational skills. "'Humans can override any nerve in the body,' sniffed the Reverend Mother" after Paul's gom jabbar ordeal. The Bene Gesserit have also come to identify many subtle cues--genetic lines in the face and body, nonverbal behavior, character strength or weakness--that are usually filtered out or at best vaguely perceived by the untrained mind. And so they have built up a "language" of nonverbal perception with which they can find meaningful patterns in minutiae of behavior.

The intelligence and scientific accuracy with which Herbert combined ideas from general semantics, Oriental disciplines, and nonverbal communication to shape the Bene Gesserit skills is particularly striking because Dune was written in 1963. It is predictive science fiction of the best kind. Oriental religion had not yet become widely popular in the West; only the most primitive biofeedback experiments were being conducted, and even those were being scoffed at by most scientists. Nonverbal communication was a little-known branch of ethnography. Altered states of consciousness were not considered a fit subject for research.

It is a masterwork of imaginative science to proceed from such small beginnings to their flowering in Dune. The touchstone of their brilliance is not only that they have proved predictive, but that they seem obvious in retrospect. For even though the power of Voice is still beyond current scientific belief, it is so soundly based that one has no doubt of its possibility. In fact, Herbert says, "we do it all the time." He adds:

I'll give you an example. I'm going to describe a man to you, and I'm going to give you the task of controlling him by voice after I've described him. This is a man who was in World War I as a sergeant, came home to his small town in the midwest, married his childhood sweetheart and went into his father's business, raised two children whom he didn't understand Now, on the telephone, strictly by voice, I want you to make him mad.... Simplest thing in the world! Now, I've drawn a gross caricature, but we're saying that if you know the individual well enough, if you know the subtleties of his strengths and weaknesses, that merely by the way you cast your voice, by the words you select, you can control him. Now if you can do it in a gross way, obviously with refinement you can do it in a much more subtle fashion.

Put this way, the concept is obvious. Herbert's skill resides in the ability to combine this notion with a character sufficiently perceptive to independently deduce such determining characteristics. This is the kind of perceptual legerdemain Sherlock Holmes made famous. And while there is no record of Dune fan groups like Holmes's "Baker Street Irregulars," there might well be. Herbert's technology of consciousness is so nearly an extrapolation from the self- evident that it gives the reader at least the illusion (perhaps more) that he can learn techniques of heightened awareness for himself. And it gives many the itch to try

In the first pages of the novel, Paul's hyperconsciousness is gradually and irrevocably impressed on the reader. Paul has just awakened from sleep, a boy restless with the excitement of imminent change. Arrakis! In the turmoil between sleep and waking, his mind grinds over and over what little he knows of the desert planet. Strange names and places are brought down to earth by the familiarity of the everyday experience of awakening. But as Paul rouses, it becomes apparent that he is no ordinary fifteen-year-old:

Paul sensed his own tensions, decided to practice one of the mind-body lessons his mother had taught him. Three quick breaths triggered the responses: he fell into the floating awareness ... focusing the consciousness . . . aortal dilation ... avoiding the unfocused mechanism of consciousness . . . to be conscious by choice.

He need not be at the mercy of the thought process or the tensions of the body. Paul is also extremely perceptive. When his mother comes in to prepare him for an unexpected morning interview with a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother,

he studied the tallness of her, saw the hint of tension in her shoulders as she chose clothing for him from the clothes racks. Another might have missed the tension, but she had trained him in the Bene Gesserit way--in the minutiae of observation.

This heightened perception, applied not only to nonverbal cues but to nuances of meaning in every occurrence, places Paul and the reader in an unusual rapport. The first scene is charged with detail; the reader does not see Paul's surroundings as if they have been described to him by an impersonal narrator, but through Paul's swift observations. Even more than in Under Pressure, nothing in the scene "just happens." It happens to Paul, is noted, evaluated, and changed by his response. Paul appears to live continually in those moments of stress or inspiration when human mental processes seem to accelerate and intensify. Later in the novel, when Paul must locate Jessica, who is buried within a sandslide, it seems hardly beyond his everyday abilities.

In the Bene Gesserit way she had taught him, Paul stilled the savage beating of his heart, set his mind as a blank slate upon which the past few moments could write themselves. Every partial shift and twist of the slide replayed itself in his memory, moving with an interior stateliness that contrasted with the fractional second of real time required for the total recall.

Presently, Paul moved slantwise up the slope, probing cautiously. ... He began to dig, moving the sand with care not to dislodge another slide. A piece of fabric came under his hands. He followed it, found an arm. Gently, he traced the arm, exposed her face.

To appreciate the full impact of Herbert's portrayal of hyperconsciousness, it is important to remember that Paul is not the only character who possesses it. His mother Jessica shares his Bene Gesserit sensitivity to mood, events, and nuances of meaning, as does the Reverend Mother in her brief appearance. The Bene Gesserit themselves are not the only source of Paul's largeness of Vision. The Atreides have developed the warrior mentality to its peak. Subtle hand signals, invisible to the uninitiated, convey strategic information. Paul's father, Duke Leto, has a different style of awareness than his mother, but it too is extraordinary by our standards. Leto's roving mind continually assesses strategic possibilities, the degree of friendship and enmity in those he meets. He does not know how to control his inner states in the Bene Gesserit fashion, but he does know men. Such leadership as he possesses can be founded only on keen insight.

Leto's greatest attribute, however, is the pure force of his character. Paul experienced a sense of presence in his father, someone totally here." Paul has inherited this remarkable Atreides presence in full. After Leto has been killed, Paul goes to the Fremen Planetologist Kynes for support:

"From the throne," Paul said, "I could make a paradise of Arrakis with the wave of a hand. This is the coin I offer you for your support."

Kynes stiffened. "My loyalty's not for sale, Sire."

Paul stared across the desk at him, meeting the cold glare of those blue-within-blue eyes, studying the bearded face, the commanding appearance. A harsh smile touched Paul's lips as he said: "Well spoken. I apologize."

Kynes met Paul's stare and, presently, said: "No Harkonnen ever admitted error. Perhaps you're not like them, Atreides." "It could be a fault in their education," Paul said. "You say you're not for sale, but I believe I've the coin you'll accept. For your loyalty I offer my loyalty to you ... totally."

My son has the Atreides sincerity, Jessica thought. He has that tremendous, almost naive honor--and what a powerful force that truly is.

She saw that Paul's words had shaken Kynes.

"This is nonsense," Kynes said. "You're just a boy and--"

"I'm the Duke," Paul said, "I'm an Atreides. No Atreides has ever broken such a bond." Kynes swallowed.

"When I say totally," Paul said, "I mean without reservation. I would give my life for you."

"Sire!" Kynes said, and the word was torn from him, but Jessica saw that he was not now speaking to a boy of fifteen, but to a man, to a superior. Now Kynes meant the word.

In this scene, Herbert reveals what a keen grasp he has of interpersonal relations and the dynamics of leadership. Kynes is himself a leader, the son of the ecologist who first dreamed of the transformation and the one man who can command all the Fremen on Arrakis. He is not only Fremen, with all that implies, but has the sophistication of the Imperium. And he has so steeped himself in the language of the planet and the philosophy of ecological interconnectedness that he has a unique long-term, planetwide perspective on all that occurs. He is strong, arrogant, secure in his sense of self. But in their interchange, the two measure themselves against each other. A nonverbal as well as a verbal confrontation ensues, a kind of intangible assessment of spiritual force. When the balance of power shifts from Kynes to Paul, it is an event neither can deny.

As Paul surpasses Kynes, he also leaves behind his father and even the Bene Gesserit arts. The essence of Paul's tremendous appeal as a hero is that he starts out on a level of awareness and power that would fulfill most readers' wildest dreams, and goes on from there. Such attainments are only the baseline of the novel. Most of the major characters are supermen by our standards. Paul is a hero among heroes, wisest among the wise. Herbert avoids the stereotyped dualism of most science-fiction superman stories, in which the enlightened, lonely hero stands against the undistinguished mass. In Dune, heightened awareness is a spectrum along which many different kinds of knowledge have a place. This spectrum allows Herbert to make Paul both an exemplar and a critic of all the elements that make him what he is.

With reference to the Bene Gesserit teachings, one can see that there is a drawback to "focused consciousness." As Herbert, who is a seasoned photographer, explains it, "As you bring a focus into sharpness (and call the focus consciousness), you also throw more out of focus." The Bene Gesserit forget that their observations are made at only one level of attention. What have they left out? They are trying to tailor a safe future for the race. But Paul's mission, as we have seen, is not to build an ever-tighter system of conscious control, but to unleash the unconscious and uncontrolled in such a way that the race will be tested and brought to a new level of self-awareness and integration. When he is first told about the Kwisatz Haderach, Paul says, "What's that, a human gom jabbar?" And at the end of the novel, when he confronts the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam at the defeated Emperor's side, he taunts her with the same observation. He is the instrument by which he hopes the race can discover its humanity--not through the repression of pain in perfect control, but by a deeper interpretation of the Bene Gesserit lessons. "Consciousness by choice" was the fundamental principle. Paul's interpretation calls for a conscious entering into the unknown. The Bene Gesserit have been corrupted by their abilities into an arrogance such as Ramsey displayed in Under Pressure. Any system or method of control neglects certain factors, and gradually the pressure of what has been neglected increases sufficiently to topple the system. Only by leaving room for the unknown and for change is there a chance for success. One's control must be self-control, an ability to respond to events rather than to determine them.

Paul's criticism is made clearest in his thoughts about the Spacing Guild. Like him, they practice prescience, but they represent a temptation--and a warning.

He thought about the Guild--the force that had specialized for so long that it had become a parasite, unable to exist independently of the life upon which it fed. They had never dared to grasp the sword ... and now they could not grasp it. They might have taken Arrakis when they realized the error of specializing on the melange awareness-spectrum narcotic for their navigators. They could have done this, lived their glorious day and died. Instead, they'd existed from moment to moment, hoping the seas in which they swam might produce a new host when the old one died.

The Guild navigators, gifted with limited prescience, had made the fatal decision: they'd chosen always the clear, safe course that leads ever downward into stagnation.

The complete folly of using prescience to chart only the safest course to the future shows most clearly just before the Emperor's defeat. The two Guild navigators accompanying the Emperor remark that their vision does not tell them how the battle will go. "But then this Muad'Dib cannot know either," one of them adds. The Emperor is shocked: "Were these two so dependent on their faculty that they had lost the use of their eyes and their reason? Any one response to the universe, however powerful, becomes inappropriate with time and change. Those who become utterly dependent on one means of mastery will find them- selves unable to cope with the future.

This loss of perspective is not necessary, as the photographer in Herbert also knows. The ultimate background is infinity. This is Paul's reminder to the Bene Gesserit and all the other wisdom schools of the Imperium: Focus on infinity. Do not commit yourself irrevocably to a single vision.

Paul does not have this wisdom from the beginning, however. Although he has certain intuitive reactions to the Bene Gesserit that indicate his potential to surpass them, he does not immediately do so. He is still under the guidance and protection of his mother, who is, for all her renegade status, a Bene Gesserit. Only gradually does he claim independence from her. After his father's murder, when he and Jessica have joined the Fremen, Paul enters new territory where he must now draw his own conclusions. He has been trained to do this by his father, who had reflected:

The truth could be worse than he imagines, but even dangerous facts are valuable if you've been trained to deal with them. And there's one place where nothing has been spared for my son-- dealing with dangerous facts.

This is perhaps Leto's most important contribution to his son s character: the Atreides are risk-takers. In a static political structure founded on rigid class distinctions and rituals for change (even assassination has rules!), they are willing to throw everything in the air on a single toss of the dice, hoping that whatever happens will be an improvement on the old.

The willingness to take risks may even be something of a principle for Paul. After his military victory over the Emperor, when the galaxy is at his feet, he is challenged to personal combat by Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, the nephew and heir of the Baron-- and he accepts the challenge.

Paul . . . felt a harlequin abandon take over his emotions. He slipped his robe and hood from his shoulders, handed them to his mother with his belt and crysknife, began unstrapping his stillsuit. He sensed now that the universe focused on this moment.

"There's no need for this," Jessica said. "There are easier ways, Paul."

Paul stepped out of his stillsuit, slipped the crysknife from the sheath in his mother's hand. "I know," he said. "Poison, an assassin, all the old familiar ways.

The rot in the Empire--to which Paul's jihad was a reaction-- is its rigidity and distance from the realities of life and death. The willing assumption of personal risk is one of the primary elements that distinguishes Paul from the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild; it saves him from the trap of limited focus into which they have fallen. They try to shape events without truly becoming involved in them. Paul is willing to become the axis of events, with all the danger that it entails.

The knowledge that life demands risk is also Paul's meeting point with the Fremen, who thrive outside the "ordered security" of the Imperium. The entirety of Arrakis is the kind of dangerous reality Paul's father had trained him to embrace. "You never talk of likelihoods on Arrakis. You speak only of possibilities," says Kynes. Apart from the planet's real dangers, fearsome even to those accustomed to them, so much is mysterious to the offworlders. Most of the planet is unexplored and believed uninhabited. The garrison cities of the Harkonnens huddle in one small area behind a wall of cliffs that protects them from the storms and the great sandworms of the deep desert. The outer ergs are regarded as places of death.

Huge flying carriers transport the machinery required for melange harvesting to the desert for the few minutes available before a sandworm is drawn to destroy it. Speed is of the utmost necessity. In one terrifying scene, the "carryall" is diverted by Harkonnen treachery, leaving a spice factory stranded.

Flecks of dust shadowed the sand around the crawler now. The big machine began to tip down to the right. A gigantic sand whirlpool began forming there to the right of the crawler. It moved faster and faster. Sand and dust filled the air now for hundreds of meters around.

Then they saw it!

A wide hole emerged from the sand. Sunlight flashed from glistening white spokes within it. The hole's diameter was at least twice the length of the crawler, Paul estimated. He watched as the machine slid into that opening in a billow of dust and sand.

Few outsiders know that Fremen are so numerous or that they have made this fearsome country beyond the shield wall their home. The Harkonnens treat them simply as rabble living at the edge of their enclaves. Leto has suspected more, but it is Paul who first penetrates the mystery. Two men were left on the ground when the crawler was abandoned to the worm. Kynes pretends that the men cannot be rescued, but Paul notes that they do not seem to need help.

Fremen! Paul thought. Who else would be so sure on the sand?

Who else might be left out of your worries as a matter of course-- because they are in no danger? They know how to live here! They know how to outwit the worm!

When he comes among the Fremen, Paul must learn the laws of desert survival--"stillsuit integrity," and how to deal with sand conditions ranging from compact "drum sand," on which a single step will boom out a call to a worm, to dust basins that can swallow a man without a trace. Perhaps most important for outsiders is how to live with the omnipresent sandworm. The first lesson is "sandwalking," a noiseless, arhythmic glide that emulates the natural sounds of the desert. The second technique is the great Fremen secret, and cherished test of manhood-- "sandriding." The Fremen deliberately lure a worm with a mechanical "thumper," then actually mount it and force it to carry them across the desert. Paul has become the guerilla leader of all the Fremen, but until he has learned to master the worm, he is not truly one of them:

Paul waited on the sand outside the gigantic maker's line of approach. Surface dust swept across him. He steadied himself, his world dominated by the passage of that sand-clouded curving wall, that segmented cliff, the ring lines sharply defined in it.

Paul lifted his hooks, sighted along them, leaned in. He felt them bite and pull. He leaped upward, planting his feet against that wall, leaning out against the clinging barbs. This was the true instant of the testing: if he had planted the hooks correctly at the leading edge of a ring segment the worm would not roll down and crush him.

The worm slowed. It glided across the thumper, silencing it. Slowly, it began to roll--up, up--bringing those irritant barbs as high as possible, away from the sand that threatened the soft inner lapping of its ring segment.

Paul found himself riding atop the worm.

Living among the Fremen teaches Paul the fragility of life in a way that the Atreides, for all their warlike arts, could not. There are a thousand ways of death on Arrakis. In this context, many of the moral principles Paul has learned in the Imperium are no longer appropriate. Leto valued the lives of his men more than almost any other consideration But one cannot afford gestures when survival is at such a premium. Death comes easily, and one must be willing to take life easily. Paul notes that "Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife--chopping off what's incomplete and saying, 'Now, it's complete because it's ended here.'" Strangers, or the badly wounded, are often killed for water distilled from their flesh. The survival of the group is more important than any one individual. This Fremen attitude sets the stage for Paul's eventual acceptance of the jihad.

Another gift Arrakis gives to Paul is its unique brand of ecological wisdom. In picking up the banner of the Fremen ecological crusade, Paul cannot help but be shaped by it. He already has a good measure of ecological sophistication when he comes to Arrakis, as he demonstrates at a banquet given by his father soon after their arrival. Sensing that the Arrakeen notables gathered around the table are not truly his friends, Paul points this out with an ecological analogy. "The worst potential competition for any young organism can come from its own kind," he notes. "They have the same basic requirements."

Kynes applauds Paul's insight, saying, "It's a rule of ecology that the young Master appears to understand quite well. The struggle between life elements is the struggle for the free energy of a system." What is most important about this scene is not simply Paul's understanding of ecology, but that he is already applying its insights to human behavior. Together, with genetics (which has been called its twin science), ecology forms the scientific basis of Paul's philosophy.

The role of genetics in Paul's ideas has been explored in the previous chapter. Paul's Bene Gesserit legacy as well as his spice vision enabled him to see the jihad as a species-demand for genetic redistribution after the forced stultification of the Empire's caste system. But it was life on Arrakis that forced into bloom Paul's sense of ecology's demands on human affairs. Arrakis requires a willingness to flow with the environment rather than opposes and seek control of it. The Fremen acceptance of death illustrates that willingness, for death is important in maintaining ecological balance. Nature is prolific but (to use Blake's eloquent phrasing) "the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer, as a sea, received the excess of his delights."

Plans for the ecological transformation of Arrakis demand a long-term view of events. Sandworms, spice, and water are intimately connected. Short-term, local solutions cannot solve the global problems of their coexistence. Whole-systems thinking, which is central to ecology, is one of the most distinctive elements of Paul's entire philosophy.

It is important to note, however, that much of the conventional ecological wisdom that eventually comes to be associated with Paul is actually spoken by Liet Kynes, the Fremen planetologist, and by his father Pardot Kynes, whose life is described in an appendix. Paul picks up the ecological "charisma" by a kind of resonance in the mind of the reader. Ironically, Kynes, who was won to the Atreides banner after initial dislike, later realizes that to give Paul his blessing was a grave error. It costs him his life; he is abandoned in the deep desert without a stillsuit when the Sardaukar learn he has aided Paul. Even worse, it undermines two generations of ecological effort. It maintains only the appearance of fulfilling the dream. Wasting away in thirsty delirium, Kynes seems to see the mocking shade of his father telling him: "No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero." What was envisioned as a gradual process--500 years of careful change contained by continual experimentation and the possibility of stopping at any point--will become a juggernaut. Once it is accelerated for ulterior purposes, it will no longer be a self-correcting process. Paul's crusade is likely to result in an ecological disaster for the planet.

However, at the same moment that Kynes, in his delirium, is undercutting Paul's claim to be a valid ecological prophet, he reveals himself to have a vision as fixated on control as the Bene Gesserit or the Spacing Guild. "'Religion and law among our masses must be one and the same,' his father said. 'An act of disobedience must be a sin and require religious penalties.'" Although Paul's jihad may be inimical to the ecology of Arrakis, it nonetheless incorporates a vision of human freedom based on a still deeper sense of how nature works. Kynes seems to realize this in the last moments before "his planet killed him": "His father and all the other scientists were wrong . . . the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error." And it is on a regard for such unpredictability that Paul has based all his wisdom.

The Fremen experience molded Paul's Atreides character and his heightened awareness learned from the Bene Gesserit into something profoundly different. The other shaping force on Arrakis was of course melange. Combined with his Bene Gesserit genes, the spice triggered Patil's power to foresee the future.

After his father has been killed, but before he and Jessica have found refuge with the Fremen (the two of them are alone in the desert), Paul's mind bursts into a state of hyperawareness shocking even to him. The knowledge of his father's death and his inheritance of the mantle of action has provided the trigger to awaken his latent Mentat skills:

that . . . place somewhere separated from his mind . . . went on in its steady pace--dealing with data, evaluating, computing, submitting answers in something like the Mentat way.. It went on about its business no matter what he wanted. It recorded miniscule shades of difference around him--a slight change in moisture, a fractional fall in temperature, the progress of an insect across their stilltent roof, the solemn approach of dawn in the starlighted patch of sky lie could see out of the tent's transparent end.

This Mentat precision of observation and calculation, augmented by Bene Gesserit sensitivity, is only part of what happens, as the ubiquitous spice makes its influence known:

Abruptly, as though he had found a necessary key, Paul's mind climbed another notch in awareness. He felt himself clinging to this new level, clutching at a precarious hold and peering about. It was as though he existed within a globe with avenues radiating away in all directions . . . yet this only approximated the sensation.

He remembered once seeing a gauze kerchief blowing in the wind and now he sensed the future as though it twisted across some surface as undulant and impermanent as the windblown kerchief

Paul's earlier prescient dreams, in which he saw events and knew them as future truth, have given way to something far more powerful--and more dangerous. There is no sureness anymore, only contingency. Each action bears a freight of possibility that must be weighed and chosen. There is also a more important consideration, "a sense of mystery." The vision is not complete. Like the windblown kerchief, only the undulating surface is visible; what is clear one moment may be hidden the next. Everything changes. The Mentat and Bene Gesserit sense of the future is too linear and above all too controlled to embrace this vision.

Throughout his subsequent time on Arrakis, Paul learns to live with the vision's uncertainty. As they cross a patch of bare desert, Paul and Jessica, as yet untrained in Fremen sandwalking rhythms, draw pursuit from a worm. They reached solid rock just in time:

The mouth snaked toward the narrow crack where Paul and Jessica huddled. Cinnamon yelled in their nostrils. Moonlight flashed from crystal teeth..

Paul felt a kind of elation. In some recent instant, he had crossed a time barrier into more unknown territory. He could sense the darkness ahead, nothing revealed to his inner eye. It was as though some step he had taken had plunged him into a well . . . or into the trough of a wave where the future was invisible. . . Instead of frightening him, the sense of time-darkness forced a hyper-acceleration of his other senses.

This is Paul's first and most important discovery about the vision: when so much is known, it is the unknown that is the most powerful stimulus. Although later events place demands on his prophetic knowledge, his teachings will always emphasize to his followers the overriding importance of the unknown.

Paul's leadership of the Fremen forces him to rely more and more heavily on prescience. As his body acquires a tolerance to melange, his visions fade, and he must face the true test of whether or not he is the Kwisatz Haderach. He takes the Fremen equivalent of the Truthsayer drug: the Water of Life, a poisonous spice-exhalation of a drowned sandworm. This substance is changed on a molecular level by the internal control of a Reverend Mother into a nonpoisonous form, at which point it is used in the religious rites of the Fremen. Whoever endures the process of that change experiences the most potent catalyst to awareness ever known. No man has ever before survived it. After ingesting the untreated Water of Life, Paul is thrown into a visionary experience so intense that three weeks of trance pass in what seem moments to him. He has uncovered the true experience of the Kwisatz Haderach.

Paul said: "There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient place 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 becoming something other than man. For a woman the situation is reversed.... The greatest peril to the Giver is the force that takes. The greatest peril to the Taker is the force that gives. It's as easy to be overwhelmed by giving as by taking."

"And you, my son," Jessica asked, "are you one who gives or one who takes?"

''I'm at the fulcrum," he said.

The meaning of the revelation relates to the psychology of power. Taking and giving are both uses of power; one either seeks mastery over things of the world, or one yields to them. The Baron Harkonnen, demonstrating a pathological form of taking, seeks a false mastery in sadism. Conversely, pathological submission may take the form of fanatical devotion to a leader or a creed, as with the Fedaykin death commandos.

The Atreides show a more positive use of the path of mastery. They rule not by fear and raw power, but by love and loyalty and courage. Nonetheless, Duke Leto takes the allegiance of his men by these virtues, no less than the Baron does by his own twisted means. The Bene Gesserit serve an example of a more positive extreme of the giving tendency. "That which submits rules," the Reverend Mother tells Paul. The Sisterhood seeks to rule by opening the way, by submitting, in a sense, and so leading. The Voice, for instance, can be used for command, as Jessica did with Hawat, but most often it is used to lead its victims to a fatal misstep, while they continue to believe they are in control.

Some time in the distant past of their order, the Bene Gesserit saw that "Power [is] a two edged sword" and that to wield either blade was to deny the other. They chose their "passive" way, planning at the same time to breed a superbeing who could use both extremes of power at once. Paul discovers, however, that he has not only the abilities of both modes but the limitations of each. The Kwisatz Haderach is not a synthesis but a balance point. Paul cannot give without taking and [he] cannot take without [giving].''

This pattern retroactively becomes visible throughout the book. To gain Arrakis, the Atreides had to leave Caladan. To gain maturity Paul must lose innocence. After he has taken the life of Jamis, Paul grieves and, in a moving scene, "gives moisture to the dead." When he gives the Fremen a cause and a victory, he takes away their old way of life. This is why Paul's prescience is always so difficult. Each decision creates both success and failure. Paul is no impersonal future-manager, no scientific visionary. He has neither the Bene Gesserit skill of noninvolvement nor their dream of a man who could actively take the reins of power. "'I'm at the fulcrum,' he said." Everything passes through him and is shaped by him, yet he sees so much that is inevitable and cannot be changed by his will. This central paradox of action and inaction shapes his religion more than any other factor. At the pinnacle of control, he finds an inability to control; and at the pinnacle of surrender to transpersonal forces, he finds he is the one who shapes. He is both and neither.

And in this moment of realization, the climax of Paul's inner life, the outer battle with the Imperial forces is joined as well. Jessica asks him if lie's seen the future. "Not the future," he replies. "I've seen the Now." The future is no longer open. All depends on ever-narrowing possibilities, and "all paths lead into darkness." Neither he nor the Guildsmen can see ahead any longer. Success will belong, like it always does in the end, to he who can act most fully on the present. This confirms what Paul had suspected earlier:

The prescience was an illumination that incorporated the limits of what it revealed--at once a source of accuracy and meaningful error. A kind of Heisenberg indeterminacy intervened: the expenditure of energy that revealed what he saw, changed what he saw.

At this same moment of realization Paul ceases to resist the jihad. Up to this point, he had been riding the rising storm of his mission, hoping at some crucial juncture to find a safe path to turn aside from it. Now he sees that its inevitability is not the culmination of localized political and social forces, which he could hope to manipulate, but a species-wide demand. He must sacrifice his civilized abhorrence and submit to biology.

Out of all his experiences, Paul distills a religion that never mentions God, but which is suffused with a sense of the mystery of the universe. It is a religion of "self-development, in the Zen sense," such as Herbert claims for himself. Paul has tasted power and learned that it can never be sufficient to ensure the absolute control over circumstances that the heart desires. The human race itself, on the deepest level, mirrors the flux of the universe. Change, not stability, is the key to cosmic process. Man's aim must be to align himself with that process, and to train himself to flow with it.

At the same time, however, Paul recognizes man's continual attempts to enforce order on that shifting ground, and knows that his religion, like all other faiths, is itself such an attempt. His philosophy is not what moves millions of Fremen, and ultimately the known universe; they are inspired rather by Paul himself, the prophet, and by the earthly paradise in store for true believers. As is often the case, the teachings of the religion and its psychological focus are not identical. The success of Paul's prophetic mission results, in fact, from the failure of his followers to understand his teachings. There is an incompatibility between the prophet as seer and as a moral teacher. Those who venerate him for his powers can give no more than lip service to his message. Because Paul recognizes this ambiguity, his message is an ironic commentary on his adherents' beliefs.

In spite of his doubts--and perhaps partly because of them-- Paul is convincing as a visionary. His utterances have a profundity based on ancient philosophies and modern science. In addition, Dune mirrors aspects of our own culture--uncertainty, ecology, and heightened consciousness are all becoming matters of public concern--and so its lessons are particularly applicable to the reader's own life.

Herbert's treatment of heightened awareness is as exciting and authentic as his much-praised ecology. His concepts are thoroughly researched and well thought out. The use of melange, and its more powerful relative, the Water of Life, plays a large part in establishing this realism. Valued in the Empire for its geriatric, health-giving properties, melange is also a mild stimulant, and in large quantities a unique hallucinogen. "It's like life, it presents a different face each time you take it," notes the Atreides physician, Dr. Yueh. Melange triggers Patil's time vision and is used by both the Steersmen of the Spacing Guild and the Reverend Mothers of the Bene Gesserit to heighten their awareness.

The many faces of melange reflect Herbert's own first experience with hallucinogenic drugs. On his first trip to Mexico in 1953, he was required to get official permission for the extended stay he desired. After the interview, the general with whom he had met called in a servant, who brought a tray of panocha, a brown-sugar candy. Innocently, Herbert took two. Only later did he learn that the candies were compounded with the finest North African hashish. He had no idea what was happening. His only similar experience was drunkenness, so he felt and acted drunk. This occurrence convinced Herbert of the enormous power of expectation in shaping drug experience. And so, to the Fremen melange is one thing; to the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild it is another; and to Paul, yet another.

The experiences the Water of Life provokes among the Fremen were probably suggested to Herbert by peyote or other naturally occurring hallucinogens used by American Indians in their religious rites. As noted earlier, the Fremen were modeled in part on the Navajo and other Indians of the Southwest. As with the Arabs, Herbert's borrowings are accurate but selective. He has carefully reproduced certain elements of the culture, modified others to suit subtle purposes, and omitted others entirely. In this case he uses his selections to make an important point about drug use.

There are two principal traditions in native American use of hallucinogens. In ancient times, they were used by many tribes in a number of shamanic contexts--divination, initiation into manhood, healing. But in the "Native American church," which emerged in North America in the 1880s, peyote served an additional purpose. Replacing such militaristic rituals as the ghost dance, the peyote religion helped the Indians accommodate themselves to the inevitable takeover of their lands by the white man. It may have become a form of social control, a safety valve for the pressures of the untenable situation in which they had been placed--and possibly the model for the Fremen "mysticism of the oppressed.

Among the Fremen, the Water of Life is the stimulus for a ritual with certain similarities to the modern Indian rites. "'When the tribe shares the Water,' Chani said, 'we're together--all of us. We . . . share. I can . . . sense the others with me.'" The Water establishes a mystical closeness, releases inhibitions, and gives the Fremen a measure of relief from the tensions of life in the crowded sietch. The Fremen, however, have retained their hostility toward the Harkonnens. The drug acts as a pacifier only within the tribe. Outside it, they are as warlike as ever. This effect may show the legacy of al-Hasan, a twelfth-century Arabic leader, (AI-Hasan's full name, Hashishin ibn-al Sabah, is the source for both the words "hashish" and "assassin.") His men were said to use hashish at their mountain citadel to keep themselves occupied between raids. Nonpacifist psychedelic cults have also been known in the New World.

For Paul and Jessica, the Water of Life serves as an initiatory medium in line with shamanic tradition. It opens the door to a more dangerous consciousness. The drug is poisonous in its raw form. (Many hallucinogens, in their natural state are in fact allied with other highly toxic substances.) It must be changed by an adept (read "shaman") before it can be used in the ritual; the process of that catalysis is dangerous, demanding and confirming abilities that the initiate cannot really be taught, but only led up to.

In describing such shamanic rituals, Herbert was also speaking to the reader's unconscious. It is believed that echoes of shamanism have been incorporated into the myth structure of Western civilization. To Jung, whose work has influenced Herbert profoundly, the structure of myth is the structure of the human unconscious. Fremen rituals comprise many familiar mythic elements. For instance, the Fremen know the importance of the sandworm in maintaining the conditions of their life--sand, spice, oxygen--and they call him shai-hulud, or "maker." He guards the spice in the same way that the dragon, in so many myths, guards the precious substance sought by the hero. The Worm also represents the unconscious, the mystery of life, traditionally regarded as female. The male protagonists are the ones who must confront the maker and test their strength against him. This symbolic dominance of the female is a common feature of puberty rites, showing that a youth has broken away from his mother and become an adult. Paul must go farther, however, risking the untreated Water of Life (produced by drowning a small sandworm), which may be tasted only by the Reverend Mothers. He is not content to prove himself the master of shai-hulud in the sand, but must penetrate the inner mysteries. He is the Kwisatz Haderach, male and female.

This is heady symbolism, guaranteed to stir the blood even when the mind has been left far behind. But it is only one aspect of the use of myth and epic in Dune. Folklorist Albert Lord compares Paul's upbringing to that of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, and other epic heroes. His precocious childhood and up- bringing in "magic" and other special learning follow patterns that have been described in epics for literally thousands of years. Likewise, there is a crisis of adulthood in which the hero, raised principally by his mother (his father being dead or absent), goes against her and sets out to regain his father's heritage. In Paul's case, this occurs when he is alone in the desert stilltent with Jessica, and his time vision awakens. "What have you done to me? he asks, and she, recognizing the universality of his question, which probes deeper than all his training and indoctrination, replies, "I gave birth to you." Here myth so clearly reflects the universal human story. The numerous initiatory rituals already referred to also follow this epic pattern, and the coma into which Paul sinks after ingesting the raw Water of Life is a death/rebirth symbol common to many folklore traditions.

MeNelly has noted that Paul also fulfills many of the "steps of the hero" isolated by Lord Raglan. In his 1936 book, The Hero, Raglan describes twenty-two steps that are found, almost without variation, throughout many of the world's hero myths. Historical heroes demonstrate at most four or five of these features, he claims, whereas mythical heroes invariably show between thirteen and twenty-two of them. Paul fulfills perhaps seventeen.

The most important of these steps to appear in Dune (others occur in Dune Messiah) are: the unusual circumstances surrounding Paul's conception; the enmity of his maternal grandfather (the Baron Harkonnen); that nothing is told of his childhood-- the story begins with his initiation and his departure for Arrakis; that he vanquishes both the dragon (the sandworm) and the former king (the Padishah Emperor); that he marries the Emperor's daughter; and takes his place as ruler.

Raglan infers that the roots of all such heroic myths lie in ritual; later interpreters, influenced by Jung, see in them the common underpinning of the collective unconscious. Whichever theory is correct, the patterns are sufficiently familiar to readers that they add greatly to Paul's credibility as a hero. A story framed by such heroic elements is strengthened by the subtle but relentless momentum of long tradition. Myth touches something very deep in human nature. Albert Lord notes of the shamanic, mythic, and epic traditions, "Psychologically, they performed a function in their mythic state, and they continue to serve a function in the traditional epics, and they can do the same in nontraditional works. such as science-fiction that choose to use them."

Herbert's original interest in myth stems from his study of the Jungian "quest hero." As described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the quest is the universal "monomyth" of man's striving to transform himself and his world. The form varies from culture to culture, but the essence remains the same--a call from a higher dimension, a search through many obstacles for a goal that may be described as "the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world." The hero shatters the status quo and lets the unknown (or the unconscious) back into play. The three stages of the quest are: the call or awakening (described in the first section of Dune), the trials and initiation of the hero (described in the second), and the realization and return to the world (described in the third volume). Many other characters in Dune besides Paul fit into the hero myth; to name a few: the tyrant figures (Baron Harkonnen and "Beast" Rabban) from whom Paul delivers the Fremen; the old crones (the Reverend Mother Gains Helen Mohiam and the Shadout Mapes) who introduce him to his destiny; the shaman; the wise old man; the female--as temptress, supernatural assistant, anti great mother. Story elements such as Paul's resistance to his destiny, the time-dilation in his climactic trance, the hermaphroditic psychology of the Kwisatz Haderach, the duel with Jamis, and the regenerative jihad--all have mythic counterparts. Even Paul's dreams of Arrakis at the start of the novel are significant in that myth and dream are said to be similar expressions of the underlying dynamics of the psyche.

The precision with which Herbert has traced the "monomyth" is suggested by the passage in which his teacher Yueh gives young Paul his copy of the Orange Catholic Bible, and Paul, seemingly by chance, opens it to the words, "What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us." Campbell describes "one of the ways in which the adventure can begin. A blunder--apparently the merest chance--reveals an unexpected world." The similarity is too obvious not to be an intentional echo. Nonetheless, it is essential to understand that Dune is not an imitation of myth, but an illustration of Campbell's point about the pervasiveness of the "monomyth." It informs Dune as it has informed thousands of other stories since time immemorial. This myth is the universal human template on which Herbert has tried to ground his vision.

It is difficult to say where this extraordinarily complex pattern of thought began or how it finally came together in the synergistic processes of Herbert's mind. Herbert's interest in myth came quite early, but so did his interest in drugs. On his 1953 trip to Mexico, after his initial experience with the hashish candy, Herbert had met a medicine man in Oaxaca who gave him a drink compounded of morning-glory seeds. It produced nothing more than a headache. But the seeds of awareness about drugs and shamanism were planted, so that later, when Herbert began working on Dune, contemporary patterns of drug use may have activated the latent linkages of thought. At that time, LSD was not yet widely available, and even the term "hallucinogen" had not come into general use (melange is described as an "awareness-spectrum narcotic"). Nonetheless, Herbert says:

I saw what was happening. I saw it coming.... I don't think it's hard to see that the repression of something--and the repression was coming down hard back then--will make it romantic and make it grow.

Herbert sought out "single experiences. . . so I could write about [them]," and shamanistic drug use became one more layer in the novel, complementing the shamanic echoes in Fremen culture and in the heroic myth.

Though he does not advocate the use of hallucinogens to attain such visionary experiences ("It's a dead-end street," he says), Herbert was not loathe to use the images and excitement of drugs to support his descriptions of heightened awareness achieved by different means. For instance, in the scene where Paul and Jessica are cornered by a sandworm, "Cinnamon yelled in their nostrils." (Italics mine.) At another point, Paul feels "the heat and cold of uncounted probabilities." This confusion of experience from different senses is called synaesthesia. It represents a fairly common hallucinatory experience and illustrates how psychedelic drugs seemed to open "the doors of perception." But the fact that it is a part of Paul's routine sensory array enlarges one's vision of human potential far more than if it were simply a chemical illumination. By evoking such unusual images, Herbert was able to expand the illusory limits of everyday consciousness in vet one more way.

The use of melange in an initiatory context, to open new doorways to the unknown, is right in line with Herbert's themes. He says:

To use such a substance, you pay the great price. You no longer live in the protective and gregarious midst of your own kind. Now, you are the shaman, alone and forced to master your own madness. You have grasped the tail of the ultimate tiger.

This is an eloquent summation of Paul's situation and one of the clues to why so many readers, in the years shortly after the publication of Dune, saw that situation as their own. To many of those who had taken psychedelic drugs, the notions of a cosmos in constant flux, of the omnipresence of the unconscious, and of the necessity for each individual to make his own terms with the universe provided a welcome perspective on their own very new and unsettling experience.

By the end of the novel, Paul is irresistible. Courageous in the face of great odds, skilled in ways that science-fiction readers dream of, mystically wise, and buttressed by myths thousands of years old, he is eminently believable both as a messiah and as a hero.

The question remains, however: If Paul were intended to demonstrate the error of faith in messiahs and superheroes, why was he rendered SO effective as both?

The hill answer to that question must wait for a discussion of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. The message is incomplete. Much overt criticism remains to be delivered in the sequels. In Dune the analysis is implicit. Because Herbert had Paul himself voice the critical perspective, it is discounted by the reader. If anything, Paul's doubts about his messianic role cement him even more firmly in the reader's mind as a wise man worthy of his following. Although the purpose of the novel may be grasped by the discerning reader, it is all but invisible to one who is enthralled by Paul's heroism and high aims. This effect seems to have been intentional. For how could Herbert begin to search out the flaws in the concept of the hero unless he presented its perfect exemplar, with no faults of his own to cloud the issue? In order for the novel to reach the level of insight at which the fundamental nature of the messianic flaw becomes apparent, Paul had to develop into a hero in whom not just the Fremen but Herbert's readers could believe.

Go to: Frank Herbert: Table of Contents


Previous Index Next

Return to: tim.oreilly.com

Popular Topics

Browse Books & Videos

International Sites

O'Reilly China O'Reilly Germany O'Reilly Japan