Tue, 21 Jul 2015

By Frank Herbert

I first read Frank Herbert's novel Dune over thirty years ago, but having just re-read it, I now realise how much of it completely passed me by. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a fantastic adventure story but the references to the Islamic conquests, jihad, religious prophecy, selective breeding programs and the nature of the spice drug were background details I didn't fully absorb or understand.

The other thing I see now is how beautifully written the book is: it deserves its high reputation and many awards. The only minor quibble I would take is that I feel it ends a bit too quickly; some characters deserve a little bit more time perhaps.

On the right: The cover of the paperback I read back in the day. A wonderful Bruce Pennington painting.

I went to see an exhibition of some Pennington paintings at London's Atlantis Books a while ago. A lovely little show that really made me appreciate Pennington's unique style.

Left: The cover of the new hardback Dune novel I finished recently. A classic deserves a good hardback edition!

The heart of the novel is the coming of age story of the young Duke Paul Atreides, his awakening to his "terrible purpose" and wonderfully drawn relationship to his mother Jessica. The human and social core remains the most important aspect and is never dominated by hardware or science. This is definitely not a "hard" science-fiction book and it owes as much to Walter Scott as Robert Heinlein.

Beautifully written, fast paced and very moving in parts. If you have not read Dune, you should.

For a long time I had heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted feature film of the book from the 1970's, and been disappointed it had not been made. However, having seen the recent documentary about it, Jodorowsky's Dune, I'm perhaps glad it wasn't. Jodorowsky's a very talented author and artist but he was far too keen on his own ideas and bent on changing the actual story. It would not have been the same at all even if it had looked and sounded amazing.

As for David Lynch's film, I saw it on release and did not really like it: too weird and "gothic". Looking at it now however, I see a lot more to like, even though it is obviously very flawed. There is a lot of deeper substance to Dune and the book deserves much more than only an action and adventure treatment. Lynch tried this and failed (not his fault alone) but a worthy try. What would Peter Jackson make of it?