While I had heard a lot of people praise Dune, I really didn’t know very much about it going in. I was surprised to find that, whilst Dune is indeed a sci-fi book, there are certainly elements of fantasy to it. The galaxy is ruled by an Emperor and is served by noble houses which occupy different planets. Our story begins with House Atreides having to leave the beautiful planet it has ruled for generations in order to rule a new planet named Arrakis. Mostly made up of harsh deserts, Arrakis would be a desolate wasteland were it not for the abundance of an incredibly rare spice known as Melange which can bestow its user with extended life and heightened senses and abilities. However, once a person has tasted this spice, they must keep taking it or else withdrawal will kill them. In an effort to destroy House Atreides, the Emperor orders the House’s leader, Duke Leto to become the master of this strange new planet. From here we follow the Duke’s son, Paul, as he and his family arrive at the new world fight to survive against those who would see them destroyed.
Going into Dune, I was surprised by the presence of certain fantasy tropes. I’d assumed it would be all spaceships and laser pistols but I was underestimating Herbert’s talents. The galaxy that exists in Dune follows a feudal system where noble houses serve the Emperor. This may be the distant future, but human nature remains the same and all the lords and ladies are scheming in order to rise higher and see their rivals fall. In many ways, there are parts of Dune which reminded me a lot of the world of Game of Thrones. The world (or galaxy) of Dune is very much in keeping with our own history and adds a sense of grounded realism, despite the fantastic things that do happen.
The book’s primary character is Paul, the son of Duke Leto and his concubine, Jessica, a member of a mysterious and powerful group of women known as the Bene Gesserit, who’s intense training allows them seemingly superhuman abilities. Through Paul’s eyes we watch as his mother and father struggle to keep the House together in the face of political espionage, assassination attempts, and the alien and unforgiving nature of the planet itself. When tragedy ultimately does strike, Paul is forced to flee into the unknown and tap into his true potential if he’s ever to take back what was stolen from him.
Like all great works of fiction, Dune is a book that, despite being a grand sci-fi fantasy, still manages to hold a mirror up to our own world. Themes such as political scheming, social classes, duty, and man’s relationship with nature are all present in Dune and I often found myself reflecting on how points in Dune could very well be applicable to our own way of living. Frank Herbert was a wise man and spent years studying before he even began writing. His philosophies and ideas may be rooted in Dune, but are clearly designed to inspire and educate readers with lines such as “When politics and religion ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows.”
Dune has many levels to it and it’s the sort of book you can read a number of times and find things you may have missed the first time around. Whilst Dune is certainly deep in its philosophies and ideas, it is backed up with an excellent story full of memorable characters and very well realised world. It’s the sort of book anyone from the age of 13 can enjoy, though each reader may appreciate it for different reasons.