Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Mythos of Frank Herbert

When my cousin by marriage, Michael Vanderboegh, told me I should read Dune by Frank Herbert, I wasn't interested. There was nothing wrong with what he told me, but I could not get interested. There were too many other things going on in my life, like adjusting to being divorced with three small boys, only one of whom was in school (first grade) and working two jobs to make ends meet. I didn't have time for books, even for the science fiction I enjoyed so much.

Books had not been a part of my life for a few years, at least since getting pregnant and having children. Babies tend to suck up all available time and energy until there is nothing left for the good stuff, like reading. Dune was off the list of available things to do. There were not enough hours in the day for reading. The only time I had to myself was in the shower, if I got it before the boys were up or after they went to sleep, and falling into a dead faint at the end of the day.

I had much more time a few years later and picked up the book at a secondhand store while trying to add to my Andre Norton collection. I happened across the book and took a glance at the back cover and first few pages. I got lucky. The book was available in hard cover, and so I bought it, took it home and found a few minutes to begin reading. I was reluctant to put the book down to cook dinner, do laundry or go to bed. I was mesmerized -- and hooked but good.

The sweep of plot, characters and worlds took my breath away and the story was a real page turner, despite its deceptive size. I recognized many of the so-called ancient words drawn from Greek, Italian and Muslim origins, but that wasn't the real draw for me. It was the scope of the plots and stories that intertwined, leaving me hungry for more without ever feeling lost. That was artistry. That was good writing and I couldn't wait for the next book and the ones after that.

I did read some of Herbert's short story collections, and they were good, but it was with Dune that he reached his true calling as a storyteller. I go back and read Dune and the rest of the books from time to time, and I have read several of Herbert's son Brian's additions to the mythology and history of the worlds and people, answering questions about their origins and the beginnings of feuds, how the navigators evolved and where the whole thing was going in terms of religion and history. One thing I learned from Herbert, even though I knew it already, was that everything dies. Every religion, every system and every civilization reaches a pinnacle and is replaced by something new, something born from seeds planted long ago. About the only thing that lasted in Herbert's vision was Judaism.

Catholocism had evolved and become a breeding and martial arts program that, in concert with melange, the spice that extends and enhances life, created super beings, like Paul Muadib Atreides, Leto III the God Emperor and eventually an entire race of Atreides spawned humans who were no longer visible in the minds of those that could track every being in the universe. Islam became an entrenched society of people devoted to the violence of war and the protection of every drop of water on Arrakis (Dune) so that the planet would one day be carved up between rivers, lakes and seas between which ran grassy plains where cities and towns careless of water would spring up. Leto III made that possible with his breeding program and his reign of over three thousand years.

In one small part of the universe there were hidden pockets of Jews still practicing the ancient rites of their religion waiting for God as the chosen people. That did not change, and there is still the question of what Frank Herbert believed and saw for the future of mankind.

The stories and layers that came after Dune were the icing on a very rich cake that lingers still on the mind and in the heart. Few stories like that come along. It's no wonder the book has been made into a movie and a mini-series, each done by different directors that add more pieces to the puzzle. From the elegant and regal Dune of David Lynch's vision to the Sci-Fi TV mini-series directed by John Harrison, which is closer to what Herbert envisioned, except with the navigators, Frank Herbert's dreams live and continue to evolve. The scope is awe inspiring and the story a small tale of what happens when religion and ambition take precedence in government and commerce.

Some books remain long after the last page is read and call to the reader to return and look a little deeper, find a little more. It is all there between the pages, waiting for a new perspective and new eyes fresh from the cauldron of time and experience. Dune is still one of my favorite books and doubtless always will be.

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