“Dune” as a franchise has entered public consciousness with several forays including a David Lynch film, the 2021 film adaptation and ranking 35 out of 100 in the Great American Reads of 2018. This popularity can be tied to the fervent fan base of “Dune,” spanning generations and global communities. Given that, why should a person read “Dune?”
“Dune” is an unwieldy book, coming in at 794 pages, excluding ancillary material. However, the prose itself stands in stark defiance. Being a brisk read equal to pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, “Dune” uses it’s typical speculative setting to explore and define complex ideas of ecology and religion.
Environmentalism is a key part of the story of “Dune,” with the sandworms acting as keystone species within an ecological system reliant on aeration of soil and movement of moisture. While water capture and preservation are internalized on a cultural level.
In this way, the author Frank Herbert employs his philosophy of environmentalism into a fictional world. The habitats and animal life of “Dune” are mapped out and described in detail. Though, not the first, “Dune” is an early example of world-building. Creating a world around these core concepts the author is capable of exploring and putting into the text a narrative on the relationship of nature to man.
Though environmentalism is not new to speculative fiction it is not a key aspect of the narrative. Comparatively characters in a “Star Wars” film are more likely to chop up any animal that crosses their path than make friends. Only recent additions to the canon, like “Jedi Fallen Order” attempt to explain and explore the complicated relationship of nature.
While “Dune” stands out within the genre since a large part of the novel is overproduction and control of water. In a plot similar to “Mad Max Fury Road,” water is a cultural and political necessity, only second to melange, the valued spice of “Dune.”
Another element of “Dune” is the presentation of religion. The crux of the novel is that Paul, the protagonist, is the Messiah of the Fremen people. Though, this is not the first time religion has appeared. The novel opens with Lady Jessica, a Bene Gesserit, which is an order of religious warriors descended from Christians. Her discussions about the Orange Catholic Bible forms images of current Christians. While, the Fremen people employ words like usul, jihad and Muad’Dib found in Arabic and Muslim lexicons.
“Dune” not only acknowledges the existences of these religious identities but maintains them in the fictional futures. Unlike “Star Trek” where religion is stripped out of Star Fleet, “Dune” chooses to explore and discuss the complicated relationship between political and religious belief. In the podcast “Imaginary Worlds,” Eric Molinsky discusses religion in the novel and its meaning in more detail.
Though the novel implements elements of the “white savior” narratives found in novels like “Lawrence of Arabia” or “A Princess of Mars,” “Dune” presents something new as well. Fremen culture is not demonized in the novel, instead, it is presented as a socially enlightened alternative. Paul being the leader of Fremen is in part to his indoctrination and upbringing. His history and ability lead the others to believe he is capable of leadership. Paul acts as a bridge between two nations, though he struggles against this title.
“Dune” presents an example of world-building that is inescapable in the current speculative fiction landscape. Standing out for its attention to detail, ecology and religion, “Dune” is a milestone of the genre.
Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him firstname.lastname@example.org.